Posts Tagged ‘J R R Tolkien’
Anthony Armstrong-Jones, society photographer and royal paramour, is dead, aged 86.
As royal portraits went, it didn’t get more intimate than this. In 1962, Anthony Armstrong-Jones sat on a toilet and took a photo of his wife Princess Margaret soaking in the bathtub in full makeup and tiara. His feet and hand were reflected in the mirror in the photo.
The couple was then just two years into their marriage. Theirs was the first royal wedding ceremony to be broadcast on television, and Armstrong-Jones became the first commoner in four centuries to marry a British princess. But he could never shake the perceptions that he had been Margaret’s second choice — her earlier romance with a divorcee was stopped by the establishment — and the couple separated in 1976.
This sensational divorce was also record-breaking: it was the first royal divorce in England since Henry VIII. It would set the tone for later royal break-ups of Princes Charles and Andrew. Yet Armstrong-Jones maintained close personal relationships with the British royal family post-divorce, and remained a favorite photographer of the Queen long after his marriage to her sister had ended.
Already a society photographer before his marriage, the royal connections opened doors. He took photos of Ian McKellen, Serge Gainsbourg, Salvador Dali, Vita Sackville-West, Laurence Olivier, David Bowie, Barbara Cartland, and Marlene Dietrich among others; his portraits of J.R.R.Tolkien, previously featured at Iconic Photos here, and Agatha Christie were iconic. For Vanity Fair in November 1995, Snowdon put together a photoessay on British Theatre, photographing Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Alec Guinness, Anthony Hopkins, Patrick Stewart, Julie Christie, and others, in a 56-page spread—the biggest photoessay Vanity Fair had ever ran. (In a spread from that essay above, Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole share tea and private moment at the Dorchester).
“When I arrived at Tolkien’s house I found it curiously characterless. Before I met him, I had spent hours near his home looking for places that might reflect The Lord of the Rings, but had found nothing. When we went for a walk before lunch, we came upon this bit of wood,” Lord Snowdon remembered.
As the popularity of his works grew in the 1960s, Tolkien retreated into semi-retirement. He was now one of the most famous authors in English language but he hated this public attention; he took his number out of phone directories, and became more and more suspicious of emerging Tolkien fandom, especially among the counterculture movement in the United States.
In May 1971, when Snowdon took the photo above in Bournemouth, the aging Oxford don was in his 79th year. Edith, his beloved wife of fifty years, would pass away in November, a month before Tolkien was honored with a CBE. After Edith’s death, he relocated to Oxford from Bournemouth, a seaside resort to which the couple had retired, and died in the lodging Merton College gave him twenty-one months later.