Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Love in Puerto Vallarta
After falling in love on the set of Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton came to Puerto Vallarta in 1963 so that Burton could begin work on director John Huston’s film Night of the Iguana, shot almost entirely in the ocean side jungle of Mismaloya.
Hotels for cast and crew were in short supply and primitive to say the least. The old Oceano Hotel next to the black and white striped lighthouse on the oceanfront Malecon promenade in Old Town was the production’s headquarters. But when Elizabeth arrived to find a dirt floor and flying cockroaches in their “suite”, Burton told Huston “My friend, if we don’t find suitable accommodations for Elizabeth, I’m afraid I won’t be able to star in your film”. Huston immediately offered the couple his own rented villa on the hill in Gringo Gulch, Casa Kimberley, and the rest is history.
The couple fell in love with Puerto Vallarta and Burton bought Casa Kimberley as a surprise birthday gift for Elizabeth’s 32nd birthday in February 1964; they were married a month later.
The Burtons spent a lot of time in Puerto Vallarta over the years, bringing along the kids (she had three children plus the daughter she adopted with Burton), their movie star friends and Taylor’s ever present entourage.
Burton eventually purchased the house across the street, razed it and built another house around a large pool, connecting the two houses with a replica of The Bridge of Sighs in Venice, forever afterwards called “The Lover’s Arch”.
Known as “The Pool House”, this adjoining second home also became Burton’s poker lair when high jinx buddies like Peter O’Toole were in town or “the dog house” when Elizabeth saw fit to lock him out of the main house. Hence the neighbor’s name for The Lover’s Arch: El Puente de Reconciliación or “The Bridge for Making Up”.
Burton started a journal while living in Puerto Vallarta, using a typewriter on the upper terrace of the penthouse master suite at Casa Kimberley. This highly personal account of their everyday lives was later published into a fascinating biography titled Richard Burton: A Life by Melvyn Bragg.
The famous couple’s notoriety swept Puerto Vallarta into the world’s eye and was the genesis of the thriving tourism industry there today. Burton made many charitable contributions to the city and just like all those who came before and after him, was absolutely enchanted by the place and decided to live there.
Taylor sold the Casa Kimberley complex several years after Burton died in 1984, saying the “memories made her too sad…” She could never bring herself to spend the night there again after he was gone. Hundreds of Burton’s books and letters were found, along with movie memorabilia, vintage 1960’s clothing and a collection of Taylor’s wigs.
In Taylor’s book My Love Affair with Jewelry she lovingly describes a bejeweled Tiffany brooch in the shape of a dragon that Burton gave her for the premier of Night of the Iguana that “forever symbolized the early days of our marriage when we lived in Puerto Vallarta…”
Being hopelessly in love in Puerto Vallarta can make for some special memories…