Cecil Beaton, It Gives Me Great Pleasure
“Hollywood is a suburb of Los Angeles, or vice versa, depending on your point of view.”
Cecil Beaton, It Gives Me Great Pleasure
Image Credit: Goodbye Baby & Amen
“Have finished Cecil Beaton’s Diaries. What a sad book! Not that it isn’t amusing and entertaining. But it’s sad because you feel—at least I felt—that this whole safari of Cecil’s in search of The Real Right Set is in itself a frustration; and throughout it, he seems so agonizingly lonely. He is an extraordinarily heroic figure. In the last resort, he has nothing except his work. No friends. No alleviating vices. No real faith. Nothing. And he knows that.”
Christopher Isherwood, Isherwood in the Sixties, Diaries: 1960-1969
Image Credit: Cecil Beaton's Diaries, The Wandering Years: 1922-39
“Someone has said that each age is an age that is dying, or one that is coming to birth; but the nostalgic eye always seems to choose to regard change as a form of dying.”
Cecil Beaton, The Glass of Fashion
Image Credit: The Best of Beaton
“It is rarely that, after middle age, one makes a great new friend, but I really believe I can put the American, Truman Capote, in that category.”
Cecil Beaton, The Strenuous Years, Diaries: 1948-55
Their friendship would eventually decline, roughly coinciding with the publication of In Cold Blood in 1966. Per Beaton biographer Hugo Vickers: “Cecil found it hard to forgive success in others and this marked a gradual diminution of his friendship with Truman. He felt that Truman was wasting his talents in social life.”
Image Credit: The Strenuous Years, Diaries: 1948-55
“Where do the weeks go? They seem to hurry by even quicker than the days or the hours. It is the immediate future that holds such store, and that keeps our enthusiasms so active. If we had time to realise how quickly the unknown becomes the known, the future the present, and the present the past—should we then perhaps take a calmer view of the weeks and minimize our activity? Then maybe one would have time to consider the real significance of all those meetings, those jobs, those pleasures.”
Cecil Beaton, February 1931, The Wandering Years, Diaries: 1922-39
Cecil Beaton's diaries commence in 1922, nearly one hundred years ago. The first entry found him a student St. John's College in Cambridge—where he enjoyed some success, but just enough to give him a hint of what might (or might fail to) await him in the wider world. That knowledge became torture when he left school and quickly floundered. Beaton struggled in a one-pound-per-week office job for which he was ill-suited. He did not understand that his failure was the result of too much talent, not too little. Typical of his tenure there was when a supervisor reprimanded for adding ornamental flourishes to a business letter he had typed.
The young Beaton was all but ready to give up when a deus machina in the form of Edith Sitwell arrived. She and her brothers not only removed him from his office job, they launched him into the stratosphere. His life became a whirlwind of conquests and achievements, as he made a name for himself in London, Paris, New York City, and Hollywood. In a matter of days, Beaton went from moping in his bedroom to photographing London society in a makeshift photography studio. He became the aesthete of the hour, with nary a moment to stop and smell the roses (though he did paint and photograph them).
The years and decades flew by, and ultimately Cecil Beaton became one of the most accomplished and socially connected men of his era. He won wrote over a dozen books, contributed to fashion magazines (as writer, artist, and photographer), won Oscars and Tonys for his film and stage designs, and juggled a dazzling social life. As evidenced in the many volumes of his diaries, Beaton found some time for reflection. Yet, perhaps he spent too much time savoring his accomplishments and not enough simply enjoying the life he had created?
As Cecil Beaton noted back in 1931, how easy it is to be catapulted into the future via the means of a busy calendar. And, with improvements in travel and communication, life has only sped up in the subsequent decades. Well, at least it had until March 2020, when the world slammed on its brakes.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had tragic consequences, and it is incumbent on us all to do what we can to offer whatever aid and comfort to those adversely affected. However, fate seldom takes away without offering something back in return (one of life’s most challenging lessons to accept). The fortunate among us now have the luxury of time (of which Cecil Beaton wrote back in 1931). Maybe it is not best spent binge-watching Tiger King on Netflix? Instead, why not take in the scent of those roses that Cecil Beaton painted and photographed but was too far busy to savor?
Image Credit: The Wandering Years, Diaries: 1922-39
In February 1968, Cecil Beaton wrote in his diary that he had attended the ballet with a female friend. In his account of the evening, he noted that the strain of the last five years had aged his friend, but it did not show “in photographs and she is still the most photogenic person in the world, infinitely more so than her infinitely more beautiful sister.”
To which sisters did he refer?
HINT: The two sisters had shared one special summer but seemed to have grown apart by middle age.
The answer is after the JUMP.
“Culture is the sum of all the forms of art, of love, and of thought, which, in the course of centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved.”
André Malraux, Anti-Memoirs
Image Credit: The Face of the World
“The truth is I don’t like realities. I like dreams and plans for the future and storybooks and music and jokes.”
Lady Diana Cooper, Darling Monster: The Letters of Lady Diana Cooper to Son John Julius Norwich, 1939-1952
Image Credit: Beaton in Vogue
“[London between the Wars] was lax and casual and hard and bright . . . the clubs and bars were thronged with Bright Young People, and oh, how bored they all were! Bored with living, bored with loving, bored with their hang-overs, and bored, more than anything else, with boredom itself.”
Howard Greer, Designing Male
Read about the London's Bright Young Things era as it unfolded via Cecil Beaton's Diaries, The Wandering Years, 1922-39.
“Who does not love to travel? We are all Marco Polos under the skin, dreaming of far-flung voyages with all the fervour of a nineteenth-century romantic.”
Cecil Beaton, The Face of the World, An International Scrapbook of People and Places
Image Credit: Society in Vogue