Liz Taylor's Toronto courtship, Montreal wedding
Not everybody was happy when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton tied the knot — the first time — in Montreal.
The minister who performed the ceremony got angry phone calls for two weeks from people "who didn't like Dick and Liz and were unhappy that this marriage had happened," said Rev. Diane Rollert, who has been the minister at the Unitarian Church of Montreal since 2005.
The angry outbursts followed protests outside Taylor and Burton's love nest at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, where he was performing in Hamlet before the wedding at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on March 15, 1964.
Angry protest in Toronto
"They weren't married and they were going to be living together for eight weeks," said Bruce Bell, a Toronto historian. "It was shocking that they were flaunting their love so openly."
The controversial Taylor had already been criticized as a homewrecker when she stole her previous husband, Eddie Fisher, from Debbie Reynolds. She then dumped Fisher to marry Burton, who she would eventually divorce and marry again.
"Elizabeth comes down here for lunch and Richard's sitting right here," in their usual corner table, he said. "He had rented the whole restaurant because he was going to propose."
The romantic sparks betweeen them were kindled on the set of Cleopatra, and Taylor had followed Burton to Toronto.
Taylor — who died Wednesday in Los Angeles at the age of 79 — and Burton had to deal with other hurdles as they tried to get down the matrimonial aisle.
They had to come to Montreal from Toronto, where the provincial government wouldn't recognize their Mexican divorces. But there would be no quick trip to a courthouse in Quebec either.
No civil marriage in Quebec
"Quebec had no civil marriage at the time so they had to be married under the auspices of a church or a synagogue," said Rollert.
"At that time the Unitarians were the place where people went if they didn't have a religious tradition or it was an interfaith marriage because we have always been very accommodating in that way."
Taylor had converted to Judiasm and Burton was Protestant.
Elton John tribute
Elton John dedicated a performance of Don't Let The Sun Go Down on Me to Elizabeth Taylor during a concert in Pittsburgh Wednesday evening.
John lauded the actor for her involvement in AIDS-related causes saying Taylor "stood up when no one was prepared to stand up and be counted against AIDS.
"God bless you, Elizabeth. God knows how we're going to replace you. This is for you and your beautiful memory and for all of the people you helped and saved," he said before playing the song.
A team of Montreal and Toronto lawyers arranged the wedding, approaching Rev. Leonard Mason of what was then known as the Unitarian Church of the Messiah to conduct the ceremony.
"He agreed to marry them but he had one condition — that there be no publicity," said Rollert.
"Of course, once he performed the ceremony that Sunday afternoon at their suite at the Ritz-Carlton, it wasn't very long after that their publicity agent broke the agreement and the news was all over the place."
Phone calls berate minister
Rollert said Mason's wife told his successor that she and her husband got an earful from people outside his congregation after the ceremony.
"They got very unpleasant phone calls berating them for his having performed this marriage."
Rollert said she has heard that Mason, who died in 1995, didn't speak much about the marriage.
But while the wedding is generally known as a celebrity event, Rollert pointed out it had far deeper implications in Canadian history.
She said the Taylor-Burton union was a catalyst for Mason, who believed marriage to be a civil right, and he worked with then-Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau to change Quebec law.
"In 1968, there was a law enacted to enable civil marriage to happen so that you didn't have to be part of a religious institution to be married in Quebec," Rollert said.
"It was an important historic event, not just a celebrity event," she said of the Taylor-Burton nuptials.
Nine people accompanied them on a chartered jet to Montreal for the ceremony, which took place at the hotel across the street from Mason's church.
'Mr and Mrs. Smith'
The couple, who checked in under the name of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," were brought to the Royal Suite by a manager and Peter Ryles, the hotel's manager of room service, said Magda Sabella, director of sales at the Ritz-Carlton.
"They told him that they need to have in the suite two crates of champagne and two dozen champagne glasses," said Sabella. "They added that they were getting married.
"They even asked the room service manager to witness the wedding in the Royal Suite, which obviously he accepted and he was very happy."
Taylor wore a "stunning" yellow short dress made of chiffon by Irene Sharaff, who worked on her costumes for Cleopatra. Sabella said the dress was accented with Burton's wedding gift to Taylor — a Bugatti brooch of emeralds and diamonds and matching earrings.
"Apparently it cost at that time $150,000," she said. "We're talking 1964."
The reception wrapped up at around 6 p.m. and the couple dined in the suite that evening. By morning, hundreds of people had gathered around the hotel to see them and there was a discussion about whether they should sneak out by a back door.
"Richard Burton decided these people came expressly to see them so they went from the front door to say hello to them and that's what they did," Sabella said.
The Ritz-Carlton is currently undergoing a renovation that will convert the Royal Suite into a condo, said Sabella.