Greta and Cecil

Published by Jonathan Cape on 1st September 1994

Greta Garbo first met the society photographer Cecil Beaton in Hollywood in 1932. Both were caught in turbulent same-sex affairs: Garbo with Mercedes de Acosta, a scriptwriter, and Beaton with Peter Watson, a wealthy dilettante. Garbo flirted and danced with Beaton, told him he was pretty, took a rose from a case, kissed it and gave it to him saying, “A rose that lives and dies never again returns”. At dawn she drove away brushing aside his pleas to stay. He took the rose home to England, framed it in silver and hung it above his bed.

Fifteen years later they met again in New York and began a strange romance. For Garbo it was a teasing flirtation; for Beaton it was an obsession that fuelled his ambition to capture her with his camera, to be like her and to marry her.