A photograph album featuring Sir John Gielgud and friends during a Summer holiday in Grasse, 1953

A photograph album featuring Sir John Gielgud and friends during a Summer holiday in Grasse, 1953
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A photograph album featuring Sir John Gielgud and friends during a Summer holiday in Grasse, 1953A photograph album featuring Sir John Gielgud and friends during a Summer holiday in Grasse, 1953A photograph album featuring Sir John Gielgud and friends during a Summer holiday in Grasse, 1953
A photograph album featuring Sir John Gielgud and friends during a Summer holiday in Grasse, 1953A photograph album featuring Sir John Gielgud and friends during a Summer holiday in Grasse, 1953A photograph album featuring Sir John Gielgud and friends during a Summer holiday in Grasse, 1953



[1953]. Oblong black leather album, with screw fastenings. 122 black-and-white photographs glue mounted to black sheets, usually four to a page, all numbered on the page in pencil. Over 70 negatives and several items of ephemera loosely inserted. 215 x 310mm (8 x 12"). 1kg. . English. Very good; the photos remain clean and sharp and are all present; the album has some wear and some marks at the rear, the binding remains solid.

'I had a filthy day-long journey here, but it is rather a fascinating villa - once monastic - rather sad and a bit ghost-ridden but full of character.' Gielgud in a letter to Cecil Beaton, 2 September, 1953.

A private photograph album chronicling a holiday in the South of France, hosted by Sir John Gielgud and attended by a group of his homosexual friends. Gielgud rented the Castello Opio in Grasse for a month in September 1953, three months after receiving his knighthood. It was a rare holiday for the actor, who tended to act or direct his plays back to back without a break. A newspaper clipping inserted into the album talks of a "floating house party" and identifiable in the photos are his sister Eleanor Gielgud, Paul Anstee, George Pitcher, the actors Saville Esme Percy and Joyce Carey, and Gielgud's manservant Bernie Dodge.

Gielgud had met Paul Anstee, a young interior designer, earlier in the year, and the pair became lovers for several years and friends for life. Bernie Dodge was his cook, driver and manservant, and had first been hired by Gielgud in New York. When Dodge joined him in London they too became lovers. George Pitcher was a Princeton professor of philosopher and occasional lover of Gielgud. The presence in the villa of three of his lovers reveals an intimate circle of homosexual friends and a network of open relationships. Gielgud never spoke openly about being gay; homosexual acts were illegal up until 1967, and he feared the rejection of his global audience. However, he built a private circle of intimates around himself, friends with whom he could be open. Only a month after the Grasse Holiday Gielgud was arrested and fined for soliciting in a public lavatory in Chelsea. It was an event that hugely embarrassed him and reinforced his need for the secrecy and containment of his gay life.

It is this private side of Gielgud's life that is revealed so notably in this album. Apart from his sister, all of the staying guests are male. Many of the photos feature toned bodies lounging around by the pool and the beach, wearing small trunks (the leopard print ones can not be unseen), or, occasionally, a naked behind. Bernie Dodge is featured frequently and is as far from a Jeeves-esque manservant as it is possible to be. A notable photo has him polishing the car wearing only a very skimpy apron. Gielgud himself looks dapper and slightly buttoned up in a shirt and tie, but unwinds on the beach in a pair of swimming trunks.

The photos depict several excursions to the beaches along the French Riviera, including Cannes. Gielgud also took the opportunity to visit the elderly Edward Gordon Craig, son of Ellen Terry, Gielgud's great Aunt, who lived at Vence. There are two marvellous photos of them sitting outside the Provencale Bar deep in conversation. The actress Joyce Carey was a visitor to the villa and features in some of the images, surrounded by admirers and draped in grapes.

The album comes from the estate of Peter Kauert, a personal friend of Gielgud. It is unknown whether Kauert was the photographer or is featured in the photos. Loosely inserted are folders containing over 70 negatives, some of which are printed in the album, some are additional images from the Grasse holiday and some are from different locations at later dates, including several outside Buckingham Palace. Also inserted are postcards, snapshots, a signed photo of Peter Dolphin, obituaries of Esme Percy, and three black-and-white photos of what appears to be Bernie Dodge, now dressed the part, working in Gielgud's Cowley Street home.

[Mangan, Richard (editor). Sir John Gielgud. A Life in Letters. Hoare, Philip. Serious Pleasures. p.170-71]



Price :  £2,000.00