Applause is nothing new to Richard Burton, but it was unexpected as he and his new girlfriend, Susan Hunt, 28, disembarked from a helicopter in a soccer field near Jacmel, Haiti, 25 miles from Port-au-Prince. Hundreds of Haitians had waited in the merciless sun for six hours to greet the 50-year-old star (who was loaned the chopper by Haiti’s president, Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier.
Burton was on the island to seek a quickie divorce from Elizabeth Taylor (it was delayed), and to scout out a location for a movie based on a Dylan Thomas story, which he will co-produce and star in. But, as Burton walked into the curious crowd, he all but forgot the serious side of his visit when he spied Merlin Lafalaise, a 9-year-old with saucer eyes. It was infatuation at first sight. Burton squeezed the little girl’s hand and struck up a conversation in French. Then he invited her to dine with him at Pension Craft, Jacmel’s fanciest restaurant, on eggplant, red snapper and vanilla cake. After dinner Burton and Merlin danced the merengue—while Susan applauded.
The best was yet to come for the little girl. Burton whisked her aboard the helicopter for a 15-minute flight. When he returned Merlin to her family, Burton shouted, “I’ll be back in a year to make a film.” As her envious chums crowded around her, Merlin coolly explained, “I went for a ride today with my new white father.”