Saturday, 7 August 2010
Flying the (vintage) Rainbow Flag
In the wonderful Beaton in the Sixties, More Unexpurgated Diaries edited by Hugo Vickers, Cecil comes over as a sensitive soul, although obviously a most glorious snob and would have cringed, I think, at the sheer sloppiness of it all. An elegant, sharp witted creature who was never quite accepted by the people he longed to be accepted by. A Royal snapper, a set designer, a painter and creator of gardens, he led what must be seen as now, an incredibly priviledged life. But, oh, how he worked at it. Nothing is left to chance. The artfully arranged supper, the careless wisp of silk draped over a lamp, the worry of ageing, the fretting over the details... And my goodness, the people he knew. A positive Who's Who of the rich, the famous, and the infamous.
The critics often use the word 'waspish' with him. But... what good would be his wonderful diaries if he wasn't a tad waspish? Certainly I rejoice in knowing that the Queen Mother was too fat to pose for a portrait with her hands in lap, or that she squabbled furiously with Tony Snowdon and Princess Margaret about using a biro to sign a guest book at the London Zoo. The gossip is really delightful, and matters not that the people involved in the scandles are dead. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor are described and conversations reported so that I felt I was there. There, when the Duke (a tiny, weak eyed man) confessed to Cecil that he was too lazy to use the bathroom for a pee sometimes and simply did it out of the window at their residence in Paris.
It wasn't just Royalty, either, though he did have a bellyfull of them. He chased the new talent, too. Mick Jagger gets the Cecil Beaton treatment.... His skin is chicken breast white, and of a fine quality. He has enormous in built elegance....He is very gentle with perfect manners. I was not disappointed. But then, a few day later round the pool in Tangiers, Mick Jagger walks towards Cecil and he notes...I couldn't believe it was the same person. His face was a white podgy shapelss mess.... He looked like a self-conscious suburban young lady. Ouch.
And you feel his despair when he meets up with Greta Garbo on a sailing cruise courtesy of a Rothschild private yacht round the Greek Isles. The pair had been romantically involved for decades, but with Cecil it was all talk, really, his persuasions were not heterosexual. It was her beauty that enslaved him. But now, after a parting that has lasted years, they are cooped up together on a small yacht and he mourns her lack of substance. She has nothing to fall back on, no conversation, no intimacy, no humour and not much kindness. They all have to creep around her, terrified of arousing her displeasure. Only once does he glimpse the woman that he had loved all those years, and he cries at the waste of it all.
Probably at no other time in history could Cecil have moved so much with the movers and shakers. Picasso, Frederick Ashton, Andy Warhol, Barbara Streisand, Coco Channel and Katherine Hepburn all are friends, but none are spared in the diaries. It's utterly fascinating. But perhaps even more so are the figures that are not 'names' but hover on the periphery of history. They too have stories to tell, and the fascination grows.