The aim was to help raise money for the Playhouse (the present Burton Taylor theatre is a tribute to that support). The couple had just made Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and were going on to make The Taming of the Shrew. Consequently a large number of the rehearsals were conducted with the understudies and the two stars had to slot into the roles that had been created by the cast up to that point, which they apparently did willingly. Interestingly enough, the first night was Elizabeth Taylor’s first stage performance ever. There were many amusing anecdotes – rehearsing in the police gym which was deemed safer for the stars, trying on jewellery with Elizabeth Taylor in their Randolph Suite (they also had a suite at the Bear in Woodstock) and so on.
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were perhaps the first superstar couple and the world’s media followed them to Oxford, to the bewilderment of the student actors. One female actor recalled being asked by a photographer to pose with Richard Burton and was slightly hurt when he pulled several other actors into the photo with them. Burton explained later that a photo of him with another woman would have heralded an affair across the world’s papers the next day.
The play apparently had mixed reviews but the memories of the students are obviously ringed in a golden glow, the presence of these two stars at the height of their careers towering over everything else.
When Hollywood Came to Oxford was one of multitude of events on offer for the Oxford Alumni weekend: on the programme I also saw exhibitions, concerts, talks, tours for all ages, language classes, yoga, swimming, even circus skills. The less firm could be conveyed around Oxford by rickshaw to the various venues. Didn’t they pick a lovely weekend for this event?