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Margot Fonteyn portrait


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#16 Susanne

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 10:28 AM

I understand how beloved Margot Fonteyn is, but I don't think that ignoring anything remotely negative in her personal life is going to her any favors.
No perhaps not, but why do we need to know all those "juicy details"?? Does that make her a greater artist? Does that change the way she danced? Why does her personal life have to become exposed to us after all these years? No matter if those things said in the film were true or not.

#17 canbelto

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 10:41 AM

No perhaps not, but why do we need to know all those "juicy details"?? Does that make her a greater artist? Does that change the way she danced? Why does her personal life have to become exposed to us after all these years? No matter if those things said in the film were true or not.


Well personally I've always believed that if you live a public life, and enjoy all the perks that come along with being a public figure, it's naive to say, "Ok, we can only talk about my career." It doesn't happen this way, and I don't see why Margot should be exempt.
FDR painstakingly tried to create the image that he wasn't paralyzed, to the point where many Americans were unaware that he was wheel-chair bound. But is it even right for a biographer to skim over the fact that FDR had polio and it took all the strength in the world for him to even stand up for a split second? JFK also painstakingly created the image that he was the all-American, athletic picture of health. With those carefully timed "touch football" videos. In fact, he was in excruciating pain from back injuries suffered during WW2, and also had a bunch of other health problems that were hidden from the public as well. There's the case of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Again, I don't think less of him. But I do understand him more.
Getting into the movie business, Kate Hepburn, the iconic image of the independent, sharp-tongued woman, was for years slavishly devoted to a self-destructive alchoholic who could be cruel and abusive to Hepburn when on his drinking binges. Hepburn admitted as much in her interviews later in life.
And learning about all this stuff does not make me think less of them at all. It just makes me understand them better.
I guess I'm in the camp that I don't want to learn "juicy details" for shock value's sake. I do like to learn about the person behind the persona, though.

#18 Susanne

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 11:28 AM

Well personally I've always believed that if you live a public life, and enjoy all the perks that come along with being a public figure, it's naive to say, "Ok, we can only talk about my career." It doesn't happen this way, and I don't see why Margot should be exempt.


No she shouldn't be an exception. Seriously, I don't care about Katharine Hepburns personal love affairs. Either you like her as an actress or not. Of course it would be interesting to know her story briefly, but not the details. Why do we have to dig ourselves in other people's misery? THAT is what has made paparazzi so lucrative. So IMHO it all begins with ourselves, as long as we, the public, don't show an interest, then it wouldn't be lucrative. Personally I don't think that will add anything to ballet history at all unless the person in question chooses to tell her story herself (as with Gelsey Kirkland). This portrait was mostly about how evil Ms Fonteyns husband was, told by a third party. I seriously don't have any interest in knowing HOW evil he was. It is quite sufficient to know that the marriage might not have been the ideal one.

(It is like the difference between a serious newspaper and tabloids)

#19 beck_hen

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 11:29 AM

I have not seen this film, but I found the experience of reading the recent Fonteyn biography to be bittersweet. I read her autobiography at a young age and was transfixed by the eloquence of her writing. Its tone and voice is still the richest to me of the dancer autobiographies I have read, though Allegra Kent's and Lynn Seymour's also provide an intimate view of those dancers and the way they think and feel. The added details about Fonteyn's personal life in the biography depressed me and led me to believe that she showed the most beautiful part of herself onstage. As a performer, she had the right, and even duty, to craft a special image of herself for the public. I am not judging her in any way or denying that she could be a real person instead of an idealized image, I simply find what she revealed onstage to be more interesting than a litany of loving the wrong men and manipulating or being manipulated by colleagues, acquaintances, or hangers-on.

Now a story I would be interested in is the part Ninette de Valois played in shaping or thwarting the careers of Royal Ballet dancers, since that is inextricably tied up in her legacy of building the company. No doubt there are books and films for that I have not read or seen. But if the result hadn't been so glorious, no one would have cared about the back story anyway.

Basically, I see the merit in canbelto's view, but in this particular case, I found the results of the glimpse behind the mask saddening rather than edifying. I suppose one thing I do understand better is the bond between Fonteyn and Nureyev. Neither lived to what I consider a ripe old ageóthough I am aware of the medical issues of both, my fancy tells me they were such creatures of the stage they couldn't live fully off of it.

#20 kfw

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 11:35 AM

I guess I'm in the camp that I don't want to learn "juicy details" for shock value's sake. I do like to learn about the person behind the persona, though.

I'm in the same camp, but I think government officials making decisions that effect us all can rightly be treated differently than artists whose work we can take or leave as we please. Hepburn chose to speak of her self-abasement. Simone de Beauvior is fair game even though she didn't, in my opinion, because the life she advocated is not entirely what she lived. Fonteyn had no such public intentions.

My two cents.

#21 Helene

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 11:52 AM

Hepburn chose to speak of her self-abasement. Simone de Beauvior is fair game even though she didn't, in my opinion, because the life she advocated is not entirely what she lived. Fonteyn had no such public intentions.

Fonteyn wrote her memoirs and spoke publicly. I think that makes her intention public and subject to scrutiny and contradiction.

#22 canbelto

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 12:32 PM

Fonteyn wrote her memoirs and spoke publicly. I think that makes her intention public and subject to scrutiny and contradiction.


Yes Fonteyn chose to portray her husband as the man of the people, a wonderful leader, and a great man. Personally, I think if she hadn't made her biography so hagiographic about Tito, the documentaries wouldn't be so harsh on him. As it is, she made him out to be a saint, and he clearly was not.

Now a story I would be interested in is the part Ninette de Valois played in shaping or thwarting the careers of Royal Ballet dancers, since that is inextricably tied up in her legacy of building the company. No doubt there are books and films for that I have not read or seen.


There's a new book that touches upon this subject. Ashton's biography also goes into rather more detail about the chicanery behind of the scenes of the Royal Ballet. (Ashton being just as influential and manipulative, if not more so, than di Valois.)

OT: And about Hepburn, she didn't choose to speak about her abasement. She chose to speak about her devotion to a man she admitted was difficult and an alcoholic. It wasn't until she passed that we got the full story of just how much she had endure for the sake of Tracy. I can't watch their films together, knowing what their life was like offscreen.

#23 papeetepatrick

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 01:48 PM

though I am aware of the medical issues of both, my fancy tells me they were such creatures of the stage they couldn't live fully off of it.


I definitely had the impression Nureyev was living quite fully on and off the stage--unless a bit 'too fully' is a form of not living fully.

Susanne--it may be legitimate to feel that way about what should be publicized or not, but naive to think that there will be any change. Actually, I don't agree that, if the facts are true, it's the same thing as if they were not. (There was a piece along these lines in the late 70's by Croce that said this exact same thing, the quote was close to this: 'It doesn't matter if the gossip is true or not, but that it is just gossip.' ) I think you do find out a great deal about an artist's art by knowing about the personal life, but that doesn't mean I want to always know about it. You can even find out about the work by the way an autobiography (especially) is written. Now, Tab Hunter is not considered one of the great screen artists, but he describes both personal and professional matters with extraordinary attention to detail--things like dates and places, which I really dig. Books by Lawrence Olivier and Jean-Louis Barrault are about great artists (themselves) and they tell some personal things too (at least Olivier's does. I doubt Barrault was much involved with anything that wasn't mostly pristine, but that's probably wishful.) Ann-Margret may be no Sarah Bernhardt, but her autobiography didn't even describe her best movies, some of which are incredibly good like 'Joseph Andrews'. It's as though she'd forgotten her achievements. I don't think she even mentions 'The Outside Man' with Trintignant. Tab Hunter made not a single picture as good as either of these, and yet every single one is incredibly well-documented, and even made interesting thereby (including his brief tryst with Nureyev; perhaps some didn't want to know about that, but Hunter doesn't seem to mind, and I sincerely doubt he was 'betraying Rudy' in any serious sense.)

So there are lots of issues about biographies and autobiographies, but it isn't realistic to expect that people are going to en masse stop reading gossippy things in order to protect a single person's privacy, living or dead. Of course, this is a part of the massive vulgarity that has become all-pervasive, but it's just a fact.

#24 kfw

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 02:12 PM

Helene, I disagree. Fonteyn put herself before the public as an artist, and only incidental to that did her marriage come under scrutiny, and only in that context, I'll wager, did she try to put a good face on the relationship, just as private citizens usually do in their more limited circles. To tell the story herself in this case, knowing that others will tell it their way, would essentially be an attempt to maintain a degree of privacy by way of control. It would be to say, "this is mine." The press has no ethical right to pry and expose a private citizen, and in her marriage, that's what Fonteyn was. She didn't need to write about Tito for publicity. She probably wrote about him for damage control.

On the other hand, coming at things from the other side of the marriage, I have no trouble with the press exposing Tito, a supposed public servant, as the shady operator and even as the faithless husband he was. Unlike Fonteyn, he exercised political power, so his character, in my opinion, is rightly open to inspection.

canbelto, thank you for correcting me about Hepburn. I meant no disrespect to that admirable woman.

#25 canbelto

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 02:52 PM

On the other hand, coming at things from the other side of the marriage, I have no trouble with the press exposing Tito, a supposed public servant, as the shady operator and even as the faithless husband he was. Unlike Fonteyn, he exercised political power, so his character, in my opinion, is rightly open to inspection.


Well see this is sort of a circular argument, because the fact is, Tito was married to Fonteyn, and he chose to expose her to shady characters (the dictator jetsetting club like Marcos and Pinochet), and dangerous situations (like the gunrunning/coup). So one can't really talk about Fonteyn while completely skipping over her husband, and his character. And it's hard to talk about Fonteyn without also talking about Tito, and even the way he affected her career. The inevitable truth is that he prolonged it because of his astronomical medical bills, and extravagant lifestyle. Fonteyn had to go out and dance every night, often in much pain, so Tito could live the good life. He caused bad publicity for the Royal Ballet, which is why in 1959 di Valois named Fonteyn "guest dancer" without even notifying Fonteyn of the news.

Now where I think biographers might have gone too far is emphasis, not facts. For instance, the Daneman biography goes on for pages and pages of speculation about whether Fonteyn and Nureyev ever consummated the relationship, but she falls back on cliches when describing what made their partnership so special. To me, it's not so important whether they ever consummated the relationship. The overall arc of their relationship was that of magic onstage and an unconventional but very deep devotion offstage. So I agree, I dont really need to hear about every women Tito ever slept with. But it is important to know that he was a faithless and irresponsible playboy husband who caused his wife much pain and exposed her to dangerous situations and awful people.

#26 kfw

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 03:54 PM

canbelto, I agree with your second paragraph, and I have no problem with noting how Tito affected Fonteyn's career. Much more than that -- i.e. ""This is the story of how the most famous dancer that England has ever produced was deceived and betrayed by those closest to her"-- is unseemly, I think. Of course I haven't seen the film and I may be wrong, but it sounds to me like dirt for dirt's sake. If the focus was Tito -- if the subject was Panamanian history, for example -- this level of detail might be appropriate.

#27 Helene

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 04:38 PM

We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. Had Fonteyn not written her own autobiography/memoir, then I would agree that press should focus on what is onstage. Had she simply written that she was married to a person and that their relationship was between them, that should have been the end of it. However, once she wrote an extensive version of her own life including the marriage, and wrote a version that could be disputed, she opened up the subject.

#28 dirac

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 04:58 PM

Well......Fonteyn was a public figure, now dead. Many books have been written, and films made, celebrating her art. She was the wife of a diplomat and politician; she wrote that memoir; she was a performing artist and international star who lived a rich, full life in the theatre and out of it. (Note: I havenít seen this documentary yet.) Without condoning the way any particular biographer has chosen to go about his or her business, I'd say a candid look at the life and art is a legitimate enterprise. And the biographer isnít obligated to follow the subjectís efforts at spin control.

papeetepatrick writes

(There was a piece along these lines in the late 70's by Croce that said this exact same thing, the quote was close to this: 'It doesn't matter if the gossip is true or not, but that it is just gossip.' )


She said that about Lynn Seymourís autobiography, I think. It wasn't all it could have been, but I liked it better than she did.

Tab Hunter made not a single picture as good as either of these, and yet every single one is incredibly well-documented, and even made interesting thereby (including his brief tryst with Nureyev; perhaps some didn't want to know about that, but Hunter doesn't seem to mind, and I sincerely doubt he was 'betraying Rudy' in any serious sense.)


That was a good book. Nureyev would probably be tickled pink at the idea that people are still interested in his amours after all this time, and I don't think he would have minded Hunter's candor.

canbelto writes:

The inevitable truth is that he prolonged it because of his astronomical medical bills, and extravagant lifestyle. Fonteyn had to go out and dance every night, often in much pain, so Tito could live the good life.


True, as far as it goes, but I suspect that Fonteynís appetite for the stage was at least as large as Titoís appetite for luxury. I donít mean that she would necessarily have gone on for as long as she did without the financial imperative driving her on, but she was a stage animal in her way as much as Nureyev in his -- and he certainly didn't need the money.

#29 canbelto

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 05:24 PM

True, as far as it goes, but I suspect that Fonteynís appetite for the stage was at least as large as Titoís appetite for luxury. I donít mean that she would necessarily have gone on for as long as she did without the financial imperative driving her on, but she was a stage animal in her way as much as Nureyev in his -- and he certainly didn't need the money.


I don't doubt Fonteyn wasn't a stage animal, but the astronomical medical bills are no doubt a huge reason why she went on dancing for so long. Also, if it hadn't been for Tito's gambling/spending/expensive tastes, Fonteyn might have been able to retire in some dignity and comfort, rather than living in a roofless shack. That is just something so awful that I can't help but think that Tito was essentially an irresponsible, faithless playboy, and I don't think that just because Fonteyn was fanatically loyal to her husband that biographers should necessarily show the same loyal and sympathy for Tito. In other words, Fonteyn's biography may be a huge love letter to her husband, but I don't think that we should take her word for granted just because it's her word.
If the documentary paraded a bunch of Tito's lovers, I'd say that yes, that's gossipy exploitation. But to come to the conclusion that Tito was a charming good-for-nothing playboy, I'd say that's the truth. No doubt it would have hurt Fonteyn to hear that, but it's what many of her close friends (including Ashton and Nureyev) thought, and sometimes, well, the truth hurts.

#30 dirac

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 06:27 PM

If the documentary paraded a bunch of Tito's lovers, I'd say that yes, that's gossipy exploitation. But to come to the conclusion that Tito was a charming good-for-nothing playboy, I'd say that's the truth. No doubt it would have hurt Fonteyn to hear that, but it's what many of her close friends (including Ashton and Nureyev) thought, and sometimes, well, the truth hurts.


One danger of the candid biography is that people may come away believing that they know The Truth, and you never know that. Ashton and Nureyev knew her well, but that doesn't mean they knew everything. "Close friends" are not always as close as believed (or in some cases, advertised). But I think we've been tough enough on Tito and perhaps should move on from this. :speechless-smiley-003:


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