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My husband, Tom Rogers, and I at our wedding banquet. 1986

My husband, Tom Rogers, and I smile for the camera at our wedding banquet at Green Pastures, Austin, Texas. 1986

Me 1988

I wasn’t thrilled when I learned I had to have a Caesarean section, especially in view of the fact that my doctor had not discovered my baby was breeched until I was already dilated nine centimeters and after he had already given me a spinal block. I was 33, somewhat of a late mother, maybe even a reluctant mother. I was a terrible chicken where childbirth was concerned. I had not rushed into having a child. The fear of having to have a Caesarean kept me back. Now my baby was trying to come out through my back and I had no choice but to submit to the knife.

Not only did I have to have a Caesarean that day in July 1988, but, because of the spinal block, the doctor would not give me any more anesthesia, so I had to go into the operating room wide awake. In a little freak-out, I made the doctor erect a tent over my abdomen so I could not see what he was doing in the surgery. I guess I didn’t want to see them cut me.

My husband was there. He sat on a stool beside me and, with characteristic keen intent, watched the whole thing. What I remember most is the way it felt to have those masked people putting their hands into my stomach and digging around. I felt like a giant purse that they were digging around in, looking for a cigarette or something that had drifted to the bottom among tobacco and gum wrappers and dust. After a while, they must have found what they were looking for, because, after endless tugging and pushing and clawing, they reached deep down and pulled out a little baby, my little baby, my baby girl. She had a shriveled face that looked just like my mother-in-law’s.

“Helen!” I exclaimed, calling out my mother-in-law’s name.

Katie Rogers at one month. 1988

Katie Rogers, born healthy, pictured at one month. 1988

If it had been 129 years earlier, in 1859, and not 1988, with modern medicine, there would not have been a Caesarean for me. My daughter Katie might have thrashed around inside of me until I bled to death and she suffocated.

“[A Caesarean] was long considered an extreme measure, performed only when the mother was already dead or considered to be beyond help. In Great Britain and Ireland, the mortality rate [in mothers] in 1865 was 85%.” (1)

Princess Vicky 1859

Queen Victoria of Great Britain (1819-1901) was sure that arranging marriages for her children and grandchildren in the royal houses of Europe would insure a lasting peace; after all, the countries would be tied by blood and relatives would never fight each other. Her first “power pairing” was the marriage of her eldest child, Victoria (“Vicky”), the Princess Royal, with Prince Frederick of Prussia, the cream of the German royal houses:

“As the royal couple departed London at the end of January [1858] during a heavy snowfall, the populace of that city still turned out onto the streets to cheer and chant, “God save the Prince and Bride! God keep their lands allied!”

Frederick III of Prussia and his wife Princess Vicky. Undated photo, Ca early to mid1860s.

Frederick III of Prussia and his wife Princess Vicky. Undated photo, Ca early to mid1860s.

Twelve months later, Princess Vicky was in labor with her first child. Her mother had sent Scottish doctor Sir James Clark to Berlin to assist the German obstetrician Eduard Martin and, specifically, to administer to Vicky the “blessed chloroform,” the new miracle drug that the Queen had discovered and that had so eased the pain of her last two deliveries (children #8 and 9).

However, chloroform was not to be the solution for her daughter. For Vicky,

“The entire experience was ghastly….[D]espite the fact that she inhaled chloroform for hours on end, the birth was extremely painful….Dr. Martin had to work under her long flannel skirt so that royal decency prevailed.” (2)

The chloroform, “two-thirds of a bottle,” rendered Vicky insensible to help the doctors, who found themselves in a deadly position. The baby was coming out bottom first, in breech position, with its arms stretched over its head. The umbilical cord was being crushed by the head in the birth canal. The odds were stacked against a successful vaginal delivery: In that same year in Germany, 98% of breech births were stillborn. The doctors would not take a knife to a royal princess; besides, a Caesarean would have killed her. It would be another 40 years before that procedure would be performed in a clinic.

Dr. Martin reached into the birth canal and pulled the baby’s legs out. Then he reached deep inside to pull the left arm through and pull the body out by rotating it. The motion pulled the baby out but the “nerve complex in the neck was torn” and the baby suffered from fetal asphyxia. (3)

The baby lay motionless. The doctor’s report said that, “the baby was seemingly dead to a high degree.” Vicky was exhausted. It had been ten hours since her waters broke.

Then the baby cried.

“It’s alive and it’s a prince!” her mother-in-law wrote Queen Victoria.

The newborn boy was a royal prince and second in line to the Prussian throne. His name was Wilhelm, William in English, as he was half-English, half-German in blood.

Three days would pass before a nursemaid would mention that there was a mysterious crease between Wilhelm’s left shoulder and arm. The left arm was permanently paralyzed, caused by the pressure exerted on the shoulder during the delivery.

Treatment for Wilhelm

Vicky was devastated that her son, heir to the Prussian throne, should be handicapped. To be Prussian in 1859 was to be independent, manly, and warlike, not weak and crippled. Prussian men, like the statesman Otto von Bismarck, fought duels often with the intent to get slashed across the cheek (preferably the left one), get a clean-cut wound that gaped wide into a beautiful scar, rub salt into it to make it stand out, then boast how you got it.

An 1896 picture of a German Corpsstudent (Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, 1877-1964), showing an extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones, badges of honor at the time.

An 1896 picture of a German Corpsstudent (Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, 1877-1964), showing an extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones, badges of honor at the time.

“The idea of his remaining a cripple haunts me,” Vicky wrote Queen Victoria regarding Wilhelm.

Vicky was determined to fix Wilhelm’s left arm, to make it work, to make him fit to be a king, in the Prussian way. Of course, she and the doctors didn’t know that his arm was permanently maimed and useless and that nothing could be done to change that. The nerves were so damaged that the muscles didn’t work. At adulthood, his left arm would be six inches shorter than his right and his hand smaller. His left arm locked stiff at the elbow. The condition is known as Erb’s Palsy.

(Kaiser) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany and his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Note that Wilhelm's paralyzed left arm is hidden from sight. 1860s

(Kaiser) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany and his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Note that Wilhelm’s paralyzed left arm is hidden from sight. 1860s

In Germany in 1859, there was a lot of alternative medical experimentation. When Wilhelm was six months old, his doctors began applying an odd poultice to his left arm. In his presence, they slaughtered a live hare (big rabbit) and tied the flesh of the dead animal, still warm, to the baby’s left arm, hoping that the vitality of the animal would transfer to Wilhelm. This they did twice a week for years.

Later, they discovered that Wilhelm’s head was tilting, so they created “Wilhelm’s Machine,” as his mother called it: a barbaric, head stretching device that consisted of a metal rod run up his back, attached at the waist by a belt with a harness that strapped across his head. At the back of his head was a screw they tightened to stretch the head up straight.

The "head stretching machine" was used to correct Kaiser Wilhelm's torticollis: his head was pulled to one side by a birth defect. The drawing is by his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia, in a letter sent to her mother Queen Victoria. 1860s

The “head stretching machine” was used to correct Kaiser Wilhelm’s torticollis: his head was pulled to one side by a birth defect. The drawing is by his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia, in a letter sent to her mother Queen Victoria. 1860s

They galvanized his left arm periodically with electric jolts. They cut muscles in his neck. They applied stretching machines to his arm.

They tied his good arm behind him to try to force the left one to work. Of course it didn’t.

His mother made him ride a pony a lot. He would fall off because he had a poor sense of balance, maybe due to the ear infections he had frequently, or because of brain damage at birth.

While his mother’s intent was to prepare Wilhelm to be fit for the throne, these barbaric and medieval procedures had only served to traumatize and depress Wilhelm.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia. Ca. 1871.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia. Ca. 1871.

The camera had just been invented and photographs were the rage. The public wanted to see its future king. But Wilhelm’s disability was an embarrassment, something to hide. In photographs, props such as capes, swords, gloves, books, and guns were used to disguise the withered arm. Sometimes he held the left arm up with the right hand.

 Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 4, visits his beloved "Granny" (Queen Victoria) at her Scottish estate at Balmoral. Someone has costumed him carefully so as not to reveal his lame left arm. 1863.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 4, visits his beloved “Granny” (Queen Victoria) at her Scottish estate at Balmoral. Someone has costumed him carefully so as not to reveal his lame left arm. 1863.

By the age of 12, Vicky stopped trying to find a cure.As Vicky had more children, she showered her love on her new children, rejecting her damaged son. He suffered deeply. He became filled with rage and prone to violent tantrums.

Kaiser Wilhelm on his 10th birthday, 1869. The gloves are used in an attempt to make his left arm look longer. After seeing the print, it was ordered destroyed but one coy remained.

Kaiser Wilhelm on his 10th birthday, 1869. The gloves are used in an attempt to make his left arm look longer. After seeing the print, it was ordered destroyed but one copy remained.

Wilhelm began to hate the English. His mother was English. An English doctor had crippled him. As he grew up, he would become more and more Prussianized. He would reject the liberal democratic principles favored by his parents and fall under the influence of his German tutor and Otto von Bismarck in favor of aggressive, autocratic rule finding power in military force.

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Prussia, 1902

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Prussia, 1902

In 1914, he would have his revenge on his mother and England because, by then, he would be the world leader, Kaiser (Emperor, King) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany (1859-1941), whose bellicose (bellicose: demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight) policies would help to bring about World War I.  Three royal cousins –  the leaders of Russia, England, and Germany – would be at terrible war with one another.

Queen Victoria, called “the Grandmother of Europe,” had not lived to see her matchmaking plan to unite Europe through royal marriages fall far afield of its mark. Tens of millions of people would die because of Kaiser Wilhelm and Europe would be devastated. Relatives, history has shown, do fight against one another.

(1) wiki: Caesarean Delivery

(2) Rohl, John. The Kaiser and His Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 .

(3) Rohl, John. Kaiser Wilhelm: A Concise Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

 

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President Barack Obama dons a tiara with the Girl Scouts. May 2014

President Barack Obama dons a tiara with the Girl Scouts from Tulsa, OK, during a White House Science Fair. May 2014. Photo by Pete Souza.

Tulsa Girl Scouts were able to convince President Obama to break one of his cardinal rules and wear something on his head for a group shot: a tiara.  Last April, the Navy football team tried to get the Commander-in-Chief to do the same thing but with different headgear – a custom-made football helmet – but they were unsuccessful. Obama was not putting on that helmet.

The President explained at the time why he accepted the football helmet but declined to put it on:

“Here’s the general rule: You don’t put stuff on your head if you’re President. That’s Politics 101. You never look good wearing something on your head.”

In refusing to put on the football helmet, Obama follows in John F. Kennedy’s footsteps (“Hatless Jack“) and avoids creating his own Dukakis in the tank moment. He was not putting on a helmet, no way!

Former Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis dons a helmet and drives a tank for a photo op. Sept. 13, 1988.

Former Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis dons a helmet and drives a tank for a photo op. Sept. 13, 1988.

Mike Dukakis was the Democratic presidential nominee running against GOP George H. Bush in the 1988 Presidential Election. His political advisors convinced him to drive a tank wearing a helmet for a photo op. They believed the image would help counter his image as being soft on defense.

The photograph made Dukakis look ridiculous and the GOP spin doctors, Lee Atwater in particular, lost no time using it in anti-Dukakis ads. Most people believe it cost Dukakis the election. Bush won by a landslide. People have compared Dukakis in a tank to Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Dukakis defended this gaffe saying, years later, at least I didn’t vomit on a Japanese minister! (as President Bush did at a state dinner.) Sour grapes, indeed.

 

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John F. Kennedy loved to eat at Howard Johnson restaurants:

Whenever he saw one on the campaign trail, we’d have to stop so he could duck in, order two hot dogs and a soft drink,” said photographer Stanley Tretick, who covered the 1960 presidential campaign for United Press International. Kennedy was the democratic candidate.

1960 Presidential Campaign Sticker

1960 Presidential Campaign Sticker

Once Tretick almost got a candid shot of Kennedy eating a hotdog. Kennedy was sitting in his car. Tretick aimed his camera but

He [Kennedy] slid under the dashboard so I couldn’t see him,” recalled Tretick. Then Kennedy wolfed down his lunch undisturbed. (1)

Kennedy thought such photographs – politicians eating hot dogs, for example – were “corny.” He cared immensely about his image. Kennedy studiously avoided being photographed eating, drinking, combing his hair, or wearing any one of the endless hats – sombreros, cowboy, Native American headdresses –  given to him while on the campaign trail. He generally refused to put on the hats, except a hard hat. Heavy laborers – miners, electricians, factory workers – “went big” for him and he appreciated their acceptance.

Senator John F. Kennedy wears a hardhat. May 1959

Senator John F. Kennedy (l.) wears a hardhat. May 1959

THE RICE HAT

Below is the rare photo in which Kennedy looks a little silly. It was taken before he had actually declared his candidacy for president. It was October 1959 and he was Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts. He and his wife Jackie were guests at the International Rice Festival in Crowley, Louisiana. Kennedy was drumming up interest in a presidential run.

Kennedy is wearing a rice hat. I’d like to think that, the next day, Kennedy saw this picture in a local newspaper and thought, “Woah! I’ve got to be more careful when I actually do declare my candidacy! If I look this dopey, I’ll never beat Dick Nixon!” I’d like to think that this picture taught him the lesson he needed to eschew wearing hats in photos that would go viral.

Senator John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie at the Rice Festival, Crowley, Louisiana. October 1959

Senator John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie at the Rice Festival, Crowley, Louisiana. October 1959. Reggie Family Archives.

Three years into his presidency and the president’s aversion to wearing hats was legendary. But that didn’t stop the hatmakers from forcing hats on him everywhere he went.

Here’s YouTube footage of John Kennedy refusing to put on a cowboy hat given to him at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Fort Worth, Texas, on the last day of his life. He enters the ballroom at 9:45 on the tape and he jovially refuses to wear the hat at 45:45.

In three hours he would be dead. The hat was never found.

(1) Kelley, Kitty. Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick’s Iconic Images of the Kennedys. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012.

 

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American journalist and author Kitty Kelley (b. 1942)

American journalist and author Kitty Kelley (b. 1942)

Writer Kitty Kelley always wondered what her photographer friend Stanley Tretick kept in his Marine Corps locker that he used as a coffee table in his study. One day she asked him what was inside.

Nude pictures,” he told her, winking.

She took him at his word and thought no more about it. The two had been friends since 1981 but it wasn’t until 1999, when Tretick died, that Kelley found out what was really in the battered old trunk, as Tretick had left it to her in his will.

Inside she discovered a trove of keepsakes from Tretick’s days of photographing President John F. Kennedy for United Press International and Look magazine.

American photographer Stanley Tretick (l.) photographs President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office, 1962. (Abbie Rowe, JFK Library and Museum)

American photographer Stanley Tretick (l.) photographs President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office, 1962. (Abbie Rowe, JFK Library and Museum)

Among the signed photographs of the president and his wife, Jackie, handwritten notes and letters, and Kennedy buttons and bumper stickers was this PT-109 boat tie clasp that JFK had given Tretick when he followed him in his 1960 presidential campaign. (1)

JFK PT 109 boat pin

JFK PT 109 boat pin

The 1960 Kennedy presidential campaign distributed this boat pin as a reminder of Kennedy’s WWII military service aboard the patrol torpedo boat PT-109.

Patrol Torpedo 109 commanded by John F. Kennedy at far right. 1943

Patrol Torpedo 109 commanded by John F. Kennedy at far right. 1943

On the starless, moonless night of August 1, 1943, Lieutenant Kennedy was at the helm of PT-109, cruising the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific to spot Japanese warships, when:

At about 2:30 in the morning, a shape loomed out of the darkness three hundred yards off PT-109’s starboard bow.”(2)

It was the Japanese destroyer the Amagiri, cruising at top speed. It rammed the PT-109 just forward of the forward starboard torpedo tube, ripping away the starboard aft side of the boat, and cutting the boat in two.

Painting of the August 2, 1943 sinking of PT-109 by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. By Gerard Richardson. Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum

Painting of the August 2, 1943 sinking of PT-109 by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. By Gerard Richardson. Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.

The extreme impact tossed Kennedy around the cockpit. Most of the crew were knocked into the water. Two died; two were injured. Fully expecting the boat to explode into flames, Kennedy ordered his crew to abandon ship.

The eleven survivors took to the water and struck out swimming for an islet three-and-a-half miles away.

Lieutenant Kennedy was a strong swimmer. He had been on the swim team at Harvard University. He saved one of his men by towing him ashore with a lifejacket strap clenched between his teeth. He was the first of his crew to reach the island.

Six days later, islanders scouting for the Allies on Naru Island found the men and sent for help, delivering the following SOS message Kennedy had scratched into the husk of a green coconut:

NAURO (sic) ISL
COMMANDER . . . NATIVE KNOWS
POS’IT . . . HE CAN PILOT . . . 11 ALIVE
NEED SMALL BOAT . . . KENNEDY

Despite the proximity of the Japanese patrols, the crew was rescued without incident and the men reached the U.S. base at Rendova on the Solomon Islands on August 8, 1943.

PT-109 Collision August 1943 (by Philg88; Attribution: Wikimedia Foundation)

PT-109 Collision August 1943 (by Philg88; Attribution: Wikimedia Foundation)

John F. Kennedy receives the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his courage in the PT-109 incident. 1943

John F. Kennedy receives the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his courage in the PT-109 incident. 1943

Upon the crew’s return, Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his leadership and courage. For injuries suffered, he also qualified for a Purple Heart.

(1) Kelley, Kitty. Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick’s Iconic Images of the Kennedys. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012.

(2) John F. Kennedy Memorial Library and Museum online

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In the 1950s, Audrey Hepburn's face was plastered on magazines across the globe. She was a big hit. She was fresh. Harper's Bazaar, 1956

In the 1950s, Audrey Hepburn’s face was splashed on magazines across the globe. She was a big hit. She was fresh. She had style. Harper’s Bazaar, 1956

Readers, at the beginning of this year, I had entertained the idea of writing a juvenile biography of Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) and the five years she spent in Nazi-occupied Holland as an underground resistance worker. Having read many biographies on Audrey, I was familiar with the yarns about her being a courier for the Dutch Resistance movement against the German occupation and participating in clandestine dance performances to raise money for the cause.

I must say that, after scouring tons of resources -bios, interview transcripts, old Hollywood magazine articles – I am not sure that Audrey actually participated in any underground activities to fight back against the Germans. To begin with, she was only eleven years old when the war started and sixteen when it ended. Her name does not appear – nor does her mother’s – on any government list of resistance activists.

Audrey’s Real World War II Experience

The fact that Audrey did not work in the Dutch Resistance in WWII should not detract from the knowledge that the war took a great toll on Audrey’s physical, mental, and emotional health. She suffered from the horrors of war like any other citizen in a war zone. Germans were everywhere with guns with bayonets and barking attack dogs. Everyone’s liberties were restricted. There was no way to get real news as the newspapers were controlled by the Nazis and filled with propaganda. The BBC in England broadcast reliable news but the Nazis confiscated radios. Audrey saw people executed in the streets and Jewish families loaded into cattle cars bound for death camps.

German Nazis round up Dutch Jews for deportation to Poland's death camps. WWII. Photo undated.

German Nazis round up Dutch Jews for deportation to Poland’s death camps. WWII. Photo undated.

One of her brothers went into hiding to avoid being deported to a German labor camp. The other brother was deported to Germany. Her own uncle was arrested, imprisoned, then murdered as a reprisal against saboteurs. Sometimes 900 planes a day flew over Arnhem, German, American, and British planes, often engaging in wicked dogfights and crashing nearby. The Battle of Arnhem raged in the streets of the city and outlying towns.

In the winter of 1944-1945, 20,000 Dutch people died of starvation. There was no food to eat. Schools shut down. The trains were not running so no food was being delivered.  The people subsisted on a diet of 500 calories a day. They were reduced to eating bread made from flour from crushed tulip bulbs.  That “Hunger Winter,” there was no wood to build a fire to warm even one room in the house. It was a very desperate time, with the Germans taking over people’s houses and forcing large groups of people to huddle together in small dwellings.

Dutch people strip the tram rails out of the street to use for firewood. This was the last year of the war, a desperate time of scant food and resources known at "The Hunger Winter," 1944-45.

Dutch people strip the tram rails out of the street to use for firewood. This was the last year of the war, a desperate time of scant food and resources known at “The Hunger Winter,” 1944-45.

Audrey almost died from starvation. Her body, adolescent at the time, did not develop adequately and never fully recovered from the deprivations. Her rib cage was underdeveloped, and she suffered from an eating disorder all her life. She was so malnourished that her ankles swelled up and she could barely walk. She retained stretch marks on her ankles from where the skin was stretched from the edema. She suffered from anemia and respiratory problems, too.

Nazis required all Dutch people over the age of 15 to carry an i.d. card. Here is Audrey's at age 15. Her card doesn't bear the dreaded letter, J, for Jew, which would mark her for deportation to the east for gassing at Auschwitz. 1944

Nazis required all Dutch people over the age of 15 to carry an i.d. card. Here is Audrey’s at age 15. Her card doesn’t bear the dreaded letter, J, for Jew, which would mark her for deportation to the east for gassing at Auschwitz. 1944

For a long time after the war was over, she had no stamina. She would go on eating binges, as she herself said: she couldn’t just eat one spoonful out of the jelly jar. She had to eat and eat until the jar was empty! She would then get fat, then diet herself back to rail thinness so she could compete in the worlds of ballet, modeling, stage, and screen. She forever was nervous, adored chocolate most of all, worked hard, and chain smoked, dying of cancer at the relatively young age of 63.

What They Tried to Make us Believe about Audrey’s War Time

In interviews, Audrey did not volunteer that she was a resistance worker. She didn’t really talk about the war days. Those stories were mostly generated in the fifties by her Hollywood publicists, largely appearing in popular magazines such as Modern Screen and Photoplay. Although the stories were mostly false, they entered the public lore, were repeated in article after article, and thus acquired an undeserved air of authenticity. Some of the stories include:

  •  Audrey helped a downed Allied pilot in the woods. She encountered a German patrol on the way and pretended to just be picking flowers.
  • Audrey was almost deported by the Germans.
  • Audrey hid in a basement for a month with only a few apples to eat to avoid being picked up by a Nazi patrol who wanted her for a cook.
  • Audrey delivered illegal newspapers on her bicycle.
  • Audrey danced in blacked-out homes to an audience that didn’t clap for fear they would be discovered by the Nazis (Audrey claims this part is true; how many times did she do it, though, once? Also, her ballet teacher was a Dutch Nazi, so I doubt she would have approved of Audrey dancing for the Resistance.)

However, this resistance worker that braved life and limb for country and kin did not exist except in magazine articles. That Audrey Hepburn was a invention of Hollywood’s.

The irony is that Audrey’s World War II experience needed no embellishment. It is a tale of great endurance, of courage in the face of daily fear.

The lies about her involvement with the Dutch Resistance weren’t Audrey’s fault. Myth making was show business in the fifties. Hollywood wanted control. Hollywood wanted its leading ladies squeaky clean and, if they could keep her that way, Audrey was going to be a big star.

February 12, 1952 Look Magazine featuring rising Hollywood star, Audrey Hepburn

February 12, 1952 Look Magazine featuring rising Hollywood star, Audrey Hepburn

The Hollywood image machine went into overdrive creating the myth of Perfect Audrey, the Resistance Worker, to cover up the embarrassing truth about her past and her roots. They claimed her father was an international banker (a lie) and that her mother was a Dutch noblewoman (which was true, but no one mentioned that she liked rich playboys). Hollywood created this myth because Audrey Hepburn had a lot of skeletons rattling around in her closet. As it turns out, her parents – the Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra and her British husband Joseph Anthony Ruston — did some very bad things with some very bad people before and during World War II. And neither of them was a decent parent to little and lovely Audrey.

Audrey Hepburn's father in the Alps, 1927: Joseph Anthony Victor Ruston (later Hepburn-Ruston)

Audrey Hepburn’s father in the Alps, 1927: Joseph Anthony Victor Ruston (later Hepburn-Ruston)

The Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra and daughter, Audrey Ruston (Hepburn) ca. 1935

The Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra and daughter, Audrey Ruston (Hepburn) ca. 1935

In 1953, Audrey won the Best Actress Oscar for her debut American film, “Roman Holiday.”

Even a hint of scandal would have jeopardized Audrey’s budding career; Americans had no stomach for Nazis. So the Hollywood image makers hid the truth.

What Her Parents Were Really Like

The truth can now be told: Audrey’s parents were devotees of the notorious British fascist, Sir Oswald Mosley, a Hitler wannabe, whose followers were called the Blackshirts (the British Union of Fascists or BUF). Mosley, like Hitler, blamed the Jews for all the problems Britain faced. There was no truth to this monstruous lie, but this is how fascists always derive their short-term power, by turning one group of citizens against another.

ad Mosley Speaks October 29, 1938_ACTION. No. 141, Page EfcvcrtIn October 1934, Mosley was losing steam politically so, in order to keep his following and funding, he ramped up the anti-Semitic rhetoric. At the Albert Hall in London, he addressed a huge crowd, saying,

I openly and publicly challenge the Jewish interest in this country commanding commerce, commanding the press, commanding the cinema, commanding the City of London, commanding sweatshops.” (1)

Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts march to stir up hatred against British Jews and Communists. 1936

Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts march to stir up hatred against British Jews and Communists. 1936

What Audrey’s Parents Did for Her Sixth Birthday

Audrey Ruston (Hepburn) ca. 1936

Audrey Ruston (Hepburn) ca. 1936

Audrey Ruston Hepburn turned six years old on May 4, 1935, in Brussels, Belgium, but neither of her parents were there with her to celebrate. Ella and “Joe” were touring Germany with a delegation from Mosley’s BUF. They were there to observe what a wonderful job the Nazis had done in restoring the German economy. Along with the infamous Unity Mitford of England, Hitler’s lackey, they toured autobahns, factories, schools, and housing developments.

Adolf Hitler and British citizen and devotee, Unity Mitford. photo undated, ca. 1938

Adolf Hitler and British citizen and devotee, Unity Mitford. photo undated, ca. 1938

Then Audrey’s parents met Hitler himself at the Nazis’ Brown House headquarters in Munich. A photo was taken of Ella in front of the Brown House, showing her with her friends Unity, Pam, and Mary Mitford. Upon her return, Ella put the photo in a silver frame and displayed it proudly in her home.

Shortly after Audrey’s parents returned from Germany, her father and mother had a terrible argument. Audrey’s father walked out on the family, leaving her, her mother, and her two half-brothers to fend for themselves. (This was Ella’s second marriage). Some said Joe was a big drinker and that had caused the split-up. Others said he was a womanizer, with a lover or two on the side. Worse, it was rumored that the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina had spoken to Ella’s father, the Baron, about Joe’s embarrassing politics and told him to tell Ella to end the marriage.

Chances are, though, that Joe just wanted to be free of domestic entanglements to pursue his rabid anti-Communist agenda. At that time, he was very active in the Belgian fascist party, the Rexists. He would soon divide his time between Belgium and England.

Audrey remembers her mother sobbing for days on end, mourning the loss of yet another husband. But Ella must have recovered herself fairly quickly because, four months later, she was back in Germany with the Mitford sisters, this time, to witness the military pageantry of a Nuremberg Rally (and have a quick fling with the sexy and much younger journalist Micky Burn).

British citizens at the Nuremberg Rally, Germany, ca. 1935-35. Second from left is Diana Mitford, who marries Sir Oswald Mosley. Third from left is journalist Michael ("Micky") Burn.

British citizens at the Nuremberg Rally, Germany, ca. 1935-35. Second from left is Diana Mitford, who marries Sir Oswald Mosley. Third from left is journalist Michael (“Micky”) Burn.

Upon her return to Brussels, Ella wrote a gushing editorial in The Blackshirt, extolling Hitler’s virtues:

At Nuremberg…What stuck me most forcibly amongst the million and one impressions I received there were (a) the wonderful fitness of every man and woman one saw, on parades or in the street; and (b) the refreshing atmosphere around one, the absolute freedom from any form of mental pressure or depression.

These people certainly live in spiritual comfort….

From Nuremberg I went to Munich….I never heard an angry word….They [the German people] are happy….

Well may Adolf Hitler be proud of the rebirth of this great country…” (2)

Ella’s article appeared in column two of The Blackshirt. To its right, in column three, appeared this anti-Jewish propaganda fiction purportedly written by someone named “H. Saunders”:

I walked along Oxford-street, Piccadilly, and Coventry-street last Saturday and I thought I had stepped into a foreign country.

A Jew converted to Christianity becomes a hidden Jew, and a greater menace. Jews have conquered England without a war….” (2)

What Ella did Next

In 1939, Baroness Ella van Heemstra, now divorced, moved with Audrey to Arnhem, the Netherlands, where her parents lived. Ella’s noble and esteemed father, A.J.A.A. Baron van Heemstra, had been the mayor of Arnhem from 1910-1920.

Audrey’s maternal grandparents, Baroness Elbrig van Asbeck and Baron Aernoud van Heemstra, pictured in Suriname (the Dutch East Indies) where the Baron was governor 1920-28.

Then, in May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Ella and Audrey would spend the entire war years in Arnhem, (1940-1945) yet they would not live with Audrey’s grandparents much of the time.

In May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Sadly, there were Dutch citizens sympathetic to the Nazi Party. Here they provide the invading troops with the Nazi salute. These Nazi sympathizers were called "NSBers." They were collaborators and were always spying for the Nazis. May 1940

In May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Sadly, there were Dutch citizens sympathetic to the Nazi Party. Here they provide the invading troops with the Nazi salute. These Nazi sympathizers were called “NSBers.” They were collaborators and were always spying for the Nazis. May 1940

Although he had, at an earlier time, been somewhat pro-German in his outlook, the Baron van Heemstra had changed his views. When the Nazis occupied Arnhem, they tried to coerce him to become the director of a disgraceful charity called Winterhulp. However, the Baron refused the post. Stung, the Germans struck back. As a reprisal, early in 1942, they confiscated many of his lands, houses, bank accounts, stocks, and even jewelry. German soldiers were quartered in his grand home at Zijpendaal and he was forced to move to his country homes in the small villages of Velp and Oosterbeek.

Castle Zijpendaal (or Zypendaal in Arnhem, the Netherlands. This was the home of Audrey's maternal grandparents.

Castle Zijpendaal (or Zypendaal) in Arnhem, the Netherlands. This was the home of Audrey’s maternal grandparents.

Ella, on the other hand, had none of her father’s integrity. She liked to drink and she liked to have a good time. The way she saw it, the Germans had all the good things that she lacked. Unlike the average Dutch person, the German officers drank real coffee and real tea and champagne. They had cars, too, and petrol to put in them, whereas the Dutch citizens couldn’t even take their bicycles out into the street without the Germans commandeering them. Ella liked the good life and the German officers could give it to her. She openly fraternized with them, having them into the family home, and going out with them in their cars, even crossing the border and driving into Germany for entertainment. She even organized a cultural evening in Dusseldorf, Germany, along with the regional head of the NSDAP (the Dutch Nazi Party). She was ruthless in pursuit of pleasure.

The illegal press of the Dutch Resistance suspected the Baroness of being an agent for the Gestapo (the Nazi secret police). She worked for the German Red Cross in the Diaconessenhuis (hospital) in Arnhem, nursing wounded German soldiers. Before the war, Ella had already displayed a Nazi swastika and a German eagle on the wall of her house in Arnhem. (3) She was the worst of the worst. And this is the home and the atmosphere in which she raised sensitive Audrey.

Hatred ran so high against the van Heemstra family – because of Ella’s Nazi sympathies and her collaboration with the Germans – that, when the Allies liberated Arnhem in May, 1945, the Baron had to hang his head in shame. He felt compelled to leave town and move to the Hague. (4)

Ella van Heemstra and Audrey Hepburn, ca. 1946.

Ella van Heemstra and Audrey Hepburn, ca. 1946.

With the war behind them, Ella concentrated her energies in forging ties with people who could further daughter Audrey’s career in becoming a prima ballerina, then a model, followed by a film star. They lived in Amsterdam for a time and then The Hague before settling in London.

Audrey Hepburn as a model. 1952

Audrey Hepburn as a model. 1952

What Joe Had Been Doing

Meanwhile, in the time since Audrey’s father had left his family, he had managed to get in a lot of legal and financial trouble. From 1935-1940, “Joe” Ruston was involved in multiple questionable business transactions that kept landing his name in the news in the Netherlands, England, and Belgium. In 1938, for example, he was being investigated by both the Belgium Parliament and the British House of Commons for his involvement in a corporation with financial ties to the Third Reich:

Mr. Anthony Ruston, a director of the European Press Agency, Ltd. [was] alleged in the Belgian parliament to have received £110,000 from German industrial chiefs in close touch with Dr. Goebbels [Nazi propaganda minister] to publish an anti-communist newspaper.” (5)

His two business partners at the European Press Agency were a Nazi lawyer and a member of the Gestapo.

Curiously, a year later, Anthony Ruston officially renounced and abandoned the name Anthony Joseph Victor Ruston and adopted the new name of Anthony Joseph Victor HEPBURN-Ruston. (6) Ruston claimed to have had a Hepburn relative with blood ties to James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, the fourth husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. But the claim was bogus. True, there was a marriage to a Hepburn in his family line but there was no issue of which Ruston is kin.

Perhaps Ruston was attempting to prove his Britishness by connecting himself with a Scottish king. War clouds were gathering over Britain and Ruston was in hot water for his connections with Germany.

In June 1940, the Battle of Britain had begun, and England was earnestly at war with Germany. Anthony Ruston was arrested and imprisoned in England under Defense Regulation 18B, as he was considered an enemy of the state for his membership in “the British Union of Fascists…and as an associate of foreign fascists.” (7) He was interned for the duration of WWII, after which he settled in Ireland.

Sources:

(1) Dalley, Jan. Diana Mosley: A Biography of the Glamorous Mitford Sister who Became Hitler’s Friend and Married the Leader of Britain’s Fascists. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. p. 195

(2)At Nuremberg,” The Blackshirt, October 11, 1935.

(3) 1557 Documentatiecollectie Tweede Wereldoorlog. Inventory number 247 Audrey Hepburn.  Gelders Archive. Arnhem, the Netherlands.

(4) Heemstra, Aarnoud Jan Anne Aleid Baron (1871-1957). Huygens: Biographical Dictionary of the Netherlands. (online)

(5) “Banned Nazi Barrister ‘Plays Violin Beautifully,'” Daily Express, March 31, 1938. (Manchester, UK newspaper with leading circulation in the 1930s)

(6) The London Gazette, April 21, 1939.

(7) Public Record, reference # KV 2/3190. The National Archives, Kew, UK

For more on Audrey Hepburn, click here.

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Diana Vreeland, Empress of Fashion, 1903-1989

Before her career as editor and columnist at fashion magazines Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Diana Vreeland, like other society women of her class, ran a little lingerie shop near Berkeley Square in London. She often traveled to Paris where she would buy her clothes, notably, Chanel. She remembered one such trip in the summer of 1932:

“One night in Paris, after I was married, a friend and I went to a little theatre above Montmartre to see a German[-French] movie called “L’Atlantide,” with a wonderful actress in it called Brigitte Helm, who played the Queen of the Lost Continent. It was the middle of July. It was hot. The only seats in the theatre were in the third balcony, under the rafters, where it was even hotter. There were four seats in a row, and we took two.

L'Atlantide poster 1932

“We sat there, the movie started…and I became totally intoxicated by it. I was mesmerized! …I was absorbed by these three lost Foreign Legion soldiers with their camels, their woes…they’re so tired, they’re delirious with dehydration…And then you see the fata morgana [mirage]. That means that if you desire a woman, you see a woman, if you desire water, you see water – everything you dream, you see. But you never reach it. It’s all an illusion.

“Then…a sign of an oasis! There’s a palm…and more palms. Then they’re in the oasis, where they see Brigitte Helm, this divine looking woman seated on a throne – surrounded by cheetahs! The cheetahs bask in the sun. She fixes her eyes on the soldiers. One of them approaches her. She gives him a glass of champagne and he drinks it. Then she takes the glass from him, breaks it, cuts his throat with it…

Brigette Helm as the Queen of Atlantis, the Lost Continent, shown here with one of her screen cheetahs.  "L'Atlantide" (1932)

Brigette Helm as the Queen of Atlantis, the Lost Continent, shown here with one of her screen cheetahs. “L’Atlantide” (1932)

“This goes on and on. I hadn’t moved an inch. At some point I moved my hand…to here…where it stayed for the rest of the movie. I was spellbound because the mood was so sustained. I was sucked in, seduced by this thing of the desert, seduced by the Queen of the Lost Continent, the wickedest woman who had ever lived…and her cheetahs!

The essence of movie-ism.

“Then…the lights went on, and I felt a slight movement under my hand. I looked down – and it was a cheetah! And beside the cheetah was Josephine Baker!”

Josephine Baker was a hit in Paris cabarets, singing, dancing, and goofing around. In the 1930s, she was the most successful American entertainer in Paris. She got rich fast and was a superstar. She is wearing her notorious silly but erotic banana skirt. ca. 1925

When Josephine Baker began performing her exotic, erotic, and peculiar dances in Paris cabarets in 1925, she became an instant hit, a superstar. In the thirties, she was the most successful American entertainer working in France. She was known as “The Black Pearl” and “The Bronze Venus.” Whether sitting high up in a giant bird cage covered with peacock feathers or dancing semi-nude in a skirt of dangling fabric bananas, audiences were captivated by her infectious charm. ca. 1925

Meanwhile, back to our story:

Diana Vreeland was chatting with Josephine Baker in the balcony of a hot theater, looking at a cheetah.

Diana says to Josephine:

“‘Oh,” I said, ‘you’ve brought your cheetah to see the cheetahs!’

“Yes,” she said,’ that’s exactly what I did.’

“She was alone with the cheetah on a lead. She was so beautifully dressed.  She was wearing a marvelous little short black skirt and a little Vionnet shirt – no sleeves, no back, no front, just crossed bars on the bias. Don’t forget how hot it was, and, of course, the great thing was to get out of this theatre we were in. The cheetah, naturally, took the lead, and Josephine, with those long black legs, was dragged down three flights of stairs as fast as she could go, and that’s fast.

“Out in the street there was an enormous white-and-silver Rolls-Royce waiting for her. The driver opened the door; she let go of the lead; the cheetah whooped, took one leap into the back of the Rolls, with Josephine right behind; the door closed…and they were off!

…Ah! Style was a great thing in those days.” (1)

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1936) often performed onstage in Paris nightclubs with pet cheetah Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond collar. Sometimes, during a performance, Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage and into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus. Early 1930s. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1936) often performed onstage in Paris nightclubs with pet cheetah Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond collar. Sometimes, during a performance, Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage and into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus. ca. 1931. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Heads turned when entertainer Josephine Baker took her pet cheetah Chiquita on a walk, sometimes down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Ca. 1930

Heads turned when entertainer Josephine Baker took her pet cheetah Chiquita on a walk, sometimes down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Ca. 1930

Sheet music with Josephine Baker and Chiquita

Sheet music with Josephine Baker and Chiquita.

Comparing Josephine Baker to a beautiful Egyptian queen,  artist Pablo Picasso dubbed her “the Nefertiti of Now.” She posed for him in all her glory: “tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, legs of paradise, a smile to end all smiles.” (2)

Gorgeous, talented, and funny Josephine Baker, an original. Undated photo, ca. 1930

Gorgeous, talented, and funny Josephine Baker, an original. Undated photo, ca. 1930

(1)Vreeland, Diana. D.V. New York: Da Capo Press, 1984

(2) Picasso quote

 

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Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, the year she married John Warner. April 1976. Photo: Henry Wynberg

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, the year she married John Warner. April 1976. Photo: Henry Wynberg

Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) was willing to do almost anything to get her seventh husband, Virginia lawyer John Warner, elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978.  To woo voters and the Republican Party leaders, Elizabeth had to prove to be an asset to the campaign. She had to make the transformation from movie queen to political wife. (Readers: For how they got together, read the previous post.)

During their brief courtship, Warner was given cause to worry that she could not make the leap. He recalled inviting Elizabeth to lunch with him in Washington, D.C.. Looking forward to showing her off, he was embarrassed when she appeared at the Bicentennial office (where he was director)

wearing a flowing black silk pajama outfit with a low-cut neckline.” (1)

Then there were her showy jewels, for example, an “eye-popping necklace of…egg-sized canary diamonds and amethysts as big as her fist.” Elizabeth promised her husband she would dress down, cutting down on the diamonds and the décolletage, opulence that would not go over big with plain Southern Virginia folk.

At a British Embassy reception, Queen Elizabeth II of England gets a look at Elizabeth Taylor's famous jewels: the Bulgari Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds from her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Richard Burton. July 1976

At a British Embassy reception, Queen Elizabeth II of England gets a look at Elizabeth Taylor’s famous jewels: the Bulgari Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds from her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Richard Burton. July 1976

The Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds, once part of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection

The Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite of emeralds and diamonds, once part of the Elizabeth Taylor Collection

Besides sacrificing her fashion sense, Elizabeth would set her career aside during this period, appearing in only a handful of films and, then, mostly in cameo roles, requiring only a short stint away from the campaign.

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, wears her signature color, purple, to match her violet eyes. 1977

Elizabeth Taylor, age 44, wears her signature color, purple, to match her violet eyes. 1977

Then there were her friends of the moment, the hard-partying, cocaine-sniffing crowd of the notorious New York disco Studio 54: Liza Minnelli, fashion designer Halston, Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger. Warner steered her away from hanging out with them at the club (although she did install a discotheque at the farm for entertaining them).

Elizabeth Taylor dances with her fashion designer friend Halston at Studio 54. Note that Elizabeth wears a purple pantsuit. Feb. 1978

Elizabeth Taylor dances with her fashion designer friend Halston at Studio 54. Note that Elizabeth wears a purple pantsuit. Feb. 1978

Self-restraint, too, was called into play, if Elizabeth was going to help Warner hit a home run, for Elizabeth was a hot-blooded woman, prone to hard-drinking, cursing, and screaming at photographers trying to shoot her from uncomplimentary angles.

In January, 1977, weeks after returning from honeymooning in Switzerland, Elizabeth and John hit the campaign trail with an appearance at the Hearts of Gold Ball in Richmond, which they reached by Greyhound bus. From here on out, for Elizabeth, it would be a 23-month slog of kissing babies, speechifying, ribbon-cutting, riding in parades, chairing galas, raising funds, eating corn-on-the cob at county fairs, signing autographs, hurling cream pies, and pinning Warner buttons on Democrats. If a college campus had a drama department, she held a seminar for the students and allowed friendly question and answer sessions, unscripted, with no retakes, to which she was accustomed on a movie set. Toward the end of the race, she and Warner put in 12-15 hour days, riding in planes, buses, cars, and trains to reach their destinations.

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor in her favorite purple pantsuit by Halston. 1977

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor in her favorite purple pantsuit by Halston. 1977

Large, enthusiastic crowds turned out to see Elizabeth, accessible to them, no longer protected by bodyguards, as  in her movie stardom days. She shook so many hands that, one day, two blood vessels broke in her hand. That did not slow her down. She continued to shake hands, though her hand was swollen and protected by an elastic bandage. Elizabeth’s bursitis flared up in her shoulder from such rigorous handshaking. She received cortisone injections to help with the pain. Sometimes she campaigned in a wheelchair. But she kept going. She did it because

‘They come to see my wrinkles and pimples, and I don’t disappoint them, do I?’ she laughed. ‘This face has been around a lot of years. People want to see if my eyes really are violet or bloodshot or both. Once they check me out, they can go home and say, ‘I saw Liz Taylor and you know what? She ain’t so hot!'” (1)

At almost every campaign stop, Elizabeth Taylor look-alikes would show up, in big wigs and evening gowns.

Unfortunately, a lot of the people who showed up at rallies came to see if Elizabeth was as obese as it was being reported in the press. The strain of the campaign was beginning to take its toll on her. Her weight had ballooned and she was drinking booze in excess and eating way too much. Joan Rivers was regularly lampooning her with fat jokes on  “The Tonight Show“:

Every time Liz Taylor goes into McDonald’s, the numbers on the sign outside start changing. When she looks up and see five billion, she thinks it’s her weight.”

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, ca. 1978

John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor, ca. 1978

Elizabeth was affected by such cruel commentary. Nevertheless, she continued eating and drinking herself into oblivion. Dinner guests reported seeing her eat, in one sitting, mounds of mashed potatoes drowned in gravy, followed by five rich desserts and countless bottles of champagne. (2) In her defense, she remarked:

‘I am not a monument that pigeons can doo-doo on. I am a living human being, and if I want to eat fried chicken six times a day and can still function, that’s up to me!'” (1)

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner campaign for the U.S. Senate seat. June 2, 1978

In August, 1978, John Warner became the Republic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat from Virginia, when the original nominee was suddenly killed.

John Warner became the Republican nominee for the 1978 U.S. Senate race by a strange circumstance. Richard Obenshain was the nominee but he died in a plane crash. John Warner and wife Elizabeth Taylor are shown here at Obenshain's funeral. Aug. 5, 1978. Photo: Don Long, Richmond Times Dispatch

John Warner became the Republican nominee for the 1978 U.S. Senate race by a strange circumstance. Richard Obenshain was the nominee but he died in a plane crash. John Warner and wife Elizabeth Taylor are shown here at Obenshain’s funeral. Aug. 5, 1978. Photo: Don Long, Richmond Times Dispatch

The general election was on November 7; there were three months to go. The strain of the long and grueling campaign trail was apparent in both of them; tempers frayed and Elizabeth kept eating, eating, and then eating some more. Some campaign leaders worried that Elizabeth’s star appeal was overshadowing the candidate. They considered removing her from the campaign.

On October 12, 1978, three weeks before the election, Elizabeth was to suffer one of the many freak accidents for which she was known. She appeared at a rally at Big Stone Gap, Virginia. The whole countryside was in a dither to see her.

Elizabeth Taylor wore her purple silk Halston pantsuit accessorized with a sumptuous gold necklace studded with amethyst stones the size of cookies and matching drop earrings encrusted with pearls. She had tucked a small bouquet of fresh violets behind one ear. She posed for photo after photo with a smile that was genuine.

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner, center, pose at a campaign rally in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Oct. 12, 1978

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner, center, pose at a campaign rally in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Oct. 12, 1978. Note the purple Halston pantsuit Elizabeth is wearing.

Later that evening, John and Elizabeth stopped for a chicken dinner at Fraley’s Coach House, where Elizabeth took a bite of a fried chicken breast and accidentally swallowed a two-and-a-half inch bone. The bone lodged in her throat. She clutched her neck, barely able to breathe. She tried to cough it up, but in vain. She stuffed some rolls into her mouth to try to push the bone down her throat but it didn’t work. It was clear that she was choking to death. (3) She was rushed to Lonesome Pine Hospital, where a thoracic surgeon inserted a rubber hose down her throat and stuffed the bone down where it dissolved in digestion. She was overnight in the hospital. The next day, she made the headlines:

‘ACTRESS NEARLY CHOKES AT CAMPAIGN RALLY,’ screamed The Washington Star.

Elizabeth Taylor is assisted by her husband, John Warner (r.) as she returns from a hospital stay in Richmond, Va. Oct. 13, 1978

Elizabeth Taylor is assisted from an airplane by her husband, John Warner (r.) as she returns from a hospital stay in Richmond, Va. Oct. 13, 1978

Strangely, it was about this time that a delegation of women who ran the Warner campaign chose to approach Elizabeth and inform her that she could no longer wear purple to John’s rallies. Everyone knows that purple was her signature color. Her legendary eyes were violet. In a 1997 interview with Kevin Sessums, Elizabeth recalled:

‘If the woman is the politician, then it might be quite different. But if you’re wedded to the politician, it’s like your lips are sealed. You are a robot. They even tell you what you can wear. You can imagine how that sat with me! I was told that I—me!—was not allowed to wear purple because it smacked of royalty.’ 

She told Harper’s Bazaar:

‘The Republican women told me, ‘You simply cannot wear the purple pantsuit you’ve been campaigning in anymore.’ I ended up in a tweed suit. Me. Little tweed suits. What I won’t do for love.'”

Twelve days before the U.S. Senate election,Republican women crowd around Elizabeth Taylor Warner at the Meadowbrook Country Club, Richmond. Va.  Oct. 26, 1978.

Twelve days before the U.S. Senate election,Republican women crowd around Elizabeth Taylor Warner at the Meadowbrook Country Club, Richmond. Va. Oct. 26, 1978.

On November 7, John Warner squeaked to victory. Out of 1.2 million votes, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Virginia by only 4,271 votes.  He could not have done it without Elizabeth. Some say that the chicken bone incident moved the public to sympathy for her, swinging the vote in Warner’s favor. Elizabeth joked later

‘I seem to have at least 4, 271 fans in Virginia, so at least I know I pulled my own weight!'” (2)

After the election, the Republican women threw Elizabeth a luncheon in her honor, for all she had done in the campaign. In her Kevin Sessums interview, Elizabeth said she

…put on my purplest Halston pantsuit. I told them the story that the women who ran John Warner’s campaign had forbid me to wear purple. I got up and pointed out one specific woman. I said, ‘That one! Right there!'”

The subjugation of her own ego to John’s for two full years damaged Elizabeth’s self-esteem. There were few movie roles for an aging beauty, especially a puffy one. Elizabeth Taylor, movie star, had lost her self-identity.

John and Elizabeth moved to Washington, D.C., where, on January 16, 1979 in the gallery of the U.S. Senate, John was sworn in with Elizabeth and her mother in attendance. Things looked rosy for the couple at that moment. John and Elizabeth threw each other big Hollywood kisses, but John immediately became consumed by his new job, declaring he would never miss a roll call. Elizabeth was left alone for long stretches of time in their Washington home or Virginia farmhouse, consoling herself with massive quantities of Jack Daniels and chili dogs. She resorted to trips to New York to hang out at Studio 54. Elizabeth liked to have a man around and John wasn’t there for her. Whereas John may have loved Elizabeth, he loved work more.

Elizabeth Taylor, center, hangs out at Studio 54 with singer Liza Minnelli (l.) and First Lady Betty Ford (r.). 1979

Elizabeth Taylor, center, hangs out at Studio 54 with singer Liza Minnelli (l.) and First Lady Betty Ford (r.). 1979

Elizabeth had married John Warner in the hopes that he would give her the roots (and a private life) that she had longed for so much in her hurried life. Instead, she had spent the first two years of their marriage on the campaign trail and in the public eye more than before, if that is possible. Her life was more stressful than ever. As a star, she was used to crushingly cruel movie reviews but nothing could have been as brutal as the punishing ridicule she had received from the media for her weight gain.

Though these years were painful for Elizabeth – she and John Warner would divorce after six years of marriage – her worsening addiction to alcohol, pain pills and food would put her feet firmly on a path that led, in 1983, to a life-changing stay at the Betty Ford Clinic. A new Elizabeth Taylor would emerge from the famous rehab: a savvy and respected politician who would use her high profile celebrity to raise mega millions to combat the deadly disease, AIDS, by creating AMFAR.

Elizabeth Taylor, age 55, looking healthy and trim. 1987

Elizabeth Taylor, age 55, looking healthy and trim. 1987

(1) Kelley, Kitty. Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981.

(2) Heymann, C. David. Liz: An Intimate Portrait of Elizabeth Taylor. New York; Simon & Schuster, 1995.

(3) Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Elizabeth. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2006.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

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