The Unexpurgated Beaton: The Cecil Beaton Diaries as He Wrote Them, 1970-1980

Cecil Beaton, Author, Hugo Vickers, Introduction by Knopf Publishing Group $35 (528p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4112-1
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.
Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 321 pages - 978-0-307-42952-0
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