A splendid time is guaranteed for all
It was in 1980 when I first encountered the name Edward Quinn: it appeared on a book that bore the promising title Riviera Cocktail – and the subtitle ran: The Golden Fifties on the Côte d’Azur. I was fascinated: The jacket, in its overall purple design, held promises of names such as Gunter Sachs, Giovanni Agnelli, Jean Cocteau, Françoise Sagan, Peter Ustinov, Yul Brynner and – of course – Brigitte Bardot, and in addition dozens of other names that caught my interest, but to list them all here would take up too much space.
After an initial perfunctory browse and a second more intensive reading of the 200 pages, I knew it: I was born at the wrong place at the wrong time; and as far as the wealth of an Aristotle Onassis or of the Duke of Windsor was concerned (something I lack): Money was not everything back then – whoever succeeded as an artist, thrived as a singer or knew how to impress with an extraordinary lifestyle, was also able to reside quite formidably on the Côte d’Azur and enjoy life, together with its glamour and enchanting women. It was a perspective that certainly appealed to me – and which the book knew how to encourage. Briefly speaking: I was addicted to Edward Quinn’s pictures, at a time when he was on the one hand almost forgotten and on the other not yet rediscovered. Indeed, the book-of-the-year 1980 was not the bestseller it should have been – but this fate has already struck many books.
Fortunately, fate was to be kind to Edward Quinn – because 27 years later I once again came across the title Riviera Cocktail. Now in a larger, grander and more spectacular form – and finally Edward Quinn received the praise and recognition that his work was denied of a quarter-century before: Finally, the resplendence and glamour was recognized of an era in which money and spirit complemented each other. An era, in which celebrities were not yet the prey of bothersome, intrusive paparazzi, and movie stars could quite normally go about their everyday life. A window opened, in which the whole world met along a small strip of coastline, in order to make movies, throw parties, enjoy vacations and to plunge into the dolce vita, which after years of war was now lived out so luxuriously – indeed, had to be lived so luxuriously, since the demons of war needed to be kept at bay.
The automobile, of course, belonged to this lifestyle – it stood not only for a reestablished mobility and the certainty of holding sway over localities and countryside, to which one felt attracted, in the search for beauty and joie de vivre; to the ‘in’ places of a society that desired to re-cultivate the joys of celebration. The automobile also represented – in the tradition of the 20s and 30s – a symbol of wealth, or sometimes sportsmanlike ambitions and now and again also for refined taste. And so it is no surprise that on the following pages we shall come across some of these design-icons, which are to be found today in the garages of the collectors, and in the course of the drastic rise in value of classic vehicles at auction, they fetch sums that the owners of the past could have never even imagined.
A list of such vehicles would without doubt include the various Ferrari 250 GT California Spiders, one of which, with the chassis number 2175 GT was acquired by director Roger Vadim in the Spring of 1961, which he then reportedly presented to Brigitte Bardot – although he is to be seen here with Catherine Deneuve. Or the California Spider, with the Monegasque registration, with which the streets of the Côte d’Azur were made unsafe by Alain Delon and Jane Fonda in 1964. Or the 212 Vignale Spider (0076E) of the movie-director Roberto Rossellini who made a stop in Monaco in order to have the fragile twelve-cylinder repaired. Even more rare is the 375 MM (0456 AM) of 1954 vintage. Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman had it built for them at the Carrozzeria Pininfarina – and it then appeared three years later in Cannes as a second-hand car and is considered today as a milestone of car body manufacture and an icon of Italian design. No one could imagine that these twelve-cylinder cars would today be the subjects of deals in the exalted price region of millions – and this is a good thing, since otherwise the former owners of these aesthetic masterpieces would never have been able to drive around so casually and so laid-back. Moreover, such cars in those days would even have been kept under lock and key in air-conditioned garages, as is all too often the case these days as well.
In those days too, one had a different attitude toward automobiles, which is demonstrated by the photo of Peter Ustinov and his Aston Martin DB 2 drophead coupe. Later ennobled to Sir Peter, he was incidentally an outstanding automobile expert who used this particular luxury vehicle as his everyday car, at any time of day, and wearing any style of outfit – as the practical sandals show, in which this future world star and Hispano-Suiza and Maserati owner can be admired along with his Aston Martin. Those few photos in which the rich and famous are seen with ordinary cars – such as for example the renowned ferrarista Roberto Rossellini getting into a Panhard Dyna or the Monegasque grand-prix driver Louis Chiron beholding his wife in her Renault 4 CV – are the exception. Indeed, these impressive pictures certainly do not depict the full reality: Sophia Loren alongside a Peugeot 203? Brigitte Bardot, who is just stepping out of a Citroën 2CV? And the movie actress Martine Carol who, together with her husband Christian-Jaque is posing next to their Citroën DS? However, it had to be an important personality if photographed next to an ordinary car – perfectly normal everyday life appears only to a limited extent in Edward Quinn’s oeuvre. Indeed, ordinary life in the 50s was excluded, and whoever wished to see photos of the Côte d’Azur, expected glamour and stars.
This is why, among these recollections of a great era, the big American road cruisers, British limousines and the almost inevitable state carriages from the Rolls-Royce stables are to be found, which reveal something of the prominence and wealth of their owners. For those who liked a somewhat more ‘sportif’ variety, there was the popular Ford Thunderbird, that pseudo-sportster answer to the Corvette by the Ford Motor Co. Later, along with the already mentioned Ferrari, Jaguar and Aston Martin models, a few Porsches were introduced into the scene and above all the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. With its unique mélange of aggressive form (gull-wing doors!), avant-garde technology (tubular frame! fuel injection!) and motor racing successes (victories at Le Mans, on the Nürburgring and at the Carrera Panamericana!) this car gave every more-or-less moneyed macho the feeling of owning the ultimate sports car. One only has to look at a knowing smirk from Karim Aga Khan, or Yul Brynner or from the Shah of Persia, in order to recognize that they really had won the jackpot: more status was not on the cards.
Naturally, the Côte d’Azur was a biotope: perfect weather for perfect movies; a landscape that – if you are able to avoid the hordes of tourists – one can still be addicted to today. In addition there was perfect food, fine wines, champagne in abundance and such beautiful women, so that rich and attractive men were drawn in like moths around a lamp. Furthermore, everyday life for the American film producers here and their entourage was extremely cheap thanks to a strong dollar, and since the wonderful grand hotels along the coast offered ideal backdrops and the Principality of Monaco simply radiated with the charm of a theatrical wonderland complete with a real prince, there emanated from the Côte d’Azur an incalculable allure.
A dreamscape, which also attracted Europeans who had come as entrepreneurs (or their sons) or as aristocrats or politicians to this affluence which was ever necessary on the Côte d’Azur if you wanted to find a suitable place to stay and some amusement. And whoever was without sufficient funds, sought the friendship of one such as Aristotle Onassis, just as the former British prime minister Winston Churchill had so admirably celebrated. And those who no longer found an open door in their home country – because they had been removed from power by the common people or by the military – could be sure of finding an adequate home on the Côte d’Azur – provided that the financial resources they brought with them (or deposited in Swiss banks in good time) had not run dry. In order to succeed as a photographer, Edward Quinn could not have chosen a better location anywhere in the world.
What is it about these pictures that fascinate us so much today?
Probably, it is first of all the effortlessness that these photos radiate. The joie de vivre and – indeed, this too: the joy in showing off one’s possessions. Whereas today, one is almost ashamed of the fact of having achieved something. If fantasy, creativity and the effort invested in them, had brought success and status, then there was no question back then, that dreams longed to be implemented and lived out.
The American author Albert Drake wrote in his reflections on the magic of the 50s:
“It was a time of innocence and enthusiasm. There were far fewer people and many more personal freedoms. We enjoyed the paradox of low expectations and impossible dreams. There was a general spirit of optimism. It helped, of course, that everybody was young, and perhaps that condition alone colors my view of the decade.” And he later continued: “It was this spirit of optimism that characterized the Fifties – anything was possible. I know I felt the optimism in the air – whether it was the advent of Cinemascope or "hi-fi", television or jets – something marvellous was always happening.”
And Edward Quinn and his wife Gret contributed here as well: They collected the wonderful moments in a wonderful land of Camelot that had materialized at this time and in this form on the Côte d’Azur. Thus, they were able to contribute their part to the mythos and to create a Shangri-La, that to this day still casts its spell.
A Shangri-La that was full of cabriolets and beautiful people. A land in which money and riches were possessed and exhibited – and in which automobiles were a central feature of this self-dramatization; a time before helicopters were used to dash from party to party. The journey itself was still the reward. Automobiles were allowed to show their purpose: representation, sportiness, noblesse and sometimes even a little hedonism. Furthermore, the diktat of the wind tunnel did not yet hold sway and the desire for chrome was unbroken. There ensued from this a wide diversity of forms that today makes us almost breathless. However, a glance at Quinn’s photos conveys one further insight: there was at that time a larger number of car manufacturers. Thus, in France there was Simca, Facel Vega, Talbot, Bugatti and Panhard, right up to Peugeot, Citroën and Renault, an impressive list of brands. In Great Britain, cars were produced bearing the names Bristol, MG, Hillman, Sunbeam, Austin Healey, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Rolls Royce and Bentley.
Simply overwhelming was the diversity of American cars, boasting brands such as Nash, Buick, Packard, Dodge, Studebaker, Oldsmobile, Kaiser, Hudson, Ford, Lincoln, Chevrolet and Chrysler – and of course the flamboyant but impressive Cadillac, in which the movie stars were so glad to be seen. In contrast, Germany – with Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche – was quite austerely represented. This is explained by the relatively meager selection of top-of-the-range models: here only the Mercedes-Benz 300-series models and the BMW 503 and 507 ultimately counted. The situation was similar in Italy: it required a beach buggy such as the Jolly, in order to tempt a prominent person to even step into a Fiat – they were more enthusiastic about the design and technology combined in Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa-Romeo and Lancia models. So it is no surprise that, in his well-assorted garage, Prince Rainier of Monaco was especially glad to get into one of the vehicles from the house of Lancia: a B20 Aurelia Gran Turismo and an enchanting Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider America.
Quite in contrast to this was the Vespa, which as a means of local transport was irreplaceable: Traffic jams around the Croisette or at the palace of Prince Rainier were common at that time too and needed to be speedily dealt with.
A journey through the world of Edward Quinn is a journey through an era that will never return as it was then – of course the Côte d’Azur is captivating still today: if you are at the right locations in the right season. Other than this, it has mutated into a kind of Disneyland and is consequently overflowing and overpriced. So let us look at the pictures for what they are: a wonderful reminder of an era in which by no means everything was better, but the people held on to the steadfast conviction that all things could improve. It is probably this optimism that turns these photos into something special. So let us enjoy the magnificence and the diversity of these automobiles – even they are never to return as they were then.
How did the Beatles sing it so succinctly in 1967 on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album? A splendid time is guaranteed for all – nothing better describes the feeling of browsing through these pages.
Header photo: Buick 1953 Super Riviera Sedan