Category Archive 'Peter Beard'

27 Apr 2020

Remembering Peter Beard


Everyone is doing Peter Beard obituaries. Here is a good one by Elsa Cau from Les Grandes Ducs. (translated from the French.)

Socialite and partygoer, artist, photographer, friend of all, lady’s man, Peter Beard was a passionate and brilliant personality with many parts. He died last Sunday at the age of 80 [JDZ: Actually, Peter Beard was found dead April 19th at the age of 82, having disappeared from his Montauk house on March 31st.] leaving behind a completed oeuvre, an ode to freedom in all its forms, the self-portrait – in selected pieces – of someone wild and real.

We all know the moments. Those perfect moments, the storied instant with a good alignment of the planets, of their ideal conjunction. Put the same people in the same place, at the same time, and hold your breath, and you will still never get the same moment again. In That Summer (2017), the voiceovers of Peter Beard and Lee Radziwill tell us about such an absolute moment.

It was the Summer of 1972. In the photographer’s house in Montauk, their feet in the water, they are all there, smiling, radiant: Andy Warhol, the friend with whom Beard had so much artistic interaction since the 1960s; Mick Jagger, whom he had just followed on tour for two months with the Rolling Stones for the eponymous magazine, and his wife Bianca; the tormented and flamboyant writer Truman Capote, whom he met at the same time; the sisters Lee Radziwill – an old love, a friend until the end – and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

The almost eighty-year-old photographer lovingly flipped through the pages of the album in his studio in Montauk where he was still working until the end. “Accidents are very important,” he whispered.

And accidents seems to have played a key role in the turbulent existence of Peter Beard. He was born in 1938 of blue American blood (the grandson of railroad tycoon James Jerome Hill) in New York. He was given as a child a camera which would never leave him, and which gave him his obsession with capturing those around him and his observations. A few private schools, a Yale art degree later [JDZ: actually, he was Yale Class of 1961, but never bothered to graduate.], and he’s was free as air.

While still a student, he started working for Vogue. At 17, he traveled for the first time to Africa: it was love at first sight – aren’t these things always an accident? He returned there regularly. It was just then, in the early 1960s, that Peter Beard became friends with Karen Blixen (authoress of Out of Africa, published under her pen name Isak Dinesen), so much so that he purchased land bordering her former farm in Kenya.

What does the youth do when he is beautiful, radiant, and rich? He lives, he loves. Peter Beard excelled at both and everyone who frequented his society has captivated memories of the man. From Studio 54 to the wilds of Kenya, Beard was one of those who feel at ease everywhere, bond with everyone with a smile, a joke, or a dance, and better, can draw you into sharing their own passions.

In the early 1960s, Beard met Dali. The two men laughed at the same pranks and quickly become friends. Around the same time, Francis Bacon became impressed by the photographs of Peter Beard published in The End of the Game, documenting the gradual disappearance of elephants, hippos and rhinos in Africa. The two men met, appreciate one another, and became close friends. These were only two examples among so many friends, there were so many.

Love, too. After his first marriage to Minnie Cushing, a pretty socialite friend and assistant to Oscar de La Renta, which lasted three years, the handsome photographer went on to so many conquests that they became clichés. Minnie still left her mark: six months without sleep, a short stay in a psychiatric hospital after an overdose of barbiturates, but then he was back on his feet. A minor incident! Candice Bergen, Barbara Allen the Warholian muse, Carole Bouquet in her James Bond period, the model Cheryl Tiegs to whom he was married for a few years, Nejma, his last wife, his unfailing support (who turned a blind eye to his other liaisons), the list goes on.

And they are also animals, essentially, Beard’s women (one recalls Iman, that he was the first to discover and use as a model), it is that which he loved, that he photographed, and which inspires him. Stretched, elongated, hanging from liana vines next to antelopes, cheetahs or giraffes, with intense gazes and the deportment of queens, they are just as fundamental to his photographic work as the animals themselves. Since the early 1970s, moreover, he had united his two passions with a mixture of modified photographs, writings and collages.

But ultimately, these two passions were one: that of life. Whether he was in some remote four corner of the world, charged by an elephant (he was almost killed in 1996), being a party animal in New York, or serene and rested in his house in Montauk, he immortalized the life he observes, excitement and wildness, happiness and injustice.

“Without memory, there is no life,” said Lee Radziwill in her aged, smoky voice. In 1972, the troop of friends had gone out to scout to film Big and Little Edie Bouvier Beale, respectively aunt and cousin of Lee and Jackie, American socialites, singer and dancer gently crossed out.

In their large, almost ruin of a house in the Hamptons, where they lived surrounded by cats, the gang of friends gathered for the summer running after lost time and listening to the eccentric stories of the amazing life of the two women. Stories from a bygone era, from the glorious Hamptons to the grand mansions where one was entertained and from a New York of glitter and madness, which foreshadowed the classic of the American documentary: Gray Gardens (1975).

A stroll through an era forgotten by a band of young and carefree troublemakers, in the same way that generations of lovers will stroll for a long time, together, in the pictures of Peter Beard in search of a bygone era.

Original in French here.

25 Apr 2020

Peter Beard in Africa

23 Apr 2020

The Legendary Peter Beard

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A particularly famous photograph by Peter Beard (characteristically individualized) shows Beard writing in his journal from inside the jaws (of a freshly deceased) crocodile. Apparently, there was a price for the photo. The croc went into rigor mortis, its jaws tightened and the camp servants had a lot of difficulty getting the suffering Beard out from between the now painfully clamped jaws.

From the lack of comments on the previous postings about Peter Beard, I take it that many readers are unacquainted with the works and colorful career of that illustrious writer, photographer, adventurer, and womanizer. I figured I ought to do something about that.

When I was an undergraduate at Yale, in my residential college (Berkeley), there was a strikingly handsome upperclassman who had a considerable physical resemblance to Peter Beard (Silliman ’61). This fellow had parked outside the college on Elm Street a new bright red Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider, which he had received as a gift from a female admirer. While most of us worked summers on Construction or other disagreeable jobs, this particular escapee from Valhalla raised his annual Yale tuition by working as a gigolo on the French Riviera. He was always happy to tell the rest of us all about it, and he always suggested firmly that we really ought to go and do likewise. Of course, just ask yourself: how many undergraduate males look like Peter Beard?

In Outside, Roger Pinckney XI, gave Peter Beard a proper send-off.

Peter Beard was a hard man to peg. A photographer of wildlife and beautiful women, a writer, an ethnologist, explorer, hunter, naturalist, conservationist, ladies man, married man, wise man. Good work if you can get it. But if you’ve ever seen the video of him being trampled by an elephant, you might want to add “fool” to that considerable list. But however you cut it, you’ll run dry of adjectives long before you ever had Peter Beard nailed down.



A 1996 article in Vanity Fair by Leslie Bennetts may be the fullest collection of “Half Tarzan, Half Byron” stories.

Last summer, he and his Danish girlfriend were out in Montauk, where Beard owns the last house on Montauk Point. “Peter’s girlfriend started ragging him about all his bad habits,” Tunney recalls. “She’s this strong Danish chick with a spandex suit on, and she said, ‘Peter, you smoke, you drink, you drug, you stay up all night—and you’re almost 60 years old! You need to start taking care of yourself. You should go running, like me—five miles a day!’ ”

So Beard, wearing his usual dusty African sandals, obligingly accompanied her on a run. Tunney expected him to last about five minutes. “An hour later, the girlfriend comes back, dripping,” Tunney reports. “I said, ‘Where’s Peter?’ ”

“He loved it,” she gasped. “He said he just wanted to keep going.”


20 Apr 2020

Peter Beard Found Dead in Woods

The Mercury News reports the sad news:

Wildlife photographer Peter Beard was found dead Sunday in the woods near his home in Montauk, New York. He had been missing since March 31.

Beard, 82, suffered from dementia.

His body was found in Camp Hero State Park, at Long Island’s eastern tip.

Best known for his scenes of African wildlife, he was also a sought-after fashion photographer credited with discovering the model Iman on a Nairobi street.

Handsome and hard-drinking even in his 70s, Beard partied in high society. The second of his three marriages was a two-year union with Cheryl Tiegs, then at the peak of her modeling career.

The scion of a wealthy New York family, he attended prep schools and began a pre-med course at Yale before deciding, against his parents’ wishes, to pursue photography. Some of the photos he took while still in college were included in the 1965 book that made his name, “The End of the Game,” which documented African wildlife and hunting. …

In 1996, he came close to dying after being gored by an elephant, an attack that for a time left him blind and unable to walk.

Earlier report.

17 Apr 2020

Peter Beard, Missing For Over Two Weeks


The Post includes with the story of his disapppearance a good précis of Peter Beard’s colorful career:

Peter Beard has swum with crocodiles, been charged by rhinos and trampled by a herd of elephants. Writer Bob Colacello once aptly described him as “half Tarzan, half Byron.”

For decades, he’s led a larger-than-life existence, both in his work and his romances with some of the world’s most beautiful women — including Candice Bergen, Cheryl Tiegs, Lee Radziwill and “For Your Eyes Only” Bond girl Carole Bouquet. It’s hard to imagine him just fading away.

But on March 31, the 82-year-old wildlife photographer — now said to be suffering from dementia — wandered away from the luxuriously rustic home in Montauk, Long Island, that he shares with his wife, Nejma, and their daughter, Zara. He hasn’t been seen since. …

Beard’s whereabouts remain a mystery despite an extensive search by 100 police officers, a helicopter, drones and K-9 units. But some who know him remain unfazed.

“I was not shocked,” model Cheryl Tiegs, who was married to Beard from 1982 until 1986, told The Post of his disappearance.

“Maybe someone picked Peter up and he is on a joyride across America. He does pretty wacky things. The night after we got married, he did not come home until dawn.

The photographer made his name by turning photos into one-of-a-kind works of art. Selling for more than $500,000, his creations are splattered with blood and scrawls of ink, and affixed with personal mementos.

“I felt beyond privileged to watch him making art, to see him walking around and deciding which pieces got blood and which didn’t,” Peter Tunney, Beard’s former business manager and art dealer, told The Post.

“I remember a picture of his with Uma Thurman’s mother [model Nena von Schlebrügge] on top of a crashed car. She was there because Peter couldn’t get [the model] Veruschka that day. Salvador Dalí stood alongside the car.”

Everyone who knows Beard inevitably brings up his movie-star good looks, penchant for carousing, rough-hewn charm — and habit of disappearing when the mood strikes. Friends nicknamed him Walkabout.

However, they reluctantly add, advanced age and hard living have taken a toll. As a longtime pal recalled to The Post: “Not long ago, I saw Peter at an event, went up to him and said hello. He didn’t recognize me. And we used to talk on the phone almost every day.”


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