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Angus McBean

· Fine Book Collecting,Halifax,Art and Photography,Angus McBean,Vivian Leigh

I am sorry if I am repeating myself, repeating myself, repeating myself, but one of the delights of being a book dealer is discovering new authors, new illustrators and in this case – a new photographer. Angus McBean – you gotta love this name! I was in a thrift shop and picked up this book, flipped through it, and was convinced this was a treasure!

McBean was a photographer, who is best known as a surrealist. His earliest work, between the wars, was quite amazing, magical even. While he is best known as a surrealist, he was also a portraitist, specializing in the world of theatre and films.

In my mind, Yousuf Karsh and Annie Leibovitz are at the pinnacle of the portraitist world, and McBean would be just a step beneath them. And like them he had quite the A list of subjects – Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, James Mason, Alec Guinness, Noel Coward, Ralph Richardson, Mae West, Cecil Beaton, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, Richard Burton, Mai Zetterling, Tyrone Power, Michael Redgrave, Audrey Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, Paul Scofield, Frankie Howerd, Cliff Richard, John Neville. Claire Bloom, Charles Laughton, Shirley Bassey, Spike Milligan, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth Taylor and the Beatles! He may have had the very best of A list movie stars!

Vivien Leigh (1913-1967) won the Academy Award for Best Actress twice, for her definitive performances as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Blanche DuBois in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).

Back in the 1930s, Leigh read the Margaret Mitchell novel Gone with the Wind and instructed her American agent to recommend her to David O. Selznick, who was planning a film version. She remarked to a journalist, "I've cast myself as Scarlett O'Hara", and The Observer film critic C. A. Lejeune recalled a conversation of the same period in which Leigh "stunned us all" with the assertion that Olivier "won't play Rhett Butler, but I shall play Scarlett O'Hara. Wait and see".

Leigh forwarded a portrait of herself taken by McBean as part of her frenzied campaign to get the role. She was quite beautiful. Angus McBean presented her as the most beautiful person in the world.

McBean was to photograph Vivien Leigh on stage and in the studio for almost every performance she gave until her death thirty years later.

Let’s have a look of some of his A list photos.

My regular readers know that I love quirky! Therefore, we must look at several photos that gave McBean his surrealist credentials.

Oh, how about those Beatles. This is one of their most iconic photos ever!


All the time that I have been writing this musing, and putting this book up on Abebooks, the author’s name rang with some familiarity. Then, the bell rang! I have built up one of the best collections of the British illustrator Beresford Egan in existence. And the bibliography I follow is:

Beresford Egan; by Adrian Woodhouse; Tantarus Press, Yorkshire, 2005. Number 130 of 750 copies.

I should have to pay someone to have this much fun!

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