Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cecil Beaton's Fair Lady

43. Cecil Beaton's Fair Lady, by Cecil Beaton

When noted photographer and stage designer Cecil Beaton went to Hollywood to work on the film of My Fair Lady, he took pen and paper with him and kept a daily diary, which was subsequently published to the great delight of his admirers, as well as anyone with an interest in film history. Beginning on the day he first met with director George Cukor in London, and ending just over a year later as he flies home, his journal is a fascinating and edifying glimpse into the world of film-making in the old days of the Hollywood studio system.

He describes the difficulty in getting just the right extras to set off his glorious Ascot costumes, the ease of getting offices painted and sets built, the vast treasure trove of furniture and decorative items in the Warner studios warehouses, and the hard work, talent and dedication of the costume shop ladies. Interspersed throughout are wonderful photographs (I'm particularly delighted by the ones of Audrey Hepburn wearing several of the Ascot gowns worn by extras), and, even better, costume sketches.

Beaton is a fine writer, and amidst the hustle and bustle of getting the film's design just so, he takes some time for introspection. On seeing a delphinium, he waxes eloquent on the lack of seasons in L.A.: Here, everything comes out within the same week. In England, the departure of winter is a long, drawn-out process, and how welcome is the first scylla and grape hyacinth! When the lilac is in blossom we feel spring upon us. We have to wait for high summer for a delphinium! But here it has no value, because it grows too readily when everything else is available. Nothing is rare except quality.

He describes his anxieties, the vicissitudes of Los Angeles freeway driving, and the startling lack of real conversation. It is no wonder that his most pleasant times seem to be those weekly dinners with fellow Englishman Christopher Isherwood, "in this sympathetic atmosphere with the talk that invigorates".

I picked this book up assuming I would find it a quick bit of fluff to while away an hour or so. What I found, instead, was "talk that invigorates". Thank you, Cecil, for sharing.

No comments:

Post a Comment