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Thread: The waspish diaries of society photographer Cecil Beaton

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    Elite Member rollo's Avatar
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    Default The waspish diaries of society photographer Cecil Beaton

    'Marilyn Monroe is a make-believe siren and Mick Jagger sexless': Bitchy, blunt and brilliant, the waspish diaries and stunning portraits of Cecil Beaton

    PUBLISHED: 22:00, 16 August 2014 | UPDATED: 08:17, 17 August 2014

    Grace Kelly was like a bull calf. Dali had appalling breath. And the Queen? Serene (well, that’s a relief!). Thanks to a brilliant new book bringing together his sublime portraits and wicked diaries for the first time, we can reveal what Cecil Beaton really thought of his celebrity subjects



    MELTINGLY SYMPATHETIC’: PRINCESS ELIZABETH, 1943 (AND RIGHT WITH PRINCE CHARLES IN 1950) ‘Her real charm, like her mother’s, does not carry across in her photographs, and each time one sees her one is delighted how much more serene, magnetic, and at the same time meltingly sympathetic, she is than one had imagined. In the photographs there is a certain heaviness which is not there in real life, and one misses... the effect of the dazzlingly fresh complexion, the clear regard from the glass-blue eyes, and the gentle, all-pervading sweetness of her smile.’


    Cecil Beaton used his lens to capture the grit and glamour of some of the greatest stars - including Mick Jagger and Grace Kelly - of our time

    Cecil Beaton used his lens to capture the grit and glamour of some of the greatest stars of our time.

    But while he charmed his subjects – from the Queen to Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire and the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger – and strove to highlight their unique allure, his portraits, taken from the Twenties to the Seventies, concealed his own razor-sharp intelligence and often savage wit.

    Now a remarkable new book, Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles, combines for the first time his candid personal diaries together with some of his most famous images. They offer a unique and, frankly, astonishingly unguarded view of what he thought of his famous subjects.

    Audrey Hepburn, for example, had ‘inherent “star” quality’, though Beaton also noted ‘a neck too thin, a chin too pointed and a nose too long’.

    Beaton chased Marilyn Monroe around a hotel room before focusing his lens on her, observing ‘she walks like an undulating basilisk, scorching everything in her path’ – and joked with the Queen about showing her teeth in pictures.

    ‘It was very easy to reduce the Queen to a condition of ineradicable fou rire [giggles] and thus prevent many of the pictures looking sullen and morose,’ he noted. ‘This amuses me and my amusement amuses the Queen.’



    ‘She looked very pretty and wore quite a lot of make-up... there is no interim between a shut serious mouth and a flashing grin.

    'I came away with the impression that she was amusing and witty – the light meter being placed near her was, she said, “like having your pulse taken. This is my best side – the difference is quite astonishing”. And there was laughter about raising her head in order to shorten the effect of the nose.’



    ‘Miss Marilyn Monroe calls to mind the bouquet of a fireworks display... as spectacular as the silvery shower of a Vesuvius fountain. She walks like an undulating basilisk, scorching everything in her path but the rosemary bushes.

    'Her voice, of a loin-stroking affection, has the sensuality of silk or velvet. The puzzling truth is that Miss Monroe is a make-believe siren, unsophisticated as a Rhine maiden, innocent as a sleepwalker.

    'She is an urchin pretending to be grown up, having the time of her life in Mother’s moth-eaten finery, tottering about in high-heeled shoes and sipping ginger ale as though it were a champagne cocktail.

    'She is strikingly like an over-excited child asked downstairs after tea. She romps, she squeals with delight, she leaps on to the sofa. It is an artless, impromptu, high-spirited, infectiously gay performance. It will probably end in tears.’

    Marilyn Monroe visits, performs for troops in Korea - 1954




    ‘His skin is chicken breast white and of a fine quality. He has enormous inborn elegance. He talked of the native music... England had become a police state... He’d done nothing to deprave the youth of the country.

    'He is very gentle, and with perfect manners. I was fascinated with the thin concave lines of his body, legs, arms. Mouth almost too large, but he is beautiful and ugly, feminine and masculine, a “sport”, a rare phenomenon.

    'He asked,“Have you ever taken LSD?” – Oh, I should. By now it was three o’clock and my bedtime. They [the Rolling Stones] seem to have no magnetic call from their beds. Never a yawn and the group has been up since five this morning. At 11 o’clock he appeared at the swimming pool. I could not believe this was the same person... His figure, his hands and arms were incredibly feminine. He looked like a self-conscious suburban young lady. He is sexy, yet completely sexless. He could be a eunuch. As a model he is a natural.’



    ‘A photographic beauty is someone who photographs well.

    'Grace Kelly is a case in point. If she did not photograph well, we would scarcely stop to look at her on the street... If both sides of her face were the same as the right half she wouldn’t be on the screen. That side is very heavy, like a bull calf, but the left side is intensely feminine and creates the counter-point.

    'She has unerringly good taste and an unerring sense of comportment.’



    ‘She’s everything I dislike. I have always loathed the Burtons for their vulgarity, commonness and crass bad taste, she combining the worst of U.S. and English taste.

    'I treated her with authority, told her not to powder her nose, to come in front of the cameras with it shining.

    'She wanted compliments. She got none. “Don’t touch me like that,” she whined! Her breasts, hanging and huge, were like those of a peasant woman suckling her young in Peru. On her fat, coarse hands more of the biggest diamonds and emeralds... And this was the woman who is the greatest “draw”. In comparison everyone else looked ladylike.’



    ‘It is a rare phenomenon to find a young girl with such inherent “star” quality. Yet she has too much innate candour to take on the gloss of artificiality Hollywood is apt to demand of its queens.

    'Her stance is a combination of an ultra-fashion plate and a ballet dancer. Her features show character rather than prettiness. Her voice is peculiarly personal, with its unaccustomed rhythm and sing-song cadence that develops into a flat drawl that ends in a childlike query. It has a quality of heartbreak.

    'Intelligent and alert, wistful but enthusiastic, frank yet tactful, assured without conceit and tender without sentimentality.’



    ‘Julie Andrews, an almost unknown girl who had the talent and luck to land the whopper of the part of Eliza [Doolittle, in the Broadway version of My Fair Lady], was almost unbelievably naïve and simple. She was angelically patient at the many fittings of her clothes and never expressed opinion. 'One day, due to exhaustion at rehearsals, she keeled over in a dead faint while fitting her ball gown. 'A cup of cold water was enough to revive her and she reproached herself that her mother back home in Walton-on-Thames would be ashamed of her. “Oh, Mummie, what a silly girl I am,” she kept repeating.'


    FILM-STAR TEMPERAMENT’: MARLENE DIETRICH, 1930 ‘Most striking of her features is her whiteness, which would put the Moon or a white rabbit to shame. 'She has, or has acquired, the necessary temperament of the film star; never in a hurry; her pace is slow, her perseverance phenomenal. 'She will spend 12 hours being photographed in the studio, and, without regrets, tear up every proof next morning if they are not to her complete satisfaction.’


    ‘BARKS, WHEEZES AND GRUNTS’: WINSTON CHURCHILL, 1940 ‘Churchill, still with cigar in mouth, looked so lonely and alone in this large room. I clicked my Rolleiflex camera, and it let off a flash. This surprised the Prime Minister. Although his sentences were not perfectly formed I would hazard that the following would be an interpretation of the barks, wheezes and grunts that turned my blood cold: ‘Hey, damn you, young fellow, what the hell are you up to with your monkey tricks? Stop this nonsense! I hate candid photographs! Wait till I’m prepared: the glass of port taken away, my spectacles so – now then – I’m ready, but don’t try any cleverness with me!’


    ‘CHARMING MAN’: FRANCIS BACON, 1960 ‘We seemed to have an immediate rapport. I was overwhelmed by his tremendous charm and understanding... impressed by his “principal boy” legs. I enjoyed looking around at the incredible mess of his studio.’


    ‘A VAUDEVILLE TRAMP’: JOHN BETJEMAN, 1955 ‘English poetry has had many odd practitioners, but none more unique than Mr John Betjeman. In appearance he is like an Edwardian vaudeville tramp, right down to the mackintosh and battered hat that covers a thinning pate. His face has the anonymity of an oyster and the sad innocence of a Murillo cherub. Waiting for Godot, he stands alone as the nostalgic chronicler of the sordid in contemporary life.’


    CLEAN, FRESH AND RIPPING’: FRED ASTAIRE AND HIS SISTER ADELE,1930 ‘I was quivering to see the Astaires. They look so marvellous. Especially him. His head looks perfect. I was delirious with happiness all the time either of them were on the stage. She is so American and perfect, so slim and graceful. I adore her ugly face and the pearls tight around her neck. She is perfect and he is marvellous also. They are so clean and fresh and ripping. I thought that Adele Astaire was rather like Felix the Cat, but oh so much nicer. I did adore them and their dancing is just too extraordinarily marvellous to describe.’



    ‘He spends two months every winter in the St Regis Hotel. It was remarkable to see him converting the “French” suite... It looked like Dali décor. On arriving at Dali’s sitting room I saw hundreds of these chocolate discs placed in a row and running like a line of ants all over the flat surfaces. He does not eat chocolates, as he has a weak liver, and had preserved these to count the days he has spent here. (Other strangenesses included an invalid chair with an umbrella and top hat over it, a huge black cabinet with dark glass paintings on it, and a strange and inexplicable picture of a beer advertisement added.) I loved him for being such an original individual but today was terribly put off by his really appalling bad breath.’

    Read more: 'Marilyn Monroe is a make-believe siren and Mick Jagger sexless': Bitchy, blunt and brilliant, the waspish diaries and stunning portraits of Cecil Beaton | Mail Online

    Brookie, dougie and JazzyGirl like this.

  2. #2
    Elite Member McJag's Avatar
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    I am so getting this book! Thank you.
    rollo likes this.
    I didn't start out to collect diamonds, but somehow they just kept piling up.-Mae West

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    hmmmm. I read the unexpurgated Beaton some years ago. He is a great photographer and some of his wit is really great when read ...... however that same wit at book length seems to wear on me.
    It makes him seem like a real grump after a while. I may check this out if it hits the library though.
    Of course it may be that i am a little bit upset about his comments about Katharine Hepburn .... he did the costumes for her short lived play Coco - on the life of Coco Chanel.
    he was pretty hard on her if I recall.

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    Elite Member Bombshell's Avatar
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    This looks SO GOOD.
    "Shopping tip: You can get shoes for a buck at the bowling alley."

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    Elite Member Chalet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by McJag View Post
    I am so getting this book! Thank you.
    I knew you were going to be the first to post!

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