(Sir) Cecil Beaton - Writer

Costume Designer. Nationality: British. Born: Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton in London, 14 January 1904. Education: Attended Heath Mount School, London; Harrow School; St. Cyprian's School, Eastbourne; St. John's College, Cambridge, 1922–25. Career: 1925–26—clerk, Schmiegelow cement company, London; then freelance portrait and fashion photographer (contract with Condé Nast Publications, particularly for Vogue magazine, 1930-mid-1950s); also stage designer from 1925, and costume and set designer for films from 1941. Awards: Academy Awards for Gigi , 1958; My Fair Lady , 1964. Chevalier, Legion of Honor, 1960; Commander, Order of the British Empire, 1957; Knighted, 1972. Died: In Broadchalke, Wiltshire, 18 January 1980.

Films as Costume Designer:


Kipps ( The Remarkable Mr. Kipps ) (Reed); Major Barbara (Pascal); Dangerous Moonlight ( Suicide Squadron ) (Hurst)


Beware of Pity (Elvey)


Anna Karenina (Duvivier)


An Ideal Husband (Korda)


The Truth about Women (Box)


The Doctor's Dilemma (Asquith)


On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Minnelli) (co)

Cecil Beaton
Cecil Beaton

Other Films:


The Young Mr. Pitt (Reed) (costume design + art d)


Gigi (Minnelli) (costume + pr design)


My Fair Lady (Cukor) (costume + pr design)


By BEATON: books—

The Book of Beauty , London, 1930.

Scrapbook , London, 1937.

New York , London, 1938, as Portrait of New York , New York, 1938.

My Royal Past (as Baroness von Bulop), London, 1939, revised edition, 1960.

Time Exposure , text by Peter Quennell, London, 1941.

History under Fire , text by James Pope-Hennessy, London, 1941

Winged Squadrons , London, 1942.

Near East , London, 1943.

(Editor) British Photographers , London, 1944.

Face to Face with China , text by H. B. Rattenburg, London, 1945.

Far East , London, 1945.

Air of Glory , London, 1946.

Indian Album , London, 1946.

Chinese Album , London, 1946.

(Editor) Whistler, Rex, Designs for the Theatre , London, 1947.

Ashcombe: The Story of a 15 Year Lease , London, 1947.

The School for Scandal , text by Sheridan, London, 1949.

Ballet , London, 1951.

Photobiography , London, 1951.

With Kenneth Tynan, Persona Grata , London, 1953.

The Glass of Fashion , London, 1954.

It Gives Me Great Pleasure , London, 1955, as I Take Great Pleasure , New York, 1955.

The Face of the World , London, 1957.

Images , London, 1959.

The Importance of Being Earnest , text by Wilde, London, 1960.

The Wandering Years: Diaries 1922–39 , London, 1961.

Quail in Aspic: The Life Story of Count Charles Korsetz , London, 1962.

Royal Portraits , London, 1963.

My Fair Lady , London, 1964, as Cecil Beaton's Fair Lady , New York, 1964.

The Years Between: Diaries 1939–44 , London, 1965.

The Best of Beaton , London, 1968.

(Editor) Fashion , London, 1971.

My Bolivian Aunt: A Memoir , London, 1971.

The Happy Years: Diaries 1944–48 , London, 1972, as Memories of the 40's , New York, 1972.

Salisbury, A New Approach to the City and Its Neighbourhood , text by Hugh de Shortt, London, 1972.

The Strenuous Years: Diaries 1948–55 , London, 1973.

With Gail Buckland, The Magic Image: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day , London, 1975.

The Restless Years: Diaries 1955–63 , London, 1976.

The Parting Years: Diaries 1963–74 , London, 1978.

Self-Portrait with Friends: The Selected Diaries , edited by Richard Buckle, London, 1979.

War Photographs 1939–45 , London, 1981.

Beaton in Vogue , edited by Josephine Ross, London, 1986.

By BEATON: article—

Interview with Penelope Tree, in Inter/View (New York), April 1973.

On BEATON: books—

Danziger, James, editor, Beaton , London, 1980.

Vickers, Hugo, Cecil Beaton: The Authorized Biography , London, 1985.

Mellor, David, editor, Cecil Beaton , London, 1994.

Souhami, Diana, Greta & Cecil , London, 1994.

Spencer, Charles, Cecil Beaton Stage and Film Designs , Academy Editions, 1995.

Vickers, Hugo, Loving Garbo: The Story of Greta Garbo, Cecil Beaton, and Mercedes de Acosta , London, 1995.

On BEATON: articles—

Chierichetti, David, in Hollywood Costume Design , New York, 1976.

LaVine, W. Robert, in In a Glamorous Fashion , New York, 1980.

The Annual Obituary 1980 , New York, 1981.

Richardson, John, "The Eternally Fashionable Cecil Beaton," in Vanity Fair (New York), August 1986.

Perl, Jed, "Grand Delusions: The Luxurious Worlds of Fragonard and Beaton," in Vogue , vol. 178, February 1988.

Wade, Marcia J., in Horizon , vol. 31, March 1988.

Roth, Evelyn, "On Being and Beaton," in American Photographer , vol. 23, December 1989.

Hastings, S., "Strange Interlude," in New Yorker , 11 July 1994.

"Cecil Beaton, Philippe Garner and David Alan Mellor," in Metro , no. 102, 1995.

Diederichsen, Diedrich, "Stage Frights: Art Trends in Berlin, Germany," in Artforum , April 1998.

Schonauer, David, "Fame's Birth," in American Photo , January 2000.

* * *

Cecil Beaton is best known as a photographer, whose major work included fashion images for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar , images of the Second World War for the British government, and portraits of prominent figures from society, the performing arts, and the movies. In terms of motion pictures, Beaton will be remembered for his designs for Gigi and My Fair Lady .

His designs for these films can be described as elegant and swanky. In both there is a high degree of realistic detail and attention to historical accuracy in furnishings and costumes. Nevertheless there are striking and unusual aspects within a mostly realistic design framework. My Fair Lady 's Ascot sequence, for example, is costumed entirely in black and white, but with such variety that there is no sense of dullness caused by the lack of color. Many of the costumes have organic or geometric shapes and surreal designs that recall those found in the paintings of Miro, Dali, or Picasso (all of whom had been subjects for Beaton's camera).

Beaton's experiences with fashion photography and his fascination with Hollywood's make-believe world during the early 1930s made him well-suited for designing films that emphasized dramatic and lavish costuming. His first trip to the United States in 1929 brought him to the attention of Condé Nast, for whom he worked in the following decade, making periodic trips to this country from England. In 1931 and the years following he photographed such stars as Gary Cooper, Orson Welles, Buster Keaton, Carole Lombard, Tallulah Bankhead, Marlene Dietrich, and John Wayne, often using frames of sets or other structural elements as dramatic contrasts to the figures. He continued to photograph stars throughout his life, and had a complex, but intense professional relationship with Greta Garbo from 1944 to 1955.

Beaton had experience as a theatre designer in London and New York in the 1940s and 1950s; his My Fair Lady film sets are expansions of the theatre designs. His experience with stage design and with the world of fashion gave him a sensibility to fabrics and to the human figure, and this, combined with his understanding of photography, a medium requiring the ability to perceive the world two-dimensionally, made him successful as a screen designer. His output on that medium was small, but well represents a particular approach to film design—lavish appearances made memorable by the use of unusual and effective details.

—Floyd W. Martin

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