Inventors of Gay: Cecil Beaton

By: Rick Andreoli

Words by Christopher Harrity

Cecil Beaton
Can having an affair with Greta Garbo really classify him as a bisexual?
January 14, 1904 – January 18, 1980

Cecil Beaton—pictured left, with Gary Cooper— was definitely “born that way.” He displayed an extraordinary range of talents as a 20th Century Renaissance man. Photographer, artist, Academy Award-winning costume designer, and scandalous author, Beaton’s works always had a signature touch of whimsy and drama. His nanny taught him to use his first Kodak and a legendary photographer was born. He practiced on his sisters and mother, and eventually became a stellar addition to the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair.

As a young man he was a founding member of the Bright Young People, a group famous for their eccentric parties and costumes. During this “between the wars” period in England, when rich kids ran wild and youth culture was born, Beaton and the BYP inspired authors of the day such as Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, who satirized these young people in fiction.

Brightyoungpeople Pictured left,The Bright Young People at Wilsford: William Walton, Cecil Beaton, The Hon.Stephen Tennant, Rex Whistler, Georgia Sitwell, Zita Jungman and Teresa Jungman



Barbara_Hpeburn As an adult, Beaton was a favored photographer for the royal family, managing even to make lovely portraits of Queen Elizabeth. He often found himself on best-dressed lists, and oh, he was knighted.

Beaton’s affair with Greta Garbo was more a case of fan boy idolatry and went terribly wrong after he sold private pictures he took of her to the press.

Friends with: 
Horst — Photographer and pretty boy
Noel Coward — Playwright, actor, and singer-songwriter
Christopher Isherwood — Author and diarist
Coral Browne — Actress

Why we care:
• Audrey Hepburn was never lovelier than in his sets and costumes in My Fair Lady
• Barbra Streisand was ravishing in his On a Clear Day costumes
• His diaries catalog the rarely-recorded world of homosexual artists of the first half of the 20th Century
• Gary Cooper was among those listed as lovers.
• Madonna bought his estate, Ashcombe, and had the sheep dyed in pastel colors as Beaton did for a Vogue photo shoot.

Sampling of Beaton's photography:



Beaton self-portrait:

"Inventors of Gay" is our series on important people in LGBT history who helped create the culture we enjoy today.