Duane Michals, Album, The Portraits of Duane Michals, 1958-1988
“One must never confuse the profound with the clever.”
Duane Michals, Album, The Portraits of Duane Michals, 1958-1988
Image Credit: Album, The Portraits of Duane Michals, 1958-1988
“You can intellectually admire a house exactly as you admire an exhibition of furniture or tapestries assembled in a museum, without in the least longing to live in like surroundings.”
Emily Post, The Personality of a House
“You and the Duke have none of the advantages of royalty and all of its disadvantages.”
Duff Cooper to the Duchess of Windsor, The Heart Has Its Reasons
It is great work if you can get it: all the perks of royal life without its tedium and responsibility. In the 20th Century, King Edward VIII made an attempt when he abdicated to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Decades hence, Wallis told Gore Vidal that she was no fool; she knew all along that she could never be queen, but the King had refused to give her up. To the world, abdication was a grand romantic gesture. To the Duchess, it was the beginning of a crushing burden. Recalled Wallis:
"I remember like yesterday the morning after we were married and I woke up and there was David standing beside the bed with his innocent smile, saying, ‘And now what do we do?’ My heart sank. Here was someone whose every day had been arranged for him all his life and now I was the one going to take the place of the entire British government, trying to think up things for him to do."
Fortunately for the Duke, he chose a supremely capable woman to be his nanny/wife. The Duchess of Windsor could be brittle, but cafe society appreciated her quick wit and the efficiency at which she managed her luxe household. Her table was said to be one of the best in Paris (the most sophisticated of all cities, so high praise indeed). Wrote her friend Lady Diana Mosley, "The Duchess of Windsor was told at her wedding by Walter Monckton that she must try to make the Duke happy ‘all his days.’ Her triumph is that she did so."
The downside was the awkwardness of a quasi-royal life and the difficulties of financing it. The Duchess lacked the requisite HRH in front of her title, which should have meant little, but in effect, made for continual embarrassment in social situations that involved protocol. A British woman who remained loyal to the Crown by refusing to curtsy for the Duchess risked the fury of the uxorious Duke. Moreover, the lack of funds meant that the Windsors were the world's most glamorous beggars, forever depending on the treacly kindness of gauche social climbers like Jimmy and Jessie Donahue.
Queen Elizabeth II must be vexed by the disturbing parallels between her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, and her grandson Harry, the Duke of Sussex. Switch out the 20th Century for the 21st, and Paris for Los Angeles, and their situations are not so different. The Queen's mother and father all but disowned David and Wallis. Might the Queen worry her grandson William and his wife Kate behave similarly with the Sussexes?
Even so, the prognosis for Harry and Meghan is most likely better. They have the 21st Century publicity tools at their disposal. How Wallis would have salivated over the revenue potential of social media endorsements and Netflix streaming deals. Even so, the Sussexes might want to read a few of the many books about the Windsors. Meghan, in particular, might peruse Caroline Blackwood's grim depiction of Wallis's excruciating widowhood, The Last of the Duchess. Though Wallis kept the Duke happy "all of his days," her slow, tortuous demise, without royal protection, was not only unhappy, it was macabre.
“I’m sure that I wouldn’t enjoy being down and out, but it is true that some of life’s pleasures do not have a great deal to do with money.”
Paul Mellon, Reflections in a Silver Spoon
Imaged Credit: Reflections in a Silver Spoon
“After eleven years living in Washington, D.C., part of me is just sick of this swamp. The superficial commentary, the power-driven egoists, the fake smiles, the obsession with image. That's why I'm moving to Los Angeles.”
Marc Ambinder, GQ.com
“It is so difficult, in recalling one’s past, not to read into it an ordered sequence of cause and effect and beginning and end.”
Rita Lydig, Tragic Mansions
Rita Lydig was one of the women of beauty, grace, and imagination profiled in Annette Tapert and Diana Edkins's The Power of Style, The Women Who Defined the Art of Living Well. They found her more tragic than her contemporaries, writing that she instead belonged "to the novels of Balzac, to the pages of Turgenev, the stories of Maupassant." In fact, Lydig found tragedy not only in her life, but in most of fashionable society. Without revealing their actual names, in Tragic Mansions she chronicles the quiet anguish of her friends and acquaintances--people who seemingly had every advantage but somehow squandered it.
Sometimes in the book world, rare is overused. However, Tragic Mansions is truly is so. No copies are currently available on the resale market, nor were there in 2014, when Nick Harvill Libraries offered a copy signed by Rita Lydig (now sold). There are copies of Tragic Mansions in the collection of libraries in a dozen or so cities. Also, there is the chapter on Rita Lydig in The Power of Style.
Another source on Rita Lydig is the memoir of her younger sister, the nearly as tragic Mercedes de Acosta (but, oh, what adventures both sisters had!). There was a sixteen-year age difference between the two, and In Here Lies the Heart, Mercedes fondly recalls the exquisite Rita treating her as an adult but also acting as her mentor, taking an adolescent Mercedes to Paris and introducing her to Rodin, Boldini, D'Annunzio, Sarah Bernhardt, Edith Wharton, and other luminaries.
“In my opinion in the year 2001 so many physical problems will have been surmounted that a woman’s beauty will be a dream that will be completely obtainable, obviously ravaging diseases will have been surmounted.”
Diana Vreeland, July 30, 1967, Vreeland Memos (Visionaire 37)
Image Credit: Visionaire 37, Vreeland Memos
“Color should be treated kindly, but it should never be allowed to get the best of a house or room. And it must be taught to respect the feelings of those who must live with it.”
Elsie de Wolfe, Elsie de Wolfe, A Decorative Life
“Outside of Hollywood there were many who were amazed that an actor could become a successful politician, but an actress who had known Reagan since his earliest days in the movies said, ‘He’s always been a politician, even if he didn’t know it. He just happened to spend a number of years making a living as an actor.”
Tony Thomas, The Films of Ronald Reagan
The Films of Ronald Reagan is currently available via the Nick Harvill Libraries kiosk at the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood.
“The overall question is finally whether the western democracies have moral integrity; if we do we will win out; if we don’t the Middle East will be the breeding ground for many wars.”
Bart Crum, 1946 Diary Entry, Anything Your Little Heart Desires
[Spoiler Alert: The Middle East became the breeding ground for many wars.]
In 1940, Bart Crum was Republican presidential nominee Wendell Willkie's West Coast campaign chairman. By the 1948 election, he was alarmed by the sharp turn to the Right the Republican Party had taken. In a 1948 entry in his wife's journal, she records him predicting, "Richard Nixon is going to come to power ... so are George Murphy and maybe even Ronald Reagan.” Two years later Richard Nixon was elected to the U.S. Senate, from which he began his ascent to the presidency. Ronald Reagan, then still an actor, also made it to the White House. George Murphy never became president, but he did serve as a U.S. Senator in the 1960s.
When it came to his personal life, his predictions were not always as accurate. In Anything Your Little Desires, his daughter Patrica Bosworth recalls the time he read her palm and pronounced, "[Y]ou're going to live to be a hundred. And you’re gonna be married three times and have one kid.” Though Bosworth was married three times, she never carried a child to term and died earlier this year of COVID-19, fourteen years shy reaching the centenary mark.
Image Credit: Anything Your Little Heart Desires