The outbreak of World War II brought an influx of European refugees to New York City. One of them was the teenage Pamela Mountbatten, a royal cousin who would go on to marry the English designer David Hicks. The threat of a Nazi invasion posed a particular hazard for her branch of the Mountbatten family; matriarch Edwina was of partial Jewish descent. As such, the Mountbattens gratefully accepted New York grand dame Grace Vanderbilt's offer to act as Pamela's guardian for the duration of the war. Thus, Pamela was shipped to the relative safety of New York.
As Pamela was later to relate in her memoir, Daughter of Empire: My Life as a Mountbatten, she was protected not only from the Nazis but also from culture while she sheltered at Mrs. Vanderbilt's palatial 640 Fifth Avenue residence. On one occasion, Mrs. Vanderbilt hosted a dinner party that posed a scheduling conflict with a Royal Shakespeare Company performance. “A young man at her table [thus] apologized and asked whether he might be excused from the table because he was going to see Hamlet. Mrs. Vanderbilt looked slightly nonplussed and so he explained, 'Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,' whereupon her face lit up and she exclaimed loudly so that everyone could hear, 'Oh, do give the dear boy my good wishes. I knew his father so well.'"