Lady Caroline Blackwood, The Last of the Duchess
Pity the Ingenue
“As a middle-aged woman, the Duchess of Windsor was asked what she thought of young girls. ‘Poor dears,’ she said. ‘They have all their mistakes before them.’”
Lady Caroline Blackwood, The Last of the Duchess
A Royal Parallel?
“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 kindness of social climbing strangers.
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 will 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 terrible 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.
“You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance.”
The Duchess of Windsor, The Duchess of Windsor
Allure: The Duchess of Windsor
“This picture of the Duchess of Windsor looks like a Titian to me. I happen to know she loathed this picture. She couldn’t stand the past. But in this picture, she looks to me like someone who has seen the future.”
Diana Vreeland, Allure
Image Credit: Allure
“The first lady to enter the Fashion Hall of Fame and the oldest winner is Her Grace, The Duchess of Windsor. I say the Duchess is impeccable, close to perfection in matters of fashion. She is sixtyish-plus-plus, elegant, well groomed, not a hair out of place, not a wrinkle in her dress. Her colors, perfectly matched. Her jewelry, exquisite. Her figure, extraordinary. Her walk, courtly. She’s Impeccable [Number] One. She is full of spirit, gay and amusing. She just never looks wrong, never overdoes anything and yet is never conventional.”
John Fairchild, The Fashionable Savages
Image Credit: The Photographs of Ron Galella, 1965 to 1989
Chic: An Origin Story
“I have never known a really chic woman whose appearance was not, in large part, an outward reflection of her inner self.”
A Note on Pronunciation: There is some controversy as to whether the midcentury fashion designer's name is pronounced "Mainbocker" or "Manboshay." When the Chicago History Museum held its Mainbocher retrospective last year, the curators concluded that since Mainbocher contemporaries such as Horst P. Horst and C.Z. Guest pronounced it "Manboshay," they would as well.
“It is both sad and amusing to see a former King of mighty England reduced by the woman he loved … to the rank of meek husband.”
Iles Brody, Gone with the Windsors
Evidence suggests the Duchess made the Duke far happier than had he remained on the throne without her. Did she have any regrets? Perhaps. Yet, she made the best of the cards they were dealt, as long as she was able. Sadly, her years as a widow were grim.
Image Credit: The Windsor Years
Three Cheers for American Husbands
“American husbands are the best in the world; no other husbands are so generous to their wives, or can be so easily divorced.”
--Elinor Glyn, via Von Sternberg
Check out our selection of books on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor here.
A Royal Kiss Off
“I’m afraid the fluids in her veins have always been as icy cold as they now are in death.”
The Duke of Windsor, Referring to His Mother Queen Mary in March 27, 1954 Letter to the Duchess of Windsor (via The Secret File on the Duke of Windsor)
Image Credit: The Windsor Years
These Entertaining People
To mention Florence Pritchett Smith and conspiracy in the same sentence risks being led astray on on a tangent (see this related post). However, the truth is that her elegant cookbook and hostessing guide from 1966, These Entertaining People, A Guide for the Elegant Hostess, does expose a conspiracy of sorts. The fifties were an ignoble era for American cuisine. As income rose, food quality sank. Food industry shills like editor Poppy Cannon (see The Bride’s Cookbook) worked overtime to convince the American public that quality food could be produced cheaply and quickly via packaged mixes and can openers. These Entertaining People promoted the opposite, with advice from the author's friends. That those friends happened to be society’s most glamorous hostesses added sparkle and panache to the book.
As to be expected, Pritchett Smith herself was an accomplished hostess. Her husband was the final U.S. ambassador to Cuba prior to the Revolution. She presided over social events at the United States embassy in Havana up until the time when it would have been necessary to plan a welcome party for Fidel Castro and the other Communists rebels, which one imagines Pritchett Smith would have done with aplomb should the State Department have so required.
Following are seven considerations Florence Pritchett Smith considered most important when planning a dinner party:
“Taste buds were meant to be intrigued, never bored. Let them travel the road from bland to spicy, from sweet to tart, from rich to simple.”
There should be a variety of textures: “from thick to thin, from clear to creamy, from soft to crisp, from smooth to rough.”
First in Season
“Keep your eye on the markets for early seasonal things.” “Foods of the season arouse the strongest desires.”
“Pleasurable sensations can be created effectively by sharp contrasts in the temperature of foods.” Serve hot popovers with an ice-cold soup, or drizzle “a hot sauce over ice cream or cold fruit.”
Appropriateness (as to Occasion and Number of Guests)
“A black-tie dinner before a dance requires a menu as decorative as the beautifully dressed guests.” “The fewer the guests, the more delicious and unusual [the] food can be.”
Smith's advice is excellent but what makes this book extraordinary is its star power. Smith polled her society friends requesting their favorite menus, recipes, and entertaining advice. Astonishingly nearly all responded, even such media-adverse personalities as Betsey Whitney. Whitney’s less publicity-shy sisters Babe Paley and Minnie Astor Fosburgh of course replied, as well as Diana Vreeland, C.Z. Guest, Marella Agnelli, and the ex and then-current Mrs. Leland Haywards (Slim and Pam). One of the respondents—Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan—was vaguely related to the author. Her niece, also named Consuelo, had once been married to Florence Pritchett’s husband Earl E.T. Smith (and had two children by him).
Advice from Pritchett Smith's glamorous friends takes up a good portion of the book. Here are some of the best:
“Don’t invite too many married couples. It is suburban. Have pretty women, attractive men, guests who are en passant, the flavor of another language. This is the jet age, so have something new and changing.”
“I have one menu if friends from the United States lunch with us, another for Europeans, and still a different menu for guests from Asia, who are so often vegetarian.”
“At a big dinner I like to have two pretty girls at each table if possible. It makes it more festive because they are as decorative as a bouquet of flowers.”
Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan
“I believe that tact, that intuitive sympathy, will provide the only answer to social problems. It will help to smooth over difficulties and ignore rudeness, at least for the time being. I personally believe in eliminating bounders and bores as well as the cutlet-for-cutlet principle by the simple rule of not accepting an invitation I do not wish to return.”
“My menus are worked out in advance, and I keep the likes and dislikes of my guests in mind.”
Countess Consuelo Crespi
“The extra effort is worth every minute of it when you realize your efforts have made someone happy.”
“Remember, you have invited your guests to your home not to forcibly express your ideas of life and living, but to hear them express theirs.”
“Everyone should learn to create food that belongs to them, not just the inevitable cold ham and turkey… It’s too impersonal. I think so many amusing succulent dishes can be whipped up that it seems to me an awful pity people don’t have a personal idiom, even in their food.”
“[A supper dance should] have lots of tables, lots of soft candlelight, lots of pretty girls in pretty dresses, two or three bars, and two different places for your supper buffet.”
The Duchess of Windsor
“Keep a menu book listing the [food], wine, table setting, the guest list and seating plan, and after-dinner amusements to avoid repetition with the same guest.”
Pamela Hayward Harriman
“Hostesses must care that everything is arranged for comfort and fun.”
When this book went to press, Pamela was still Mrs. Leland Hayward. Following his death, she married senior statesmen Averell Harriman with whom she had enjoyed a love affair during World War II. As Mrs. Harriman, she became a leading hostess for the Democratic Party, propelling William Jefferson Clinton to the White House. President-elect Clinton rewarded her with a plum assignment, ambassadress to France. Her rules for entertaining, which went on to secure her future successes, are included in the book:
1. Do not ruin dinner for other guests because one guest is late.
2. When inviting people, call them on the telephone yourself. It makes it so much more personal.
3. Never criticize servants or a family member in front of other guests.
4. Don’t answer the telephone unless it is an emergency.
5. Never talk about your own domestic or personal problems.
6. Stimulate the conversation, but don’t jog it.
7. Knowing how to cook yourself is fundamental, whether you must or not.
Following are some of the recipes included in the book. NHL has not attempted any of them but is rather intrigued by Countess Consuelo Crespi's Ice Cream Cheese. It seems strange to mix a variety a cheeses together into a melange. One imagines it would be either a terrible failure or a spectacular success.
Sadly Florence Pritchett Smith passed away prior to her book's publication. The death of an author limits a publisher's ability to properly promote a book, particularly in the case of a lifestyle tome that relies so much on book-signing events. There were only a few printings and no second edition. At present, Nick Harvill Libraries has one copy available for sale here. It appears to be the only one available anywhere online. [Update: this copy has now sold.]
Photo Credits: A Wonderful Time by Slim Aarons and The Beautiful People's Beauty Book by Princess Luciana Pignatelli.