The Duchess of Windsor, The Duchess of Windsor
“You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance.”
The Duchess of Windsor, 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
“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
“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.
“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
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.]
As Duff pursued a career in politics, it was incumbent upon Diana to keep them in the style to which she had been accustomed. She did so by becoming an actress. Over the next twelve she endured long separations from Duff as she traversed the globe performing in Max Reinhardt’s much heralded show, The Miracle.
Unlike some love marriages, Duff and Diana’s did not fade with age. They remained devoted even though Duff took many mistresses, which he chronicled in his (now published) diaries. One of the rare heterosexual men who truly appreciated the feminine sex, he attracted the most glamorous women in Paris. Among his conquests were Daisy Fellowes, Louise de Vilmorin, and Susan Mary Alsop (by whom he had a son). The early-marriage dalliances Diana minded very much, but the later ones, not so much. In fact, Diana's motus operandi was to become close friends with her husband's lovers, which prompted the sharp-tongued Duchess of Windsor to quip she herself “would never have an affair with Duff because it would mean having Diana around the house day and night being nice" to her.
Photo Credit: Society in Vogue
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor sent out an annual personalized holiday card. The above example featured two of their beloved dogs, both of whom are occasionally referenced in their correspondence to each other. See The Secret File on the Duke of Windsor by Michael Bloch. Other years featured illustrations of their famous homes. Some examples are located here and here.