Cecil Beaton, Cecil Beaton’s New York
“The beauty of London lies hidden in lonely squares, in unexpected corners of the City…. But New York is seen at its best in the distance.”
Cecil Beaton, Cecil Beaton’s New York
“In Mrs. Stone there was a certain grandeur which had replaced her former beauty. The knowledge that her beauty was lost had come upon her recently and it was still occasionally forgotten.
--Tennessee Williams, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Image Credit: The Face of the World
“What makes a beauty? We despair, we have little inkling of the secret, for often in no way do beauties resemble one another.”
--Cecil Beaton, The Book of Beauty
Image Credit: The Genius of Charles James
“I thought it would be great fun for a woman to have her hair dried under a paisley tent, her fingertips manicured on a Porthault pillow, her hair curled by the light of a palm-tree lamp, as she sits in a lacquered bamboo chair. Apparently it is indeed fun; I’m told a woman will keep dentists and dinner dates waiting before she’ll miss an appointment at Kenneth’s.”
--Billy Baldwin, on His Design of Kenneth's Hair Salon, Billy Baldwin Decorates
Billy Baldwin's exotic design of the famed New York hair salon owned by Kenneth Battelle was widely praised, but there were of course detractors. One client uttered in horror, "I'm getting out of here! It looks like a brothel." After she fled the salon, Kenneth pondered how she knew what one looked like, inquiring, "Do you suppose she's been in one before?"
Kenneth and his salon reached their apogee in the days leading up to Truman Capote's 1966 Black and White Ball. Katharine Graham, Capote's guest of honor, was but one of many partygoers who sat under Kenneth's dryer to prepare for the party.
The others in Kenneth's appointment book that day comprised a Who's Who of New York society, including both the former Mrs. Leland Hayward (Slim Keith) and the then-current one (Pamela Harriman). Kudos to the scheduler who timed those departures and arrivals. Yet, that was nothing new for the salon. Kenneth was accustomed to such matters. During the Kennedy administration, he styled the hair of both Jacqueline Kennedy and her husband's occasional paramour, Marilyn Monroe.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis began with Kenneth before the White House years and stayed long after. Kenneth even traveled to Washington to groom her the day of that fateful trip to Texas in November 1963. He was with her for happier moments as well. In 1986, he was the hairdresser for Caroline Kennedy's wedding to Ed Schlossberg. Kathy McKeon, personal assistant to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, wrote in Jackie's Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family that Kenneth woke up extra early to style even her hair before moving on to Caroline's bridal party. It was a magnanimous gesture on his part, and an amusing experience for McKeon. When he was shampooing her, Kenneth muttered, "Oh, you sexy bitch." McKeon was left to wonder, "Was this how [Mrs. Onassis's] shampoos went all those years?"
When Kenneth died at the age of eighty-six in 2013, his library included warmly inscribed books from grateful clients. Three such examples are currently on offer at the Nick Harvill Libraries store: The World of Gloria Vanderbilt signed by Gloria Vanderbilt, Allure signed by Diana Vreeland, and Tiffany Taste signed by that book's editor, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Note: The photograph of Marilyn Monroe by Cecil Beaton (above) was included in Diana Vreeland's spectacular coffee table book, Allure. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was that book's editor. It says much about Mrs. Onassis's character that she did not use her power to remove this photograph of her husband's volatile mistress. Moreover, Maria Callas is included as well (Callas was the mistress of the former first lady's second husband, Aristotle Onassis). Bravo, Jackie O!
“You see, I have this theory about ‘star’ quality. I think great actors tend to cover themselves up (characterization and stuff), where the great star literally strips himself naked. For a few pennies they allow us the privilege of gawking at their insides. A lot of them do it without meaning to. They seem to have no defense mechanism at all. Marilyn Monroe, for example.”
-- Anthony Newley, Double Exposure, A Gallery of the Celebrated by the Equally Celebrated
Image Credit: Allure
“You can’t have your heart broken by just one man, darling. There’s a man for every occasion.”
Jackie Collins, via Kathy Griffin
“Duff [Cooper] considers there has been a greater revolution in England since 1914, or since 1939, than there was in France in 1789. Admittedly it has been bloodless, but the life of taste, culture, and refinement, as we knew it, has gone for good.”
--Cecil Beaton, The Strenuous Years, Diaries: 1948-55
“Creating god in our own image. It flatters our vanity, and of course we prefer vanity to understanding.”
--Aldous Huxley, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan
Image Credit: The Best of Beaton
World War II knocked Cecil Beaton from his orbit as a Bright Young Thing. He developed a new seriousness as an adjunct of Britain’s Ministry of Information. Traveling the world in that capacity, he wrote about it in Near East, An Indian Album, Chinese Diary and Album, and Far East. In this passage from Near East, he laments the “telegraph by numbers” mode by which service members communicated home:
Cheap-rate telegraph messages can be sent by the forces with stock sentences that are picked from millions of former messages. A man by choosing a number can send a suitably composed message. Number 7 is “love and kisses,” or number 10 is “sorry to tell you … died.” Happier ones are “glad to hear of your promotion,” or “thinking of you especially at this time.” From a realistic point of view this economical service is effective and helpful, but there is something tragic about the formality of messages “ready-made” for all emotions, from celebration to despair, and which can in a few words express all that most people are able to convey to one another.
Nick Harvill Libraries is currently offering for sale the copy of Near East Beaton inscribed to fellow photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe. Check out the product listing here.
Image Credit: Near East
“I’m fashionable. If you’re not respectable, you have to be fashionable.”
Cecil Beaton, It Gives Me Great Pleasure
Image Credit: History of Men's Fashion