Beaton in the Sixties: The Cecil Beaton Diaries As He Wrote Them, 1965-1969by Cecil Beaton, Hugo Vickers (Introduction), Hugo Vickers
This second volume of Cecil Beaton's unexpurgated diaries, from 1965 to 1969, catches this prolific photographer, artist, writer and designer at the height of his powers and at the center of everything. And no wonder-as Oliver Smith, the set designer for My Fair Lady, said, he "had more energy than anyone I've ever known." Hugo Vickers, the author of Beaton's acclaimed biography, went back to the original manuscripts to find the unedited material in order to sidestep Beaton's endless retouching and has added, as with the first volume of unexpurgated Beaton, fascinating notes that are as lively as the diary entries themselves.
Here is Beaton around the world, always in the hot spots of the moment: during the "swinging sixties" in London, photographing the Queen, doing fashion shoots for British Vogue, and having lunch with Noël Coward and dinner with Cyril Connolly. He is in Morocco with the Rolling Stones; in the Greek islands for a cruise on Cécile de Rothschild's yacht with his former lover, Garbo; in New York attending Truman Capote's Black-and-White Ball; at work on Alan Jay Lerner and André Previn's musical Coco with Katharine Hepburn and on La Traviata with Anna Moffo at the Met-he is even caught in the first big New York City blackout; he is at a dinner for President Lyndon Johnson and invited for tea and caviar with Jacqueline Onassis. He's in Mougins to photograph Picasso, and then off to Monaco to see Princess Grace, among many other adventures.
The eccentric English aesthete Stephen Tennant called Beaton "a self-created genius." Though he came out of the Edwardian era, Beaton was a modern polymath with a ferociousdrive to be famous, and these diaries reflect his success at working with the most celebrated and creative figures. Reverential, testy, ebullient and acutely observed, they present us with the fascinating minutiae not only of one life but of the best part of a dazzling decade.
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Read an Excerpt
As the New Year of 1965 began, Cecil was to be found living at Pelham Place in London and Broadchalke with his friend, Kin, met in San Francisco during Cecil's work on the Warner Brothers film of My Fair Lady. Cecil had persuaded Kin to give up his life in San Francisco and to come to London to study at the Courtauld Institute. Kin had arrived in the summer of 1964, so they had been ensconced together for some six months, by and large happily, though Cecil had to make certain changes to his life and should perhaps have made more.
Hardly had the New Year opened than the news broke that Sir Winston Churchill, who had reached his 90th birthday on 30 November 1964, had suffered a cerebral thrombosis and was suffering circulatory weakness following a cold.
His elderly doctor, Lord Moran, became a familiar sight on television news broadcasts and in the newspapers, emerging in his dark overcoat and Homburg hat from Churchill's home in Hyde Park Gate to deliver the latest bulletin. The country waited nervously for the great man to die. As his daughter, Mary Soames, put it, "We marched about the parks in the grey chill days, killing time, while time killed him."
Cecil was now back, working in England, and regularly took the train from Waterloo to Salisbury, escaping from the busy round of London life to the tranquillity of his garden at Broadchalke. Sitting in the train, he would look out for a small house near the railway line, with a sign in the window advertising "Brides." He would look at it wistfully and say, "There but for the grace of God go I!"
It was the height of chic for a bride to be photographed by Cecil and relativelyrare. He took the official photographs at the wedding of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones in May 1960, and from time to time, for old friends, he would make an exception and become a bride photographer.
Cecil loved Lord and Lady Lambton for their originality and eccentricity, and for their complete disdain for normal conventions. But he was also a little nervous, for he remembered that it was Tony Lambton's Aunt Violet, the Countess of Ellesmere, who had thrown his sister, Nancy, who had been brought there in innocence by Stephen Tennant, out of her ball in 1928, causing an enormous society row, known as the "Ellesmere Ball" scandal, which occupied columns of print in the society papers in the summer of 1928. Thus any connection with the Lambtons caused Cecil to remember his earlier social insecurity. This was wholly one-sided. The Lambtons found such attitudes hard to understand though they identified it in Cecil.
Lucinda Lambton, then aged 21, Lord Lambton's eldest daughter, was marrying Henry Harrod, elder son of Sir Roy Harrod, the economist and author of biographies of John Maynard Keynes, and The Prof, about F. A. Lindemann, and his wife, Wilhelmine ("Billa") Cresswell, who in old age became a friend of the Prince of Wales.
The young Harrods had two children, Henry Barnaby, born in July that year, and Nathaniel, born in March 1967. The marriage was to last eight years, ending in divorce in 1973.
FENTON, NORTHUMBERLAND 20 JANUARY 1965
Came up on the night sleeper for Lucy's wedding. Awful effort and every journey is a nail in coffin but am devoted to the family and felt I should make the effort. Also I knew, with so many eccentric personalities involved, it would be amusing. And it was.
A pre-nuptial gaiety in cold dark King's Cross Station with Lucian Freud and Ann [Fleming], Paddy Leigh Fermor and Joan, Ali F. [Forbes] etc. Arrival in north before daylight, cold, bleak moor scenery, Cheviot Hills, and our goal a turreted black and white Gothic house with light blazing in every window, and they had been blazing since five o'clock this morning when the chefs had started cooking for the wedding breakfast. Fires were also blazing in the hearth of every room and the corridors were a serried mass of blue hyacinths which, with the wood fires, scented the air. Tony appeared bleary-eyed in dressing gown, likewise Judy [Montagu], then Diana [Cooper] barefooted with head tied in nightcap. Big joking at big breakfast.
Tony, whom I like in spite of his appalling caddishness, said that the bridegroom's mother was appearing at the wedding in a dress she'd bought for £20!-that the father had got drunk last night. (Later Billa and Roy explained they were so worried-L. L. had refused to speak to her fiancé on the telephone, shouted that the whole thing was a mistake, which the Harrods thought too, hence Roy took to the bottle, fell, hurt his eye and had to be guided to bed, screams from six children, extraordinary rustic chef decorations, a cross of grapes that someone said was part of Churchill's imminent funeral decor, or as Paddy suggested, looked like part of a voodoo rite in Haiti. A peacock of fruit, a swan made of bananas and violets.
Bindy, still in plaster with broken leg, shouting to people to leave her Clapham Junction bedroom, while she dressed the children's hair. Tony shouting to the bride in the bath, "Why in the world didn't you sign that document as you were told? Now the whole thing is ruined and we'll have to pay death duties." Lucy, walking around in a bath towel, preparations at their height, great excitement under the generalship of Judy, a preview of the church at Wooler, garish decorations of daffodils, with sun coming through them gave wintry glow, Bindy dressed and looking large and ungainly in white velvet, frogging bows, white fur and Victorian hair and tiara.
Bridesmaids moss-green Anna Kareninas, Ned, Hussar, likewise with fur hat, Judy's minute child dressed as a daffodil to strew flowers in bride's path as she came down it.
Lucy not wanting dugget, preferred to walk along the muddy path in the churchyard, made a delightful picture of bride with raven-haired highwayman bridegroom as half an hour later, after singing Child's hymns, snow and snow, "we plough the fields and scatter," processed against the sun, through the gravestones, with an excited village populace of gay-faced simpletons gawking and smiling. Military precision as the cars brought the cortège back to the black and white castle. For the Breakfast the board not only groaned but bellowed with the suckling pig, the geese, gammons of beef, hams, game pastries and eclairs (of which I had brought 300 with me on the night train). Mulled claret made of marvellous claret, the bride nervous, shrieking at her sisters with a frown on her face and brandishing a knife at the photographers who wanted the conventional picture of her cutting the cake.
How it all went so smoothly Tony did not know, for any moment there could be a clash of temperament. The bride asked Desmond Guinness why he'd come to the wedding and shouted at nannies who proffered their behinds when the photographers tried to take pictures of the children.
Seeing Michael Wishart she asked him what he thought of the wedding. "I thought you looked beautiful," he said. "I don't want to hear that sort of thing. What did you think of the wedding?" "Oh, it was beautiful, magical with the flowers and the Mozart cantata." "I don't want that sort of rubbish. I want to know what you'd write if you were describing it for the newspapers."
POST-MORTEM ON THE WEDDING
Jokes about the two families by each family. Judy to Roy: "You're not so much escorting the bride's mother as wielding a hunking cripple up and down the aisle." The bride has telephoned. She remembered every detail, the wedding did not go by in a haze. She only did not remember many of the people but saw some old servant 20 years dead. "How's Henry? He's not here," remembered Lucy.
He is calm of disposition, says "Other people would find Lucy difficult but she does not upset me." He writes a letter and finishes the crossword puzzle while she is railing about the marriage being an abortive idea: "I must give it up now." Roy naturally disturbed, Billa too. Not so Henry. Later Bindy is given by a child a batch of congratulatory telegrams too late for arrival before the couple departed. Jokes about Aunt Maddy and then the laughter stops. "My heart looks forward to seeing you with ecstasy and trepidation-Love Henry." We discover that this was sent earlier to "Miss Lambton" marked "Personal and confidential," and should have arrived early yesterday morning. People were a little embarrassed at this joke session going wrong, as indeed they should be.
Harrods very keen to see the newspapers and the photographs, and reading about the reports when eventually they arrive.
More than anything else Cecil loved to be at Reddish House, Broadchalke, quietly supervising changes and improvements to the house, the creation of a studio in which to paint, making changes in the garden, and inspecting the various successes and failures he found there. It was the nearest thing he could have to an Arcadian idyll. His diaries are full of stories about domestic dramas involving cooks who came and went, some markedly better than others. He was happiest when at Broadchalke with Kin, or when his secretary Eileen Hose came to stay, or friends such as Alan Tagg and Charles Colville.
At this time he was particularly interested in painting and even wondered if this might be a new late-life career.
All these weeks I have been painting, sometimes with a modicum of satisfaction though often with that appalling feeling of frustration one only knows when one's high hopes are dashed to despair.
All the while Kin was with me and all the while he was sympathetic to every mood. I had thought he might be a difficult character but this was not the case. He is always mindful of my ill humours, makes excuses for my bad behaviour, likes being alone with me, does not need neighbours, does not want company. We have reached a new intimacy, when we have jogged along quietly together from day to day with nothing to do but read, listen to music, watch television. It has been a further stretch of our life together and because it has not been a "highlight" it has been important as showing that we can relax together and be content in one another's company even through the most prosaic of times.
After a bad cook left, there came a new cook, Mrs. Paycock, and Cecil's spirits lifted.
Then came the glorious night when Mrs. Paycock appeared. She was given trout and steak to cook. Eileen, Kin and I cheered the meal. It was as if our taste buds had been given back to us. Everything had its flavour once more. The sauces were delicious and at last each meal became a pleasure instead of a dreary necessity.
We are now doing everything in our power to make Mrs. Paycock (her husband is held behind the Iron Curtain) feel part of the family so that we can rely on her as a friend and an artist.
Kin's image must be changed. He is no longer the romantic fey creature I met in strange circumstances in San Francisco. He is a wholesome good person who is identified with my life, with my interests completely. A good, sterling character who makes allowances for my weakness but encourages me only along the path of righteousness. He is a good influence on me though I try consciously not to let him take complete charge of my tastes and inclinations. I have devoted less time to listening to him talk about his theories on painting and music than I would like. I would have liked to have spent less time on my own work, yet here is a rare opportunity to paint. But we talk as if we are to be together for some while yet. His course at the Courtauld goes on for two years and I am beginning to think that that meeting was one of the miracles that have happened in my life. For we really are very much together in understanding and in our mutual interests. The fact that we each have other interests of our own does not upset us in any way.
For a long year in 1963, Cecil had worked on the film of My Fair Lady in Hollywood. Though this had given him many opportunities, he hated being ensnared in Hollywood for such a long time. Now the film opened to great acclaim across the world. Cecil, who had worked so hard and for so long, was finally able to enjoy it, the memories of feuding and in-fighting a thing of the past. Above all he had hated the director, George Cukor, a mixture of personality clash, combined with Cukor having power over Cecil by his contract. There had been a blazing row one day when Cukor failed to look at some designs that Cecil wanted to show him.
At last I believe the bogey of unhappiness created by my rift with Cukor has been expelled and that I can look back on the film making with a certain pleasure. The opening in Paris was certainly an event of pure pleasure, and of gala, and the praise that I received was important for it came from the people I revere.
Now the opening in London is about to start and I only trust that the death of that great man, W. C. [Churchill] will not ruin the celebrations, which we have looked forward to for so long. However, it is no use contemplating disappointment.
David Warner, half ape, half lanky hero, came to be photographed. He is incredibly shy, but thawed a little. When I asked him to come to supper that night he giggled in his glass of whisky and said, "Oh no, I'm far too shy. You mustn't tempt me." He went off with his knapsack on his back, saying he would be back at 10:30. When he came into the crowded room, he walked up to Princess Margaret and said, "You're the only person I know in this room. Did you hear about my High Camp Lunch?" "No, where?" "At the Palace." Whereupon he and Princess Margaret were deep in conversation for the rest of the evening. He is a natural and in spite of his strange looks and the face covered with spots he has great charm (and, of course, a stroke or two of genius) and it is full marks to the Queen Mother's daughter that she recognises here is someone quite out of the ordinary.
Meet the Author
Hugo Vickers compiled The Unexpurgated Beaton and is the author of Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough; Cecil Beaton; Vivien Leigh; Loving Garbo; and Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece, among other books. He lives in London and Hampshire with his wife and three children.
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