Cecil Beaton Papers
Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Sir Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton was an English fashion and portrait photographer and a stage and costume designer for films and the theater. When he was eleven his grandmother bought him a Kodak 3A camera, and he began to teach himself the basics of photography, often getting his sisters and mother to sit for him. He managed to get a portrait sitting with the Duchess of Amalfi, and the resulting images gave Beaton his first piece of published work in Vogue magazine; in 1927 he started working for Vogue on a regular basis. Beaton often photographed the Royal Family for official publication and he also took the wedding pictures of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. During the Second World War, Beaton was posted to the Ministry of Information and given the task of recording images from the home front. After the war, Beaton tackled the Broadway stage, designing sets, costumes, and lighting for a 1946 revival of Lady Windermere's Fan, in which he also acted. His most celebrated achievement for the stage was the sets and costumes for My Fair Lady (1956) which led to two film musicals, Gigi (1958) and My Fair Lady (1964), both of which earned Beaton the Academy Award for Costume Design. In 1972, Beaton received his knighthood, but suffered a major stroke two years later which permanently paralyzed one side of his body. Though primarily homosexual, he did have relationships with women, including the actress Greta Garbo.
The collection consists selected papers of Beaton. Correspondence with author friend Hal Burton, including 81 letters, 18 cards (several of which are undated), and two telegrams, reveal Beaton's regard for his friend. Other letters cover such topics as Burton's criticism of works like Gainsborough and Quadrille and the collaboration of the two men. In additon, there are two letters by Beaton to Mark Boxer giving details of his recent work and of a trip to Japan. Also present are eight letters and two cards to Alastair Forbes, in whic Beaton expresses his appreciation of Forbes. There are three unsigned, autograph letters written in pencil by Greta Garbo, trying to arrange a meeting with "Beatie." One letter to Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, and one Christmas card designed by Beaton and addressed to Diana and Reed Vreeland are included.
Additional papers include editorial correspondence--referring generally to schedules, meetings, reviews, etc.--from Beaton to editors Ned Bradford and Ray Roberts, respectively regarding the publication of The Wandering Years: Diaries, 1922-1939 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1962) and The Best of Beaton (New York: Macmillan, 1968); together with a file documenting Beaton's disastrous dismissal from American Vogue in January 1938 due to the appearance of anti-Semitic propaganda in one of his drawings for the February issue (the magazine was immediately pulled, but only after 150,000 copies were mailed for distribution). Additionally, there is a handful of related material, including a note from Beaton to Ruth Ford, and a folder of printed matter.
Folders are arranged alphabetically by correspondent, followed by photographs, epehmera, and printed material.
Much of the correspondence (Hal Burton, Greta Garbo, etc.) was purchased in June 2007.
Other papers were purchased in March 2012. AM2008-06, 2012-78.
This collection was processed by Dina Britain on July 10, 2007. Finding aid written by Traci Ballou-Broadnax on July 16, 2007. John Delaney incorporated additional papers in March 2012. Folder Inventory added by Hilde Creager (2015) in 2012.
No appraisal information is available.
- Boxer, Mark
- Burton, Hal, 1908-1992
- Garbo, Greta, 1905-1990.
- Windsor, Wallis Warfield, Duchess of, 1896-1986.
- Manuscripts Division
- Finding Aid Date
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.