Beaton book casts a spotlight on stars’ flaws

Mick Jagger "could be a eunuch", one half of Grace Kelly’s face was "like a bull calf" and Elizabeth Taylor was vulgar and unladylike.

Beaton book casts a spotlight on stars’ flaws

These are among the not-so-flattering portraits of famous people photographed by the equally famous Cecil Beaton whose views on stars from Julie Andrews to Marilyn Monroe have been revealed in a new book.

Combining his private diaries with iconic photographs of the stars he photographed, the book offers Beaton’s brutally honest vignettes of his subjects.

He spent 50 years cajoling the rich and famous to allow him produce some of the 20th century’s most iconic photographs but many of his subjects might not have been quite so charmed had they known what he thought of them.

Audrey Hepburn, for example, had ‘inherent “star” quality’, though Beaton also noted “a neck too thin, a chin too pointed and a nose too long”.

His description of Elizabeth Taylor, who he photographed in 1957, is particularly venomous. “She’s everything I dislike. I have always loathed the Burtons for their vulgarity, commonness and crass bad taste, she combining the worst of US and English taste.”

He described Julie Andrews, who had landed the part of Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway version of My Fair Lady, as “almost unbelievably naive”.

“She was angelically patient at the many fittings of her clothes and never expressed opinion. One day, due to exhaustion at rehearsals, she keeled over in a dead faint while fitting her ball gown.

“A cup of cold water was enough to revive her and she reproached herself that her mother back home in Walton-on-Thames would be ashamed of her. ‘Oh, Mummy, what a silly girl I am,’ she kept repeating.”

While complimenting Princess Grace for her “unerringly good taste and an unerring sense of comportment”, he saw her beauty as one-sided — literally.

“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.”

The photographer, who died in 1980 aged 76, likened Marilyn Monroe to a child playing at being an adult and, with amazing foresight, predicted an unhappy ending.

“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 will probably end in tears.”

He reserved compliments for those who charmed him, among them Irish artist Francis Bacon. “We seemed to have an immediate rapport. I was overwhelmed by his tremendous charm and understanding... impressed by his ‘principal boy’ legs. I enjoyed looking around at the incredible mess of his studio.”

He was also impressed by Mick Jagger’s gentility, perfect manners and his sinuous figure.

“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.

“His skin is chicken breast white and of a fine quality. He has enormous inborn elegance.”

He reserved his most flattering description for Queen Elizabeth whom he photographed as a princess in 1943 and seven years later with a young Prince Charles.

“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.”

-Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles, edited by Hugo Vickers, goes on sale on September 4 for €37.50.

More in this section