Cecil Beaton
British photographer, designer, socialite, writer



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Cecil Beaton
British photographer, designer, socialite, writer
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Birth Date

January 14, 1904

Death Date

January 18, 1980

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Cecil Beaton was an English fashion photographer, fashionista and notorious tell-all.

While still in middle school, his teachers already recognized his artistic talent. His classmates were apparently overwhelmed by his beautiful singing voice. That’s probably also one of the reasons why Evelyn Waugh (who later on became a very famous novelist) bullied poor Cecil. He also had his own nanny growing up. She happened to own a Kodak camera and he loved to play around with it. His nanny started teaching him the basics of photography and how to develop his own film. It turned out he was pretty darn good at it. Soon he would send his photos off to some of London’s biggest society magazines. Cheeky as he was, he would sometimes write to the magazines under a false name and recommend them his own work. Sly dog.

Even though Cecil wasn’t interested in academia, he still went and studied art history anyway. As I said, he didn’t want to in the first place, so in 1925 he left college without ever earning his degree. He worked for his father very briefly, but a career in timber like his dad wasn’t really Cecil’s cup of tea either. He went on to become one of the most famous fashion photographers of his time. Besides being photographer for British Vogue in 1931, he also photographed the British Royal Family. Cecil absolutely loved Queen E. He liked her so much that he kept her scented hankie as a keepsake. Creepy!

After WW2 he blossomed in yet another art form, designing sets for large Broadway productions, and even landing a role in the 1946 revival of Lady Windermere’s Fan. But besides being a photographer, actor, designer and loverof queens, he was also known for his perfect sense of style. In 1970 he was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame. This list was founded by notorious fashionista Eleanor Lambert in 1940 to boost the reputation of American fashion. Today, Vanity Fair is in charge of the list. Cecil is in very good company; on the list you will also find Sophia Loren, Jacky Kennedy and George Clooney. But then again, apparently also David Beckham.

Cecil had broad taste when it came to lovers. Besides former Olympic fencer Kimmont Hoitsma, he also loved up actress Greta Garbo and dancer Adele Astaire. Yet, the love of his life was art collector Peter Watson Unfortunately the two never got together.

During the 50 years he spent photographing the rich and famous, Cecil kept a diary. You can imagine he had a lot of juicy stuff to tell! Fortunately for us, after his death, they turned his diary into a book so we can all enjoy the gossip! For example, he claimed that Mick Jagger might have been impotent and apparently Elizabeth Taylor was very vulgar and “unladylike." Whatever that means, Cecil.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Cecil Beaton

Sir Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton CBE (14 January 1904 – 18 January 1980) was an English fashion, portrait and war photographer, diarist, painter, and interior designer, and an Oscar–winning stage and costume designer for films and the theatre.

Early life and education

Beaton was born on 14 January 1904 in Hampstead, north London, the son of Ernest Walter Hardy Beaton (1867–1936), a prosperous timber merchant, and his wife, Esther "Etty" Sisson (1872–1962). His grandfather, Walter Hardy Beaton (1841–1904), had founded the family business of "Beaton Brothers Timber Merchants and Agents", and his father followed into the business. Ernest Beaton was an amateur actor and met his wife, Cecil's mother Esther ("Etty"), when playing the lead in a play. She was the daughter of a Cumbrian blacksmith named Joseph Sisson and had come to London to visit her married sister.

Ernest and Etty Beaton had four children – Cecil; two daughters, Nancy Elizabeth Louise Hardy Beaton (1909–99, who married Sir Hugh Smiley) and Barbara Jessica Hardy Beaton (1912–73, known as Baba, who married Alec Hambro); and son Reginald Ernest Hardy Beaton (1905–33).

Cecil Beaton was educated at Heath Mount School (where he was bullied by Evelyn Waugh) and St Cyprian's School, Eastbourne, where his artistic talent was quickly recognised. Both Cyril Connolly and Henry Longhurst report in their autobiographies being overwhelmed by the beauty of Beaton's singing at the St Cyprian's school concerts.

When Beaton was growing up his nanny had a Kodak 3A Camera, a popular model which was renowned for being an ideal piece of equipment to learn on. Beaton's nanny began teaching him the basics of photography and developing film. He would often get his sisters and mother to sit for him. When he was sufficiently proficient, he would send the photos off to London society magazines, often writing under a pen name and ‘recommending’ the work of Beaton.

Beaton attended Harrow School, and then, despite having little or no interest in academia, moved on to St John's College, Cambridge, and studied history, art and architecture. Beaton continued his photography, and through his university contacts managed to get a portrait depicting the Duchess of Malfi published in Vogue. It was actually George "Dadie" Rylands – "a slightly out-of-focus snapshot of him as Webster's Duchess of Malfi standing in the sub-aqueous light outside the men's lavatory of the ADC Theatre at Cambridge." Beaton left Cambridge without a degree in 1925.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Cecil Beaton.