Byline: Aileen Mehle
Flushed with success from her New York lectures on historical figures — especially those ladies who dined on vengeance and spent quality time arm-wrestling in their boudoirs — Princess Michael of Kent decided it was the moment for a little rest and recreation. So she slipped into her shimmery, filmy, lace evening dress and swept off to dinner. Quite naturally, she was the guest of honor, and right at home she was, midst the marble halls and curving marble staircase of noted host Khalil Rizk’s grand townhouse, where he and Barbara Portago were giving their stunning soiree. Marble becomes Marie-Christine, Princess Michael’s given name. In fact, sometimes you just can’t get enough marble, you know?
Truth to tell, there were decorative princesses to burn at Khalil and Barbara’s party that night, including Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia and Princess Firyal of Jordan, both exuding glamour in French dresses. There was also a prince present, Dmitri of Yugoslavia. If Royal Highnesses turn you on, you would have been in crested clover.
Not that the rest of the guests were all that shabby. La bella Carolina Herrera was turned out in one of her own sexy designs, red and black to the floor and beaded where it would do the most good. Mica Ertegun wore a chic white Armani jacket and white trousers. Deborah Norville looked like a delicious bonbon in black. Joan Rivers wore paillettes, Carroll Petrie was a standout in white. Doda Vorides and Maria Bockmann wore short black dinner dresses, and Lee Thaw was in clinging print gauze lame. Barbara ‘s short gray and silver lame ended somewhere between her knee and her thigh — about in the middle, I’d say.
Herewith find some of the male guests (try matching them up with the women, if you have nothing better to do): Michael Bloomberg, Reinaldo Herrera, Gil Shiva, Ahmet Ertegun, Kenneth Jay Lane, Karl Wellner, Jamie Figg, Oren Lehman, Hebruj Schlubach (he’s Barbara’s brother), Bruce Bockmann and Felix Robyns. Everyone went quite mad over the dessert, a luscious cake teeming with marrons glaces. In the end, it’s the simple things, no?
Gabriele Annan, in the New York Review of Books, has written a rave review of Caroline Blackwood’s new book, “The Last of the Duchess,” the Duchess being, of course, Wallis Windsor. Annan calls the book “intriguing, suspenseful, witty…endlessly fascinating, and written with great style and humor.” It is all those things. It is also, as Annan puts it, “a publisher’s dream…and a grisly anatomy of old age.” The book paints a riveting portrait of Maitre Suzanne Blum, the wily old French lawyer, who all but kept the frail and confused (some said gaga) Duchess of Windsor a prisoner in her grace-and-favor house in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris (courtesy of the French Government), turning away her old friends and completely taking over the last tragic years of the Duchess’s life. In her book, Caroline Blackwood decides that Maitre Blum was in love with her client, describing the wasted widow of the man who but for her would have been king of England as “still having the most fantastic body. You ought to see it. The skin on her body is perfect. It doesn’t have a line. She has the lovely, soft body of a young girl.” And this when the Duchess was well into her 80s. La Blum may have been in love. What she definitely was, was dangerous and unhinged.
Over in England, Diana, Lady Mosley, one of the famous Mitford sisters and a one-time Hitler admirer, has begun debunking in print Caroline Blackwood’s book. A close friend of the Duchess, Diana, who had herself planned to write a book on Wallis, is calling “The Last of the Duchess,” “a fairy tale riddled with mistakes and inaccuracies,” and goes on to tell why, calling the quotes Blackwood attributes to Blum “wild things” and saying it was the doctor’s orders and not Blum that kept all visitors away. Mosley’s review is a direct attack. About the nicest things she says is that both the Duke and Duchess have in every story been “raked up and raked through” and that all this happened so long ago “it seems pointless.” Maybe. And maybe it will just make more people want to read the book. I never knew Maitre Blum, but I did know the Duchess, and well. Whatever her faults, she was a blithe spirit and filled with mischief and fun. She gave many people a good time, and the sin of it all is that she should die in ignominy, not even knowing who she was or where.
Pantheon Books, a division of Knopf, which published Blackwood’s book, gave a party to celebrate at Shelley Wanger and David Mortimer’s apartment, Shelley being Blackwood’s editor. Everyone was there including the writer Elizabeth Hardwick and her daughter Harriet. (Hardwick is a former wife of Robert Lowell to whom Blackwood was also married.) Then there were photographers Eric Boman and Brigitte Lacombe, theater producer Jay Allen, Robert Weinstein of Miramax, producer Richard Roth, short story writer Deborah Eisenberg and writers Kennedy Fraser, Bret Easton Ellis and Jane Hitchcock. Also Knopf president and editor in chief Sonny Mehta, Knopf’s Jane Friedman, publisher Morgan Entrekin, poets John Ashbery and Fred Seidel, New York Review of Books editors Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein and Vogue editor Anna Wintour with Paul Wilmot, the CondA Nast spokesman. To say nothing of Knopf designer Chip Kidd, who created the book’s jacket featuring a picture of Blum (photographed by Lord Snowdon) on the cloth cover underneath, architects Philip Johnson and David Whitney, Alexandra and Arthur Schlesinger, Norris and Norman Mailer, the Knight of Glin (Desmond Fitzgerald) and Madam Fitzgerald, the Andrew Wylies and, last but not least, Caroline Blackwood’s two fetching daughters, Ivana Lowell of Miramax Books and Evgenia Citkowitz, the writer who lives in Los Angeles and is married to actor Julian Sands.
Meanwhile, in another part of the Park Avenue forest, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel and Carl Spielvogel were entertaining for Jessye Norman, the diva of divas, who looked imperial (at least) in a black Issey Miyaki creation and a matching turban rising to the sky. Plus earrings that refused to quit. One of the fascinating moments of the evening was unexpected. Jessye told the pianist her favorite song was “All The Things You Are” and, as he played it, she sang it softly while listeners swooned. Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols came in for a drink, and everywhere you looked were such dinner guests as Va and Deryck Maughan of Salomon Brothers, Sue and Donald Newhouse, Bobby Short, fetching Gretchen and Eugene Grisanti, Mona Ackerman, Joyce and David Dinkins, Jessye’s lawyer friend Robert Edmonds, the philanthropist William Golden, Eric Fischl and April Gornick, the publicist Robert M. Zarem, the publisher Mort Zuckerman, Pat and John Rosenwald, Leila and Henry Luce 3rd and Elisabeth and Paul Gottlieb. You should know that all these three parties happened on the same night. And that people are still standing.