Tuesday, December 30, 2008

January 2009 - Scandalous Women in Presidential History

January 2009 brings a new administration to our nation's capitol. To celebrate, Scandalous Women will be bringing you all the women who made the capitol so scandalous. Look for posts on FDR and his women, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Edith Galt Wilson, Mary Todd Lincoln, and more.

Also, head on over to Edwardian Promenade for a behind the scenes look at Washington, DC during the Edwardian era.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays at Scandalous Women

Happy Holidays everyone!

I'm pleased to announce that the winner of the December Giveaway is:


Jenna please email me at scandalouswoman@gmail.com with your address so that I can send you your necklace.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Scandalous Movie Review: Queen Christina

Queen Christina is a 1933 film directed by Rouben Mamoulian. The film was written by Viertel LeVino and Margaret "Peg" LeVino, with dialogue by S. N. Behrman, based on a story by Salka Vierted and Margaret P. Levino. It stars Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Ian Keith and Lewis Stone.

The movie is very loosely based on the life of the 17th century Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), who, in the film, falls in love during her reign but has to deal with the political realities of her society. It was billed as Garbo's return to cinema after an eighteen-month hiatus.

The plot in a nutshell: The film opens with the death of King Gustavus Adolphus during the 30 years war. The little Queen is brought into court and takes the oath of office. Years pass, and Christina is now grown up and chafing under the restraints of office. There is much speculation about who she might marry, including her cousin Charles, but Christina declares like Queen Elizabeth I of England that she will never marry. To escape the burdens of the crown, Queen Christina rides off into the countryside, dressed like a man. There she meets and secretly falls for the dashing Spanish envoy on his way to the royal court. The envoy is of course delighted when he finds out that his companion for the night is not a man but a woman. Of course, he doesn’t know that she is the Queen of Sweden. At court, Christina realizes that her people will never countenance her marrying a foreigner. Torn between her duty and her heart, Queen Christina makes a fateful decision to abdicate to live a life of a private citizen, leaving her cousin Charles Gustav as King of Sweden.

The film was made during what could be considered the Golden Age of the historical biopic. During the 1930’s Hollywood churned out film after film based on the lives of Marie Antoinette, Mata Hari, Marie Curie, Emile Zola, Disraeli, Alfred Dreyfus, Juarez, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Louis Pasteur. Although it was filmed solely on a Hollywood soundstage, the viewer gets the feeling that they are seeing what life was like in 17th Century Sweden. All the important personages of Christina’s life appear in the film, Ebbe, Carl Gustav, and Magnus. But the film goes off the rails when it imagines a love affair between Christina and the Spanish Ambassador Antonio (played by John Gilbert). It reduces the real Christina’s life to worn torn between duty and desire instead of over religion. Also the idea that Christina couldn’t marry Antonio because he’s a foreigner doesn’t wash. A marriage was once proposed between Christina and Archduke Ulrich, the nephew of the King of Denmark. Antonio being Catholic would have been the problem. In 1651, Christina made the momentous decision to convert, knowing full well that she would have to abdicate, Catholicism being illegal in Sweden at the time.

After her father's death, her mother, Maria Eleanora, insisted that Christina sleep with her, where a casket of her father’s heart was kept. The royal apartments were kept dark so that no daylight could filter in while priests intoned sermons day and night. This went on for three years and Christina never forgot the experience. From that moment on she was disillusioned with the state religion, Lutheranism. She felt that it was gloomy and spent too much time emphasizing sin.

The film does emphasize her other romances, one with Count Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie, a nobleman who was half-French and half-Swedish. He was handsome and charming and Christina made him Colonel of the Queen’s Guards and Ambassador Extraordinary to France. However it only hints at her relationship with one of her ladies-in-waiting, Ebba Sparre, who she nicknamed Belle. The complete opposite of the Queen, Belle was timid and shy, with no intellectual interests. The Queen once shocked the English ambassador by declaring that ‘Belle’s’ inside was as beautiful as her outside.

Although the film plays fast and lose with the historical record, Greta Garbo gives a masterful performance as Queen Christina. Just watching the scene where she’s pretending to be a man and has to share a room with Antonio, is like watching a master class in acting. One could say that the role was one that she was born to play. Throughout the film, Garbo affects masculine attire just as the real Queen Christina preferred. She shared many traits with the Queen besides their nationality. Garbo was tall, with a deep voice, and a somewhat masculine demeanor. She never married, but was known to enjoy relationships with both men and women. Like Christina, Garbo was fiercely independent, and no qualms about finally giving up acting to live a private life.

Gilbert comes off less well. While Garbo’s acting is effortlessly natural, Gilbert’s is a little too theatrical. Despite the historical inaccuracies, the film is a remarkable accomplishment if only for Garbo’s performance and for introducing audiences to the strange and interesting life of Queen Christina.

Interesting fact: the young Laurence Olivier auditioned to play Antonio in Queen Christina but Garbo insisted that her former lover John Gilbert be cast to play the role. Olivier would later make his Hollywood debut playing Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

John Gilbert (1899-1936)

Gilbert was one of the biggest stars of the silent screen in the 1920’s. His greatest successes started in 1924, when he moved to MGM, particularly when he was paired with Greta Garbo. Their chemistry was electric from their first film together, Flesh and the Devil. They soon started a very public affair that was rocky from the beginning. While Gilbert wanted to marry Garbo, she was reluctant. While she may have never actually said, ‘I vant to be alone,’ Garbo was notorious for her inability to commit. Gilbert finally wore her down and a wedding date was set for September 8, 1926, the only problem was that Garbo never showed up. Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, allegedly made a crude remark about Garbo, calling her a fat Swede, and Gilbert decked him. According to many this was the end of Gilbert’s career as an actor. When sound came along, Mayer allegedly fiddled with the recording so that Gilbert’s voice sounded high-pitched. The truth is that Gilbert was never again given the quality roles that he had gotten early in his career. The worst being a film called Glorious Night where he kept kissing his leading lady over and over again while murmuring ‘I love you.’ The scene was later parodied in Singin’ in the Rain. By the time he appeared with Garbo in Queen Christina, he was sliding down the slippery slope into full blown alcoholism, which eventually killed him at the age of 36.

The historical Queen Christina when she was born, it was thought at first that she was a boy. It was probably wishful thinking on the part of her father King Gustavus Adolphus because when her body was examined several years ago, it was quite clear that physically she was a woman. To this day, historians are undecided about whether or not Christina was bisexual or a lesbian. Whatever the truth from the beginning her father raised her as a boy. “As a young girl,” she later wrote, “I had an aversion to everything that women do and say.” In her portraits, she certainly looks more masculine than feminine. She loved talking and swearing like a man, she rode astride instead of sidesaddle and she was a total misogynist. Her favorite hobbies were sports, riding and hunting bears. By the time she was 15, she could read and speak five languages, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Latin, which proved useful when she later converted to Catholicism. Her father decreed that she would have an education fit for a prince.

It was after her abdication that the more interesting part of Christina's life took place. She took of her skirts and put on a pair of pants, and headed for Rome. From then on, she rarely wore female dress, and she cut her hair short, and frequently wore a sword. In 1654, Christina was accepted into the Catholic Church. It was a huge kudos for the church which was still dealing with the aftershocks of the Protestant Reformation.

Although Christina was no longer a Queen, she still had the tastes of a Queen. In Rome, she moved into a magnificent palace, the Palazzo Farnese, which was partly designed by Michelangelo. She began to scandalize Roman society by removing the strategically placed fig leaves off statues and the draperies off paintings. She also shocked them by her behavior. She frequented the theater and bawdy entertainments. Allegedly she also had a string of lovers, one of whom was her Master of the Horse. She was frequently pushy rude and ambitious. After a few years, she began to regret her decision to abdicate.

Since Sweden was out of the question, Christina began to look around for another kingdom to rule. Her first choice was the Kingdom of Naples with military help from Italy and France. Seizing Naples would also help her out financially. Although she was paid an allowance by Sweden, the money was not enough to fund her lavish lifestyle. She was often forced to pawn her valuables, or to live off loans and gifts from admirers. Her plans fell through when Monaldeschi apparently revealed her plans to the Pope. Christina got her revenge when he was murdered by members of her entourage while they were in France.

Unfortunately people were appalled by his murder; she was ostracized by the French. The Pope told her that she was not welcome back in Rome. Christina went anyway and was ostracized by Rome society as well. But Christina was not done yet. Her next play was for the Polish crown in 1668. The Polish monarchy was elected, not hereditary, and Christina thought her chances were good since her family had provided several monarchs for Poland already. But Poland was not ready for a Queen, particularly one that was not married and probably could not provide heirs at the age of 42. She also had a pretty murky reputation by this time thanks to the murder of Monaldeschi.

Bereft of a kingdom to rule, Christina turned to intellectual pursuits. She became interested in astronomy which was guaranteed to piss off the Catholic hierarchy (think of what they did to Galileo!). She also dabbled in archeology and employed her own theater troupe, which was known for their bawdy plays. Later in life, she became interested in a form of Christian mysticism called Quietism which had been banned by the Church. After a short illness, Christina died in Rome in 1689 where she was buried in the Basilica of St. Peter’s.

Queen Christina lived her life unapologetically, with verve, indulging her adventurous nature in a way that she could never have done with the weight of the Swedish crown on her shoulder. While others might feel that she should have put her duty to the crown before her personal needs, Christina was not the kind of person to do what others told her to do. She was not without her flaws, she was arrogant and pushy, and kept her imperious manner even without a throne, but she was also a generous patron to the arts and sciences.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Grand Duchess Ella - Christina Croft

Scandalous Women is pleased to welcome Christina Croft's guest blog on Grand Duchess Elizabeth (Ella) as our 100th post!

It might seem strange to include a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and saint of the Orthodox Church in a site about scandalous women, but from the moment Grand Duchess Elizabeth (Ella) stepped into the glittering world of the Romanov Court at the age of nineteen, her life was constantly dogged by gossip and scandal.

Despite the disapproval of her grandmother, Queen Victoria, and having rejected the proposals of several suitors - including her cousin, Willy, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II -'the most beautiful princess in Europe' chose to marry Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich, younger brother of Tsar Alexander III. Immediately, she became the focus of gossip and, within six months of her marriage, German newspapers reported she was about to be divorced. Her husband, it was said, was a homosexual, a pervert and a masochist, who treated her cruelly. She, it was said, took refuge in the arms of Serge's younger brother, Pavel. The truth was very different and yet, to this day, the gossip continues and the fact that the couple remained childless, has led to all kinds of speculation about the intimate details of their marriage, which probably remained unconsummated.

In my novel Most Beautiful Princess, I have endeavoured to portray a fuller picture of the true nature of their relationship.Ella loved her husband deeply. Serge was a highly-strung and sensitive man, terrified of expressing his feelings for fear of appearing weak. He loved art, was fluent in several languages, was deeply devoted to his Orthodox faith, had studied theology to the extent that he had impressed the Pope, and had a refinement that was uncommon in the Russian Court. At the time that Ella accepted his proposal, he was distraught about the death of his father, Tsar Alexander II, who was murdered by a terrorist's bomb and died in agony.

To Serge, since the Tsar was God's representative on earth, the murder of his father was not only a personal tragedy, it was a sacrilege. Consequently, Serge became one of the most reactionary members of the Imperial Family, determined to stamp out any hint of revolutionary activity and his actions - particularly when he was appointed Governor General of Moscow - led to his being widely disliked, even hated, by the people.The greater their antipathy towards him, the more they loved and respected his wife and when, in 1891, she converted to Orthodoxy, her popularity reached even greater heights.

To her father, however, turning from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy, was seen as a betrayal of all she had been brought up to believe, and the totally unfounded rumours that Serge had compelled to make the decision, spread through all the courts in Europe. If her conversion had scandalised the family, an even greater 'scandal' was to ensue. In 1905, Serge was blown to pieces by a terrorist's bomb. Ella, hastening to the scene, literally picked up his mangled remains in her own hands and, three days later, visited his assassin in prison in order to forgive him and ask what had led to such an act of violence.From then on, after twenty years as a passive wife, Ella's life took on a whole new direction.

Dispensing with her priceless jewels,furs, palaces and wealth, she built a hospital, orphanage and convent in a slum district of Moscow, and becoming the Abbess of her Order, she personally tended the most abject patients. The idea of an 'active' religious order was entirely new in Russia, and, while the Bishops debated as to whether or not the idea was too Protestant, the aristocracy were aghast. That a member of the Imperial Family - sister of the Tsarina Alexandra - should stoop so low as to tend poor patients was demeaning and unthinkable. Ella, they said, must be suffering from some kind of nervous breakdown, brought on by the shock of Serge's murder. Undaunted, Ella continued her work - often going out unguarded at night to gather the child prostitutes and abandoned babies from the back streets. The Muscovites revered her as a saint but even that saintly reputation did not protect her from further vicious rumours, when war broke out against her native Germany.

Now, no longer 'the saint of Moscow', she was accused of being a 'Hessian witch' and 'German spy', spat at and even stoned in the street.Antipathy towards the entire Imperial Family was reaching a climax in 1916 and, to Ella, one of the chief reasons for this was the persistent (and again, totally unfounded) rumours about the nature of the relationship between her sister, the Tsarina, and the moujik, Rasputin. When Rasputin was murdered it was widely believed that Ella had played a part in his death - a fact that led to the utter breakdown of relations between Ella and her sister (whose marriage to Tsar Nicholas, Ella had almost single-handedly engineered).

By now, revolutionary fervour was sweeping the country, and several times, members of her extended family sent message to Ella, offering her a means of escape before it was too late. Having vowed to spend her life in the service of her convent, however, she refused to leave, thereby sealing her own fate. The night after the murder of the Tsar and his family, Ella was hurled into a disused mine in Siberia and left to starve to death. It truly is ironic to me that a woman who devoted her whole life to the service of others, should have constantly been at the centre of so many scandals. Perhaps it is because she was 'the most beautiful princess in Europe' that jealousy inspired so many of her detractors to create the gossip and lies.

My novel Most Beautiful Princess is based on my earlier biography of the Grand Duchess - which was shortlisted for the 2003 U.K. Biographers' Club Award. I decided to rewrite the book as a novel in order to make this remarkable life more accessible, and to allow more freedom in expressing the motivations, thoughts, emotions and spirituality of this truly remarkable and 'scandalous' granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

The novel is available via Amazon:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Guest Blogger: Christina Croft

I'm delighted to announce that tomorrow, Scandalous Women welcomes it's first guest blogger, biographer and novelist, Christina Croft. Christina is the author of a biography and novel about Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia.

Elizabeth, called Ella, was the sister of Tsarina Alexandra and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Like her sister, Elizabeth was also murdered by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. But before her death, her marriage to Grand Duke Serge, was subject to the most vicious rumors, and she was suspected of having an affair.

Christina Croft was born in Warwickshire in 1961, the youngest of three children, and was brought up to appreciate literature from an early age. Her childhood memories of holidays are of visiting historic buildings and the homes of famous authors, playwrights and poets.

Following an academic education at Notre Dame Grammar School in Leeds, she studied English and Divinity in Liverpool, gaining a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Post Graduate Certificate of Education. In term time she carried out voluntary work in a soup kitchen for the homeless, and during the summer vacations she worked voluntarily as a guide in Lourdes, living in the Pyrenean Camp des Jeunes, and leading group tours for people from all over the world.

After gaining teaching experience, she acted as a private tutor to a family in France before returning to England, where she worked as a nursing auxiliary. She has taught English, History, R.E. and French in schools and colleges, to children from the ages of four to eighteen. After obtaining a Diploma in Health Education and qualifying as a Registered Nurse, she worked in hospitals and the community. Her many faceted experiences, and knowledge of both French and Italian, have been invaluable in her understanding of human nature, and to her writing.
Christina has written from as far back as she can remember, her earliest success coming at the age of twelve when a poem was accepted for publication. Since then she has published two books of poetry as well as writing for the poetry magazines Aereopagus, Helicon and Cherrybite. Working as a poet-in-the-community, she worked with children of different backgrounds, assisting them to express themselves through literature, and participated in the creation of an anthology of their work.

She has co-written two musicals - Branwell, based on the life of Branwell Bronte; and Tsaritsa based on the life of Alexandra, the last Tsarina of Russia - and written the lyrics for songs which have been recorded and performed on local radio and by choirs at concerts in churches, village halls and schools. She has also written and performed in comic reviews. In 2003, Christina's biography of Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna of Russia, was short listed for the Biographers’ Club Award.

Her new novel, The Counting House, - described by various English editors as ‘a wonderful evocation of childhood’ ; ‘eminently suitable for publication,’ and ‘wonderfully adaptable for film or television’ - brings together varied experiences as seen through a child’s eye view of the world.

Christina's innate ability to take us into the kingdom of childhood, as well as into the kingdoms of those who have ruled, is uncanny. Her books are lived in, rather than read and put aside, feasts for the soul, engaging the heart and imagination. If the work of Charles Dickens was merged with that of Barbara Pym, it might approach the sheer quality, and immediacy found in Christina's work.

She currently lives in Yorkshire, where she is working on a fifth novel and pursuing historical research with a view to writing further non-fiction works based around the lives of the European royal families in the 19th century.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Christina's post on Grand Duchess Ella.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Marvelous Mitford Sisters

Jessica, Nancy, Diana, Unity and Pamela Mitford in 1935.

Although they are not that well known in America, if you ask an English person of a certain age about the Mitford Sisters, he or she will know exactly who you are talking about. While elder sister Nancy became a best-selling author of the novels Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love (all thinly veiled portraits of her family) and youngest sister Deborah married the future Duke of Devonshire, it was Unity, Jessica (also known as Decca) and Diana who made the Mitford name famous or shall I say infamous?

The Mitfords were raised in what would be called genteel poverty. Their father David, Lord Redesdale, was one of those men, who have big ideas but no real follow through. He enjoyed being outdoors, so he bought a claim in Swastika, Canada hoping to make his fortune panning for gold. Unfortunately, while he found a few random flakes, he never made a fortune, although he tried for the next twenty years. Their mother Sydney, was the daughter of Thomas Bowles, founder of the British version of Vanity Fair and publisher of The Lady (a magazine that still exists today). While their father spent his time in the House of Lords after he succeeded to his title, Sydney was the one who was the practical one. She learned how to raise seven children on a budget, raising chickens and growing vegetables to feed her growing brood. She also worked part-time at The Lady. All six girls were educated at home, which was still the fashion in aristocratic families. The only son, Tom, of course was sent off to prep school at Eton, which made his sisters envious.

Diana Mitford was the first Mitford sister to scandalize her family. Considered the beauty with her lustruous blonde hair and blue Mitford eyes, she married Bryan Guinness, of the Guiness Brewing family, at the age of 18. They had two sons, Jonathan and Desmond, but Diana was soon restless and searching for meaning in her life. If it had been the seventies, she probably would have opted for a career, instead, she found what she was looking for in Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists. Mosley had been a rising star of the Conservative party, one of the youngest ever members of Parliament when he took his seat at the age of 21, before he crossed the floor to join the Labour Party. He was impatient and egotistical, when things were not moving fast enough for him, he broke with the Labour Party, founding the New Party and eventually the British Union of Fasicists.

Too bad he was also married to Cimmie, the daughter of George Curzon, former Viceroy of India, and the rich American heiress Mary Leiter. He was also an inveterate womanizer who had already had an affair with his wife's elder sister. Despite this, Diana fell head over heels in love with him and was determined to be with him, even though he had already told her that he would never leave his wife and three children. Diana could not be persuaded that she was making a mistake, that divorce would ruin her socially. At the age of 22, she left her husband and moved into a flat where she could be available to Mosley when he could get away from his family. The relationship caused a schism in the family, David Mitford always refused to meet his daughter's lover.

Unity Valkyrie Mitford (1914-1949) did her sister one better. She was the only child that was actually conceived in Swastika, Canada which surely was a sign of things to come. A sullen, moody teenager, she became obssessed with facism, joining Mosley's BUF. But her biggest obssession was with Adolf Hitler. While most teenagers had pictures of film stars on their walls, Unity had posters of Hitler. Unity convinced her parents to send her to Germany where she could learn the language, but really her plan was to meet Adolf Hitler. As soon as she was settled in Munich, she put her plan into action. Hitler was a creature of habit, so Unity was able to find out exactly which cafes he frequented and plant herself nonchalantly at a table while she waited for him to arrive. After several weeks, she was finally rewarded when Hitler showed up one day. He was immediately intrigued by Unity's Aryan good looks. While not as beautiful as her sisters, she was still tall, blonde and sturdy just like the Valkyrie she was named after.

Over a period of time, Unity and the Fuhrer became better acquainted to the chagrin of his followers, who couldn't understand what Hitler saw in Unity. Unlike others in Hitler's inner circle, who walked on tenterhooks worrying about pissing him off, Unity had no qualms about teasing him. She treated him like any other English friend, which Hitler found absolutely delightful. One could say that he was, if not an ardent anglophile, at least a student of English history and it amused him to have this daughter of the English aristocracy sitting at his feet, worshipping him. Unity was not only an ardent facist but an ardent Nazi. Mary Lovell recounts a story in her biography of the sisters of Unity touring an apartment that used to belong to a Jewish family and being extremely cold-hearted about their fate.

Through Unity, Diana and her lover Mosley also became acquainted with Hitler as well as other members of her family including her parents and her brother Tom. They all thought that Hitler was delightful and charming. Mosley hoped that Hitler would provide financial support for the BUF which was rapidly draining funds. However, Mosley and Hitler never really got along. Two alpha males with huge egos in a room doesn't make for comfortable parties. After the death of Mosley's wife Cimmie, Mosley and Diana were eventually married with Hitler as one of the guests. Diana was pregnant at the time with her first child by Mosley, Alexander, which necessitated the wedding. Diana was hoping to interest Hitler in investing in a radio station that would broadcast in the UK, which could give the BUF an income seperate from Mosley's fortune. Diana made many trips back and forth from England to Germany in the years leading up to the war, where she spent many hours with her sister Unity being entertained by Hitler. They attended many important events of the Third Reich including the 1936 Olympic Games as his guests. He would serve them elaborate high teas where Diana and Unity would be forced to each huge amounts of sweets to please him.

Meanwhile back in England, while her family was hobnobbing with Hitler, Jessica (1917-1997) who was always called by her nickname of Decca, was chafing under the constraints of her life. She'd begged her mother for a chance to go to school, hoping to attend university in the future but Sydney Mitford would have none of it. While Unity and Diana were intrigued by fascism, Jessica was drawn more towards communism. As a child, she'd had a pet sheep named Miranda that went everywhere with her, even Church. She was particularly close to her younger sister Debo, who was only three years younger and to Unity. However, when Unity fell in with Hitler and fascism, it caused a rift between the sisters. All of the Mitford sisters had come out as debutantes, but Jessica in particular hated the upper class society ritual. She'd been saving money since childhood in a running away fund at the local bank just waiting for the day that she could use it.

She had her chance when she turned 19. At a weekend house party, she met her second cousin Esmond Romilly. It was love at first sight. Although only 18, Esmond was already famous. He'd been expelled from Wellington College after refusing to join the Officer Training Corps. His antics had caught the attention of the press because he was Winston Churchill's nephew by marriage. He and his brother had already published an autobiography called Out of Bounds. He lived in London where he ran a communist bookshop and helped other boys who had run away from public schools. He'd already been to Spain where he'd fought with the International Brigade against Franco until he caught dysentary and was invalided out. In one weekend, they'd decided to elope together to Spain. Jessica lied to her parents that she was going away with friends, going so far as to send chatty letters detailing her trip. But the truth soon came out. Since Jessica was still under age she was made a ward of the court, however, Esmond and Jessica had already been living as man and wife with all the privileges involved and Jessica soon found herself pregnant. A hasty wedding was arranged.

The Churchill Connection:

Esmond Romilly wasn't the only one to be related to Churchill by marriage. The Mitford's were also related as well. Their father David Mitford was the first cousin of Clementine and Nellie Hozier who had married Winston Churchill and Bertram Romilly respectively. There was even a rumor that either Clementine or Nellie was David Mitford's half-sister since their mother seemed to have had quite a few lovers. When the Mitfords were growing up they would spent time with the Churchills at Chartwell. When Diana and Mosley were interned during World War II, Diana's parents appealed to Churchill to see about getting Diana released. Winston was not an advocate of B-18, which gave leave to put anyone the government felt was not loyal to the crown in prison. He managed to get them certain privileges, and finally to allow them to be kept in the same prison together before they were released after the war.

Unfortunately things were just as bad for Unity as they were for her sister. She was distraught at the idea of Germany and England, the two countries that she loved, going to war. When Britain finally declared war on Germany, Unity took a gun and went into a park and shot herself in the head. Although she survived, she was never the same. Mentally and emotionally she was now around twelve years old, and for several years, she needed round the clock care, until she was well enough to be able to spend time on her own. But she often fell into violent rages when she was thwarted, and she had no memory of her suicide attempt. Her mother Sydney took care of her, taking her to the family cottage on a remote island in Scotland where she eventually died after a bout with pneumonia. She was thirty-four years old.

The marriage of the Mitford sisters parents also ended during the war. Although David Mitford had found Hitler to be just as delightful as his wife, once England declared war on Germany, he became virulently anti-Hitler, while Sydney refused to denounce him, or to believe that he was as evil as he was being painted in the media (a trait that she shared with her daughter Diana). Diana and Mosley had been interned during the war, Mosley seen as an enemy of the state. He had been advocating against the war, arguing for peace, which was against the patriotic fever sweeping the nation. Diana was seperated from all four of her children, including her youngest Max who was barely weaned. Both Diana and Mosley were initially held in seperate prisons, Diana in Holloway, until they were eventually allowed to be together.

Jessica and Esmond Romilly had moved to the states after the death of their first child Julia, who died after contracting the measles. At first they lived in New York, and then they moved to Miami where they opened a cocktail bar. Young and madly in love, they were feted by their new American acquaintances. When war was declared, Esmond joined the army in Canada. Unfortunately he died shortly after being sent overseas. Jessica gave birth to her second child, Constancia "Dinky" Romilly just before Esmond died. Distraught, she threw herself into her war work in Washington where she met her second husband, Robert Truehaft. They married and moved to California where they joined the American communist party.

Jessica found herself in the United States. She became involved in the civil rights movement, and during the communist witch hunts of the 1950's, she and Bob were called before the committee where they pleaded the 5th Amendment. Their passports were taken away for years as a result. Tragedy struck again, when their 11 year old son Nicolas was killed while riding his bike. Jessica wrote a best-selling autobiography called Hons and Rebels, which caused problems with her family who didn't recognize the unhappy girl that she depicted in her book. It was another blow to the family that hadn't recovered from the death of the only Mitford son Tom during the war or Unity's death. Sydney, their mother, was particulary disturbed by her Decca's portrayal of her. Jessica wrote several more well-regarded books including the American Way of Death, which looked at the funeral industry in the US. Despite her lack of formal education, Jessica found that she was much in demand as a guest lecturer at various colleges around the country.

Nancy, the eldest sister, had moved to Paris after the war to be with her lover, Gaston Palewski, one of Charles DeGaulle's right hand men, during the war. Although Palewski told Nancy that he was not madly in love with her, and continued to pursue other women, Nancy couldn't stay away from him. While she wrote well-regarded biographies of Madame de Pompadour and Frederick the Great, she lived for the few moments of time that he could spare for her. When he finally married a rich divorcee, she was devastated.

Diana and Oswald Mosley had also moved to Paris. Mosley had tried to revive his political career after the war, but he was not wanted. He was still considered one of the most hated men in Britain. Although he had softened and moderated his views, no one was interested. He and Diana raised their two sons, and wrote their autobiographies, Diana kept busy writing book reviews for various publications, and eventually wrote a well-received biography of her good friend The Duchess of Windsor. Diana and Decca never fully reconciled although they came together briefly to nurse Nancy during her final illness from Hodgkins.

Decca finally died of lung cancer in 1997, and Diana finally passed in 2003. She continued to admire Hitler and the tenets of Nazism throughout her life; "I'm sure he was to blame for the extermination of the Jews," she told British journalist Andrew Roberts, "he was to blame for everything, and I say that as someone who approved of him." Only Debo, the dowager Duchess of Devonshire is still alive at the age of 88. The only sister to live a remotely conventional life, she tried to play peacemaker between the warring sisters.

Reading about the Mitford sisters is like reading a microcosm of the history of the 20th Century. Fabulous society parties, romantic and illicit love affairs, facism, communism, literary success, and war, all within one big aristocratic family. The Mitford sisters have left a legacy of fiction, Nancy's two books about her family are still in print and have been made into two television series in Britain. Diana's story was partly dramatized in Mosley, a television series about her husband. Even Unity is still popping up in the news with the rumors that she may have had Hitler's love child. A musical was even written about their lives. They still continue to fascinate the public even today.

Further reading:

The Sisters - Mary Lovell

The House of Mitford - Jonathan and Catherine Guinness

The World's Wickedest Women - Margaret Nichols

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Scandalous Movie Review: The Story of Adele H.

The Story of Adele H. is a 1975 film in English and French directed by legendary filmaker Francois Truffaut which tells the story of the real-life Adele Hugo, the youngest daughter of writer Victor Hugo, whose obsessive unrequited love for a naval officer led to her downfall. The film is based on her diaries. It stars Isabelle Adjani as Adele, Bruce Robinson (now a noted novelist and screenwriter) as Pinson.

The film opens with the arrival of Adèle Hugo, under an assumed name, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Adele is devastated by the accidental death of her elder sister Leopoldine Hugo who drowned with her husband at the age of 19. Adele's fiancee was also killed at the same time. Her father has been living in exile on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, after the rise of power of Napoleon III, who he opposed. Adele has been seized by an obsessive love for a British officer, Lieutenant Pinson. Pinson is not happy to see her and rejects her out of hand. Even when Adele shows him proof that her family approves of their marriage, he rejects her. Adele's parents try to force his hand by announcing in the papers that they are to be married but Pinson still won't marry her. Adele, now fairly unhinged, follows Pinson to Barbados and gradually degenerates as she realizes her love is unrequited. She descends into despair and madness. She dies in Paris in 1915, in her 85th year, in the asylum to which her father had committed her.

This film has haunted me ever since I first saw it when I was about ten years old. We had just gotten cable (HBO) and the story of Adele H. was playing. I watched it numerous times, telling myself that I was working on my French language skills. At the time, I was barely aware of who Victor Hugo was. The film follows the true story of Adele fairly closely. However, Adele was in her thirties when she made the decision to follow Pinson to Nova Scotia, not in her early twenties as Adjani is in the film. And she certainly was not as beautiful as Isabelle Adjani. Adele and her father were never very close. His favorite child was Leopoldine. In fact, Hugo wasn't even sure that Adele was his child. Her mother, Adele, had fallen for a minor poet named Saint-Breuve and Hugo always suspected that perhaps Adele was his.

Adele from childhood was apparently a sullen and moody child. Mental illness apparently ran in the Hugo family and doctors now believe that Adele suffered from schizophrenia. She had met Pinson when she was around 25 in Guernsey. Even then, Pinson had shown signs that he was feckless and untrustworthy, courting her only because she was daughter of the great Victor Hugo. Five years passed before Adele made her daring decision to leave Guernsey to follow him. In the meantime, she had turned down several suitors who had wanted to marry her. It was remarkable for anyone woman at that time to travel alone, so for Adele to flee without telling her parents where she was going took great courage.

Isabelle Adjani's performance is the wonder of the film. It's clear from the beginning that something is wrong as she tells different stories to different people about her relationship to Pinson. Her descent into madness is so wonderfully drawn, her scenes with Pinson where she tries to persuade him to love her, will break your heart. Adjani was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance, the first of her three nominations, all for portraying real life women (her other nominations were for La Reine Margot and Camille Claudel). Although you never see Victor Hugo in the film, his presence hovers over it. Particularly the scene where she is given a copy of Les Miserables from a stationer. It's not just her love for Pinson that is driving her mad, it is also her father, trying to make her way out of his shadow.

Sadly Adele outlived her entire family, dying at the age of 85 in 1915 during the first World War.

I highly recommend this film, but don't watch it if you've just broken up with someone, or you're in lust with someone who doesn't know you exist.

Monday, December 1, 2008

And the Winner Is......

The winner of November's Giveaway, a bottle of Ralph Lauren's new perfume Notorious is:

Marie Antoinette!

Marie, please email me at scandalouswoman@gmail.com with your address.

December's giveaway is a lovely Anne Boleyn necklace from Tartx Jewelry line.

This beautiful, unique and collectible pendant features an image from a collage of Anne Boleyn holding The Tudor Rose with pieces of an antique anemone botanical and ornamental papers and bookplates. One of the symbolic meanings of the anemone flower is "forsaken". Printed with archival inks and materials the image is protected by a clear, durable and archival resin. Each pendant comes complete with a 16" sterling silver oval cable chain, organza bag and gift box.
Just leave a comment between now and December 22nd, and you'll be entered to win!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cora Pearl - English Beauty of the Second Empire

In the glamorous, and brittle world of the Second Empire, no one glittered more among the demi-monde than the English courtesan named Cora Pearl.

 Cora was born Emma Elizabeth Crouch in Plymouth England probably in 1835, although in her memoirs which were published after her death, she claimed that she was born in 1842. The birth certificate that was reproduced in her memoirs, to prove that she wasn't lying, was clearly that of her younger sister Louisa! Her father,Frederick Nicholls Crouch, was an English composer and cellist, who gained a small measure of success as the author of a sentimental song, entitled "Kathleen Mavourneen". When Emma was young, her father deserted the family and moved to America, where he promptly remarried several times. At his death in 1896, it was estimated he had more than twenty children. Emma's mother told the children that their father had died, and promptly found a lover to help support the familiy. Emma and her new 'stepfather' did not get along, so she and her sisters were sent to a convent school in Burgundy where she learned French and deportment.

Kathleen Mavourneen: (1837)
Words Mrs. Marion Crawford
Music by Frederick Nicholls Crouch, 1808-1896
Very popular during the American Civil War, Mavourneen is Irish Gaelic for ‘my beloved.’

Kathleen mavourneen! the gray dawn is breaking,
The horn of the hunter is heard on the hill,
The lark from her light wing the bright dew is shaking,
Kathleen mavourneen, what slumbering still?

After her schooling was done, Emma moved in with her grandmother in London, and went to work for a milliner, which she found boring. What happened next sounds like something out of a romantic novel or a bad movie, but Emma claimed that one day she came out of church to find that her maid had disappeared. She was approached by a man who offered to buy her cakes. Not suspecting that he had ulterior motives, young Emma followed him to a gin palace where she got more than cakes. It was a classic case of a man getting a vulnerable young woman drunk and taking advantage of her. In her memoirs she claimed that she was only fifteen, but she was closer to twenty. In the morning he left her with a five pound note. According to Katie Hickman in her book Courtesans, while it sounds improbable, it was very common in the 19th century. However, given Cora’s penchant for strteching the truth and her rabid dislike of the man she called her step-father; it is possible that she was molested by him, and she created the story of her seducer to give an explanation for her career choice.

Having lost her virginity, Emma knew that she couldn’t go back to her grandmother’s house. She felt her only other option was prostitution. Even though she had a job working for a milliner, many young women who worked in respectable shops turned to prostitution occasionally because wages were low. Emma took a small room and soon began entertaining gentleman callers. Her luck changed when she made the acquaintance of Robert Bignall, owner of the Argyll Rooms, a popular dance hall where many of London’s demimondaine congregated. She became his mistress and when he took her to Paris, Cora fell in love with the city. When Robert returned to England and his family, Cora stayed behind. She took the name of Cora Pearl just because she fancied the way that it sounded.

Paris was the place to be in the middle of the 19th Century during the Second Empire. It had become the center of the civilized world. The beginnings of modern French poetry, music and art began during the Second Empire, although most of the innovations were not recognized until after it was over. By the time Cora arrived, Napoleon III was several years into his reign as Emperor of the French. Born Louis-Napoleon, he was the son of Napoleon’s brother Louis, and his step-daughter Hortense de Beauharnais. With his beautiful wife the Empress Eugénie he established a glittering court of balls and parties. He was also an inveterate womanizer, his lovers included Harriet Howard and the Countess di Castiglione. His most enduring legacy would be the decision to renovate and rebuild parts of Paris under the direction of Baron Haussmann, creating the Champs Elysee and many beautiful parks.

 Cora went through a string of protectors in Paris before she hit the big time. As she moved up the food chain, she made the acquaintance of Victor Massena, the Duc de Rivoli, the man that she called the first link in her golden chain of lovers. Massena was handsome, courteous, and highly sexed. Soon they became lovers, a relationship lasted six years. While Massena was considered her 'amant en titre', or official lover, he didn’t have exclusive rights over her. Cora had a string of lovers including the Prince of Orange, the heir to the throne of the Netherlands, who gave her a string of black pearls with which she was often photographed. One of her lovers talked about finding a ledger book listing the names of her lovers, the dates of their assignations, and the amount of money they had given her.

Courtesans in 19th Century Paris: Called Le Grandes Horizontales, the Second Empire and Belle Époque Paris often became celebrities in their own right. Many young women such as Eliza Lynch, Catherine ‘Skittles’ Walter, and Cora Pearl came to Paris to set themselves up as courtesans. Even actresses such as Rachel Felix and Sarah Bernhardt were courtesans in between stage roles. Many women were fleeing bad marriages, had been ruined or turned to prostitution because it was better than the alternative, poverty. A courtesan could be kept by one or several ‘protectors’ during the course of her career. She would only stay with a lover if he could provide her with a certain standard of living. If not, she would move on to someone else. The career of a courtesan was often short as she got older and her looks faded, and younger, fresher woman took her place. So many courtesans tried to make the most of their time, racking up jewels, houses, and expensive wardrobes. As Alexandre Dumas fils put it, "Women were luxuries for public consumption life hounds, horses and carriages."

Cora Pearl was a sensation during the Second Empire. Although she wasn’t conventionally beautiful, Cora was sexy, with an enviable figure. People noted her tiny waist and her beautiful bosom. But more important than her looks was her spirit. Cora knew how to have fun; she could be spontaneous and outrageous. Once at a dinner party, a guest broke an expensive glass. Cora impulsively broke the rest of the set to make him feel more comfortable. She also knew how to throw a party, when fireworks were all the rage in Paris, Cora had the best and the brightest. Cora also genuinely liked sex, which was not necessarily a job requirement for being a courtesan. She also had a way of flattering a man without sounding like she was trying too hard.

Charles Worth: Father of Haute Couture (1825-1895) Yes, the father of Parisian Haute Couture was an Englishman. How ironic given the enmity between France and Britain over the centuries. Born in the small town of Bourne in Lincolnshire, the son of a local solicitor, Worth worked for several London textile merchants before hopping across the Channel in 1846 to Paris. After he opened his dressmaking establishment in 1858, all of Paris came calling. His clientsincluded the Empress Eugénie and Princess Pauline Metternich as well as CoraPearl. Before Worth, the dressmaker responded to the wish of the client. Worth changed all that. He created the designs, and the customer lapped it up. Four
times a year, he displayed dresses worn by models at fashion shows. Clients made
their selection, as they do today, and had the garments tailor-made. Many of Worth’s steady customers were American and English heiresses, who willing came across the ocean to buy his clothes. And they were not cheap, a Worth gown could cost hundreds of dollars. Worth used the best fabrics and trimmings; incorporating elements of historical dress in his gowns. He was known for the meticulous fit of his clothes. Worth was the first designer to put labels in the clothes he manufactured.

In order to set herself apart from the other courtesans in Paris, Cora became renowned for her skill with horses. At the height of her career, Cora owned about 60 horses, and a fleet of expensive carriages in which to ride in the parks during the peak hours. It was Cora who started the fashion for courtesans to take carriage rides in the Bois de Boulogne.

Keeping track of the Bonapartes Cora Pearl seems to have had a thing for the men in the Bonaparte family. Among her many lovers and protectors were the Duke de Morny (1811-1865), half brother of Napoleon III (son of Hortense Bonaparte and her lover the Comte de Flahaut who was himself the illegitimate son of Talleyrand), but also Prince Achille Murat (grandson of Joachim Murat, King of Naples and Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s sister), as well as Prince Napoleon (1822-1891), the Emperor's cousin. Whew! That’s a lot of Napoleons. The only one it seems she didn’t sleep with was the Emperor of the French himself.

The Duc de Mornay’s early death in 1862 left Cora without a major protector. However, she soon took up with the Duc’s cousin, Prince Napoleon, the son of Napoleon I’s brother, Jerome, ex-King of Westphalia (and ex-husband of Betsy Patterson). Known as Plon-Plon, he was no Prince Charming in the looks department. Imagine a taller, fatter Napoleon, with greasy looking black hair.But he and Cora had a great deal in common, they both loved horses, dogs and the countryside. The prince only had one flaw and that was his jealousy. While itwas perfectly permissible for him to have more than one mistress, he wasn’t quite as keen for Cora to have more than one lover. He also had something no other lover had, the ability to have Cora deported. So Cora did what any good courtesan would do. She told her other lovers to lie low, while she catered to the Prince. After several months of having her exclusively, Cora slowly went back to her old routine. She didn’t do just because no man owned her, she also did it because she needed the money they provided to maintain her lavish lifestyle. Even though Prince Napoleon was giving her over ten thousand francs a month, it wasn’t enough. She now had two houses in Paris, and a country estate, the Chateau Beauséjour.

Where the Heck is Prussia Anyway? In the 19th Century, not only was Italy not a united country, but Germany was also made up of a confederation of twenty-one states called the North German Confederation of which the Kingdom of Prussia in the 19th century was the leading state. At the time of the Franco-Prussian war, it accounted for 60% of the German Empire’s population. The country had emerged as the dominant power in Germany after the Napoleonic Wars.
Soon stories were swirling around Paris about the little English courtesan. It was said that Cora once had herself served naked on a silver plate at a fancy dinner (although this story has also been repeated about other courtesans, with Cora it wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility). She was also known to bathe before her dinner guests in a silver tub of expensive French champagne (ooh la la) and to dance naked on a carpet of orchids. Cora also knew how to spend money, at one point she spent thirty thousand francs in two weeks, a veritable fortune. In the winter months, she would serve fruit on a bed of Parma violets. Cora quickly figured out that in France unlike England, food actually mattered, she soon had her own personal chef named Sale. But her money not only went towards her lavish table but also to keep her in the height of fashion. Cora’s dresses were by Worth, one of the most expensive couturiers in France, her lingerie was the finest that money could buy; money was also lavished on jewelry and perfume. Cora lived in the moment, never worrying about how the bills were going to be paid. She developed a gambling habit, while traveling with the Duc de Rivoli, who finally ended the relationship, after paying her debts one too many times. But Cora wasn’t stupid; although she could be overly generous, she once sued the maker of her lingerie for overcharging her and won.

The 1860’s were the height of the Second Empire and Cora was one of the most famous courtesans in Paris. Her fame had also spread not just across Europe but also to the United States. Harper’s Weekly mentioned her in an article featured in the ? issue. And like most celebrities she had her critics who found her a bit coarse. Not that Cora cared a fig what other people thought. She died her dark hair red and blonde; she even dyed her dog’s hair blue to match one of her outfits (unfortunately the poor thing died).

Cora made her theatrical debut in Offenbach’s opera Orpheus in the Underworld playing the role of Cupid. As the daughter of a musician, and the sister of an opera singer, it seemed fitting that Cora should appear on stage. She made her entrance in a costume that seemed to consist solely of strategically placed diamonds; the soles of her boots were also covered in diamonds as well. They were later auctioned off for fifty thousand francs. Critics were kind but Cora only performed twelve times before she retired from the stage. Several students led a protest that Cora had been given the role of Cupid over a professional singer, and they disrupted the performances by hissing and booing. For Cora it was just another lark, she never had any attentions of making the stage a second career.

But the end was drawing near. Prussia was making noises, and Napoleon III pulled French troops out of Mexico, leaving his cousin Maximilian, who he had set up as Emperor, holding the bag. Instead of doing a cut and run, Maximilian decided to fight for the country he had grown to love against the forces of former President Benito Juarez, who was no doubt helped out by the US (you know how we love to meddle). Maximilian was shot in front of a firing squad in 1868. Whether out of guilt of abandoning him, or genuine affection, Napoleon decreed that the court would go into deep mourning, which meant fewer parties and lots of black clothing. Fortunately, Cora looked fetching in her Worth mourning gowns. However, no sooner was the mourning period over; then France declared war on Prussia.

Cora proved that she was more than just a frivolous courtesan by offering up her homes as hospitals for the wounded. She paid for the doctors, the medicine and anything that the soldiers needed out of her own pocket. The end of the war less than a year later was not just the end of the Second Empire; it was the end for Cora Pearl. Nothing was the same for her again. Napoleon III and the Empress had fled to England, along with Prince Napoleon. Cora went to England to join him there, the first time she had set foot back in native country in over twenty years. The visit was not a success. The plan was for her to stay at the Grosvenor Hotel, but when management found out just who their new guest was, they refused to let her stay.

The Franco-Prussian War: Yet another war that was started over who got to be King, this time of Spain. Isabella II had abdicated and Prussia wanted Prince Leopold, a member of the Hohenzollern family to replace her, which did not sit well with France. There was also the release of the Ems Dispatch which played up insults between the French ambassador and the Prussian King, which inflamed public opinion in both countries. The war raged on for almost a year, ending the Second Empire,and causing numerous casualties. The winner was Prussia with its superior army and artillery. Germany was now a unified country. They also ended up with Alsace-Lorraine, which stayed part of Germany until the First World War. Oh and Spain, after all that trouble, Alfonso XII, son of Isabella II, became King in 1875 after a short lived republic.

I have never deceived anybody because I have never belonged to anybody. My independence was all my fortune, and I have known no other happiness; and it is still what attaches me to life.”

After a few months, Cora returned to her beloved Paris, now under the third Republic. Times had changed; the mood was somber and conservative. No more glittering parties, no more social whirl. Prince Napoleon continued to support Cora until 1874 but there were few men with the resources or the inclination to keep her in the style to which she had become accustomed. And Cora wasn’t used to economizing. She ended up at one point 200,000 francs in debt, having to sell one of her beautiful houses to pay it off. It was then that Cora met the man who would be her ultimate downfall.

His name was Alexandre Duval. Twelve years younger than Cora, incredibly handsome and wealthy, Alexandre wouldn’t take no for an answer. His family had made their fortune with a chain restaurant, the 19th Century equivalent of Denny's. He basically stalked Cora. If times had been different, Cora would have stuck to her guns and continued her refusals. But a girl had to eat, and Alexandre was swimming in francs. However, Cora soon bankrupted him, and with no more money, no more Cora. His family wasn't about to let him ruin the family business by giving him more money. What happened next is a matter of conjecture; Cora left the story of what went on that fateful day out of her memoirs. Unfortunately Cora’s silence contributed to the perception that she was cold-hearted.

Duval showed up at Cora’s house and tried to force his way in. He waved around a gun which he proceeded to use, shooting himself in the side on her doorstep. Cora either called immediately for help, or not realizing the seriousness of the situation, shut the door and went upstairs to bed. It seems hard to believe, that after being so generous during the Franco-Prussian war, that Cora would all of a sudden turn cold in the face of a man in pain. Whatever the truth, rumors spread that Cora had cruelly left him injured. Although Duval survived, her reputation was ruined. She was asked to leave France. Cora spent time in Monte Carlo with a friend who was being kept by the son of the Prince of Monaco. After a discreet amount of time, Cora came back to Paris, but her days of glory were over. There would be no more rich protectors. In dire straits, she was forced to have to sell her mansions that she adored, and her expensive jewelry and artwork.

Indigent, she ended up in a small boarding house, where she died in 1886 from stomach cancer. She was only 51 years old. Only twenty people attended her funeral, which was paid for by the few of her lovers that were still alive. Before her death, her memoirs were published in a slim volume with all the names changed to protect her lovers. But readers quickly deduced who they were. The rest of her belongings were auctioned off after her death for a small sum. Cora was buried under her original name of Eliza Emma Crouch at Batignolles Cemetary in grave #10, Row 4.

Cora Pearl’s life can be seen as a cautionary tale of what can happen to a woman without the protection of marriage. It also illustrates the dangers of living in the moment and not preparing sufficiently for the future. But then Cora wasn’t prepared for the party to end. And she had no regrets about the way she lived her life. As she wrote in her memoirs, "I have had a happy life; I have squandered money enormously. I am far from posing as a victim; it would be ungrateful of me to do so. I ought to have saved, but saving is not easy in such a whirl of excitement as that in which I have lived. Between what one ought to do and what one does there is always a difference."

Cora would have disappeared from history if it were not for her memoirs, which paint a vivid picture of life during the Second Empire. She also lives on in Emile Zola’s classic novel Nana as Lucy Stewart. Of course, in Zola's novel, Nana comes to a bad end just like Cora.

Courtesans – Katie Hickman, Harper Collins, 2006
Virginia Rounding, Grandes Horizontales: The Lives and Legends of Four Nineteenth-Century Courtesans. London: Bloomsbury, 2004.
Seductresses – Betsy Prioleau, NAL/Penguin, 2006
Book of Courtesans – Susan Griffin
World’s Wickedest Women – Margaret Nicholas
The Courtesans: The Demi-Monde in 19th-Century France - Joanna Richardson,London: Phoenix Press, 2000

Monday, November 24, 2008

Scandalous Movie Review: Mary, Queen of Scots

(1971) Starring Vanessa Redgrave (Mary, Queen of Scots), Glenda Jackson (Elizabeth I), Nigel Davenport (Bothwell), Timothy Dalton (Henry, Lord Darnley), Ian Holm (David Riccio), Patrick McGoohan (James Stewart, Earl of Moray) and Daniel Massey (Robert Dudley), directed by Hal Wallis, Universal Pictures

The film opens with the death of Mary’s first husband Francois II after he goes out riding. Mary is distraught and Catherine de Medici blames her for her son’s death. Instead, Mary decides to go back to Scotland to take up the throne. She is refused safe passage through English waters but determines to go anyway. Upon arriving in Scotland, she is met by her half-brother James Stewart, the Earl of Moray who has determined that Mary will be Queen in name only. Mary is perturbed to discover that there is no grand welcoming for her arrival but she takes in stride, and even manages to joust verbally with John Knox who shows up at the dock to harangue her for being a Catholic. In the meantime, Bothwell who had gone to Scotland to see Mary ends up in an English prison after his ship is taken by Elizabeth.

Mary and her brother struggle over who will be the real ruler of Scotland. Elizabeth in the meantime determines that since Mary must marry, it would be to her advantage to have her marry Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester who is rumored to be her lover. However, Elizabeth also sends Henry, Lord Darnley, Mary’s cousin who has grown up in England as well. It is revealed that her real plan is for Mary to marry Darnley, not Dudley.

Mary and Darnley marry but almost immediately he reveals his true colors, that he is petulant and weak with a fondness for drink and other women. Mary’s love for him quickly turns to disgust. His jealousy of Mary’s secretary David Riccio leads to him becoming involved in a plot to kill the Italian. One night in the Queen’s private chambers, several Scottish nobles led by Lord Ruthven, and including Darnley, burst in and drag off Riccio, stabbing him 56 times. Mary manages to convince Darnley to help her escape. She rides off to Bothwell’s home (Bothwell finally having been freed from captivity in England), Hermitage Castle where she gives birth to the future James VI of Scotland.

Mary proves merciful to the conspirators, although she continues to deny Darnley her bed. The conspirators turn on Darnley, for having double-crossed them, and arrange to have him killed. There is a huge explosion at the house where he is living, and Darnley is later found strangled in the garden. Mary turns to Bothwell for comfort and several months after Darnley’s death, they are married. But the nobles, led by her half-brother, turn against Mary and demand her abdication. When Mary refuses, Morny tells her that he has proof in the “casket letters” that Mary was involved in the murder of Darnley. Mary is forced to sign over her rights and is escorted to the border into England. Bothwell tells Mary that he will go to Denmark to raise funds and troops to help her regain her throne.

In England, Elizabeth and Mary secretly meet. Elizabeth refuses to help Mary regain her throne and imprisons her. Years go by, and Mary has finally worn out her welcome. Elizabeth is reluctant to execute her unless there is hard evidence that is not faked that Mary has been involved in a conspiracy against her. When proof is found, Mary is put on trial and found guilty. Elizabeth visits her once again just before her execution. Mary goes to the scaffold with dignity and is beheaded.

The “Casket Letters”:
These were 8 letters that Mary allegedly wrote to Bothwell. The Earl of Morton claimed to have found them in a silver box marked with the letter “F” (for Francois II)along with a bunch of other documents including Mary and Bothwell's marriage lines. These letters purportedly implicated Mary in Darnley’s murder, but Mary insisted that they were forgeries, that her handwriting was easy to imitate. The letters were also never brought forth while Mary was held captive in Scotland for almost a year. They only came to light when Mary was charged with Darnley's murder while in English custody. Historians have argued about the authenticity of these letters for centuries. Mary's current biographers, including Lady Antonia Fraser, believe that they are forgeries.

I found this movie to be incredibly disappointing. While it follows the basic outline of Mary’s story, it is riddled with historical inaccuracies, missing scenes and bland performances. While Vanessa Redgrave is an amazing actress and physically looks a great deal like Mary, the script requires her to play the role as a hysterical dimwit. The fact that Mary ruled Scotland for almost five years with little incident is completely glossed over in favor of the drama of her marriage to Lord Darnley which is poorly developed. The film also skips over Mary’s trial for Darnley’s murder when she arrived in England as well as her love for animals. Redgrave comes into her own in the final scenes as Mary is preparing for her death and the scene where she learns that her son has been corresponding with Elizabeth while he has never answered any of her letters.

The audience never sees the progression of her romance with Darnley. There is only one scene of the two of them together, riding on the beach, when Darnley falls off his horse, and Mary is distraught. We never see him or Robert Dudley arrive at the Scottish court, so we have no idea why she would prefer Darnley over Dudley. We are told it is because Dudley is one of Elizabeth’s cast-offs, and there is the suspicion that he murdered his first wife, in order to be free to marry Elizabeth. Darnley and Mary are quickly married and then Darnley reveals his true colors like on the wedding night. The film also implies that Darnley and David Riccio were lovers, which as far as I know, is a complete invention of the screenwriters. Darnley was jealous of Riccio because of his closeness to the Queen, and Riccio believed that Darnley was not fit to be King. There is evidence that they were initially friendly, but I don’t know how you make the leap from friendly to sex buddies.

Timothy Dalton portrayal of Darnley conforms to the historical record, but he is never given a chance to show the audience why Mary fell in love with him in the first place. The film spends more time setting up the Bothwell/Mary relationship. Also, Mary was six months pregnant when Riccio was murdered, she didn’t give birth at Bothwell’s castle, but at Edinburgh Castle.

The relationship with Bothwell is portrayed as a true love match. When Bothwell tells Mary he’s going to Denmark, Mary cries that she can’t live without him. The historical Bothwell was apparently not that noble, he was ambitious and wily. He’d been divorced by his wife for sleeping with her servant, and he’d toyed with the affections of a Norwegian noblewoman, Anna Tronds, who he’d been engaged to.

The film’s dominating performance is Glenda Jackson, reprising her role as Elizabeth I, that she so ably portrayed in the television miniseries Elizabeth R. Whenever she’s on screen, the film comes alive, which not a good thing when the movie is called Mary,Queen of Scots. While there is no evidence that Mary and Elizabeth actually met, I had no problem with the screenwriters concocting a secret meeting between the two. However, having two secret meetings diluted the drama. Also Mary was not escorted into England; she fled into England after having been defeated in the Battle of Langside.

While the movie was disappointing, it’s so far the only recent version of the life of Mary Queen of Scots, apart from a British miniseries called Gunpowder, Treason and Plot which focuses on Mary and her son James VI (Part One is about Mary and Part Two deals with the Gunpowder Plot), which is not available in US format on DVD. Despite the many movies and miniseries that have depicted the life of Elizabeth I in the past 30 years, poor Mary gets short shrift as a subplot. Recently it was announced that Scarlett Johansen was going to portray Mary in a new film which as yet doesn’t have a start date.

What Mary, Queen of Scots, deserves is a major miniseries even if it requires two actresses to play the role, one to portray the young Queen from 18-25 during her years as Queen, and then an older actress to portray Mary during her years of imprisonment.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Scandalous Book Review: In the Shadow of the Lion

I recently received a copy of Ginger Garrett's new book In the Shadow of the Lion. I was a little trepidatious at first, I don't normally read Christian or inspirational fiction. Although I've grew up reading authors such as C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Douglas (yes, I actually read The Robe), Thomas B. Costain and Taylor Caldwell (Dear and Glorious Physician about St. Luke) and I adored The Red Tent, I've always tried to avoid overtly Christian books. I don't want to be preached to while I read. But I was intrigued when I read the back cover.

“I am the first writer, The Scribe. My books lie open before the Throne, and someday will be the only witness of your people and their time in this world. The stories are forgotten here, and the Day draws close. I will tell you one of my stories. You will record it.”

So begins the narration of an angel in this sweeping historical tale set during the reign of England’s Henry VIII. It is the story of two women, their guardian angels, and a mysterious, subversive book … a book that outrages some, inspires others, and launches the Protestant Reformation.

The devout Anne Boleyn catches the eye of a powerful king and uses her influence to champion an English translation of the Bible—Scriptures the common people could read for themselves. Meanwhile, Rose, a broken, suicidal woman of the streets, is moved to seek God when she witnesses Thomas More’s public displays of Christian charity, ignorant of his secret life spent eradicating the same book, persecuting anyone who dares read it. Historic figures come alive in this thrilling story of heroes and villains, saints and sinners, angels and mortals … and the sacred book that will inspire you anew.

A book that doesn't paint Anne Boleyn as a dark-haired temptress, swanning around the court, luring Henry away from Catherine of Aragon? One that depicts her as a woman of faith? Sign me up! This is one time that I'm glad that I put my prejudices away and picked up this book. It is incredibly well written and will appeal to anyone who is interested in this period of English history, as well as anyone who is interested in a fascinating story. I was particularly struck by the character of Rose, who has been mistreated and is distrustful not only that there is a God but of men in general. She is rescued by Sir Thomas More and brought into his household as a servant. Through her eyes, the reader gets to see a side of Sir Thomas More that is a more human portrait than the almost saint in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons.

What I found most interesting about the book was the use of William Tyndale's English translation of the Bible. Here is he called by the name that he used at Oxford, William Hutchins. Garrett ably lets the reader know exactly what an English translation would mean not just to the common people of England but to women in general, if they could actually read what was written in the Bible and the role that women played, they might not be as content to stay in their place. One of the strengths of the book is that the arguments on both sides are equally weighted. On the pro side one has Anne Boleyn, and other the con side Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsley. Garrett vividly portrays the tenor of the times when heretics were being burned at the stake and tortured on the tack for their beliefs.

While the characters spend time talking about the nature of faith, I never felt that I was beat over the head with it. It flowed naturally out of the story and the period of history in which it is set. If there is any flaw in the book, its that it encapsulates ten years of history into one year. I would have preferred if the book had had a larger scope and allowed the story to play out in its natural time frame, but that's a small quibble. I also felt that the third story of Bridget received short shrift in the telling.

Given the general interest in all things Tudor lately (you can't walk into a bookstore without tripping over all the fiction titles that have come out recently) and the popularity of the Showtime series, I expect that this book will find an audience, if readers are willing to take the chance on reading something that might be outside of their comfort zone.

Read more about the book and read the first chapter at Ginger Garrett's web-site and stay tuned next week for my interview with the author.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Grace Kelly - America's Princess

She was the beautiful movie star loved by millions who gave up her career to become a Princess in the Wedding of the Century (until Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding to Prince Charles twenty-five years later) only to die a tragic death too young.

Today marks what would have been the 79th birthday of HSH Princess Grace of Monaco. She was born Grace Patricia Kelly on November 12th, 1929 in Philadelphia, PA. She was named after her father’s sister, an aspiring actress who had died young at the age of 23. Her father, Jack Kelly was a self-made millionaire, the son of Irish immigrants. His older brother Patrick had started his own brickworks business, where Jack learned the ropes. Charming and charismatic, his dream was to win the Diamond Skulls at Henley. Unfortunately due to a problem with his sponsor, Jack was unable to compete. He spun the story for years that he was denied entrance because he worked with his hands. In revenge, Jack won the gold medal at the 1920 Olympics. Returning to the States, he borrowed money to open his own business, Brickworks by Kelly, competing with his own brother. His favorite brother Charles came to work for him, managing the books, causing a family rift that lasted for years.

Her mother, Margaret Majer’s family by contrast was German, and aristocratic. After the family lost all their money, they immigrated to the United States. Margaret went to Temple University, and became the first woman to teach athletics at the University of Pennsylvania. Grace’s parents met when her mother was 14 and Jack was 24. After he returned to the States, he pursued Margaret, who led him a merry chase before she consented to marry him in 1924. In nine years, Margaret gave birth to four children, oldest child Peggy, only son Jack known as Kell, Grace, and Lizanne.

Unlike her more boisterous siblings, Grace was quiet and shy. She suffered constantly from colds, was myopic, and lacked a killer instinct. Although she later excelled at swimming and tennis, Grace was never as athletic as her parents wanted her to be. From an early age, it was clear that Peggy was the preferred child in the family, while Kell was groomed from childhood to win the Diamond Skulls at Henley, despite his lack of interest in rowing. Nothing much was expected of Grace, she was the forgotten child in the family. As her father once remarked, “What is Grace sniveling about now?”

While her father was gregarious and social (he once ran for mayor of Philadelphia), Margaret Kelly was controlled. Although she knew that her husband was unfaithful to her, she never let her emotions show. She never let on how her husband’s infidelities hurt her. While she loved her children, she was less than demonstrative. Not one for hugging and kissing, she showed her love through discipline. It wasn’t until Grace was an adult, that she and her mother forged a deeper relationship. Despite the fact that her siblings teased and bullied her during her childhood, all four siblings were extremely close, closing ranks against any outsider, who dared to criticize one of them.

From childhood, Grace was determined on a career in the theater. She came by her talent naturally; her paternal Uncles were in the theater. George Kelly was a noted playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize for his play Craig’s Wife (his plays are still revived by theater companies today), and her uncle Walter was a noted vaudevillian. She made her stage debut with an amateur theater company at the age of 12 in her Uncle George’s play The Torchbearers.

By the time she reached high school Grace had developed into a beauty. Five foot seven with porcelain skin, and clear blue eyes, she had a willowy figure. She started to date, and had several beau including a friend of her brother’s who later died after suffering from multiple sclerosis.

On the surface, Grace seemed like the perfect girl, polite to a fault, the kind of girl that you would take home to mother. But she was also headstrong and determined. Her first choice of college was Bennington in Vermont, but her application got in late because most of the focus in the family was on Kell and Henley. Also, there were so many men going to college on the G.I. Bill that colleges were full. Instead Grace enrolled at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Art to study acting. To appease her parents, she moved into the Barbizon Hotel for Women, which had a strict policy of no men allowed anywhere in the hotel. Grace’s parents believed that she’d give up the nonsense idea of being an actress and return home in a few weeks, but Grace was determined to prove them wrong. She threw herself into her studies. To make money since her father kept her on a tight leash in terms of her allowance, Grace pursued modeling and commercial work, soon earning over $400 a week. She was now able to pay her own way. Despite her achievements, neither of her parents ever praised her.

It was Grace was at the Academy that she had the first serious relationship of her adult life. Don Richardson was her parent’s nightmare. Not only was he one of her instructors, but he was also older, married although separated and Jewish. When Grace brought him home to meet the folks, not only did her father and brother treat him disgracefully but her mother went through his things, where she found not only his divorce papers but also condoms! Which just goes to show you, when you snoop you never find out anything good.

Grace’s parents forbid her to have anything to do with Don Richardson. To add insult to injury, Grace was forced to return home until graduation and to commute from Philly to New York for auditions. Unbeknownst to her parents, Grace continued to see Richardson along with a host of other men including the Shah of Iran and Aly Kahn. Her next choice of boyfriend didn’t please her parents either. While working in summer stock, Grace met actor Gene Lyons. Like Don Richardson, Gene was older and married although he was in the process of getting an annulment. However he was Irish Catholic, which was a point in his favor. Grace ultimately ended the relationship when she realized his love of the bottle was stronger than his love for her.

Grace finally made her Broadway debut, starring with noted actor Raymond Massey in a revival of Strindberg’s The Father. When her father went backstage, Massey was surprised to see him there (they had become acquainted through their interesting in rowing). Grace hadn’t mentioned to Massey that her father was Jack Kelly. The revival only lasted 67 performances, and soon Grace was back auditioning. Like many New York actors, Grace appeared in many television dramas that were filmed live. She had signed with MCA to represent her, and soon the movies came knocking on her door. She made her film debut in a small movie filmed on location in New York called Fourteen Hours. Although she enjoyed the experience, Grace was determined to be a great stage actress. However, fate had other plans for Grace. A screen test for another film role that didn’t pan out was seen by director Fred Zinnemann who hired Grace to play the young Quaker wife of Gary Cooper in the now classic film High Noon.

Grace fell hard for Coop on the film, despite the huge age difference. Although Cooper was married, he was separated from his wife Rocky and in the middle of a tempestuous relationship with actress Patricia Neal (he also had a brief fling with Prince Rainier’s girlfriend Gisele Pascal!). Coop was the start of a string of romances with much older men, many of whom were co-stars. An occupational hazard since the dawn of the cinema, in Grace’s case, her passionate nature went against the 1950’s notion that good girls didn’t until they got married. Grace, however, did and often. It was this contrast that fascinated filmmakers including Alfred Hitchcock.

A psychiatrist would have told Grace that these relationships were a way of her seeking the approval and love that her father withheld from her. It also made her parents pay attention to her as they worried about these clearly unsuitable relationships that Grace continued to involve herself in. Rumors flew through Hollywood about Grace and Clark Gable on the set of Mogambo, a remake of one of Gable’s earlier pictures Red Dust. Grace reminded Gable of his wife Carole Lombard, who died tragically in a plane crash during World War II on a war bonds mission. Grace, on her part, called Gable ‘Ba’ which sounded like Pa; the nickname Lombard had given him. Although Grace was infatuated with him, Gable knew that the relationship would never work.

The next relationship that Grace embarked upon almost ruined her career. She met Ray Milland while working on her first film with Hitchcock Dial M for Murder. Milland fell head over heels in love with Grace and her with him. When Milland’s wife Mal found out, she threw him out of the house. Grace found herself written up in the tabloids as a home wrecker. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper spread rumors that she was a nymphomaniac. The relationship finally ended when Milland realized how much it would cost him in a divorce.

In the meantime, Grace’s parents continued to fix her up with a steady stream of ‘appropriate’ suitors meaning non actors. It appears that Grace didn’t learn her lesson from the relationship with Milland. She next embarked on a torrid affair with William Holden who played her husband in The Bridges of Tokyo-Ri. Holden had fallen in love with Audrey Hepburn while making Sabrina and was willing to divorce his wife, actress Brenda Marshall, but the relationship ended when Holden admitted he’d had a vasectomy after the birth of his second son. Hepburn, desiring children, broke up with him and married Mel Ferrer. Grace and Holden enjoyed each other’s company, but Grace was still on the rebound from Milland.

Grace next had a brief fling with Bing Crosby, her co-star in The Country Wife who was recently

widowed and wasted no time getting back on the horse as it were. Ironically Bing Crosby hadn’t wanted Grace for the role of his wife, Georgie Elgin. He thought she was too beautiful, and he doubted she had the acting chops to play the role. Soon Grace had him eating crow. The role earned Grace her second Academy Award nomination, this time as Best Actress. Her father’s comment when her name was announced was typical Jack Kelly. He expressed his shock that Grace would be the one to take care of him in his old age. It was yet another hurtful comment from her father, who couldn’t understand why Grace took his remarks so seriously. Perhaps it was his tendency to go and on about her older sister Peggy whenever a reporter asked him about his famous daughter.

Grace’s next relationship was sure to continue to send her parents blood pressure shooting through the roof. Designer Oleg Cassini, had been smitten with Grace ever sent he had seen Mogambo. After being introduced in a Manhattan restaurant, Cassini pursued Grace relentlessly. He was suave and continental, and better yet, he was single! When she flew to the South of France to film To Catch a Thief, she sent Cassini a postcard inviting him to follow her. While Grace wanted to marry Cassini and was unofficially engaged to him, she still wanted and craved her parents’ approval. Her mother was the first to meet Cassini and was not impressed. Although the designer came from an aristocratic Russian family and had grown up in Florence, not only was the designer sixteen years Grace’s senior but he was also twice divorced with two children, one of whom was born mentally handicapped. When Grace invited Cassini to spend the weekend with her family in Ocean City, NJ, both her brother and her father refused to acknowledge his existence. Cassini was hurt by Grace’s silence, expecting her to defend the man she loved. Still they continued to see each other. Years later, it was rumored that Grace fell pregnant with Cassini’s child and had an abortion. Given Grace’s desire for a family, it seems pretty improbable. A child would have given her the impetus to marry Cassini despite the disapproval of her family. Cassini was not the only man she was seeing; she also spent time with French actor, Jean-Pierre Aumont. When intimate pictures of the two dining together appeared in the tabloids of the two in France, Grace suspected that Aumont had tipped off photographers.

By 1955, Grace was dissatisfied with her life. Her Academy Award had not led to better parts with MGM. She had only made one film for the studio since Mogambo, a clunker called Green Ice with Stewart Granger. Rather than make movies she considered second rate, Grace continued to turn down film after film including Quentin Durward with Robert Taylor. Both of her sisters were married with children, as were several of her friends. Grace began to realize the problem that all successful women face eventually. She realized that she needed a man who wouldn’t be overshadowed by her fame. The last thing she wanted was the possibility of her husband being called “Mr. Kelly.”

On a visit to the Cannes Film Festival in May of 1955, Grace was persuaded to visit Monaco by Olivia de Haviland’s husband Pierre Galante. An audience was arranged with Prince Rainier to be photographed by Paris Match. The meeting turned into a comedy of errors. Everything that could go wrong did, from an electricity strike at Grace’s hotel which meant that she could neither dry her hair nor press her clothes. Instead she was forced to wear a hideous dress with big cabbage roses and a flowered headband. At the palace, the group was kept waiting by the Prince who was running late. After more than an hour, the Prince appeared just as Grace was about to give up and leave.

The Prince escorted Grace through the formal gardens and showed off his personal zoo, impressing her by petting a baby tiger. He expressed his intentions to visit the US in the future. Reluctantly she took her leave to return to Cannes were she was scheduled to host a reception. It was clear that she was intrigued by the Prince who she found utterly charming. The prince was also intrigued by Grace, who found beautiful and poised, unlike the characters such as the dowdy Georgie Elgin in The Country Girl. It appeared that the Prince had found his potential Princess.

At the time of their meeting, Prince Rainier had been on the throne of Monaco for six years, having succeeded to the throne on his 26th birthday. He was born on May 31st, 1923 to Princess Charlotte, daughter of Louis II, and Prince Pierre de Polignac. His parents were divorced when he was small, and Rainier and his sister Antoinette were raised by his grandfather. Like Grace, he had suffered a lonely childhood, his parents who hated each other, used him and his sister as pawns. He was sent to boarding school in England at an early age where he was teased for being overweight. After running away from school, he was finally set to Le Rosey in Switzerland where he was more comfortable among the children of the International jet set. He served in the French army during WWII, before assuming the throne after his grandfather’s death. Rainier was now 32 and anxious to get married. He had huge plans for Monaco to turn it from a backwater principality, dependent on the revenues from the Casino, to an international destination. For six years he had been involved with an actress, Gisele Pascal. While he admired her independence, he was not happy with her career which took her away for periods of time. Tired of waiting for him to make up his mind, Gisele broke up with him; although the rumor was that she had failed a fertility test. She soon married another actor and had a daughter.

It was Rainier’s spiritual advisor, Father Tucker, who took matters into his own hands, to play matchmaker. On paper, Grace seemed to have all the qualifications necessary for a princess. She was beautiful, poised, wealthy and most important, a devout Catholic. Father Tucker inquired discreetly into her background and was pleased with what he heard. During this time, Grace and the Prince kept up a running correspondence of letters and phone calls, getting to know each other the old fashioned way. Grace was a huge believer not only in astrology, tarot cards and psychics but also in signs. Her next movie for MGM was The Swan based on a Ferenc Molnar play where she a princess named Alexandra. It was a role she loved having played it in summer stock and in an earlier TV production.

Prince Rainer arrived in the States in time for the Christmas holidays of 1955, making his way to Philadelphia to meet the Kelly family. When Grace’s mother first heard about his interest in her daughter, she thought that Rainier was the prince of Morocco! Monaco was a totally unknown country in the US, smaller in acreage than Central Park. Grace’s marriage to Rainier would put it on the map. After meeting her family and friends, Rainier finally popped the question, on a traffic island, in the middle of New York City. Her friends were a little shocked and amazed that Grace was willing to get engaged to man that she barely knew. But for the first time in her life, Grace had brought home someone her parents approved of, more important than that, her father was now impressed. Although the Kelly’s were moderately wealthy, they had never been accepted by Main Line society in Philadelphia, Jack Kelly was only one generation from the bogs of Ireland. Grace marrying Rainier was a way for Margaret and Jack Kelly to stick to the snobs who had looked down at them all those years.

Before the wedding could take place, the future bride not only had to be examined to see if she was capable of bearing kids (which sent Grace into a panic of what to do about the fact that she was no longer a virgin), but there was also a financial arrangement to take care of, and the question of whether or not Grace would be able to continue her career. Rainier was adamant that it would be unseemly for a Princess to be seen making love to another man on screen, but Grace was sure that she could eventually make him see reason.

After finishing her last film playing Tracy Lord in High Society for MGM, Grace and her family set sail for Monaco where the wedding was to be held. Margaret Kelly had hoped to have the wedding in Philadelphia, so much easier to lord it over Philadelphia society that way. Not able to show off her daughter, Margaret instead consented to a series of embarrassing articles that were published; detailing her daughter’s various romances. Grace was livid with her mother, causing hurt feelings between both women that weren’t resolved for several months.

As part of her deal with MGM, they received exclusive rights to film the wedding, and costume designer Helen Rose created Grace’s wedding dress to the tune of $8,000. She was also given a bonus of $70,000 and the wardrobe from her last film High Society for her trousseau. Grace had expected the studio to play hardball since she had to pull out of her next film, Designing Women, which was to reteam her with Jimmy Stewart. Instead, for once, MGM was amenable. The only thing they asked was that if she ever made another film that it be with MGM.

It was a weeklong extravaganza in Monaco when Grace arrived with her family and friends for the wedding. It was also the first time that she was meeting the rest of Rainier’s family. She had already met his father, Prince Pierre, who took to Grace immediately. The rest of Rainier’s family never warmed to her, in particular his mother Princess Charlotte, and his sister Princess Antoinette. Grace got off on the wrong foot with Antoinette by asking her to be a bridesmaid, even bringing along a dress for her. Antoinette considered her always to be a vulgar American, who wasn’t worthy to replace her as Monaco’s First Lady. The Grimaldi’s also looked down on the Kelly family, who weren’t used to royal protocol and found it daunting.

On April 19, 1956, Grace officially became Princess Grace of Monaco after both civil and religious ceremonies. Grace wasn't the first American princess of Monaco. That honor went to Alice Heine of New Orleans, who married Rainier's great grandfather, after her first husband the Duc de Richelieu died. Like Grace, Alice found life in Monaco difficult and left after eleven years of marriage.

The wedding was filmed and shown in theaters around the world. The profits that Grace and Rainier received went to charity. Grace settled down to her most difficult role, Princess of Monaco, made more stressful by not only living in a foreign country that she had only ever visited once, but also having to speak a foreign language. Grace’s French was passable, but it was difficult at times for her to understand or to make herself understood. Even the birth of her first two children, Caroline in 1957 and Albert a year later in 1958 didn’t help. Grace spiraled into a deep depression, complicated by the death of her father in 1960 after a short illness. Despite all her efforts, her marriage to Rainier, didn’t mean that much to Jack Kelly after all. He was never comfortable at the Palace where he wasn’t top dog, nor did he like being replaced in his daughter’s affections. It appeared that Grace had married Rainier for nothing.

However, unlike Prince Charles, Rainier was actually somewhat sensitive to his wife’s needs. Although he would have preferred that she just get on with it, he made an effort to try and understand why she was so depressed. Grace’s depression was also compounded by the two miscarriages after Albert’s birth. Finally, Rainier called Alfred Hitchcock to see if he had a role for Grace. It turned out that Hitchcock was developing a film based on a novel by Winston Graham (of Poldark fame) called Marnie, about a young woman with sexual problems who was also a kleptomaniac. It would have been a huge acting challenge for Grace and totally different from any character she had ever portrayed. Unfortunately when the citizens of Monaco got wind of Grace’s plans, they protested loudly and vehemently at the prospect. Grace had no choice but to turn the role down. Tippi Hedren played the part instead. Grace realized that her film career was definitely over. The only way that she could resume her career was to divorce Rainier, and that was not an option. It would mean leaving her children in Monaco, and Grace would never do that.

So she threw herself headlong into her role as Princess of Monaco. Like any good actress, she did her research, modeling her behavior after that of the British Monarchy (more Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth than other royals). She became more Royal than Rainier in a way. In the process, the fun loving, spontaneous Grace was replaced by a woman who was similar to her mother in many ways. The independent Grace, who left home and made her own money, took on the studios and had relationships with inappropriate men, was the past. In her place, Grace frequently railed against women’s liberation, decried sex and violence in films, and searched the Almanach de Gotha for a suitable husband for Caroline.

Ironically for Grace, she became even stricter as a mother than her own had been. She excused her behavior by pointing out that the times were less innocent than when she was growing up and she was raising Princesses. While Caroline studied for her exams, Grace moved into an apartment in Paris with Stephanie, in order to keep an eye on her. It was a huge mistake. Paparazzi staked out the apartment, Caroline felt constrained by her mother, and Stephanie was hitting puberty. Grace found herself fighting a losing battle, the girls had heard about their mother’s somewhat racy past, and felt that she was being hypocritical.

When Caroline announced that she wanted to marry Philippe Junot, a much older playboy with no visible means of support, Grace was at her wits end. Caroline had threatened to move in with Junot if she couldn’t marry him. Grace and Rainier finally agreed, although as Grace put it, “at least she’ll have a successful second marriage.”

As Grace grew older, she found an outlet for her creativity by performing in poetry readings across Europe and the United States, and serving on the board of Twentieth Century Fox. She narrated the documentary, The Children of Theater Street. She and Rainier were set to settle into a comfortable old age. Although it turned out they had nothing really in common besides their children and their religion, they had come to a workable solution in their marriage. In 1981, they celebrated twenty-five years of marriage.

How Princess Grace would have handled the third half of her life, we’ll never know. While returning from their country home Roc Agel, Grace lost control of her car and plunged off the side of the road. She was brought to the hospital that bore her name, along with Princess Stephanie who suffered a serious cervical fracture. Unfortunately the hospital didn’t possess a CAT scan; the only one in Monaco belonged to a doctor in private practice. By the time the machine was fetched, it was too late. Grace was brain dead. The family reluctantly decided to take her off life support. On September 14, 1982 and the young age of 52, Princess Grace died peacefully. Rumors immediately flew that Stephanie had been the one driving the car; that they were arguing when the car went off the road. Instead, it appeared that Grace had a minor stroke while driving, and the accident caused a second massive stroke.

The country was plunged into deep mourning. Grace’s mother Margaret had suffered a stroke several years earlier, and never knew of the deaths of her children (Grace’s older brother Kell died a few years later of a heart attack while jogging). At her funeral, four hundred guests attended including Princess Diana, who had bonded with Princess Grace just before her marriage. When Diana had asked Grace if it ever got easier, Grace assured her with a smile, “Oh no, dear, it will get much worse.” Several months after her death, ABC aired a TV movie starring Cheryl Ladd as Princess Grace. In the years since her death, book after book as come out about Grace that seem to emphasize her early romances over her years as an actress or her life as a Princess. Despite the revelations that Grace was not the usual good girl that she seemed to be, they haven't tarnished her reputation. It only seems to make her appear more modern to contemporary readers.

A hole was left in the Grimaldi family. Rainier was never the same after his wife’s death. He continued to reign until his own death in 2005. Caroline remarried to Stefano Casiraghi by whom she had three children before his untimely death in 1990. In a twist of fate, her third husband is the man that her mother had always wanted her to marry, Prince Ernst of Hanover. Albert, now fifty, is still unmarried. He has always said that finding a Princess to replace his mother is almost impossible. Stephanie is the child who seems to have suffered the most since her mother’s death. The rumor that it was somehow her fault has never died. She has plunged from one career to another, from one disastrous relationship to another.

Grace’s legacy lives on in her children but also in the eleven films that she did, some of them classics like To Catch a Thief and Rear Window. There is also the Princess Grace foundation, which was created in 1964. The American Film Institute ranked Grace Kelly #13 on their list of Greatest Female Stars of All Time. And in 2003, the Henley Royal Regetta renamed the Women’s Quadruple Skulls the Princess Grace Challenge Cup. In 2006, the Philadelphia Museum of Art hosted an exhibition called Fit for a Princess: Grace Kelly's Wedding Dress in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier’s wedding. But to many, she was living proof that fairy-tales do come true, at least for a little while.


True Grace – Wendy Leigh
Grace Kelly’s Men – Jane Ellen Wayne
Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess – James Spada
One Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainer – J. Randy Taraborelli
The Royal House of Monaco: Dynasty of Glamour, Tardey and Scandal -John Glatt