"It’s not a part I ever in my life thought I would even have a taste of — with all the family connections and everything,” she admitted, a mite dismayed. “No, I did not think it would happen, but it is wonderful to play her, I gotta say — very wonderful.”
In truth, she is playing Katharine Cornell playing Cleopatra in a 1948 Broadway production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra in a loving fact-cum-fantasy backstage anecdote from A. R. Gurney, Jr. called The Grand Manner.
In the play which opened June 27 at the Mitzi Newhouse, Cornell frets that she is too matronly to convince as an exotic seductress, but her Cleopatra won her a '48 Tony — a tactful tie with Judith Anderson’s Medea and Jessica Tandy’s Blanche DuBois.
The Cleopatra connection is acutely fresh for Burton these days because of the new best-seller, “Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century,” a 438-page tome about the famous fallout from two superstars colliding on the Cinecitta set of “Cleopatra” in Rome, shattering Commandments, wrecking Burton’s first marriage and setting him up with a second (and third) to Taylor.
No, she hasn’t read it — since she’s annotating her father’s diaries.
“Malcolm Bragg did his authorized biography which my step-mother, Sally, arranged, and he did have access to some of the diaries. But these will be just Dad’s diaries, annotated.”
Like Cornell, Burton played W. Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife and was Tony-nominated for it in 2006; Cornell played it in 1951-1952 and toured with it. “There was one other one between us — Ingrid Bergman. Cornell, Bergman and me,” she beamed, not to mention Ethel Barrymore, who originated the role in 1926.
— Harry Haun