As the story goes, they met in a garden during a party of some social elites in Hollywood in the 1930’s. Greta Garbo, the biggest actress on the planet, turned to photographer Cecil Beaton and said “You’re so beautiful”. To which the overwhelmed Beaton replied “But you’re so beautiful”. “No,” the iconic Hollywood star said, “you should never return a compliment”.
The romance that resulted out of this not-so-chance meeting (Beaton had been trying to meet Garbo for years before then) would not begin for many years later. And this relationship they eventually shared would produce the most iconic images we have of the reclusive Garbo, who was legendary not just for her screen performances, but for her very secretive life style.
They came together in a beautiful way to create works of art that could only exist through a mixture of romance, sex, love, and their respective creative geniuses. Below are a few of the shots from their first real shoot together, in the Plaza Hotel, NYC, in 1946.
Beaton wrote this about that day:
“At first she stood stiffly to attention, facing my Rolleiflex full-face as if it were a firing squad. But, by degrees, she started to assume all sorts of poses and many changes of mood. The artist in her suddenly came into flower. She was enjoying the return to an aspect of the métier that had been her life’s work. Could I believe my luck? By degrees I was emboldened enough to ask if she would take off her habitual sweater. Then I brought out some ‘prop’ clothes – a pierrot’s ruff and white pointed hat…”
An important part of being creative is learning to let go of the inhibitions that hold us back, and what we’re seeing here is two people whose inhibitions have gone out the window, so they are free to create to their fullest potential.
Unfortunately, Beaton betrayed Garbo’s trust with these photographs and offered Vogue the lot to publish. Garbo had only agreed to have one published in the popular magazine, and saw this as a direct betrayal by Beaton, who she believed used them to get back in to an in crowd that had shunned him. Garbo ignored him for a long time, and supposedly never forgave him. She did eventually allow him to again photograph her on many occasions up through the 1960’s.
In addition to the numerous photographs, Beaton also drew many sketches of Garbo. Some were published (along with an article that she was again not happy about), and others were uncovered in some of the many diaries he kept. In these sketches, Beaton captures an essence of Garbo that no camera ever could, and that only someone with intimate knowledge could create.
Who’s to say if Mr. Beaton and Ms. Garbo were the loves of each other’s lives. We’ll never know that. But for a few moments in time, they had a passion for each other and a passion to create that will forever be frozen in time.
That’s pretty awesome.
Below are some more iconic photos taken of Garbo by Beaton and of the two of them together.
[photos courtesy of many places]