In front of the camera, both women captivated America. Marilyn Monroe, the blonde bombshell, successful in a number of commercial movies, made “sex appeal” a household term. And Elizabeth Taylor, with her dark, smoldering looks, was a gifted actress, considered one of the giants in what is considered The Golden Age of Film. In fact, Taylor was often heralded as the most beautiful woman in the world.
But the two screen sirens have been taken down a few notches in an upcoming book.
The two beauties may have had a rivalry going in 1960, when Monroe posed nude in an attempt to simply eclipse Taylor, who was taken much more seriously as an actress – she was paid about 10 times more than Monroe per film – but today, the two rivals would probably be united together against one person: photographer Cecil Beaton.
Cecil Beaton spent 50 years creating iconic portraits of the rich and the famous, and now his new book Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles will make him an author, as well, although posthumously. The famous photographer to the stars died in 1980, at age 76.
The book is a combination of his own personal diaries, where he was brutally honest about the people he photographed, as well as his own observations on a selection of his most famous subjects.
Beaton’s diary entry about Monroe was mixed. He celebrated her sexuality, but slammed her personality and ruthlessly highlighted her insecurities, writing:
“She walks like an undulating basilisk, scorching everything in her path but the rosemary bushes.
“Her voice, of a loin-stroking affection, has the sensuality of silk or velvet.
“The puzzling truth is that Miss Monroe is a make-believe siren, unsophisticated as a Rhine maiden, innocent as a sleepwalker.
“She is an urchin pretending to be grown up, having the time of her life in Mother’s moth-eaten finery, tottering about in high-heeled shoes and sipping ginger ale as though it were a champagne cocktail.
“She is strikingly like an over-excited child asked downstairs after tea.”
Beaton concluded with sadly prophetic statement: “She romps, she squeals with delight, she leaps on to the sofa. It is an artless, impromptu, high-spirited, infectiously gay performance. It will probably end in tears.” And indeed it did, with her probably suicide in 1962, at age 36.
And although the portraits Beaton took of Elizabeth Taylor were beautiful, his words about the star were vicious, writing:
“She’s everything I dislike.
“I have always loathed the Burtons for their vulgarity, commonness and crass bad taste, she combining the worst of US and English taste.
“I treated her with authority, told her not to powder her nose, to come in front of the cameras with it shining.
“She wanted compliments. She got none. ‘Don’t touch me like that,’ she whined!
“Her breasts, hanging and huge, were like those of a peasant woman suckling her young in Peru. On her fat, coarse hands more of the biggest diamonds and emeralds…”
He ended as scathingly as he began, writing: “And this was the woman who is the greatest ‘draw.’ In comparison everyone else looked ladylike.”
With his camera, Beaton immortalized the sexy, magnetic beauty of Marilyn Monroe and the majesty of Elizabeth Taylor’s stunning, regal looks. But with his words, he showed them no mercy – pinning Marilyn for the damaged, childlike woman that she was, and mocking Elizabeth Taylor for what he saw as her bad taste and vulgarity.
He penned words about famous people from Dali, to Mick Jagger, to Queen Elizabeth – some kinder than others. Perhaps his brutal honesty is the reason why the book was never published in his lifetime.
Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles will be available in October of 2014.
[Images via Collectors Weekly and Cecil Beaton]