Designing for DowntonWe caught up with Susannah Buxton, the costume designer on ITV smash hit Downton Abbey...
The main thing I try to achieve in my job is that the actors don’t look like they’re in costume. If it looks like dress up, you’ve lost it.
My starting point for Downton was France; at the time a lot of the influences in the period of 1912-1914 came from a Parisian designer called Paul Poiret. He was trying to pull away from the very highly corseted shape of the era and was influenced by Russian ballet company the Ballet Russes.
L’Après-midi d’un faune costumes by Leon Bakst 1912
The Ballets Russes had a base in peasant costumes and when it came to London the audiences hated them, but the critics raved. They brought colour back into clothing; before then it was all very pale and lacy and s-shaped.
What’s so exciting about researching the Downton period is that it’s the dawn of modern fashion. The clothes are becoming so much more accessible. The only thing that hasn’t continued are the very large hats; everything else has it’s place today – the long, slim skirts, the little jackets.
On Downton, about a third of everything the actors wear is made from scratch. There was press criticism that some of the wardrobe was hired, but it would be insanely expensive to make every item, as some fabrics don’t even exist anymore – but you can find them in an original dress. I refashioned a £5,000 gown made for Nicole Kidman in a feature film 10 years ago to fit Michelle Dockery [Mary]. I couldn’t possibly have made that dress – we couldn’t afford the jet beading.
Mary spends some of her time in London because she is the oldest daughter; she’s a determined, positive person, not flimsy or lacy, so we were very definite with her clothes. Sybil, the youngest daughter, still has a girlish quality but as she grows up she becomes interested in politics and the Suffragettes, which I tried to reflect in her costume.
The middle girl, Edith, is less confident because she’s in the shadow of this rather beautiful older sister. I have avoided making her costume reflect this as I felt it would be a cliché.
On my first sitting with an actress or actor, I have a rail of colours and shapes that we work through. And from that point, I learn what will suit them. I don’t really do drawings – the idea looks lovely on the page, but sometimes it doesn’t translate.
I did a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration at Birmingham Art College and then a post graduate degree in Film and Television at Bristol University. I was lucky enough to be offered a job as a costume assistant on a BBC drama series about Mary, Queen of Scots. From there I went on eventually, to work as freelance costume designer.
The graphic training has definitely influenced my designs, I am always concerned with using a strong silhouette, as the shapes are very important within the frame of the picture, in film or television, and provide a lot of the information about a period of time, contemporary or historical.
You have to consider so many things as a costume designer – the script, the season, the era, the budget and what actually suits the actor or actress. It’s always challenging but I enjoy the work.
Susannah was talking to Hattie Hawksworth. ( in Ideastap.com)
The Third Grand Anarcho-Dandyist Ball The Chap, in association with Bourne & Hollingsworth, presents:
The 3rd Grand Anarcho-Dandyist Ball. Stiff collars are already being starched. Studs are being polished. Cigarette cases loaded with Players Navy Cut. Pipes charged with Brown Study. Brogues turned into correspondent shoes. For the third Grand Anarcho-Dandyist Ball has been scheduled to take place on 3rd December in London.
According to tradition, the Chap has selected another sumptuous 1930s ballroom in London, slightly larger, more glamorous and centrally located than the last. Our host this year will be none other than Viv the Spiv, purveyor of exotic meats, nylon stockings and illicit jokes.
Accordingly, we are asking our guests to honour his presence by dressing as spivvily and caddishly as they can, and for the ladies to don their sassiest stockings (replacements supplied by Mr The Spiv on request). But fear not, those of you for whom “Ball” means popping your finest white tie/military uniform/eccentric tableau of clothing – quite simply, come as you are, or at least as you are once a year.
Your entertainment for the evening includes a headline spot by Fat 45, a stunningly authentic and swinging 11-piece jump jive big band. There will be other performers, yet to be confirmed, esoteric side shows and of course our usual fleet of secretaries and butlers, who will discreetly arrange your trysts via our Jeeves Dating service.
THE 3RD GRAND ANARCHO-DANDYIST BALL 8pm-2am Saturday 3rd December 2011 The Grand Ballroom Camden Centre Judd Street London WC1H 9JE
Am I A Chap? Submit Yourself to the Ultimate Sartorial Inspection Am I A Chap? by Gustav Temple is published by Beautiful Books. This comprehensive tome seeks to classify every species and sub-species of the English gentleman that one may observe throughout the seasons, from the flamboyant young fop the crusty old duffer. Looking at the origins of the "Chap" genus, in figures such as Edward VII and Ian Carmichael, and their caddish counterparts such as Terry-Thomas and Bunny Roger, the book takes us up to the present day with comtemporary types such as the Bohemian Chap and the Hip Chap.
The book includes a selection of the photographs sent into the magazine's "Am I Chap?" section, along with their vigorous, uncompromising but ultimately helpful sartorial critiques. Elsewhere you will find detailed histories of the essential accoutrements for a gentleman's wardrobe, from brogues to trilbies to Fair Isle sweaters; pen-portraits of those who seem to be carrying the Chappist ensign as they go about their daily business - familiar characters such as Atters, Albion and Billy Childish.
With 192 full colour pages, concluding with a definitive directory of Britain's finest emporia of gentlemanly raiment, including new, vintage and bespoke, Am I A Chap? is an essential tome for any budding Chap-about-Town, fitting snugly into the poacher's pocket of a good Hacking jacket; it will also serve as a stylish and useful compendium for those with a desire to go "Chap Spotting".
Spitfire tipping the wing of a V-1, which disrupted the missile's automatic pilot.
Operation Crossbow: How 3D glasses helped defeat Hitler Newly released photographs show how a team of World War II experts disrupted Nazi plans to bombard Britain – with the help of 3D glasses like those in modern cinemas.
Hitler’s deadly V-1 and V-2 missiles were early but effective weapons of mass destruction – unmanned flying bombs which brought terror to southern England.
But their impact could have been all the more devastating – costing thousands more lives, lengthening the war and threatening the D-Day landings – were it not for the fact that British intelligence worked in three, rather than two, dimensions.
One of the Royal Air Force’s most significant successes came with Operation Crossbow, when it tracked down, identified and destroyed many of the V-weapons which could have prolonged the war.
It did so by meticulously photographing the landscape of occupied Europe in a way that allowed officers to study every contour.
Now the pictures have been brought to life using computer graphics in a BBC documentary thanks to research by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
During the war, the images were painstakingly analysed by a team of photographic interpreters – known as PIs – at RAF Medmenham in Buckinghamshire.
Their secret weapon was a stereoscope – a simple Victorian invention which brought the enemy landscape into 3D.
Working on the same principles as modern-day 3D glasses, it allowed the PIs to measure height, especially of unidentified new structures – such as rockets and their launch sites.
This technique was to prove decisive, and it saved thousands from the V-missile barrage.
The Spitfire is well-known for the role it played in the Battle of Britain, but less celebrated is its contribution to this crucial phase of the conflict.
Pilots from the Photographic Reconnaissance unit, created in 1940, risked their lives by flying unarmed over Europe to take tens of millions of photographs, generating 36 million prints.
To make the 3D effect work, images had to be captured in carefully-plotted sequences which would overlap each other by 60% so everything would stand up when viewed through the stereoscope.
It made the job of the pilots – who, in addition, had to avoid enemy fire – an especially skilled and arduous one. Flying at 30,000ft, they were unarmed because of the weight of the five cameras carried on each Spitfire.
But it is a role of which 88-year-old Jimmy Taylor, a former reconnaissance pilot and the only survivor from the squadron, remains immensely proud.
“It was the best job in the RAF,” he says. “We flew the most beautiful aeroplane, the fastest of its day.
“We had no guns, no bullets, so I didn’t kill anyone. Physically, there’s nothing left of the air fights, nothing left of the bombing – but the photographs are still with us, and they’re still useful.”
Arguably, the squadron’s crowning moment came with Operation Crossbow.
It began in 1942, when a Spitfire flying over Peenemunde in north-eastern Germany spotted an airfield with three concrete-and-earth circles.
Initially, PIs studying the photos thought nothing of them.
In fact, Peenemunde was a vast research centre developing the V-missiles which the Nazis believed would win them the war.
This plan was disrupted, however, in 1943, when British intelligence had managed to bug a conversation between two captured German generals about the weapon.
British spy planes scoured Europe and PIs were ordered to find clues.
Using 3D, a PI managed to spot an upright tube in one of the circles at Peenemunde. From its shadow, the PIs deduced that it was a rocket some 14m high.
Geoffrey Stone, now 92, worked as a PI at Medmenham and says being able to view the images in three dimensions was crucial.
“You needed to be good at paying attention and have the ability to concentrate – there was so much you had to infer from small details,” he recalls.
“We would work late into the evening, but we didn’t complain. There was no other way of telling what was going on in central Europe.”
Furthermore, alarming photos revealed a network of bunkers in France. The “heavy sites”, as they became known to the British, were within range of London.
Reconnaissance flights were sent to investigate, with some daredevils flying as a low as 30m to get the clearest possible images. Back in Medmenham, the PIs correctly identified these as launch platforms.
On 17 and 18 August 1943, 500 bombers set off to destroy Peenemunde and the heavy sites. Crews were left in little doubt of the importance of the mission and told they would have to go back if the sites were not eliminated.
These raids disrupted the V-2 programme and killed senior Nazi scientists.
Production of the V-weapons was relocated to Poland and Germany – out of range of Spitfires. A mountainside in Thuringia, central Germany, was turned into a factory with 60,000 slave labourers.
With this site impenetrable to bombers, the only solution for the British lay in finding and wiping out launch sites in northern France. The French Resistance passed on details of possible sites for the RAF to photograph.
PIs scoured the images for evidence of concealed ramps. Sure enough, woods full of new buildings were soon detected. In total, RAF Medmenham identified 96 “ski sites” – so called because each had a long building that looked like a ski.
In late 1943, the photos made it clear that the Nazis were on the verge of launching a bombardment of southern England. With the planning of D-Day well under way, the timing could not have been worse.
Operation Crossbow was launched late 1943 and bombing of the ski sites began two days before Christmas.
The bombardment was effective but it was not enough to halt the missile programme altogether.
The V-1 – known as the doodlebug – landed in London in the summer of 1944, bringing terror to the capital. The Germans were using less conspicuous launch sites, and brought missiles out at the last moment.
But these sites were identified by PIs who spotted scarring on the land caused by the jets’ booster motors dropping off. These sites were targeted and the doodlebug barrage was limited.
The last V-1 landed on 7 September 1944. The next day, however, the first V-2 crashed in Chiswick, west London. Because it was silent, offering no warning, there was no defence against it.
Since the V-2 was mobile, bombers directed by RAF Medmenham attacked the supporting infrastructure such as roads and railways. In the end, the advancing allied armies over-ran the launch sites.
By the time they were finally halted, the V-weapons had claimed some 9,000 lives – but it could have been many more.
The Germans planned to launch up to 2,000 V-1s every day and, had they been successful, the path of the war could have been altered.
Much of the aerial photography featured in Operation Crossbow was discovered through the research of Allan Williams, curator of The National Collection of Aerial Photography, part of RCAHMS.
While the collection contains millions of images, only a small percentage have so far been digitised and catalogued – but Williams says they tell the story of one of the war’s most decisive episodes.
“The British always used 3D and the Germans didn’t,” he says. “What this meant was that the British could make enemy territory come to life.
“Without this photographic intelligence – which was created at remarkable speed – the Germans could have launched potentially devastating attacks on Britain before D-Day that could have easily changed the outcome of the war.”
Documentary providing an insight into a little-known story of Spitfire pilots and Allied technicians whose work helped to thwart the Nazis during the Second World War. The programme reveals how stereoscopic 3D photographs were used to help interpreters map every contour of the enemy's territory, and uses personal testimony, computer-generated imagery and original wartime pictures to detail how the initiative was able to uncover some of Hitler's most dangerous secrets. Narrated by Samantha Bond
The heroic tales of World War II are legendary, but Operation Crossbow is a little-known story that deserves to join the hall of fame: how the Allies used 3D photos to thwart the Nazis' weapons of mass destruction before they could obliterate Britain.
This film brings together the heroic Spitfire pilots who took the photographs and the brilliant minds of RAF Medmenham that made sense of the jigsaw of clues hidden in the photos. Hitler was pumping a fortune into his new-fangled V weapons in the hope they could win him the war. But Medmenham had a secret weapon of its own, a simple stereoscope which brought to life every contour of the enemy landscape in perfect 3D.
The devil was truly in the detail and, together with extraordinary personal testimonies, the film uses modern computer graphics on the original wartime photographs to show just how the photo interpreters were able to uncover Hitler's nastiest secret
Hanna Reitsch (29 March 1912 – 24 August 1979) was a German aviator and the only woman awarded the Iron Cross First Class and the Luftwaffe Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds during World War II. Along with her flying skills Reitsch was photogenic and willingly appeared in Nazi Party propaganda throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, which made her a celebrity. Reitsch was the first woman to fly a helicopter, a rocket plane, and a jet fighter. She set over forty aviation altitude and endurance records during her career, both before and after World War II, and several of her international gliding records are still standing to this day.
Reitsch was born in Hirschberg, Silesia. Her father was an ophthalmologist who wanted her to become a doctor. She was interested in aviation, and thought she might become a flying doctor in North Africa and even studied medicine for a time. Reitsch began flying in 1932 with flights in gliders. She left medical school in 1933 at the invitation of Wolf Hirth to become a full-time glider pilot and instructor at Hornberg in Baden-Württemberg. She was soon breaking records, earning a Silver C Badge No 25 in 1934. She flew from Salzburg across the Alps in 1938 in a Sperber Junior.
Activities during the Third Reich In 1937 Reitsch was posted to the Luftwaffe testing centre at Rechlin-Lärz Airfield by Ernst Udet. She was a test pilot on the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka and Dornier Do 17 projects. Reitsch was the first female helicopter pilot and one of the few pilots to fly the Focke-Achgelis Fa 61, the first fully controllable helicopter. Her flying skill, desire for publicity and photogenic qualities made her a star of Nazi party propaganda. In 1938 she made nightly flights of the Fa 61 helicopter inside the "Deutschlandhalle" at the Berlin Motor Show.
With the outbreak of war in 1939 Reitsch was asked to fly many of Germany's latest designs. Among these were the rocket-propelled Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet and several larger bombers on which she tested various mechanisms for cutting barrage balloon cables. After crashing on her fifth Me 163 flight Reitsch was badly injured but reportedly insisted on writing her post-flight report before falling unconscious and spending five months in hospital. Reitsch became Adolf Hitler's favourite pilot and was one of only two women awarded the Iron Cross during World War II. Reitsch became close to former fighter pilot and high ranking Luftwaffe officer Robert Ritter von Greim who became her lover.
During the winter 1943-44, she was assigned to the development of suicide aircraft; and, under the command of SS-Obersturmbannfürer Otto Skorzeny, she was the first founding member of the SS-Selbstopferkommando Leonidas (Leonidas Squadron). This project, where the pilots flew manned bombs and ultimately died during the mission, was similar to the Japanese later use of Tokkōtai ("Kamikaze") and was proposed by Adolf Hitler on 28 February 1944. It is probable that the idea originated with Reitsch during her testing of the Messerschmitt Me 163 in 1942, and she was also the first to volunteer for the newly formed Leonidas unit. This program was met with a considerable resistance at the German air-force high-command and was never realized, and even Hitler was initially reluctant to accept her proposal. The unit was disbanded one year later.
V-1 The film Operation Crossbow began a popular myth that early guidance and stabilization problems with the V-1 flying bomb were solved during a daring test flight by Reitsch in a V-1 modified for manned operation. However, in her autobiography Fliegen, Meine Leben, Reitsch recalled other test pilots had been killed or gravely injured while trying to land the piloted version of the V1 (known as the Reichenberg), so she made test flights late in the war to learn why and found the craft's extremely high stall speed was thwarting test pilots, who had no experience landing at extremely high speeds. Reitsch's background with the very fast Me163, along with simulated landings at a safe high altitude, led her to a successful landing of the Reichenberg, but only at over 200 km/h.
Führerbunker A Fieseler Fi 156 Storch similar to the one Reitsch landed in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate during the Battle of BerlinDuring the last days of the war, in light of Hermann Göring's dismissal as head of the Luftwaffe for what Hitler saw as an act of treason (sending the Göring Telegram and allegedly attempting a coup d'état), he appointed Colonel-General Robert Ritter von Greim as head of the Luftwaffe. To enable him to meet Hitler, von Greim asked Reitsch to fly him into embattled Berlin.
Red Army troops were already in the central area when Reitsch and von Greim arrived on 26 April in a Fieseler Fi 156 Storch. With her long experience at low-altitude flying over Berlin and having already surveyed the road as an escape route with Hitler's personal pilot Hans Baur, Reitsch landed on an improvised airstrip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate (Greim was wounded in the leg when Red Army soldiers fired at the light aircraft during its approach). They made their way to the Führerbunker, where Hitler promoted von Greim to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall and to Hermann Göring's former command of the barely functioning Luftwaffe. During the intense Russian bombardment, Hitler gave Reitsch a vial of poison for herself and another for von Greim. She accepted the vial willingly, fully prepared to die alongside her Führer.
During the evening of 28 April, Von Greim and Reitsch flew out from Berlin in an Arado Ar 96 trainer (from the same improvised airstrip). Von Greim was ordered to get the Luftwaffe to attack the Soviet forces that had just reached Potsdamerplatz and to make sure Heinrich Himmler was punished for his perceived treachery of making unauthorised contact with the Western Allies. Fearing that Hitler was escaping in the plane, troops of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army, which was fighting its way through the Tiergarten from the north, tried to shoot the Arado down. The Soviet troops failed in their efforts and the plane took off successfully.
Capture Reitsch was soon captured along with von Greim and the two were interviewed together by American military intelligence officers. When asked about being ordered to leave the Fuhrerbunker on 28 April 1945 Reitsch and von Greim reportedly repeated the same answer, "It was the blackest day when we could not die at our Führer's side." Reitsch also said, "We should all kneel down in reverence and prayer before the altar of the Fatherland." When the interviewers asked what she meant by "Altar of the Fatherland" she answered, "Why, the Führer's bunker in Berlin..." She was held and interrogated for eighteen months. Her companion, von Greim, committed suicide on 24 May. Her father killed her mother, her sister, and her sister's children before killing himself during the last days of the war after expulsion by the Polish from their hometown of Hirschberg.
Later flying career After her release Reitsch settled in Frankfurt am Main. Following the war German citizens were barred from flying powered aircraft, but within a few years gliding was allowed, which she took up. In 1952 Reitsch won third place in the World Gliding Championships in Spain (and was the only woman to compete). She continued to break records, including the women's altitude record (6,848 m). She became German champion in 1955.
During the mid-1950s, Reitsch was interviewed on film and talked about her wartime flight tests of the Fa 61, Me 262, and Me 163. In 1959 she was invited to India by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to begin a gliding centre. In 1961 Reitsch was invited to the White House by US President John F. Kennedy. From 1962 to 1966 she lived in Ghana, where she founded the first black African national gliding school.
She gained the Diamond Badge in 1970. Throughout the 1970s, Reitsch broke gliding records in many categories, including the "Women's Out and Return World Record" twice, once in 1976 (715 km) and again in 1979 (802 km) flying along the Appalachian Ridges in the United States. During this time, she also finished first in the women's section of the first world helicopter championships.
Postwar controversy Although she kept a low profile after the war, toward the end of her life she was interviewed and photographed several times in the 1970s by US photo-journalist Ron Laytner. His report on her last interview suggests a lack of contrition on her part about her Nazi involvement. In her closing remarks she is quoted as saying:
And what have we now in Germany? A land of bankers and car-makers. Even our great army has gone soft. Soldiers wear beards and question orders. I am not ashamed to say I believed in National Socialism. I still wear the Iron Cross with diamonds Hitler gave me. But today in all Germany you can't find a single person who voted Adolf Hitler into power... Many Germans feel guilty about the war. But they don't explain the real guilt we share—that we lost. Death Reitsch died in Frankfurt at the age of 67 on 24 August 1979, allegedly following a heart attack. She had never married.
In a postscript to her death, Eric Brown, British test pilot who had known her before the war, was surprised to receive a letter from Reitsch that same month, in which she reminisced about their shared love of flying, the letter ending with the words; "It began in the bunker, and there it shall end" . Brown speculated that this may have been an enigmatic reference to a suicide pact with von Greim, who may well have been Reitsch's lover; they had both been given cyanide pills by Hitler while in the bunker, and Reitsch was known to have still kept hers. It is quite possible that she had made a pact with von Greim to commit suicide with him, albeit at a different time in order to dampen any rumours of their affair. Her death was announced shortly after Brown received this letter, which led him to wonder whether she had finally carried out her side of the pact and had used the suicide pill at last; there was apparently no post-mortem carried out on her body.
Hanna Reitsch was born in '12. She wanted to be a flying missionary doctor but became a glider pilot. She set records, worked as a movie stand-in flyer & went on expeditions to S. America & Africa. She was the 1st female honorary flight captain. A reformed Luftwaffe hired her as a civilian test pilot in '37. She accepted, calling German warplanes "guardians of the portals of peace." Historian Judy Lomax tells how her values were instilled by a mother who wrote daily, warning against pride & praying for her safety. She rode the forefront of technology. Before Siskorsky perfected helicopters in '39, she tested a primitive version. She tested the gliders which deposited troops on the French Maginot line in '40. In '41, Hitler awarded her the Iron Cross, 2nd class, for dangerous work developing means for cutting cables dangled by British barrage balloons. The most dangerous machine she tested was the Messerschmitt 163 interceptor rocket. 90 seconds from takeoff it climbed at 65-degrees to 30,000' at 500 mph--the fastest humans had ever gone. On a 5th flight, the takeoff dolly jammed. She crashed, retaining presence of mind to write a report before passing out & spending four months in hospital. Hitler awarded the Iron Cross, 1st class. When she confronted Heinrich Himmler with concentration camp rumors, he had her believe he was outraged at such Allied propaganda. Learning of a piloted suicide version of the V1, she tested prototypes. After the war she was unrepentent, wearing the Iron Crosses proudly & writing memoirs. She continued flying, generously helping women pilots from other countries. Aged 65, months before dying, she set a new women's glider distance record
Hanna Reitsch flew almost every German military aircraft in the Second World War, including the rocket-powered Mel 63, and was closely associated with the development of the flying bomb, the V1, which so nearly brought disaster to Britain just when it seemed that victory was in sight. Meeting in the course of her work many prominent personalities in the Third Reich, she was one of the last people to see Hitler in the Bunker and she was the only woman to be awarded the Iron Cross during the war. Yet she never sought political power; she was a pilot and loved flying above everything else. She left her medical studies in order to take up aviation in peace-time and held the world gliding record for women. She stunt-flew for films, and travelled widely all over the world expanding the horizons of flight. With the outbreak of war, however, her role became a military one and she was almost killed when she crash-landed the Me163 on testing. In April 1945 she ran the gauntlet of Russian anti-aircraft fire to fly with Colonel-General von Greim into Berlin, where he had been summoned by Hitler to be appointed the new Chief of the German Air Staff. She gives a graphic and vivid account of her ensuing meetings with Hitler in the Bunker. Hanna Reitsch was an outstanding pilot and a remarkable woman. Her readable and fascinating memoirs are equally remarkable, reflecting as they do her sheer exuberance in the joys of flight for its own sake as well as providing insight into the plans of the Luftwaffe and its operations during the critical years of the war.
Reitsch in 1936
Hanna Reitsch greets well-wishers on a visit to her hometown of Hirschberg, Silesia in April, 1941. Karl Hanke, Gauleiter of Lower Silesia, is at left.
Focke-Achgelis Fa 61, the first fully controllable helicopter
The Leonidas Squadron, formally known as 5th Staffel of Kampfgeschwader 200 was a unit which was originally formed to fly the Fieseler Fi 103R (Reichenberg), a manned version of the V-1 flying bomb that was never used in combat because Werner Baumbach, the commander of KG 200, and his superiors considered it an unnecessary waste of life and resources, and preferred to use the Mistel bomb instead. However, from 17 April until 20 April 1945 (during the Battle of Berlin) thirty-five pilots of the Leonidas Squadron flew suicide sorties against Soviet bridges over the river Oder with little noticeable effect.
The establishment of a suicide squadron (staffel) was originally proposed by Otto Skorzeny and Hajo Herrmann. The proposal was supported by noted test pilot Hanna Reitsch. The idea proposed was that Germany would use volunteers as suicide pilots in order to overcome the Allies' numerical advantages with their fanatic spirit. The idea had roots in German mythology that was glorified by Nazi propaganda. Hitler was reluctant, but eventually agreed to Reitsch's request to establish and train a suicide attack air unit, with the proviso that it would not be operated in combat without his approval. The new unit, nicknamed the "Leonidas Squadron", became part of KG 200. It was named for Leonidas I, the king of Sparta who in 480 BC resisted the invading Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae with 300 elite warriors who fought to the last man.
Reitsch's plan was to attack Allied invasion shipping using the Messerschmitt Me 328, armed with a 900 kilograms (2,000 lb) bomb, which would dive into the sea at such an angle that it would explode beneath the target ship's hull. Heinrich Himmler approved the idea, and suggested using convicted criminals as pilots. The Luftwaffe's High Command was unenthusiastic; Erhard Milch turned the plan down as impractical, and Hermann Göring showed little interest. Adolf Hitler was against the idea of self-sacrifice, believing that it was not in keeping with the German character, and furthermore did not see the war situation as being bad enough to require such extreme measures. Despite this, he allowed Reitsch to proceed with the project after she had shown the plan to him in February 1944. Günther Korten, the Luftwaffe's head of general staff, gave the matter to the commander of KG 200 to deal with.
Over 70 volunteers, mostly young recruits, came forward, who were required to sign a declaration which said, "I hereby voluntarily apply to be enrolled in the suicide group as part of a human glider-bomb. I fully understand that employment in this capacity will entail my own death."
Problems were experienced in converting the Me 328, and the decision was taken to use instead a manned version of the V-1 flying bomb, the Fieseler Fi 103R (Reichenberg). However, the Reichenberg never entered operation.
On 9 June 1944, Karl Koller announced that a Gruppe of KG 200 equipped with special Focke-Wulf Fw 190s was ready for "total operations". Each aircraft carried a heavy bomb, due to whose weight the machines could not carry enough fuel for a return flight, and the pilots were trained only using gliders. This project came to nothing, and Werner Baumbach, now the commander of KG 200, persuaded his friend Albert Speer that it would be more productive to use the men against Russian power stations than the Allied invasion fleet, and Speer in turn passed this on to Hitler.
Suicide sorties During the Battle for Berlin the Luftwaffe flew "Self-sacrifice missions" (Selbstopfereinsatz) against Soviet held bridges over the Oder River. These 'total missions' were flown by pilots of the Leonidas Squadron under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Heiner Lange from 17 April until 20 April 1945, using any aircraft that were available. The Luftwaffe claimed that the squadron destroyed seventeen bridges. However, the military historian Antony Beevor, writing about the incident, thinks that this was exaggerated and that only the railway bridge at Küstrin was definitely destroyed. Beevor comments that "thirty-five pilots and aircraft was a high price to pay for such a limited and temporary success". The missions were called off when the Soviet ground forces reached the vicinity of the squadron's airbase at Jüterbog and were in a position to overrun it
The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, designed by Alexander Lippisch, was a German rocket-powered fighter aircraft. It is the only rocket-powered fighter aircraft ever to have been operational. Its design was revolutionary, and the Me 163 was capable of performance unrivaled at the time. Messerschmitt test pilot Rudy Opitz in 1944 reached 1,123 km/h (698 mph). Over 300 aircraft were built, however the Komet proved ineffective as a fighter, having been responsible for the destruction of only about nine Allied aircraft (16 air victories for 10 losses, according to other sources).
The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe ("Swallow") was the world's first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. Design work started before World War II began, but engine problems prevented the aircraft from attaining operational status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944. Compared with Allied fighters of its day, including the jet-powered Gloster Meteor, it was much faster and better armed
A Fieseler Fi 156 Storch similar to the one Reitsch landed in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate during the Battle of Berlin
Silk stocking and Spitfires: The dark reality of the girls who flew dangerous wartime missions By GLENYS ROBERTS in The Daily mail
Rich, beautiful and oh-so daring...the girls who flew dangerous wartime missions seemed to lead charmed lives. But a fascinating new book reveals a darker reality She climbed out of the cockpit of her Fairey Barracuda and became instantly famous. Wearing a summer uniform of white shirt, dark tie and sleeves rolled above the elbows, she slung a parachute over her shoulder and shook out her long blonde hair. Back-lit by the afternoon sun, pilot Maureen Dunlop looked unbelievably glamorous. And when the picture appeared in 1944 on the cover of the magazine Picture Post, the world was convinced the Air Transport Auxiliary - or ATA - was an-all woman outfit. The ATA, or the "legion of the air" as it was known, performed an essential role during World War Two, delivering British warplanes from the factories where they were made to RAF airfields all over Britain. It was dangerous work which gave rise to incredible feats of heroism.
Flying in the ATA whether you were a man or a woman was one of the most high-risk activities in the whole war - its death rate was higher than in RAF Fighter Command. Of 1,124 pilots who flew for the outfit, nearly one in six was killed. Constantly depleted, the elite troupe needed replenishing - yet even when their country clearly needed them, women had to fight hard to be allowed to take part at all. The hoops they had to jump through to be accepted in a hitherto male preserve seem quite extraordinary, as does their amazing single-mindedness. The famous female flyer Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo to Australia before the war, had a hysterectomy when she was only 26 because she blamed her womanhood for holding her back. One fellow pilot, Jackie Surour, was so unhappy in 1939 when her male friends went off to join the RAF she recalled: "I despised my body, my breasts, all the things that pronounced me woman and left me behind as solitary and desolate, as a discarded mistress. "I looked malignantly at my breasts, symbols of bleakness rooted to my chest and remembered the cut-throat razor in the bathroom." Other women were so keen on flying that they forewent the chance of marriage so nothing would detract from their passion. Inevitably, there were whispers about lesbianism. Yet more tried to keep marriage, family and flying alive.
Margaret Fairweather, who lost her pilot husband while she was pregnant, got back into the cockpit the moment her baby was born, only to crash land in a field. This time she escaped with her life, though by 1944 she died in another crash, in common with one of ten of the women who flew with the ATA. There were 146 brave women pilots just like her, their fates mostly unsung today, not least because of the extreme modesty of the handful of elderly survivors. But a new book, The Spitfire Women Of World War II, has collected the extraordinary stories of these Atagirls for a new generation. There was Diana Barnato Walker, granddaughter of a South African diamond merchant; Mary de Bunsen, daughter of the British ambassador to Vienna; and Lettice Curtis, ex-captain of the Oxford ladies' tennis team - the first woman to fly a four-engined bomber. There was also Mona Friedlander, an ice-hockey international; Lois Butler, captain of the Canadian women's ski team; Audrey Sale-Barker, Olympic skier and the future Countess of Selkirk; and Rosemary Rees, a former ballet dancer. They were among the cream of their generation. To join the ATA you had to have 200 hours in the air and flying was, therefore, a rich person's sport. Young, beautiful and wilful, they swopped a life of privilege for one where death was potentially just round the corner. For in order to make their mark they volunteered for the most dangerous jobs In 1939 Amy Johnson was routinely flying across the Solent acting as target for searchlight batteries and anti-aircraft gunners to draw attention away from the combat pilots. She was killed in January 1941, when her plane ran out of fuel in thick fog and she baled out over the Thames estuary. She landed safely, but got lost in the water and drowned. But there were many other dangers. Scandalously, one woman's aircraft was even thought to have been sabotaged by male rivals, threatened by the sight of attractive, young and physically slight women emerging from the cockpits of huge heavy bombers. "Women are not doing this job for the sake of doing something for their country," declared one outraged male authority figure. "Women who want to serve their country should take on work more befitting their sex instead of encroaching on a man's occupation. Men have made aviation reach its present perfection." Sometimes danger came from the sheer unfamiliarity with the planes they were flying - there were 143 different types and often the pilots had a mere half-hour with the handbook before taking off. More usually it came in the guise of the weather. For the most part, these pioneer women were flying in open cockpits without instruments and without radar and when, like Johnson, they were engulfed with cloud, they had little hope of finding their way to land safely. There were some terrible nearmisses. One January morning in 1943, Diana Barnato Walker was flying over the Cotswolds when the clear blue sky suddenly filled with cloud more than 6,000 ft thick. As her plane started losing height, Barnato, then 25, desperately peered through the clouds trying to find a place to land. She finally broke through at treetop height and banked sharply to avoid a patch of woodland. Improbably she recovered to make a perfect landing in heavy rain on a grass airstrip at RAF Windrush.
Luck played its part in her survival, but it was also a great feat of concentration and endurance. Flying in open cockpits, these brave women were often dangerously cold by the time they reached their destinations, but they went straight back to base on the train to ferry another plane the next day. And if the natural challenges weren't enough, some pilots took their lives wilfully in their hands. Ann Wood-Kelly, 24, once followed two male pilots up the Avon gorge and under the Clifton suspension bridge in a Spitfire. The fact was that life in the air was glamorous. It was daredevil, it was cutting edge and the women flaunted their fascination with it and their feminity, often playing up to the men's direst fears. "My dear, I've got my first Hudson and I know I shall I crash and I've got a pain (cold, temperature, etc)," wrote one female pilot in her memoirs, parodying the attitude in the mess before they took off. Her parody continued: "They would totter out, leaving a trail of handkerchiefs, lipsticks, handbags, etc, which would be picked out by willing male hands. "They would then fly the aircraft superbly to its destination." That of course was the point. These plucky women knew they could do the job and they were determined to prove it. For all of them the holy grail was the Spitfire, the brave little plane which men found so sexy they talked about it more as a mistress than a machine. Yet the iconic British single-seater fighter was in fact the perfect plane for a woman to fly. The cockpit was so petite that their smaller frames fitted in perfectly. Women who flew it used to liken the feeling to wearing a well-fitting dress. They loved its sensitive and powerful-performance, too. With its 1600 horsepower Rolls-Royce engines, it made the first post-war jets seem sluggish by comparison. The first woman to fly one was Margaret Fairweather, daughter of Liberal peer Lord Runciman, who joined the ATA in 1941 with 1,000 flying hours to her credit. Margaret was one of the unique bunch of women flyers called the First Eight, flying out of the tiny airport of White Waltham which still exists near Maidenhead, Berkshire. The team was assembled by Pauline Gower, the first female even allowed to climb into an RAF plane, let alone fly one. Gower, daughter of a Tory MP, had no use for anyone who thought women too frail to fly, saying every girl should take lessons - they were "the best antidote to the manifold neuroses which beset modern women", usually because they had too little to occupy their minds.
She paid for her own lessons by teaching the violin, wisely keeping them secret from her parents because as soon as her father found out he tried to clip her wings by cutting off her allowance. Ultimately just like Amy Johnson's father, Sir Robert Gower became his daughter's fiercest supporter and even gave her the down-payment for a first plane of her own, a little twoseater, for her 21st birthday. Pauline used it to become a joyride pilot offering pleasure trips from a field next the road in Kent. As war approached, she had a massive 2,000 hours flying time and had flown 33,000 passengers, yet as a woman she was not allowed to fly in combat. Then, in 1940, she came up with the idea of persuading her father's powerful friends that women should be allowed to boost the dwindling numbers of pilots, by ferrying planes alongside the hitherto allmale Air Transport Auxiliary. Pauline was paid a salary of £400 a year - 20 per cent lower than a man doing the same job - to recruit the original eight female flyers, who themselves joined up for an abysmal £26 per annum, plus a much coveted uniform consisting of a pleated skirt, slacks - not to be worn off base - a one-piece "Sidcot" flying suit and quilted liner, a sheepskin leather flying jacket, great coat and cap. At first the women were restricted to flying light planes which were so inexpensive they were easy to replace "if broken by women", observed Pauline wryly. Their horizons soon expanded. By the time she was 22, Joan Hughes, one of the first and the youngest to join - she had started flying at 15 - had clocked up 600 hours ferrying everything from light trainers to heavy four-engine bombers. Hughes used her skills after the war teaching airline pilots and in 1965 starred in the film Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines flying a replica of a 1909 Demoiselle. She died in 1992, aged 74, with 11,800 hours in her logbook. Only the war made such progress possible. Women knew it and they were soon arriving in Britain from all over the world to take part. The Americans were recruited by the dynamic Jackie Cochran, who wanted to show the British what American women were made of. An orphan from the deep South, her background as a hairdresser was far removed from the upper-crust English beauties she came to join. Each winter, Jackie styled the hair of rich women in Miami and there one year she met millionaire Floyd Odlum, who owned several aircraft factories. The two were married and when Floyd advised her to learn to fly Jackie went solo on her third lesson. "To live without risk would be tantamount-to death," she declared. The happy couple set up home in the California desert, where they often entertained fellow flyers, such as the doomed Amelia Earhart and the eccentric Howard Hughes. Then in 1941 when Arthur "Bomber" Harris, the famous boss of Bomber command, was in Washington casting round for extra ferry pilots, Jackie was recommended. She offered him American women pilots including Dorothy Furey, a southern belle so spirited she lured Lord Beatty - son of the famous First Sealord - away from his wife and married him in 1947, and then moved on to have an affair with soontobe Prime Minister Anthony Eden. Women brought extreme passion to their vocation. As Jackie's first batch of Americans gathered in Montreal for the long voyage to Britain, through sea lanes patrolled by U boats, they partied hard to soothe their nerves. There were tales of all-night benders with male flyers and of a particular party trick which consisted of filling their shower curtains with water and bombing them down the stairs at their hotel. The high jinks continued throughout the ten-day passage. Centre for these hardliving Americans in London was Mayfair. Blacked out, dirty and haunted by barrage balloons, the capital was teeming with exiles from all over the world, many of them flying for the ATA. Often their extrovert natures clashed with the British, who were quietly getting on with the job. Unlike the Brits, the American women already knew they could breach all-male preserves. One of them, Helen Richey, had become the first U.S. civil airline pilot as early as 1934. In fact, Helen was sent home before the end of the war for pranging one too many planes. Poor Helen, whose early life had been so full of great achievements, committed suicide in 1947, because she felt the world had become such a dull place. Not for the British women. The ATA had enabled them to make their mark in the air. Before the war they had flown, like Audrey Sale-Barker, a doctor's daughter, for fun and to draw attention to themselves. Audrey, nicknamed 'Wendy' after she got her wings, ditched in lion country in the middle of Africa with co-pilot Joan Page, daughter of the chief justice of Burma, memorably wrote an SOS in lipstick which they gave to an illiterate Masai tribesman in the hope that he would pass it on to someone who could save them. "Please come and fetch us. We've had an aircrash AND ARE HURT," it read. Amazingly the lipstick SOS did get through to rescuers. It saved their lives and only encouraged Audrey's flamboyant personality. When the time came for her to join the ATA, she refused to wear the regulation RAF uniform and had her own made in Savile Row with a bright red lining. If women were going to be the butt of male criticism, she reckoned they might as well make the most of it. By the end of the war, everything had changed. The 'Atagirls' had acquitted themselves so well that from now on the sky was the limit. Though the Air Transport Authority itself was disbanded immediately after the war, many of them carried on flying into old age. Most of all, they had proved without doubt that women were equal to men. And that was a legacy which would help coming generations make their mark in all sorts of professions The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was a British World War II civilian organisation that ferried new, repaired and damaged military aircraft between UK factories, assembly plants, transatlantic delivery points, Maintenance Units (MU), scrap yards, and active service squadrons and airfields-but not to aircraft carriers. It also flew service personnel on urgent duty from one place to another and performed air ambulance work.
Mission The original intended usage was to transport mail and medical supplies. However the pilots were immediately needed to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) ferry pools transporting aircraft. By 1 May 1940, they took over transporting all military aircraft from the factories to the Maintenance Units to have guns and accessories installed. On 1 August 1941, the ATA took over all ferry jobs. This freed the much-needed combat pilot for combat duty. Lord Beaverbrook, (Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook), gave an appropriate tribute at the closing ceremony disbanding the ATA.
"Without the ATA the days and nights of the Battle of Britain would have been conducted under conditions quite different from the actual events. They carried out the delivery of aircraft from the factories to the RAF, thus relieving countless numbers of RAF pilots for duty in the battle. Just as the Battle of Britain is the accomplishment and achievement of the RAF, likewise it can be declared that the ATA sustained and supported them in the battle. They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if they had been engaged on the battlefront." Accomplishment During the war, the service flew 415,000 hours and delivered over 308,000 aircraft of 130 types including Spitfires, Hawker Hurricanes, Mosquitoes, Mustangs, Lancasters, Halifaxes, Fairey Swordfish, Fairey Barracudas, and Fortresses. The average aircraft strength of the ATA training schools was 78. Total of 133,247 hours were flown by school aircraft and 6,013 conversion courses were put through. The total flying hours of the Air Movement Flight was 17,059 of which 8,570 were on UK internal flights and 8,489 on overseas flights. 883 Tons of freight was carried and 3,430 passengers transported without casualty. Total taxi hours amounted to 179,325 excluding Air Movements.
Administration The administration of the organisation fell to Gerard d'Erlanger, a director of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). He had suggested a similar organisation prior to the war in a letter dated 24 May 1938. In late August 1939, the ATA was placed under British Airways Ltd. for initial administration and finance. On 10 October 1939, Air Member for Supply and Organisation (AMSO) took over the control of the ATA. The first pilots were assigned to RAF Reserve Command and attached to RAF Flights to ferry trainers, fighters and bombers from factory and storage to Air Force Stations. Late in 1939, it was decided that a third and entirely civilian ferry pool at White Waltham near Maidenhead in Berkshire should be set up. Operations of this pool began 15 February 1940. On 16 May 1940, RAF Maintenance Command through 41 Group, took control. Then on 22 July 1941, the ATA came under the control of the Ministry of Production (MAP). Although control shifted to these many departments, administration was always done by BOAC with Commander Gerard d'Erlanger CBE.
Pilots The organisation recruited pilots who were considered to be unsuitable for reasons of age or fitness for either the Royal Air Force or the Fleet Air Arm (therefore humorously referred to as "Ancient and Tattered Airmen"), pilots from neutral countries and, notably, women pilots.
A unique feature of the ATA is that physical handicaps were ignored if the pilot could do the job. Thus there were one-armed, one-legged, short-sighted, and one-eyed pilots with the ATA. Representatives of 28 countries flew with the ATA. In late 1939, Commander Pauline Gower MBE was given the task of organising the women's section of the ATA.. There were 166 women pilots (one in eight of the entire service) who volunteered from Britain, the Commonwealth (Canada, New Zealand and South Africa), United States, the Netherlands, Poland, and one from Chile. Fifteen lost their lives in the air, including the British pioneer aviatrix Amy Johnson. One of many notable achievements of the women is that they earned the same pay as men in equal rank as the men flying with the organisation starting in 1943. This was the first time that the British Government gave its blessing to equal pay for equal work, within an organisation under its jurisdiction. (Note, at the same time, American woman flying with the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the WASP, were earning as little as 65% of their male colleagues.) Although initially restricted to non-combat types (i.e. trainers and transports), women pilots were eventually permitted to fly virtually every aircraft flown by the RAF and Fleet Air Arm including the four-engined bombers, but excluding the largest flying boats.
Training Although the first ATA pilots were introduced to military aircraft at RAF's Central Flying School (CFS), the ATA soon developed its own training programme. Pilots progressed from light, single-engined aircraft to more powerful and complicated aircraft in stages. They first qualified on one "class" of aircraft, then gained experience on that class by doing ferrying work of any and all aircraft in that class before returning to training to qualify on the next class of aircraft. As a result, pilots progressed based on their own capabilities, rather than on a rigid timetable. This not only ensured that as many pilots as possible advanced, but those that could not were still gainfully employed flying the aircraft types on which they had qualified. Once cleared to fly one class of aircraft, pilots could be asked to ferry any plane in that class even if they had never seen that type of aircraft before. To do so they had Ferry Pilot Notes, a two-ring book of small cards with the critical statistics and notations necessary to ferry each aircraft. A pilot cleared on more than one class, could be asked to fly an aircraft in any of the categories on which he or she was qualified; thus even a pilot cleared to fly four-engined bombers could be assigned to fly a single-engined trainer if scheduling made this the most efficient way to get the aircraft to its destination. The ATA trained its pilots only to ferry planes, rather than to perfection on every type. For example aerobatics and blind flying were not taught and pilots were explicitly forbidden from doing either, even if capable of doing so. The objective of the ATA was to deliver aircraft safely, and that meant taking no unnecessary risks. A detailed account of the training that ATA pilots experienced and a vivid view of the daily life of an ATA pilot may be found in "Intrepid Woman, Betty Lussier's Secret War, 1942-1945", Betty Lussier, 2010.
First Officer Maureen Dunlop, one of the ferry pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary, pictured in September 1944
Female aviators Dorothy Spicer and Pauline Gower, who later became an officer, in a bungalow in Reading
Pauline Gower, centre, officer of the Air Transport Auxiliary's No 5 Ferry Pilot's Pool Women's section based at Hatfield, Berkshire
Captain Joan Hughes prepares to start up a Hudson in September 1944
Pauline Gower, ferrying a new aircraft from the factory to the aerodrome in January 1940
The First of the Few
The First of the Few, known as Spitfire in the United States, is a 1942 British film directed by and starring Leslie Howard as R.J. Mitchell, the designer of the Supermarine Spitfire, alongside co-star David Niven. The film's score was written by William Walton ("Spitfire Prelude and Fugue"). The film's title alludes to Winston Churchill's speech describing Battle of Britain aircrew: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." Plot A newsreel sets the scene for summer 1940, showing Nazi advances in Europe with England facing invasion and aerial attacks on the island increasing. On 15 September 1940, during the Battle of Britain, RAF Squadron Leader Geoffrey Crisp (David Niven), the station commander of a Spitfire squadron, recounts the story of how his friend, R.J. Mitchell (Leslie Howard) designed the Spitfire fighter. His pilots listen as Crisp begins with the 1922 Schneider Trophy competition, where Mitchell began his most important work, designing high speed aircraft. While watching seagulls with his binoculars, he envisages a new shape for aircraft in the future. Crisp, an ex-First World War pilot seeking work, captivates Mitchell with his enthusiasm and the designer promises to hire him as test pilot should his design ever go into production. Facing opposition from official sources, Mitchell succeeds in creating a series of highly successful seaplane racers, eventually winning the Schneider Trophy outright for Great Britain. After a visit to Germany in the late 1930s and a chance meeting with leading German aircraft designer Willy Messerschmitt, Mitchell resolves to build the fastest and deadliest fighter aircraft. Convincing Henry Royce of Rolls-Royce that a new engine, eventually to become the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin is needed, Mitchell has the powerplant he requires. Faced the devastating news that he has only one year to live and battling against failing health, Mitchell dies as the first prototype Supermarine Spitfire takes to the skies (in fact, Mitchell died over 15 months after the first flight). Crisp ends his account when the squadron is scrambled to counter a German attack, voicing a thanks to Mitchell for creating the Spitfire.
Cast Principal credited cast members (in order of on-screen credits) and roles: Actor Role Leslie Howard R.J. Mitchell David Niven Geoffrey Crisp Rosamund John Diana Mitchell Roland Culver Commander Bride Anne Firth Miss Harper David Horne Mr. Higgins J.H. Roberts Sir Robert McLean Derrick De Marney Squadron Leader Jefferson Rosalyn Boulter Mabel Lovesay Herbert Cameron MacPherson Toni Edgar-Bruce (as Toni Edgar Bruce) Lady Houston Gordon McLeod Major Buchan George Skillan Henry Royce Erik Freund Willy Messerschmitt Fritz Wendhausen (as F.R. Wendhausen) Von Straben John Chandos Krantz Victor Beaumont Von Crantz Suzanne Clair Madeleine Filippo Del Giudice Bertorelli Brefni O'Rorke The Specialist
Production The First of the Few was a British film produced and directed by Leslie Howard, with Howard taking the starring role of R.J. Mitchell. Leslie Howard bore little resemblance to R. J. Mitchell, however, as Mitchell was a large and athletic man. Howard portrayed Mitchell as upper class and mild-mannered. Mitchell - "the Guv'nor" - was in fact working class and had an explosive temper; apprentices were told to watch the colour of his neck and to run if it turned red. Howard himself was well aware of these deliberate artistic discrepancies, and dealt delicately with the family and Mitchell’s colleagues; Mrs. Mitchell and her son Gordon were on the set during much of the production. Because the film was made during the Second World War and dealt with subjects related to the conflict, it was, in effect, propaganda. Because of its value as propaganda, the RAF contributed Spitfire fighters for the production. US producer Samuel Goldwyn released Niven who was still under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, allowing him to appear in exchange for US distribution rights. After seeing the prints, Goldwyn was furious that Niven was cast in a secondary role and personally edited out 40 minutes before reissuing the film as Spitfire.
Elizabeth 'Lee' Miller, Lady Penrose (April 23, 1907 – July 21, 1977) was an American photographer. Born in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1907, she was a successful fashion model in New York City in the 1920s before going to Paris where she became an established fashion and fine art photographer. During the Second World War, she became an acclaimed war correspondent for Vogue magazine covering events such as the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris, and the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau. Early life Lee Miller was born on April 23, 1907 in Poughkeepsie, New York. Her parents were Theodore and Florence Miller (née MacDonald). Her father was of German descent, and her mother a Canadian of Scottish and Irish descent. She had a younger brother named Erik, and older brother named John. Theodore always favored Lee, and he often used her as a model for his amateur photography. When she was eight years old, she was raped while staying with a family friend in Brooklyn. Soon after, it was realized that Lee had contracted gonorrhea. The rape (which she almost never discussed), had a life-long traumatizing effect upon her. Modelling Her father, Theodore Miller, an engineer, inventor and businessman, introduced Lee and her brothers, John and Erik, to photography from an early age. She was his model — with many stereoscopic photographs taken of a teenage Lee in the nude — and he also showed her technical aspects of the art. At age 19, she was stopped from walking in front of a car on a Manhattan street by the founder of Vogue magazine, Condé Nast, thus launching her modeling career when she appeared on the cover of the March 1927 edition in an illustration by George Lepape. For the next two years, she was one of the most sought after models in New York, photographed by the likes of Edward Steichen, Arnold Genthe, and Nickolas Murray. A photograph of Lee by Steichen was used to advertise a female hygienic product (Kotex) causing a scandal, effectively ending her career as a fashion model.
Photography In 1929, Lee Miller traveled to Paris with the intention of apprenticing herself to the surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray. Although, at first, he insisted that he did not take students, Miller soon became his photographic assistant, as well as his lover and muse. While she was in Paris, she began her own photographic studio, often taking over Man Ray's fashion assignments to enable him to concentrate on his painting. In fact, many of the photographs taken during this period and credited to Man Ray were actually taken by Lee. Together with Man Ray, she rediscovered the photographic technique of solarisation. She was an active participant in the surrealist movement, with her witty and humorous images. Amongst her circle of friends were Pablo Picasso, Paul Éluard, and Jean Cocteau. She even appeared as a statue that comes to life in Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet (1930).
After leaving Man Ray and Paris in 1932, she returned to New York and established a portrait and commercial photography studio with her brother Erik as her darkroom assistant. During this year she was included in the Modern European Photography exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. In 1933 Levy gave Miller the only solo exhibition of her life. Among her portrait clients were the surrealist artist Joseph Cornell, actresses Lilian Harvey and Gertrude Lawrence, and the African-American cast of the Virgil Thomson-Gertrude Stein opera Four Saints in Three Acts (1934).
In 1934, she abandoned her studio to marry Egyptian businessman, Aziz Eloui Bey, who had come to New York to buy equipment for the Egyptian Railways. Although she did not work as a professional photographer during this period, the photographs she took while living in Egypt with Eloui, including Portrait of Space, are regarded as some of her most striking surrealist images. By 1937, Lee had grown bored with her life in Cairo and she returned to Paris, where she met her future husband, the British surrealist painter and curator Roland Penrose. Her photographs were not included in another exhibition until 1955, when her work was displayed with The Family of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
World War II At the outbreak of the Second World War, Miller was living in Hampstead, London with Roland Penrose when the bombing of the city began. Ignoring pleas from friends and family to return to the US, Miller embarked on a new career in photojournalism as the official war photographer for Vogue documenting the Blitz. Lee was accredited into the U.S. Army as a war correspondent for Condé Nast Publications from December 1942. She teamed up with the American photographer David E. Scherman, a Life Magazine correspondent on many assignments. Miller travelled to France less than a month after D-Day and recorded the first use of napalm at the siege of St. Malo, the liberation of Paris, the battle for Alsace, and the horror of the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau. One photograph by Scherman of Miller in the bathtub of Adolf Hitler's apartment in Munich is one of the most iconic images from the Miller-Scherman partnership.
During this time, Miller photographed dying children in a Vienna Hospital, peasant life in post-war Hungary and finally the execution of Prime Minister László Bárdossy. After the war she continued to work for Vogue for a further two years, covering fashion and celebrities.
England After returning to Britain from eastern Europe, Lee started to suffer from severe episodes of clinical depression and what later became known as post-traumatic stress syndrome. She began to drink heavily, and became uncertain about her future. In 1946, she traveled with Roland to the United States where she visited Man Ray in California. After she discovered she was pregnant with her only son, Antony, she divorced Bey and, on May 3, 1947 married Roland. Antony was born in September 1947. In 1949, they bought Farley Farm House in Sussex. During the 1950s and 1960s, Farley Farm became a sort of artistic Mecca for visiting artists such as Picasso, Man Ray, Henry Moore, Eileen Agar, Jean Dubuffet, Dorothea Tanning, and Max Ernst. While Miller continued to do the occasional photo shoot for Vogue, she soon discarded the darkroom for the kitchen becoming a successful gourmet cook. She also photographed for biographies Roland wrote about Picasso and Antoni Tapies. However, images from the war, especially the concentration camps, continued to haunt her and she started on what Antony describes as a "downward spiral". Her depression may have been accelerated by her husband's long affair with the trapeze artist Diane Deriaz. Lee rarely talked about her war experiences but it inevitably had harsh effects on her health and her relationship with her family.
Miller died from cancer at Farley Farm House in Chiddingly, East Sussex in 1977, aged 70. She was cremated, and her ashes spread through her herb garden at Farley Farm House. Her son Antony Penrose, known as Tony, owns the house and offers tours of the amazing work of Miller and of Roland Penrose. The garden exhibits art items such as Fallen Giant, Sea Creature, and Kneeling Woman, and the house is home to the private collections of Miller-Penrose, their own work and some of their favourite pieces of art. In the dining room, the fireplace was decorated in vivid colours by Roland Penrose.
Legacy Throughout her life, Miller did very little to promote her own photographic work. That Miller's work is known today is mainly due to the efforts of her son, Antony Penrose, who has been studying, conserving, and promoting his mother's work since the early 1980s. Her pictures are accessible at the Lee Miller Archive.
In 1985, the first biography of Miller entitled The Lives of Lee Miller was written by Antony Penrose. Since then, a number of books, mostly accompanying exhibitions of Miller's photographs, have been written by art historians and writers such as Jane Livingstone, Richard Calvocoressi, and Mark Haworth-Booth. In 2005 her life story was turned into a musical Six Pictures Of Lee Miller with music and lyrics by British composer Jason Carr. It premiered at The Chichester Festival Theatre (also in Sussex). Also in 2005 Carolyn Burke's substantial biography, Lee Miller, A Life, was published in the U.S. by Alfred A. Knopf and in the U.K. by Bloomsbury. In 2007, Traces of Lee Miller: Echoes from St Malo, an interactive CD and DVD about Miller's war photography in St Malo was released with the support of Hand Productions and Sussex University.
Lee Miller: on the front line Review of the V&A Exhibition by Drusilla Beyfus 08 Sep 2007 in The Telegraph
While working as the only woman photo-reporter in combat areas during the Second World War, the model and Surrealist muse Lee Miller used her creative talents to the full. Drusilla Beyfus discusses her war photographs, part of a retrospective at the V&A
As adroit behind the camera as in front of it, the life of American-born Lee Miller is up for reassessment. As a beauty, Surrealist muse, Man Ray's collaborator, fashion model, sitter to Picasso, Vogue fashion photographer, Second World War correspondent and centre of an influential circle of artists and writers, she is to be the subject of a retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The event marks the 100th anniversary of her birth - she died aged 70 in 1977.
Fashion and war reportage, portraits and landscape, still life and documentary stories will each have a place in the exhibition, curated by Mark Haworth-Booth, who wrote The Art of Lee Miller, the accompanying book.
In terms of pictorial coverage, it is as if Don McCullin, the Vietnam war photographer, had been assigned to cover the Paris collections, Mario Testino dispatched to Helmand province instead of a fashion shoot or Snowdon restored to documentaries. Few will deny that Miller's war years used her creative talents to the utmost - and also arguably used them up. In 1942 she became one of six accredited war correspondents, and the only woman photo-reporter active in combat areas.
McCullin says of her, 'When you think that she came from the art world, with the background of being one of May Ray's beautiful nude models, to the ugly world of death and destruction, the transition was extraordinary. One has to admire that more than other things about her.
'To have gone from being idolised and loved and turned into a beauty icon and to turn her back on being creative and indulgent to live in a trench, be shelled and live on tinned food with the fear of dying at any moment - that shows real credibility and courage.
'She got into the death camps. If even a tough guy, like I thought I was, had gone to such a place it might well have ruined my life.'
Far from the shift in worlds being a gimmick - as it might be with contemporary celebrities trying to get on to the next level of experience - McCullin said it led to a serious commitment to photography in Miller's case.
'Lee Miller was a woman the 20th century needed to create. She was her own remarkable invention,' Haworth-Booth says. To do her proud he has gathered the best vintage prints together for the first time - many previously unseen. He and Antony Penrose, Miller's son and biographer, travelled to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans and Palm Springs for the purpose. A fruitful source turned out to be the Julian Levy collection in New York - Levy had been Miller's gallerist and lover in the 1930s, who had shown her work in 1933 but, Haworth-Booth told me, 'nothing sold and he kept the prints, selling some of them in the 1960s'. In 1998 a Miller print sold at Phillips in New York for $130,000.
Of special interest are the pictures that breached the code of acceptability at the time and were unpublished or unseen by the public. Such is Women with Fire Masks, shot in London in 1941. 'It's a black comedy, not a normal journalistic shot,' Haworth-Booth says. 'One subject confidently brandishes a whistle as if you could stop the Blitz with it. It's nicely styled, the hair is done and there's a nice little cardigan. They are goodlooking young women as far as we can see. It's a mixture of documentary photography, fashion and war reportage.'
What also emerges in this field of unwritten censorship is the difference in judgement between American and British Vogue on what their respective readerships would take and who drew which limits when.
Copies of the original issues of the magazines in which Miller's photojournalism either appeared in full or in an emasculated form will be included alongside the original prints. The pictures and text take you on a see-saw journey that mixes glamour, gore and guns. One photo essay titled Night Life Now published in British Vogue in 1943 portrays WRNS on a maintenance job, the WAAF with an emergency field kitchen, women in a mixed gun team, and women bedding down a barrage balloon. As is customary with Miller, a fashion note is sounded, even in the most unlikely circumstances. One shot depicts 'big-bear coats for the ATS searchlight crew'.
In the early days of the war Miller's standing at Condé Nast, the publisher of Vogue, wasn't all that secure, as can be read into the bleat of protests in a communication addressed to Audrey Withers, the editor of British Vogue. 'Saw the Night Life spread in NY Vogue and thought I might have had more than the usual hidden signature - after all it was me who a) thought it up b) stayed up all nite [sic] doing it c) didn't kick up when my London credit was so small d) would appreciate the NY office knowing that their little War Correspondent did a story - on acc't of which they might even like to assign me similar jobs.'
Times changed and by 1945 she is headlined in US Vogue like this, 'Lee Miller has been with the American armies almost since D-Day last June: she has seen the freeing of France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Alsace, crossed the Rhine into Cologne, Frankfurt to Munich, saw Dachau prison camp.' Earlier, British Vogue had billed her as, 'Lee Miller, of Vogue's staff, first woman photographer to visit Normandy, brought back these pictures and this account of medical wonders behind the battle front.'
Miller writes of a casualty in a surgical tent, 'I didn't know he was asleep with sodium pentathol when they started on his arm. I had turned away for fear my face would betray what I had seen.' She filed 10,000 words, used 35 rolls of film and it established her as a correspondent in the European theatre of war.
The jump from Home Front photographer to official war correspondent is marked by the presence of David E Scherman, the Life magazine photographer who was her intimate buddy throughout the war.
Like many creative opportunities in the artist's life, her break came about partly through the intervention of a lover. It was Scherman who had suggested that as a US citizen she was eligible to apply to become an accredited war correspondent with the American army; who photographed her in her service uniform; and who shot a picture - unpublished at the time, but was widely shown later - of Miller taking a bath in Hitler's tub at Berchtesgaden. As it happened, Scherman was to make Miller's relationship with Roland Penrose, the painter and collector who became her husband, into a threesome during the war years.
Miller's portrait David E Scherman Equipped for War is acknowledged as one of her strongest and draws on her understanding of Surrealism's strange juxtapositions. An American critic analysed it like this: 'Not only does Scherman's helmet brim mimic the curve of the umbrella above, but Scherman's camera is as central a part of his "uniform" as is a soldier's gas mask or gun.
'It is his weapon, when faced with a front-line drama or danger he will shoot but it cannot protect him; by allowing the gaily striped umbrella to dominate the composition, Miller presents this risky proposition as a bit of a lark.' Unlike the shot of Miller in uniform, it was not published at the time.
Miller's accreditation gave her access to military transport for herself and her film to and from the theatre of war. Accommodation and essential supplies were secured as well. For the record, Miller had approached the British army but unlike the position today in which women work alongside soldiers at the front line in Afghanistan, for instance, the Brits did not permit women soldiers to work close to the combat zones.
At the liberation of Paris in 1944 Miller takes the temperature of the cultural scene and the fashion news. Fred Astaire and Marlene Dietrich pop up in the dispatches doing GI shows; the actress in Schiaparelli, the dance star in a serviceman's cap. One of the self-portraits shows her in conversation with Picasso, whom she called on. The story goes that they fell into each other's arms, Picasso declaring, 'This is the first Allied soldier I have seen and it's you!'
Reporting on the first fascist-free Paris collections since 1940, Miller observes a trend for clumsy, thick-soled wedge shoes. 'The entire gait of the Frenchwoman has changed with her footwear,' Miller reports. 'Instead of the bouncing buttocks and mincing steps of "pre-war" there is a long hot-foot stride, picking up the whole foot at once.' After the collections she thumbed a lift to the siege of Saint Malo, where the action was and where the German army was holding out. British Vogue billed her as 'the only photographer and reporter there, under fire throughout'.
Miller cabled that she was given a grandstand view of fortress warfare. 'I had thought that watching a battle from a hillside had gone out with the glamorous paintings of Napoleon.' They printed her dispatch at length, running Saint Malo, the most dramatic picture of the bombing in 1944, in which heaving clouds of black smoke rise above the fortress, as a full-page lead.
Her camera was a Rolleiflex. It is worth saying that the model came without a telephoto lens, auto-wind or built-in light meter - all standard equipment in the 21st century. To guard against error, she alternated her shots on two cameras.
As she moves into the heart of Germany her reports are suffused with anger. 'I entered a kraut dugout, squatting under the ramparts. My heel ground into a dead, detached hand and I cursed the Germans for the sordid, ugly destruction they had conjured up in this once beautiful town.'
Her dispatches on Buchenwald and Dachau are printed at length in American Vogue under the banner headline 'Believe It'. She cabled, 'No question that German civilians knew what went on.' Haward-Booth notes that British Vogue ran Miller's text in full but declined to publish the most searing images. Audrey Withers held the view that for British readers - so close to recently liberated Europe - the editorial mood called for jubilation. One small picture of the prison camps was published, which is not in the show.
It is hard to look at this wartime material without speculating on Miller's character and psychology. A colleague, John G Morris, the picture editor of Life magazine in London and Paris and Robert Capa's editor, was once asked what Miller was like. He replied, 'Unpretentious, funny and smart.' From all accounts she had an appetite for personal risk, or at least a seeming indifference to her safety. For instance, after the surrender of the Saint Malo fortress, Miller was picked up by US army public relations personnel and put under temporary arrest for violating the terms of her accreditation by getting too close to the firing line. One picture she took during this episode is said to show the use of napalm, a secret weapon at the time.
Haworth-Booth has a theory that because of Miller's experience of being raped as a sevenyear-old she was able to draw on 'a kind of transferred pain. There was a motivation in confronting the most painful things you can think about'. This showed to some extent in her approach as a photographer; Margaret Bourke-White, the American photographer and correspondent, and Miller pitched up at the same location in Leipzig at which they found the subject of a shoot that was to become well known: the Burgermeister and his family dead from the poison they had taken after the defeat of their homeland. Bourke-White kept her distance from the tragedy, staying in the gallery above the scene, but as Miller's pictures show, she moved right in close. Perhaps it was this sort of action that led Miller's contemporary, the artist Eileen Agar, to observe that she was remarkable but 'completely unsentimental and ruthless'.
Similarly, the playwright David Hare has argued in print that 'you could not understand Miller's deep feminist need to get herself at the centre of events unless you understood that other deep conviction that those events could not possibly damage her.'
'Agar and Hare are correct,' Antony Penrose told me, 'their observations borne out by David Scherman who described her response to Dachau as "coldly professional". But they were referring to the pre-1948 Lee Miller, and I am as certain as I can be that after the war she suffered from post-traumatic stress that was compounded by her childhood traumas, which were never articulated or resolved.'
Her rape had led to years of intrusive medical treatment. Penrose says she kept it to herself for life. His comments help to explain why the artist fell apart after the war years, not helped by her fondness for the booze that had no doubt sustained her in many a tough spot. Another source of frustration was that Vogue had not found a channel whereby she could continue to contribute regularly to its pages.
Any reassessment of the artist as a photo-journalist is likely to ignite the debate as to whether creatively she could catch the ugliness of war. Mary Blume, the American critic, wrote in the Herald Tribune a while back that she was 'shielded by aestheticism'. She quoted Miller's report from Saint Malo: 'A company was filing out, ready to go into action, grenades hanging on their lapels like Cartier clips, menacing bunches of death.'
In my opinion, there's a distinction to be drawn between her straightforward written reports from the front and her images. In photography it's arguable that shots such as Burgermeister of Leipzig's Daughter Suicided, from 1945, in which the close-up of the waxen figure of the dead young woman is almost styled, and Dead SS Guard in Canal, 1945, in which the drowned German soldier looks as if he is dreaming beneath rippling waters, are cases in which the lighting, composition and pictorial qualities serve to soften the blow.
As Lee Miller shows it, no matter how dark the scene, surely the picture is always a beautiful experience.
'The Art of Lee Miller' is at the Victoria and Albert Museum from September 15 to January 5. The accompanying title that takes its name from the exhibition is by Mark Haworth-Booth, and is published by the Victoria and Albert Museum
"Part memoir, part photo essay, part search for the real woman behind an unconventional mother....Should ensure Miller the place she deserves in future histories of the period."—Art in America
• Lee Miller: 1927: New York. Classically beautiful, she is discovered by Condé Nast and immortalized by Steichen, Hoyningen-Huene, Horst, and other famous photographers. • Lee Miller: 1929: Paris. Protégé and lover of Man Ray, she invents with him the solarization technique of photography and develops into a brilliant Surrealist photographer. • Lee Miller: 1939-1945: Europe. She becomes a U.S. war correspondent and covers the liberation of Paris. Her photographs of the Dachau concentration camp shock the world.
These are but three of the many lives of Lee Miller, intimately recorded here by her son, Antony Penrose, whose years of work on her photographic archives unearthed a rich selection of her finest work, including portraits of her friends Picasso, Braque, Ernst, Eluard, and Miró. To these are added many other photos that complement Penrose's highly readable biography of this uniquely talented artist. 171 duotone illustrations
Lee Miller: A Life,' by Carolyn Burke Look at Me Review by ELISSA SCHAPPELL Published: January 8, 2006 in The New York Times IT seems fitting that Carolyn Burke, whose first biography corrected history's error of undervaluing the avant-garde poet and artist Mina Loy, has written "Lee Miller: A Life." Fitting, also, that she begins the tale of a forgotten visionary photographer who was muse and lover to some of the most influential artists of the early 20th century, as well as one of the few women able to transcend this role and become an artistic force in her own right, with Miller's birth as a muse. At the age of 7, the year Miller was raped by a family friend in Brooklyn and subsequently contracted gonorrhea, she began posing naked for her father, Theodore - the only man she was ever faithful to, an amateur photographer and gadget geek who, Burke posits, might have imagined these "art studies" as "treatment" for her trauma. This practice continued into Miller's 20's and eventually culminated in group shots with several of her compliant gal pals. What it did do was create a bond that would remain the strongest and most secure in Miller's life, as well as create in her - out of necessity or desire - the ability to dissociate, which, Burke argues, "would become her way of dealing with those who sought to capture her image, her body and her trust."
Those seeking to capture her image were legion. In the 1920's, Miller's cool, sexually liberated flapper visage was everywhere. On the cover of Vogue and in other publications, her blond bob gleamed like the golden helmet of a gin-alley goddess. It was while modeling for Edward Steichen that Miller began to learn the basics of photography, and found herself inspired to move behind the camera. In the 30's, Miller plunged into the Montparnasse art scene, appearing in Jean Cocteau's film "The Blood of a Poet," sitting for Pablo Picasso's portraits of Provençal wenches and, most fortunately, after presenting herself to Man Ray as his protégée, becoming his lover, muse and eventual collaborator.
The extraordinary power Miller had over Man Ray is obvious in such works as "Observatory Time - The Lovers," in which an enormous pair of Miller's painted lips loom and undulate over the landscape like a giant vaginal dirigible, and in one famous self-portrait (shot after Miller left him to marry an Egyptian businessman) in which a despondent Man Ray sits in a chair with a noose around his neck and a gun to his head.
So entwined were Man Ray's and Miller's visions, and so close their collaboration in taking photographs, that it was often hard to tell who had shot what. It seems a cruel joke that the inspiration Miller so famously provided others is what prevents us from recalling her as an artist in her own right.
In the 40's, during World War II, Miller's wanderlust carried her into the trenches, where, surrounded by the violence and danger of the London blitz, the Normandy aftermath, the liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau, Miller found her muse: war. Her photojournalism for Vogue - including images of atrocities in the concentration camps as well as more intimate horrors, as in a family portrait of the Hitler-loving treasurer of Leipzig surrounded by his wife and daughter, all dead from suicide - created a sensation.
But the thing that proved to be Miller's own muse would be the thing that destroyed her. After returning home from the war, Miller suffered not only from post-traumatic stress disorder but also from withdrawal. Her physician informed her rather coldly, "We cannot keep the world permanently at war just to provide you with entertainment."
It is unfortunate that when Miller cracks up under the strain of depression and alcoholism, her character doesn't crack open. Thus, the last chapters of Miller's life - her failures as a mother; her marriage to Roland Penrose, a curator and lesser painter who was jealous of her success; and her re-creation of herself as a chef - seem lackluster. Miller's rubbing shoulders with James Beard simply isn't as riveting as Miller's rubbing noses with Charlie Chaplin; a trip to Norway to accept its tourist board's award for the best open-faced sandwich can't stand up to a Surrealist orgy in the country where artists swapped wives and lovers like paintbrushes.
To be fair to Burke, the enigmatic Miller was by all accounts aloof and unreachable, keeping everyone at a distance. (That includes Burke, who met Miller in 1977, shortly before her death at the age of 70.) Miller didn't leave any particularly revealing letters or diaries, so her inner life never really comes alive.
The photograph that may give the truest glimpse into Miller's nature is a portrait shot in Hitler's bathtub after the Allies had taken over his house: a picture of the Führer balances on the lip of the tub; a classical statue of a woman sits opposite it on a dressing table; Lee, in the tub, inscrutable as ever, scrubs her shoulder. A woman caught between horror and beauty, between being seen and being the seer.
Given that the real story of Lee Miller can be gleaned only from her work, the scant 24 glossy photographs included here feel like a tease, a mere pinhole view into Miller's work and psyche, which forces the reader to do what people have always done to Lee Miller - project their own desires onto her, seeing what they want to see.
Burke writes, "Mesmerized by her features, we look at Lee Miller but not into her." Which is true, but sadly a flaw of this otherwise compelling book ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Troubled witness Dec 1st 2005 | from the print edition in The Economist
..LEE MILLER was a bold, 22-year-old beauty from Poughkeepsie, New York, when she tracked down Man Ray in 1920s Paris and told him she was his new student. The American-born surrealist painter and photographer replied that he did not take pupils. But, as Miller explained decades later, “I guess he fell for me. We lived together for three years and I learned a lot about photography.”
Miller became a master of the surrealist image who then came into her own as a photojournalist during the second world war. Her photographs—of the liberation of Paris, of bombed-out Aachen and Cologne, the suicide of a prominent Leipzig family in 1945 or a Dachau prison guard floating dead in a canal—are hard to forget.
Until relatively recently, however, Miller's fame, as a flawless beauty, photographic collaborator and model, over-shadowed her artistic legacy. This first full-length biography, by Carolyn Burke, an Australian-born art critic, shows how Miller's complex nature contributed to this neglect. Her photographic career was sporadic, with spells of intense activity alternating with bouts of lassitude. Also, unlike many artists, she rarely promoted or even showed her photographic work to those who might help her. Miller was born in 1907, the only daughter of an engineer, inventor and keen photographer from whom she inherited a fascination with the technical intricacies of image-making. Ms Burke shows how their exceptionally close relationship is there to see in the nude photo sessions of Miller as a child and as a young woman, as well as in Man Ray's photographs of her sitting in her father's lap. She was also raped at the age of seven—an event which left the child with lingering gonorrhoea and chronic psychological difficulties, which were particularly visible in her relationships with men.
Miller's steadiest commitment was with photography. An art student and cover model for American Vogue, Miller moved to Paris in 1929, where she started her own studio, photographing still lives and portraits. Ms Burke describes Miller's affair with Ray, and her friendships with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst and Paul Eluard, all in careful detail. But the biography truly comes to life when, basing herself in a room overflowing with guns, camera equipment and crates of cognac at the Hotel Scribe in Paris, Miller became a war correspondent. This was an exhausting period that culminated in a famous image of her posing in Hitler's bath after weeks on the road with the troops.
Miller cuts a lonely figure in later life. An adventurer at heart, she was not suited to marriage, motherhood and English country life with her second husband, Roland Penrose, a connoisseur and art collector. Gourmet cooking, fashion assignments for Vogue or taking photographs for Penrose's books on Picasso and Antoni Tapies left her unfulfilled. Her delicate features marred by drink and depression, Miller was often “out of sorts”, alienating her closest friends as well as her son Antony. Penrose meanwhile enjoyed a string of open love affairs with other women. “We cannot keep the world permanently at war just to provide you with entertainment,” Miller's doctor argued. Lack of adrenalin was only part of the problem. Miller was also haunted by flights of wartime memories: “I got in over my head,” she explained to Ms Burke when they met briefly in 1977, adding that she could never get the stench of Dachau out of her nostrils.
Miller died of cancer later that year, leaving behind 60,000 negatives and photographs carelessly stuffed in cardboard boxes in the attic, as well as a further 20,000 documents, journals, cameras, love letters and Nazi relics. As he catalogued his mother's work, Antony Penrose said he realised he had been “cheated out of knowing someone exceptional”. Carolyn Burke's sympathetic tribute sheds further light on the lives of this highly original, often misunderstood woman
A review by Elsa Dorfman Originally published in The Women's Review of Books, Vol II, No. 1, October 1989
Lee Miller was an outstanding photographer of the twenties, thirties, and forties. Her work was out of print and inaccessible until Holt, Rinehart and Winston published The Lives of Lee Miller by Antony Penrose, her son, in 1985, eight years after her death. She was left out of the two or three 1970s photography books that resurrected women photographers, probably because she refused to exhibit, discuss, or publish her work during the last twenty years of her life.
Jane Livingston discovered Lee Miller's work when she was doing the research for two major exhibitions she curated and produced catalogues for: L'Amour Fou: Photography and Surrealism (Abbeville Press, 1985, with Rosalind Krauss) and The Indelible Image: Photographs of War, 1846 to the Present (Harry N. Abrams, 1985, with Francis Fralin). Inevitably, Lee Miller's photographs were prominent in each exhibit and catalogue, since she created some of the most enduring images in each of these genres.
Lee Miller's work can be divided into several categories defined by place: Paris, surrealism; New York, portraits; Egypt, landscapes; Europe during World War Two, reportage; the Paris/London artistic axis, friends (most of them prominent artists and writers). A surrealist sensibility infuses all the work. It isn't hard with a camera - the ultimate surreal instrument - to select from the environment to convey a surrealist vision, but whereas often surrealist images depend on manipulation and collage, Miller's depend on astute juxtaposition, a sense of framing and camera angle. They have a certain wry humor.
Her portraits of women are sensational. The women are heroic and strong. Her portraits of Man Ray are loving and make him appear quite approachable, if not lovable (see "Man Ray Shaving," a close-up of his soapy profile). The portraits of Picasso are among the best made of Picasso - who was photographed by the best photographers of his time. He and Miller were friends for almost 50 years and their rapport is obvious. The war portraits have an especially surreal quality. The focus is isolated. The view is narrow. There is very little context.
Jane Livingston's monograph is the catalogue for an exhibit that is touring several American museums in 1989 and 1990. Her 25-page text relies heavily on Antony Penrose's book about his mother, and does not include any obvious original research. In fact, Penrose writes candidly about Miller's on-and-off-again depressions and heavy drinking (though avoiding the words alcoholism and manic-depression) while Livingston alludes mysteriously to why Miller stopped working in 1957. At least twenty percent of the images in Livingston's book were included in the Penrose volume and though I wish there were no overlap between the two volumes, I realize the reason is that, as the exhibit catalogue, it must include the images in the exhibit (which was curated with the help of Antony Penrose). According to Livingston, there are 40,000 images on file in the Lee Miller Archive.
Not so subtly, Livingston introduces the book (and I assume Penrose opens the exhibit) with an eighteen-page portfolio of images of Lee Miller by various men. The reader is left with two conclusions: that Lee Miller was used to being objectified by men and that she was ravishing. Androgynous in clothes and athletic and cool undressed, she is the archetypal female of the twenties and thirties. (Miller posed for the first Kotex print advertisements. They caused a stir, but it is hard to imagine the remote young woman in the image leaking blood through her napkin.) My favorite of these is of Lee at 23 but looking wise and 40, by George Hoyningen-Huene. Images by her father and brother are also included: Livingston hints that Miller's father, an ardent photographer who had Lee model for him in the nude endlessly, indulged in camerarape.
In none of these portraits is Miller older than 25. It's a pity that Livingston didn't include two other images from Penrose's book - Lee in her kitchen about 1970 by Christina Ockrent and in Arles, France, in 1976 by Marc Riboud. In each of these images, she looks worn and forthright; her gaze is direct. This is a person you want to know. But it is symbolic that these two are omitted; Miller's body showed its age despite face-lifts and though I think she looks great in these photographs, aging caused her a lot of pain.
Livingston does not speculate how much Lee Miller might have contributed as an active collaborator with the photographers, how much of each picture (especially the nine by Man Ray) was her idea, how much she directed the image. Nor does she speculate about what influence, if any, being a model had on Miller's own portraits. Miller must have learned a lot about the dynamics of a photography session, as well as the technical aspects, from these two men. My own sense is that her respect for her subjects and her lack of ego in photographing other people must relate back to her feelings about herself as a model. Portraits of her friends Dorothy Hill and Tanja Ramm and of the prison guards at Buchenwald exemplify her approach. She was able to look at her subjects with a clear eye and with no manipulation. She was not afraid to bring her camera close to her subject. She trusted her subjects to be themselves. She did not clutter up her image with extraneous details. She let the subject dominate the image and did not try to be an auteur photographer whose presence would overwhelm the image.
Born in Poughkeepsie in 1907, Lee Miller was the first child and only daughter of an engineer/inventor who was also a rabid amateur photographer. An unconventional student, she was sent to Paris at eighteen to travel and study. After a year, her alarmed father fetched her home. But not for long. She ran off to Manhattan to study theatrical lighting and design; by late 1926, she was one of the most sought-after high fashion models.
In 1929, she went back to Paris and immediately took up with Man Ray, who fell madly in love with her and with whom she lived for three years. This was the heyday of the surrealist movement and Lee Miller and Man Ray knew everyone, went everywhere, did everything. She even managed to star in Jean Cocteau's film "Blood of a Poet," which still appears on late-night TV. It was during this period that she made the switch from being the person in front of the camera, the collaborator on someone else's work, to the person behind the camera. Livingston includes 22 images from this very productive period. "Nude Bent Forward," a soft-focus study of a woman's torso, and "Walkway, Paris" are among my favorites.
In 1933, Miller left Paris for New York where she set up a portrait studio. In July 1934, she married Aziz Eloui Bey and went off to Cairo to live the life of a wealthy Egyptian woman, traveling and entertaining on a grand scale. In the summer of 1937, she went back to Paris and fell into an intense romance with English surrealist Roland Penrose. But leaving Aziz was apparently very hard to do, and she returned to Egypt for two more years.
Livingston includes eleven images from this period, noting that they "combine a distinctive quality of lush atmospherism and a pungent sense of place." One of them, called "Portrait of Space," is said to have inspired Magritte's painting "Le Baiser." It is an unforgettable image of a desert landscape seen through the torn screen of a tent. A mysterious rectangular frame which reflects nothing is pinned onto the screen at the top of the large billowing rip.
Finally, in June 1939, Miller left Egypt and Aziz for good; Roland Penrose was waiting for her in England. When World War Two broke out, she managed to get a job at the offices of British Vogue. She began a series of photographs documenting the horrors of blitz-torn London which were edited as Grim Glory: Pictures of Britain Under Fire, with text by Edward R. Murrow. It was a success in both England and the United States. Livingston includes nine images from Grim Glory; but she does not say how many images altogether it included, and it is impossible to find a copy of it. (Her book does not include a bibliography of Miller's publications.) Miller, she says,
was making a huge stride in her work toward the boldly expansive compositions, the increasingly eccentric-and-yet-unaffected imagery, and the transcendent fearlessness in relation to her subject, that are the hallmarks of her work throughout the war years. (p.32) Eventually, Miller became a war correspondent for American Vogue. (Yes, she actually talked Vogue into assigning her hard-core war stories for which she wrote the text to go with her images.) It was for Vogue that she made her images of war and ultimately of Dachau and Buchenwald. Her photograph of the floating body of a Dachau prison guard is an icon of that horrific genre. Livingston writes, That most difficult of balances in action photography is flawlessly struck, i.e., the balance between the visual legibility, or order, necessary to enduring images, and the charged confusion innate in traumatic events...Lee Miller takes her place easily...as one of those handful of photographers whose innate moral vision and formal approach to the medium of black and white photography created a uniquely pungent and ethically resounding body of images centering on war itself - often on nothing less than personal human cruelty and depredation in its most graphic form. (pp.65, 76) Miller had a terrible time dealing with the let-down when the war was over - typical of war photographers, many of whom were almost war junkies by 1945. Unlike most of her colleagues, though, she had had it with photography. Though she worked with Roland Penrose on his book on Picasso (and the revised edition has snapshots of Picasso that she took as late as 1970), she showed absolutely no interest in her photographs or in her place in photographic history or in the history of surrealism. She was, in fact, openly antagonistic to inquiries about her work. Instead, she became totally obsessed with cooking. (Kitchens are, in fact, just like darkrooms. They have the same feel and often the same physical layout.) She collected recipes. She collected cookbooks. She interviewed chefs. She cooked and cooked. She gave elaborate parties. It is hard for us with our 1980s mind-set to accept this career switch. The portraits from Buchenwald and Dachau are so unforgettable, her portraits of her artist friends are so amiable and on the mark, that in our greediness and curiosity we want her work to go on. We want to ask, was she depressed? was she eccentric? what role did Penrose play? did she really think her work was of no significance?
I ask these questions too. But I remind myself that lots of war photographers get careless at the end of their wars (or the beginning of the next war) and get themselves killed. That certainly is one way to close the canon. Also, there seems to be something about the nature of photography that makes it not uncommon for people to produce twenty-year bodies of work, as she did.
I have a wish list: I wish that Livingston's book had been more a scholarly monograph than a superficial exhibition catalogue. An anecdotal description of what is included in the 40,000 negatives, journals, and letters in the Miller Archive in East Sussex would have been very useful. I wish that she had included a bibliography of published images of Lee Miller and a bibliography of articles written about her over the years. An index of names would have been useful. I wish that she had reproduced one of the Vogue photo essays to give a sense of how they were laid out. (Livingston never deals with Lee Miller as a writer, although she wrote the text for all fifteen of her Vogue essays.) I wish that her book had a different layout: the 25-page essay is spread over the first 104 pages and is followed by another 56 pages of images; it is very hard to follow the thread of the essay, and the book feels bifurcated. I wish she had found out if Lee Miller knew of or ever met M.F.K. Fisher. I hope a culinary historian goes back to those archives in East Sussex and pulls out a Lee Miller cookbook.
Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bathtub in "Iconic Photos" Lee Miller, covering WWII for Vogue teamed up with the American photographer David E. Scherman, a Life magazine correspondent on many assignments. The above photograph by Scherman of Miller in the bathtub of Adolf Hitler’s house in Munich is one of the most iconic images from the Miller-Scherman partnership. The New York Times had this to say: “A picture of the Führer balances on the lip of the tub; a classical statue of a woman sits opposite it on a dressing table; Lee, in the tub, inscrutable as ever, scrubs her shoulder. A woman caught between horror and beauty, between being seen and being the seer.”
The night after Miller visited Dachau, on April 30, 1945–earlier that day Hitler committed suicide in Berlin–Miller and Scherman entered Munich with the American 45th Division that was liberating the city. They happened upon a dilapidated and normal-looking apartment building on Prinzenregentplatz 27, and realized, upon entering, that it was Hitler’s Munich apartment. They billeted there for three days. Miller wrote to her Vogue editor Audrey Winters:
“I was living in Hitler’s private apartment when his death was announced, midnight of Mayday. . . Well, alright, he was dead. He’d been an evil-machine-monster all these years, until I visited the places he made famous, talked to people who knew him, dug into backstairs gossip and ate and slept in his house. He became less fabulous and therefore more terrible, along with a little evidence of his having some almost human habits; like an ape who embarrasses and humbles you with his gestures, mirroring yourself in caricature.”
When the photo came out, it was considered an extremely poor judgement. For some, Miller posing nude in the tub of one of the most repulsive men in history was nothing more than a ill-timed reflection of the adage, “To the victor goes the spoils”. For others, it represents the power of life over death, “The living do what they can and the dead suffer what they must”. Lee Miller herself shied away from the controversies but reprouding the image very rarely and noted that she was merely trying to wash the odors of Dachau away.