Cecil Beaton - Photographer - Diaries

I would like to tell you of some additional exhibits I saw at the Photographic Exhibition 2001. Cecil Beaton was a society and royal photographer. When his diaries (comprising six volumes through the 1950s to the 1970s) were first published he edited out his more "acid" comments for fear of offence and libel. Now that Beaton's last surviving sister has died, Beaton's literary executor and official biographer Hugo Vickers has decided that the uncensored version can be made public. Beaton was at the heart of show business and the Royal family since the 1950s until his death in 1980. He was a close friend of the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Grace of Monaco, Audrey Hepburn and Sir John Gielgud. He was bitchy, snobbish and vindictive. He described Katharine Hepburn (still alive at age 93) in his dairies as, "looking like a hockey mistress with rocking-horse nostrils, beet root-coloured hair and with a strident voice". She took legal action to stop Beaton writing about her again. But he continued to do so in his diaries so when she appeared on Broadway in 1969 in Coco for which Beaton did the designs, he described her singing as "pitiful" and her playing of Chanel as "like a mousy Mary Poppins". In the 1950s while working for Vogue he put Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo (with whom the homosexual Beaton was in love with) and Norman Shearer at the top of the list of the six most beautiful women in films but in his diaries he tells a different story. Of M. Dietrich he wrote despairingly about "her control and manipulation of the audience" and that "she was disdainful about the quality of her cosmetic surgery. "As for Elizabeth Taylor he considered her common. She wanted him to photograph her and he said, "She's everything I dislike" so he charged a huge fee so that she would not agree and it worked! He didn't like Cukor, My Fair Lady's Director, for which Beaton did the costumes (and his costumes influence even today's production of My Fair Lady now in London) particularly as it was filmed in Hollywood rather than London. He hated the film and Vickers said, "He thought Cukor was vulgar". They also had a problem about Audrey Hepburn. "They thought they had proprietorial rights over her" said Alexander Walker (Evening Standard film critic).

Beaton's diaries comprise 150 books: we can really enjoy the gossip, darlings!But if you really like Cecil Beaton and if you are really rich, you can buy his house in Ashcombe for ?9m: a six bedroom Georgian manor house with his elegant photographic studio. He entertained his guests for tea and his weekend parties attracted pre-war society. The Sitwells', the Mitford's, Oliver Messel etc, they all sunbathed naked and the locals called the estate "The Nudist Colony". Salvador Dali, Graham Sutherland and Augustus John visited Beaton at Ashcombe (I have purely visited in my dreams!!!). BBC has produced a film about Beaton's garden, which I have already seen twice and you feel very emotional to see his studio, his roses, and him walking around wearing his Panama hat.

Verinha Ottoni.


Copyrights @ Verinha Ottoni. All rights reserved