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
Paris, just after World War II.
A reception hosted by Molyneux for British Ambassador to France Duff Cooper and His Wife Lady Diana.
Horst P. Horst, recently returned to Paris after sitting out the war in New York City.
"The first person I saw [at the reception] was Schiaparelli, and her first words to me, after a gap of more than five years, were, 'No, you can't have her! And why didn't you come to my opening?' It turned out that the person I couldn't have—as a model for Vogue—was Lud: a Russian girl, whom Madame Dilé and I had 'discovered' when she came one day in 1935 to deliver a dress at the Paris Vogue studio, and who had become one of my favorite pre-war models. In 1946 Lud was working exclusively for Schiaparelli."
Read more about Lud at A.G. Nauia Couture.
Photograph and Story via Horst, His Work and His World
The outbreak of World War II brought an influx of European refugees to New York City. One of them was the teenage Pamela Mountbatten, a royal cousin who would go on to marry the English designer David Hicks. The threat of a Nazi invasion posed a particular hazard for her branch of the Mountbatten family; matriarch Edwina was of partial Jewish descent. As such, the Mountbattens gratefully accepted New York grand dame Grace Vanderbilt's offer to act as Pamela's guardian for the duration of the war. Thus, Pamela was shipped to the relative safety of New York.
As Pamela was later to relate in her memoir, Daughter of Empire: My Life as a Mountbatten, she was protected not only from the Nazis but also from culture while sheltered at Mrs. Vanderbilt's palatial 640 Fifth Avenue residence. On one occasion, Mrs. Vanderbilt hosted a dinner party that posed a scheduling conflict with a Royal Shakespeare Company performance. “A young man at her table [thus] apologized and asked whether he might be excused from the table because he was going to see Hamlet. Mrs. Vanderbilt looked slightly nonplussed and so he explained, 'Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,' whereupon her face lit up and she exclaimed loudly so that everyone could hear, 'Oh, do give the dear boy my good wishes. I knew his father so well.'"
Cecil Beaton took a hiatus from the fashion magazines during World War II and did his part to support the war effort. For Beaton, that meant traveling the world for Britain's Ministry of Information. Part of his duty was shooting the armed forces. His patriotism was not without its rewards.