Cecil Beaton's brutally honest opinions of the stars he photographed revealed
Cecil Beaton's private diary entries revealing his witty and unsparing thoughts on the many stars he photographed are revealed in a new book
He spent 50 years charming the rich and famous from behind the camera in order to produce an array of iconic portraits.
But now Cecil Beaton’s true and often scathing opinions on stars from Mick Jagger to Monroe have been revealed in a new book.
The photographer claimed the Rolling Stones frontman “could be a eunuch”, described one half of Grace Kelly’s face as “like a bull calf” and dismissed Elizabeth Taylor as vulgar and unladylike.
Displaying disconcerting foresight, he said of Marilyn Monroe: “It will probably end in tears.”
But despite his many waspish commentaries, the photographer was full of praise for the Queen who he described as “serene, magnetic” and “meltingly sympathetic” and her “very pretty” sister Princess Margaret.
Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles, published in September, combines the photographer’s personal diaries with a selection of his most famous images, offering witty, observant and brutally honest descriptions of his subjects.
Actress Eva Gabor on the set of the film 'GiGi' with Cecil Beaton (Rex)
Writing about the Queen, who he photographed as a young princess in 1943 and seven years later with a young Prince Charles, he said: “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.”
The photographer, who died in 1980 aged 76, likened Marilyn Monroe to a naïve child playing at being an adult and foresaw an unhappy outcome.
After working with her in 1956, he wrote: “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.”
Beaton photographed Mick Jagger with Anita Pallenberg in 1968 and found the musician a mass of contradictions.
“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 wrote.
“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.”
He was more critical of Grace Kelly, whose portrait he captured in 1965.
He wrote: “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.”
However, his real venom was reserved for Elizabeth Taylor, who he photographed in 1957.
“She’s everything I dislike,” he wrote.
“I have always loathed the Burtons for their vulgarity, commonness and crass bad taste, she combining the worst of US 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.”
Beaton had kinder words for Audrey Hepburn, in whom he recognised “inherent ‘star’ quality”.
He wrote: “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.”
He also wrote a flattering portrait of Princess Margaret, which said: “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.”
His admiration for Salvador Dali was muted by the artist’s need for breath freshener.
“I loved him for being such an original individual but today was terribly put off by his really appalling bad breath.” Beaton wrote.
Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles, edited by Hugo Vickers, will be available from September 4 for £30.