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When Cecil Beaton left Harrow, he seemed unable to select an ambition or a particular means of earning a living, so his family arranged for him to go to Cambridge. After that relatively undistinguished interlude, he faced the same dilemma. A few days of ""keeping accounts"" in his father's office convinced the despairing middle-class parent that it would be better to give a friend who had another office a pound a week to pay Cecil to work there. Although he had shown an aptitude for drawing quite early in life, the vicissitudes of career-choice plagued him for years, until his imaginative photography and assorted illustrations commenced to provide more than a pittance. All the while, he wrote a voluminous diary, ""hundreds of thousands of words in a futile attempt to preserve the fleeting moment like a fly in amber"". His record of the years 1922-1939 has been winnowed, elided, and footnoted into a charming montage of the social conventions and habits of his theatrical and artistic circle: Garbo, Gertrude Stein, Mrs. Pat Campbell, Edith Sitwell, and a catalogue of English and other royalty. When his portrait photography became highly fashionable, he began reporting in his diary observations of no less personages than William Randolph Hearst, Anita Loos, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The houses he lived in and helped decorate, the Lucullan banquets common to social gatherings of the day, scenic fragments gathered while traveling, all find their way into his ubiquitous journal. Except as a period-piece, it is all in all trivia, but with an amusing and erudite flavor. Liberally interspersed with Beaton's own drawings and photographs, none of them particularly remarkable.

Publisher: Little, Brown