Do you know what today is, Bettys? I mean, besides Wednesday? On June 12, 1963, Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made its world premiere, making today its 50th anniversary. Wowzers!
In honor of the occasion, LIFE Magazine dug into its vaults and brought out a collection of rare and never-before-seen images shot on the set of Cleopatra by photographer Paul Schutzer. Dame Liz and Sir Richard, of course, began their long and tumultuous relationship during the making of Cleopatra. Although both were married at the time, they didn’t try to hide their attraction; indeed, LIFE’s correspondent, Nadine Liber, wrote from the film’s set in Rome in March of 1962, “Liz, on set, looks absolutely relaxed. In between takes she stays always with Burton, who jokes with her all the time…. Whatever relationship there is between Liz and Burton, they’ve decided to make the fact they enjoy each other as obvious as the famous nose on Cleo’s face.”
And amazingly, in spite of the film’s numerous production problems—a $2 million budget that grew to a whopping $30 million, the relocation of the set from London to Rome six weeks after the principle photography began, and so on—the film didn’t bomb (which is what we’d expect from something like it these days). It earned nine Oscar nominations and won four, as well as having gone down in history for bringing Elizabeth and Richard together.
Check out some of our favorite shots from this treasure trove of photos on the next few pages, and head over to LIFE’s website to see the full collection—there are 25 of ‘em, and they’re all fabulous. Which ones are your favorites? Tell us in the comments!