Cecil Beaton — Taking Beauty For a Ride (1931) 🇺🇸
Cecil Beaton, English photographer, doesn’t mind telling what our sirens lack.
by J. Eugene Chrisman
Discovered — the bravest man in the world. He is Cecil Beaton, famous eccentric photographer of beautiful women. Compared to him, Sergeant York had a yellow streak and Lindbergh is a craven. York only captured a few hundred Huns and Lindy only made a solo flight to Paris, while Mr. Beaton has dared to select the six most beautiful women in Hollywood and say it in print. Imagine the danger of such words as these:
- “There is only one sophisticated woman on the screen — Lilyan Tashman.
- “Garbo has no sex appeal. None. Her eyes have been called mystical, but I find in them not passion but compassion.
- “Marion Davies is the only woman in Hollywood who needs no artificial setting for her beauty. Her beauty is indestructible.”
He scorns the conventional, and goes in for highly original poses, camera angles and effects so unusual that they border on the bizarre. One of his photographs — that of the British poetess, Miss Edith Sitwell, posed in the attitude of death — has been reproduced the world over.
“Hollywood photographers are still in the Victorian age of photography.” Mr. Beaton emphasized his remark with a piece of buttered toast (he assumes extraordinary positions in photographing, but breakfasts right side up). “They have no imagination, no originality. They think artistic photography means placing a spray of flowers in the subject’s hand and having her strike an agonizing pose. Rot!”
Later in the day we had opportunity to watch Mr. Beaton in action on the Paramount lot as he snapped some of the stars. His acrobatic methods reminded us of Doug at his best. Prone on his tummy, “shooting” upward, swinging precariously from a beam shooting down, it all looked like a lot of monkeyshines to us.
Catch Them Off Their Guard
Look for the unusual: Only by the use of unique poses and different angles can we hope to characterize our subject truly.” Mr. Beaton poured himself another cup of coffee. “Every object in the world is striking or beautiful from some particular viewpoint, whether it be the flywheel of a great engine or the soft curve of a woman’s breast. The artistic photographer finds that viewpoint and captures that beauty.
“The conventional photograph portrait is a silly, stilted thing. You know the poses by heart — head tilted back, eyes rolled up, hands draped about chin, flowers, dimples, smirks. The photographer clicks his shutter. The result shows the character the sitter wishes to assume before the world. I place my subjects in unusual poses in order that I may force them to drop the mask they wear. I seek the angle from which the camera will best surprise the quality I wish to emphasize. “But it is often said that there are more beautiful women in Hollywood than any other city in the world.” We cleverly caught Mr. Beaton at a disadvantage as he took a bite of toast, “Is that true?”
“Oh, positively not,” he assured us promptly. “The women of the screen possess that type of beauty which requires the make-up box and the motion picture camera to bring out. Ann Harding is a fine example of this — strikingly beautiful on the screen, very plain when seen in person. Real beauty, if I may be trite, comes from a cultured, exquisite soul and merely shines through the mold of the features. I can select more beautiful women at any social gathering in New York, London or on the Continent than can be found in all Hollywood, for there one finds the culture and sophistication that accompany real beauty.”
No, They Aren’t Sophisticated
Then you do not find our beauties sophisticated?” “Not at all, my dear fellow, positively not! Very naive, most of them, very!”
“Miss Bennett and Miss Francis,” murmured Mr. Beaton, “are very nice girls, but sophisticated —?” He waved a languid hand, sending Connie and Kay into the ranks of schoolgirls. “Miss Tashman is the only woman in Hollywood who even approaches real sophistication.”
“Do you find a resemblance to Garbo in Marlene Dietrich?”
“Not in the least,” he answered readily. “I fail to see the so-called sex appeal of Greta Garbo, while Miss Dietrich in every tone of face and figure expresses the flesh-and-blood passions, the desires of the world. Garbo is Eve; Dietrich, Lilith. One is spiritual. The other earthly.”
“Whose features, whose nose, whose eyes, et cetera, would you select if you were to make a composite screen beauty?”
“She would have the eyes of Garbo, for they are the most wonderful eyes in Hollywood. For the nose, she would have the nose of Lilyan Tashman, which is most perfect of all. Her mouth would be the sweet, well-formed mouth of Norma Shearer. And her facial contour would be the perfect oval of Ina Claire’s face.”
“If you intend to stay in Hollywood even a few days longer, you may not wish to answer our next question,” we ventured. “Who are the six most beautiful women of the screen?”
“The six most beautiful women in Hollywood?” Mr. Beaton took the plunge without the flicker of an amazingly long, curling eyelash. “Certainly.
- “Marion Davies is the typical American girl, vivid, alive, sparkling. She would be just as attractive when emerging from a swimming-pool as in evening dress, fresh from the hands of her maid.
- “Then Ina Claire, a gorgeous almond blonde, typifying the acme of gaiety, youth and laughter. She has the most perfect facial contour I have ever seen.
- “Norma Shearer, too, is lovely; the simple countrywoman whom a degree of sophistication has not spoiled. She has the beauty that makes a career and is also an adornment to the home.
- “Lilyan Tashman is a modern Greek goddess. She has one of the world’s divine forms.
- “One must include Greta Garbo. She is mad, absolutely mad, and is therefore ethereal. Contrary to popular opinion, I do not find her possessed of sexual allure, but she understands Life.
- “Michelangelo alone could duplicate Marlene Dietrich. She personifies desire, passion and the mad leap of the pulses. She is Circe, she is Cleopatra and so, of course, she is beautiful.”
We left Mr. Beaton still in his pajamas, but fumbling in his closet for a garment that bore a decided resemblance to a bullet-proof vest — and why not? Brave men, these Britons!
Cecil Beaton is noted for his unusual — and sometimes unflattering — snapshots of beauties.
Way up at the top, he’s on the rafters, getting a new slant at Wynne Gibson (at bottom across the page).
Left, shooting up at Paramount’s new siren (top of opposite page)
Cecil Beaton: “I can select more beautiful women at any social gathering in New York, London or on the Continent than can be found in all Hollywood.”
Dancing with damp eyes? Eleanor Hunt married Rex Lease April 9, and eight days later, newspapers reported them parted.
Source: Motion Picture Magazine, July 1931