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Cecil Beaton was one of the great twentieth-century tastemakers. A photographer, artist, writer and designer for more than fifty years, he was at the center of the worlds of fashion, society, theater and film. The Unexpurgated Beaton brings together for the first time the never-before-published diaries from 1970 to 1980 and, unlike the six slim volumes of diaries published during his lifetime, these have been left uniquely unedited.
Hugo Vickers, the executor of Beaton’s estate and the author of his acclaimed biography, has added extensive and fascinating notes that are as lively as the diary entries themselves. As one London reviewer wrote, “Vickers’ waspish footnotes are the salt on the side of the dish.” Beaton treated his other published diaries like his photographs, endlessly retouching them, but, for this volume, Vickers went back to the original manuscripts to find the unedited diaries.
Here is the photographer for British and American Vogue, designer of the sets and costumes for the play and film My Fair Lady and the film Gigi, with a cast of characters from many worlds: Bianca Jagger, Greta Garbo, David Hockney, Truman Capote, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, Mae West, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich, Rose Kennedy and assorted Rothschilds, Phippses and Wrightsmans; in New York, San Francisco, Palm Beach, Rio and Greece, on the Amalfi coast; at shooting parties in the English countryside, on yachts, at garden parties at Buckingham Palace, at costume balls in Venice, Paris or London.
Beaton had started as an outsider and “developed the power to observe, first with his nose pressed up against the glass,” and then later from within inner circles. Vickers has said, “his eagle eye missed nothing,” and his diaries are intuitive, malicious (he took a “relish in hating certain figures”), praising and awestruck. Truman Capote once said “the camera will never be invented that could capture or encompass all that he actually sees.”
The Unexpurgated Beaton is a book that is not only a great read and wicked fun but a timeless chronicle of our age.
As a photographer and stage designer, Beaton's propensity for self-promotion had already brought him a fair measure of renown in his native England. But the serial publication over the years of his diaries brought him notoriety, particularly the passages revealing his affair with Greta Garbo--bisexual in practice, Beaton's sensibility was swish. The years republished here, 1970-1980, are perhaps the least eventful of Beaton's life, concerned largely with his declining health, loss of sex drive and the shoring up of his artistic reputation:"To the younger generation I have become an old master," he writes. Yet this unflinching portrait of the artist's increasing debility is touching--all the more so coming from a man who spent much of his life capturing life from its most flattering angle. Pathos aside, the diaries gain a jolt of interest from Beaton's catty assessments of his circle (Noel Coward, John Gielgud and the Queen Mother are all acquaintances) and celebrity subjects, whom he continued to photograph for Vogue well into his 70s. Beaton's graceful writing is most perceptive when capturing others' physical appearance. Though his descriptions of women often border on the misogynistic (Grace Kelly is a"big bull puppy"), the dressing-down he gives Katharine Hepburn, with whom he worked unhappily on the Broadway show Coco, is a bracing astringent to the recent, gauzy hagiography of the screen legend. Though fiercely opinionated, Beaton never appears the crotchety old fart; encounters with Andy Warhol and David Bailey, a swingin' 1960s fashion photographer who filmed a documentary on Beaton, occasion frissons of mutual admiration between the old guard and new. After a stroke in 1974, Beaton declared there would be no more diaries. Yet he quietly carried on writing, and the few entries Vickers includes give a fascinating glimpse at Beaton's damaged linguistic faculty; there is an accidental, Gertrude Stein-like poetry in their throttled syntax. 40 photographs and heavy, if erratic footnotes.