Posts Tagged ‘Cecil Beaton’

"My Fair Lady" soundtrack poster. Miss Hepburn wears the Ascot ensemble.

“My Fair Lady” soundtrack poster

On June 19, 2011,the Ascot dress and hat worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 Academy Award-winning film, “My Fair Lady,” sold at auction for an incredible $3.7 million. The ensemble was designed by Cecil Beaton and was sold from the Debbie Reynolds Collection. Originally, the actress Debbie Reynolds paid $100,000 for the outfit.

Worn by Miss Hepburn in the most memorable scene in the film, it is perhaps the most famous garment ever designed for a motion picture and, most assuredly, Mr. Beaton’s magnum opus.

Art designer Cecil Beaton checks Audrey Hepburn's Ascot costume on the set of "My Fair Lady," 1963

Art designer Cecil Beaton checks Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot costume on the set of “My Fair Lady,” 1963


Cecil Beaton's sketch for Audrey Hepburn's Ascot costume, "My Fair Lady" (1964)

Cecil Beaton’s sketch for Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot costume, “My Fair Lady” (1964)

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle at the Royal Ascot horse races. In the film, Eliza is every inch a refined English lady until the horserace tightens. Then she erupts in a stream of Cockney speech that threatens to blow her cover as a Covent Garden flower girl.

For more on Audrey Hepburn, click here.

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Audrey Hepburn as Cockney flower seller in 1964 musical film, "My Fair Lady." Julie Andrews had played the lead in the Broadway play but producer Jack Warner wanted Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle for his film. Warner's film was to cost him $5 million. Audrey was well-known, talented, and her films never lost money. He wanted Audrey, not Julie. It caused quite a flap in the movie industry, with many feeling Julie Andrews should have had the role. Julie Andrew was then cast as Mary Poppins. That year, Audrey was snubbed at the Academy Awards, not even being nominated for her "My Fair Lady" performance. Julie Andrews won the Best Actress Oscar for "Mary Poppins."

Audrey Hepburn as Cockney flower seller in 1964 musical film, “My Fair Lady.” Julie Andrews had played the lead in the Broadway play but producer Jack Warner wanted Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle for his film. Warner’s film was to cost him $5 million. Audrey was well-known, talented, and her films never lost money. He wanted Audrey, not Julie. It caused quite a flap in the movie industry, with many feeling that singer Julie Andrews should have had the role. So Audrey was cast in “My Fair Lady.” Shortly Disney cast Julie Andrews in the musical spectacle, “Mary Poppins”. That year, Audrey was snubbed at the Academy Awards, not even being nominated for her “My Fair Lady” performance. Julie Andrews won the Best Actress Oscar for “Mary Poppins.”

In the 1964 Academy Award winning musical, “My Fair Lady,” linguistics professor Henry Higgins places a bet with his colleague Colonel Pickering. He boasts that, in six months time, he can transform a low-bred, disheveled Cockney flower seller named Eliza Doolittle into a duchess by teaching her to speak properly. Eliza is agreeable; she wants to speak better so she can get a job in a flower shop.

Eliza appears at Professor Higgins’ house to make arrangements for language lessons. Higgins’ housekeeper Mrs. Pearce escorts her into the library, where Higgins is discussing the possible experiment with Pickering.

Pickering: Won’t you sit down, Miss Doolittle?

Eliza (coyly): Oh, I don’t mind if I do. (She sits down on sofa.)

(Eliza offers to pay for voice lessons but Pickering wants to sponsor her.)

Eliza: Oh, you’re real good. Thank you, Captain.

Higgins (tempted, looking at her) It’s almost irresistible. She’s so deliciously low – so horribly dirty!

Eliza: Aoooow! I ain’t dirty: I washed my face and hands afore I come, I did.

Higgins: I’ll take it! I’ll make a duchess of this draggletailed gutter-snipe!

Eliza: Aoooooooow!

Higgins: (carried away): I’ll start today! Now! This moment! Take her away and clean her, Mrs. Pearce. Sandpaper if it won’t come off any other way. Is there a good fire in the kitchen?

Mrs. Pearce: Yes, but –

Higgins (storming on): Take all her clothes off and burn them. Ring up and order some new ones. Wrap her up in brown paper till they come.

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle

Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins

Wilfrid Hyde-White as Colonel Hugh Pickering

Mona Washbourne as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins’ housekeeper

Mrs. Pearce prepares the bath for Eliza.

Mrs. Pearce prepares the bath for Eliza.

Cecil Beaton, in charge of sets and costumes, recalls the day this scene was taped for “My Fair Lady”. He recalled it in his diary:

Wednesday, 21 August (1963)

…I wanted to congratulate Audrey (Hepburn) on her appearance, so went down on to the set for a word with her. I watched her being shot, listening to Higgins telling Pickering that, but for her appalling accent, Liza (sic: Eliza) could be passed off as a duchess. The play of expression on her face was such that one could almost see her brain at work with ideas that followed one another like a succession of pictures….

Thursday, 22 August (1963)

At lunch-time Audrey, wearing her dirty hair and face, came into my room to say ‘Ullow’. Every dawn Audrey has to have her hair covered with grease, then with a lot of brown Fuller’s Earth. The effect is really dirty, and psychologically must be very depressing. Tiring, too: it takes another hour to wash out the dirt before going home after the day’s shooting….

Audrey is remarkably disciplined: her memory never at fault, she appears on the set word  perfect, and she can give exactly the same performance over and over again. She confessed, however, that yesterday’s pea-shelling scene had been the greatest strain for she had to eat so many raw peas; at best, she does not care for them even when they are at their youngest and smallest, but having had to eat a bushel of huge Californian peas out of their inflated pods, she then went home to dinner and was served duck and green peas!

Tuesday, 27 August (1963)

On the set Audrey was still doing ‘Loverly’. Finding it difficult to work to different ‘play-backs’ she had been nervously taut most of the day. Now, by mid-afternoon, she was tired out. Her hairdresser was massaging the back of her neck: everyone sorry for her, and the atmosphere tense.

Cecil Beaton's costume design for character Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady" musical film 1964

Cecil Beaton’s costume design for character Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” musical film 1964

Although Audrey practiced extensively to be able to sing in “My Fair Lady,” in the end it was decided that 90% of her vocal numbers would be dubbed with the voice of Marni Nixon. However, she did sing ‘Wouldn’t it be Loverly,’ shown in the following video:

For more on Audrey Hepburn, click here.

“My Fair Lady” movie trivia

“My Fair Lady” movie quotes


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Audrey Hepburn 1953

Audrey Hepburn 1953

In 1954, British photographer and creative artist, Cecil Beaton, wrote this article for “Vogue” about a rising film star named Audrey Hepburn. Miss Hepburn was 25 and the newest sensation. She had just won the Academy Award for Best Actress for “Roman Holiday.”

It is always a dramatic moment when the Phoenix rises anew from its ashes. For if “queens have died young and fair,” they are also reborn, appearing in new guises which often create their own terms of appreciation. Even while the pessimists were predicting that no new feminine ideal could emerge from the aftermath of war, an authentic existentialist Galatea was being forged in the person of Miss Audrey Hepburn.

No one can doubt that Audrey Hepburn’s appearance succeeds because it embodies the spirit of today. She had, if you like, her prototypes in France – Damia, Edith Piaf, or Juliet Greco. But it took the rubble of Belgium [sicHolland] an English accent, and an American success to launch the striking personality that best exemplifies our new Zeitgeist [spirit of the age].

French waif

French waif

Nobody ever looked like her before World War II; it is doubtful if anybody ever did, unless it be those wild children of the French Revolution whose stride in the foreground of romantic canvases. Yet we recognize the rightness of this appearance in relation to our historical needs. And the proof is that thousands of imitations have appeared. The woods are full of emaciated young ladies with rat-nibbled hair and moon-pale faces.

Heron's eyes

Heron’s eyes

What does their paragon really look like? Audrey Hepburn has enormous heron’s eyes and dark eye-brows slanted towards the Far East. Her facial features show character rather than prettiness: the bridge of the nose seems almost too narrow to carry its length, which bares into a globular tip with nostrils startlingly like a duck’s bill. Her mouth is wide, with a cleft under the lower lip too deep for classical beauty, and the delicate chin appears even smaller by contrast with the exaggerated width of her jaw bones. Seen at the full, the outline of her face is perhaps too square; yet she intuitively tilts her head with a restless and perky asymmetry.

Madame Pompadour by Amedeo Modigliani, 1914.

Madame Pompadour by Amedeo Modigliani, 1914.

She is like a portrait by Modigliani where the various distortions are not only interesting in themselves but make a completely satisfying composite.

Beneath this child-like head (as compact as a coconut with its cropped hair and wispy monkey-fur fringe) is a long, incredibly slender and straight neck.

A rod-like back continues the vertical line of the nape, and she would appear exaggeratedly tall were it not for her natural grace.

1954 Sabrina dress

Audrey appears in a Givenchy dress from the 1954 movie, “Sabrina.”

Audrey Hepburn’s stance is a combination of an ultra fashion plate and a ballet dancer. Indeed, she owes a large debt to the ballet for her bearing and abandon in movement, which yet suggest a personal quality, an angular kinship with cranes and storks. She can assume almost acrobatic poses, always maintaining an innate elegance in her incredibly lithe torso, long, flat waist, tapering fingers and endless legs.

Audrey Hepburn was an accomplished ballerina. Undated photo, ca. 1954

Audrey Hepburn was an accomplished ballerina. Undated photo, ca. 1954

With arms akimbo or behind her back, she habitually plants her feet wide apart–one heel dug deep with the toe pointing skywards. And it is more natural for her to squat cross-legged on the floor than to sit in a chair.

Fratellini Poster

Fratellini Poster

Like the natural artist that she is Audrey Hepburn is bold and sure in her effects. There is no lack of vigor in her rejection of the softly pretty. She wears no powder, so that her white skin has a bright sheen. Using a stick of grease paint with a deft stroke, she draws heavy bars of black upon her naturally full brows; and almost in Fratellini fashion, liberally smudges both upper and lower eyelids with black.

To complete the clown boldness, she enlarges her mouth even at the ends, thus making her smile expand to an enormous slice from Sambo’s watermelon. The general public, in its acceptance of such an uncompromisingly stark appearance, has radically forsaken the prettily romantic or pseudo-mysterious heroines of only two decades ago.

1953 Audrey Hepburn grins upon receiving her Oscar for "Roman Holiday."

1953 Audrey Hepburn grins upon receiving her Oscar for “Roman Holiday.”

In clothing, this ingénue Ichabod wears a “junior miss” version of highwayman coats, clergyman cassocks, or students’ pants, overalls, scarfs.

Audrey Hepburn in loafers and scarf. Undated photo

Audrey Hepburn in loafers and scarf. Undated photo

Yet she is infinitely more soignée than most students, possessing, in fact, an almost Oriental sense of the exquisite.

Audrey Hepburn in the 1954 film, "Sabrina."

Audrey Hepburn in the 1954 film, “Sabrina.”

Barnardo's Boys were orphans

Barnardo’s Boys were orphans

And she is immaculately shod, whether in pumps, sandals, or court shoes. Audrey Hepburn is the gamine, the urchin, the lost Barnardo boy.

Audrey Hepburn from the 1954 film, "Sabrina"

Audrey Hepburn from the 1954 film, “Sabrina”

Sometimes she appears to be dangerously fatigued; already, at her lettuce age, there are apt to be shadows under the eyes, while her cheeks seem taut and pallid.

She is a wistful child of a war-chided era, and the shadow thrown across her youth underlines even more its precious evanescence. But if she can reflect sorrow, she seems also to enjoy the happiness life provides for her with such bounty.

It is a rare phenomenon to find a very young girl with such inherent “star quality.” As a result of her enormous success, Audrey Hepburn has already acquired the extra incandescent glow which comes as a result of being acclaimed, admired, and loved. Yet while developing her radiance, she has too much innate candor to take on that gloss of artificiality Hollywood is apt to demand of its queens.

Audrey Hepburn winks in sunlight. undated photo, ca. 1952

Audrey Hepburn winks in sunlight. undated photo, ca. 1952

Her voice is peculiarly personal. With its unaccustomed rhythm and sing-song cadence on a flat drawl, it has a quality of heartbreak. Though such a voice might easily become mannered, she spends much time in improving its musical range.

In fact, with the passing of every month, Audrey Hepburn increases in dramatic stature. Intelligent and alert, wistful but enthusiastic, frank yet tactful, assured without conceit and tender without sentimentality, she is the most promising theatrical talent to appear since the war. Add to this the remarkable distinction she emanates, and it is not rash to say she also gives every indication of being the most interesting public embodiment of our new feminine ideal.

US Vogue, November 01, 1954

 Click here for more on Audrey Hepburn.

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photo of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, March 28, 2007, by Annie Leibovitz
photo of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, March 28, 2007, by Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz photographed Queen Elizabeth. Here’s what she had to say about that experience.
Excerpted from Annie Leibovitz at Work, by Annie Leibovitz, published by Random House © 2008

The Queen

In 2007, a few weeks before Queen Elizabeth visited the United States for the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, I was asked to take her portrait. I was the first American to be asked by the Palace to make an official portrait of the Queen, which was very flattering. I felt honored. I also felt that because I was an American I had an advantage over every other photographer or painter who had made a portrait of her. It was O.K. for me to be reverent. The British are conflicted about what they think of the monarch. If a British portraitist is reverent, he’s perceived to be doting. I could do something traditional.

It’s ironic that the sitting with the Queen became controversial. I’m rather proud of having been in control of a complicated shoot. The controversy arose about two months after the pictures were published, when the BBC claimed that the Queen had walked out while we were shooting. This was completely untrue, and although they retracted the claim and issued an apology to the Queen and to me almost immediately, the scandal had a life of its own. The story, which came to be referred to as Queengate, wouldn’t die. Eventually the head of BBC One resigned over it.

When I was preparing for the shoot, I thought about using the landscape around Balmoral Castle, in Scotland. I brought this up in the very first conference call with the Palace. I said that Americans thought of the Queen as an outdoorswoman. I had been influenced by Helen Mirren’s performance in The Queen and I couldn’t help mentioning how much I liked her character in that film. There was a long silence on the other end of the line.

The second idea I had, after Balmoral, was to photograph the Queen on horseback. I asked where she rode and they said she went riding every Saturday at Windsor Castle. I said that I would love to see her in her riding clothes, and in a later conversation I asked if she could stop during her weekend ride and get off her horse and mount it again. That is, could I do a portrait of her in the trees. They said, No, it was not possible. She just rode the horse and came back, and, anyway, she didn’t wear riding clothes anymore. A few days later they said it was going to be Buckingham Palace and no horses.

I realized that I was going to need some time on the ground for this. When we arrived in London, we went straight to the palace and were shown all the rooms, including the throne room—everywhere except the private quarters. And then we scouted the back. There was a wintery sky and the trees didn’t have leaves. It was an appropriate mood for this moment in the Queen’s life. There was no way, however, that she was going to stand outside in formal attire.

For a sitting like this you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You try to have as many options as possible. I kept thinking that somehow I would get the Queen outside, but I began choosing formal outfits. I narrowed the robes down to a very handsome Order of the Garter cape, but then we were told that she could wear only a white dress under it. We were lobbying for a gold dress. I was also hoping for a dress with more body to it. The Queen wears very streamlined dresses now that she’s older, and I wanted her in something with more volume. But she didn’t have anything like that. Finally everyone agreed that she could wear a gold-and-white dress under the Order of the Garter robe. The Queen was 80 years old. She was sturdy, but putting on and taking off a lot of heavy clothes is tiring, and she had to be dressed in layers to expedite things. The gold-white dress became the base.

I was still upset that I couldn’t get her outside. It was so beautiful out there. And it wasn’t cold or raining or anything. I began thinking about what Cecil Beaton had done. He brought in flowered backdrops. Beaton was big on backdrops. He made very stagy portraits. Perhaps because the pictures were made in black and white you don’t notice the backdrops. They sort of go out of focus. I realized that I could do something similar digitally. I decided to photograph the garden and the trees for a backdrop.

The Palace had given us 25 minutes with the Queen, so there had to be a battle plan. I chose a grand reception room, the White Drawing Room, as the principal setting because of the light from the tall windows. Supplementary lights had been pre-set so that when the Queen moved from one spot to another all we needed to do was switch them on. We had constructed a gray canvas backdrop in an anteroom, and she was to come in there wearing the Order of the Garter robe and the dress, but no tiara. The first shot was to be made on a balcony, with the sky behind her. That sky could be digitally exchanged later for the pictures I had taken in the gardens the day before. I didn’t want her to be wearing a tiara in the gardens.

The morning of the shoot, the Queen came walking down the hall very purposefully. She was definitely a force. This was all being taped by the BBC for a documentary. I would never have agreed to their being there if I felt I had any choice, but they had been following her around for months. Their microphone picked up her saying, “I’ve had enough of dressing like this, thank you very much,” as she marched down the hall. Later, when segments of footage for the BBC were edited for a promotional film, it appeared as if the Queen were stomping out of the photo session rather than going into it. Thus the brouhaha.

The Queen was about 20 minutes late, which we thought was a little strange. When that happens, you never know if it can be made up on the other end. My five-year-old daughter, Sarah, had come with us, and she curtsied and offered the Queen flowers, and I introduced my team. At this point I was in shock. The Queen had the tiara on. That was not the plan. It was supposed to be added later. The dresser knew that. The Queen started saying, “I don’t have much time. I don’t have much time,” and I took her to the first setup and showed her the pictures of the gardens. I think she understood what we had in mind. Then I walked her into the drawing room, probably sooner than I would have if things had been going well. She composed herself when I took some pictures.

I knew how tight everything was, especially with the loss of 20 minutes, and I asked the Queen if she would remove the tiara. (I used the word “crown,” which was a faux pas.) I suggested that a less dressy look might be better. And she said, “Less dressy! What do you think this is?” I thought she was being funny. English humor. But I noticed that the dresser and everyone else who had been working with her were staying about 20 feet away from her.

We removed the big robe, and I took the picture of the Queen looking out the window, and then I said, Listen, I was a little thrown when you first came in, and I have one more picture I’d like to try, with an admiral’s boat cloak. I was thinking of one of Cecil Beaton’s last pictures of the Queen. A very stark and simple and strong portrait in which she’s wearing a boat cloak. We went back into the anteroom, where the gray canvas backdrop had been set up, and she took off the tiara and put on the cloak. That’s the shot we digitally imposed on pictures of the garden.

Right after we finished, I went up to the press secretary and said how much I loved the Queen. How feisty she was. Later I mentioned to a couple of friends that she had been a bit cranky, but it was nothing unusual. What was remarkable about the shoot, and I wrote the Queen a note about this later, was something the BBC missed: her resolve, her devotion to duty. She stayed until I said it was over. Until I said, “Thank you.” We were finished a little before our allotted 25 minutes were up.


Readers, for more on this episode, read my post, “The Queen is Mad.”

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Italian-born fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s

Italian-born fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s

Between the two world wars, fashion design was dominated by two extraordinary pioneers, Gabrielle Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973). Whereas Coco Chanel was a craftswoman who considered dressmaking a profession, Schiaparelli, on the other hand, regarded her work as art and herself as an artist.  

Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by artists in the dada and surrealist movements, particularly by Salvador Dali.  While Chanel’s clothes were known for their simplicity, Schiaparelli’s were known for their daring.

“Shocking-pink” was Schiaparelli’s signature color. She described hot pink as “life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world put together, a color of China and Peru but not of the West.”

Schiaparelli shoe-hat which debuted in her Fall-Winter 1937-38 collection

Schiaparelli shoe-hat which debuted in her Fall-Winter 1937-38 collection

The designs Schiaparelli created in collaboration with Dali are among her best known. One of her most memorable designs created with Dali is known as the “shoe-hat” (shown here). Note that the hat is shaped like a woman’s high-heeled shoe, with the heel standing straight up and the toe tilted over the wearer’s forehead. The heel is of a shocking-pink color. This hat was worn by Singer sewing machine heiress Daisy Fellowes, among others.

Daisy Fellowes was one of Schiaparelli’s best clients. Fellowes was a French-American heiress with a taste for expensive jewels and clothes and a reputation for cutting remarks. “Though a footnote today, for nearly 50 years, Fellowes, the daughter of a French duke and granddaughter of the sewing-machine magnate Isaac Merritt Singer, was the trans-Atlantic fete set’s No. 1 bad girl.” She was also editor in chief of French Harper’s Bazaar, a philanthropist who donated her salary to an orphanage, and the author of a few sexy romance novels.

movie siren Mae West (1893-1980) by Miguel Covarrubias, 1928, for the New Yorker

a caricature of the American movie actress, the provocative Mae West (1893-1980) by Miguel Covarrubias, 1928, for the New Yorker magazine

Among other jewels purchased at Cartier‘s shop at 13 rue de la Paix in Paris, Fellowes owned a stunning 17.27ct pink diamond  called the Tête de Belier (Ram’s Head). It was Fellowes’ pink diamond that inspired the color known as shocking-pink or hot pink. Elsa Schiaparelli took note of the diamond, using shocking pink for the box design of her 1937 perfume which she named “Shocking.” The packaging of the box, designed by Leonor Fini, was also notable for the bottle in the shape of a woman’s torso. The shape was inspired by another of Schiaparelli’s celebrity clients, the American screen actress Mae West.

The Lobster Dress by Elsa Schiaparelli

The Lobster Dress by Elsa Schiaparelli

Another of the Schiaparelli/Dali designs is the iconic “Lobster Dress” which debuted in Schiaparelli’s Summer/Fall 1937 Collection. The Lobster dress is a simple white silk evening dress with a crimson waistband featuring a large lobster painted (by Dali) onto the skirt.It is rumored that Dali wanted to apply real mayonnaise to the lobster on the dress but that Schiaparelli objected.

Dali’s lobster design for Schiaparelli was then interpreted into a fabric print by the leading silk designer Sache. It was famously worn by Wallis Warfield Simpson in a series of photographs by Cecil Beaton taken at the Château de Candé shortly before her marriage to Edward VIII. (shown here)

Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor (1895-1986), photo Cecil Beaton (1904-80). UK, early 20th century.

Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor (1895-1986), photo Cecil Beaton (1904-80). UK, early 20th century.

 Dali had been incorporating lobsters into his mixed media creations since 1934, most famously with “Lobster Telephone” (1936).

"Lobster Telephone," by Salvador Dali, 1936

"Lobster Telephone," by Salvador Dali, 1936

To see more of Schiaparelli’s fashion designs, click here.

A modern room with touches of Schiaparelli pink in the two chairs and flowers in foreground

A modern room with touches of Schiaparelli pink in the two chairs and flowers in foreground

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