Story by Erin Graffy
Photos by Beverley Jackson, Courtesy of Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Every story had a picture…and every picture told a story. For almost 25 years, Beverley Jackson wrote her society column “By the Way” three times a week for Santa Barbara-News Press, snapping literally thousands of posed and candid shots of her subjects along the way to illustrate her stories.
Her fascinating array of photographs was recently gifted to Santa Barbara Historical Museum, preserving a plethora of portraits. From provincial personalities to the hoi poloi to pampered peerage, Beverley covered it all from 1968 to 1992.
She worked with an Olympus and a Panasonic, but the Canon Sure Shot was her most constant camera companion, and her wide-angled world encompassed literally thousands of people from Haley Street to Hollywood. (And she was not a bad shot either—Beverley won the Los Angeles Times California Photography Contest in 1978.)
“I was given complete freedom to write my column, which is what made it so delicious,” Beverley confesses. “I could cover a white tie [party] in Bel Air or the quinceanera of my cleaning lady’s daughter. And this was an opportunity to show people a whole new world they did not know. One of my dearest moments was to cover an event with the Santa Barbara Filipino Community Association…they even made me an honorary member!
“There were no rules for me, except my own,” Beverley recalls about writing her column. “No politics and no bad language.”
When writing about celebrities, Beverley had a head start, coming from Bel Air, California. She grew up with debutantes and celebutantes at Westlake School for Girls, even entertaining them at Beverly Hills Hotel for her 16th birthday. Everyone she went to school with had parents who were movie stars or, perhaps, like Shirley Temple, were already movie stars themselves. And Beverley knew them all. This would provide her tremendous entree as a society writer, because she could name-drop people she actually knew, and this, in turn, led to even more interesting people.
An unabashed Anglophile, Beverley was barely past her 21st birthday when she hosted a dinner for Lord Tony Furness (known as the “richest little boy in England” when he became the second Viscount Furness). She regularly sipped wine with the Rothschilds and courted favor with royalty, and so British peerage were often the subject of her society sketches.
And then she caught it all on Kodak.
“Anna” might have met the “King of Siam,” but in 1985, Beverley was selected among “the 50 most influential California women” to meet the queen of Siam—her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand.
In 1975, when China opened to foreigners, Beverley was among the first to go in (along with good friends Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows). It was there that she bought her first Chinese robe and learned of the ancient custom of foot binding. Her writer’s curiosity, combined with her penchant for research, led her to write the award-winning Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition and co-author Ladder to the Clouds: Intrigues and Traditions of Chinese Rank, as well as Shanghai Girl Gets All Dressed Up.
“My column opened so many doors,” Beverley reminisces. “Stu Taylor (News-Press publisher) had a study done which found that men were reading my column, not just women. An enormous number of people read it—even I was amazed—and this was because people were clipping the column and sending it to friends all over the world.”
Today her pennings and posts are popularized on the Internet. Beverley started a blog (beverleyjackson.com) to promote her latest, a fiction novel, The Beautiful Lady was a Palace Eunuch. But, she reports, “…I keep going off on other topics!” She drops in a photo…and then there is always a great story behind the shot, and she is off and running with another true tale of celebrity, royalty or curiosity.
Recently one of her friends remarked, “Oh, Beverley, what a wonderful life you have had!”
To which she replied, “Yes…because I really did live it!”
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine, Winter 2014/15.