With Cecil Beaton and Greta Garbo, the boundaries merge between image and reality, fact and fantasy, male and female and art and life. Garbo first met Beaton in Hollywood in March 1932. She flirted and danced with him, told him he was pretty, and at dawn, drove away in her black Packard and brushed aside his pleas to let him see her again. At the time of this meeting, they were both involved in turbulent same-sex affairs: Greta with Mercedes de Acosta, among whose lovers were Eva Le Gallienne and Marlene Dietrich, and Cecil with Peter Watson, a wealthy dilettante. When the pair met again, 15 years later, she asked him to go to bed. For her, it was an idle flirtation, for him it fuelled his ambition to photograph her, to be like her and to marry her.
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Think of Greta Garbo: imagine aloofness, eyelashes, huskiness, naturalness, "the smell of freshly mown hay." Think of Cecil Beaton: imagine camp foppery, narcissism, extravagance, artifice, "a snotty peacock." The two met once in 1932, then not again for 14 years, at which point they became embroiled in a thrillingly uneven relationship marked by projection, mismatched desire, and masochism. So what was the "terrible homosexualist" society photographer doing with "the divine" actress? Amateur psychologists, sharpen your pencils. Diana Souhami wisely does not allow herself to extemporize too wildly, despite the understandable allure of such an alliance. Along with the Scandinavian shoulders and paddle feet, Garbo also possessed a Nordic cold melancholy, rendering her screen portrayals attractively distant and her own self frustratingly absent. The truth was that she did not seem to possess a character to match her undoubted grace and beauty. Beaton, on the other hand, was instinctively bright and bursting with desire to be adored. He matched her indolence with bustling industry. At times, particularly in the recounting of his early days, his obnoxiousness borders on the unbearable, and Souhami barely conceals her disgusted glee. But she is superb at reining in such characters, as she showed in Gertrude and Alice, and she thrives on the challenge of eliciting respect for the sheer indomitable life force of such individuals. Beaton pursued the artificial throughout his life, and nothing could be more superficial than the hollow idealized self he saw in Garbo.
Absence--physical, emotional, and sexual--pervades every aspect of this book. Souhami's sympathetic and shrewd attentions coax a tragic and complicatedly familiar story from two masters of illusion who are united, then estranged, by their lonely natures--uncomfortable in their own skins but ultimately unable to live within each other's. --David Vincent, Amazon.co.ukFrom the Publisher:
From the acclaimed biographer of Gertrude and Alice--the revealing, gossipy biography of the relationship between Greta Garbo and Cecil Beaton and their unconventional loves and obsessions.
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Book Description Flamingo, 1996. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 6550355
Book Description Flamingo, 1996. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0006550355