Sir Cecil Beaton

Definition

Theater

  • (1904 - 80) British photographer and theatrical designer.Beaton began his photographic career while still a student at Harrow,subsequently specializing in portraits of the rich and famous. Hebecame a close friend of Wallis Simpson, serving as the official photographerat her wedding (1936) to the former Edward VIII. Turning to stagedesign, he worked on several ballets and revues before providing costumesand scenery for major West End productions. His opulent designs drewon many sources, ranging from the gilded salons of Buckingham Palaceto his own grandparents' upholstery.

    His first great success was John Gielgud's 1945 productionof Lady Windermere's Fan, for which he created a yellow silkboudoir and long corridors hung with ancestral portraits. For Pinero'sThe Second Mrs Tanqueray (1950) he recreated the grandeur ofstately homes in the 1890s as well as a series of lavish gowns forEileen Herlie. He worked with Noël Coward on Quadrille(1952) before moving to Broadway, where he carried out most of hislater work.

    Beaton's finest work for the stage was undoubtedly that forthe Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady (1956); the Ascotscene was considered particularly stunning. His designs were alsoused in the film version, earning him an Academy Award.

    Beaton was also a compulsive diarist who wrote thousands ofwords a day; his journals contain many sharp comments on his theatricalfriends. After seeing Mrs Patrick Campbell in Tanquerayat the Pier Theatre in Bournemouth in 1924, he wrote, "Mrs Pat was incredibly huge and terrible. Repulsive! She was twice aslarge as any man on the stage. She is most amusing, the old brute,when she takes her call. She waddles to the footlights and leans forward,holding up her skirt with one hand, and bowing with a terrible sneeron her face."

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