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Readers, be sure to read my preceding posts on Princess Margaret’s October 1979 trip to America. Part One. Part Two. Part Three

Princess Margaret Is greeted by Lady (Bubbles) Rothermere at The Evening News British Film Awards In London. The Princess was the guest of honor and presented “The Major Award For The Year’s Best Film” which went To “Star Wars.” November 1978.  Photo by Evening News/Shutterstock (895422a)

Princess Margaret was in America.

On Monday, Oct. 15, 1979, Princess Margaret (1926-2001) departed Chicago and arrived in Houston, the second stop on her 1979 U.S. tour. She was in America to raise £4,000 in funds for the renovation of London’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. As far as she could tell, things were going swimmingly.

But then, that Tuesday, just five days into her 16-day tour, the Chicago Sun-Times printed an article by gossip columnist, Irv Kupcinet, in which he accused the Princess of saying “The Irish; they’re pigs,” at a Chicago dinner party the previous Saturday. The Princess had been seated at a table with Mayor Jane Byrne of Chicago. According to the journalist,

Mayor Byrne, of Irish descent, “was very incensed…and left the party as soon as possible.”

The Princess was having lunch with her social secretary, Lord Nigel Napier, in Houston, when they learned of the article in the Chicago newspaper. They were aghast. Princess Margaret was scheduled to appear in public that very day and tour the space center, NASA. Lord Napier issued a statement to the press:

“There is no truth in the allegations whatsoever. I was not sitting at the same table with the Princess but she said she did not make that remark. The mayor said ‘goodbye’ to the princess in the nicest possible way. There were no ill feelings at all. We say again there is no truth to the allegations.”

 

Famed heart surgeon, Dr. Denton Cooley, right, explains the preparation of a patient for surgery to Princess Margaret. The Princess is touring the Cardiovascular Center at St. Luke’s Hospital, Houston. The patient is in the surgical suite one floor below. Fort Worth Star Telegram, Oct. 18, 1979. AP photo.

The next day, Princess Margaret toured the renowned Cardiovascular Center at St. Luke’s Hospital, Houston, in which she viewed an open heart surgery. By then, a spokesperson for Mayor Byrne had released a statement that the Princess was referring to the Irish Republican Army terrorists who killed Lord Mountbatten as “pigs.” The Mayor did say that she felt the word, “pigs,” was an unfortunate choice made by the Princess. Strangely, the Mayor speculated further that guests at the weekend party may have misinterpreted a conversation in which she and the Princess talked about dancing and “Irish jigs.”

The journalist Irv Kupcinet was livid to learn of this disingenuous explanation by the Mayor.

“I got my information from a good source right on the scene. Why the hell would they be talking about Irish jigs when they were talking about Lord Mountbatten’s assassination?”

Neither Mayor Byrne’s nor Lord Napier’s repeated statements to the press could stop the wildfire from spreading. Was Mayor Byrne truly being gracious in her many explanations or was she, in her own political way, fanning the flames while seeming to appear gracious? After all, she was Irish. Certainly Irv Kupcinet was complicit in keeping the controversy alive and painting a target on Margaret’s royal back. And Margaret was no help. She never backed down. Self-effacing was not one of her qualities. She continued to deny that she had ever used the words, “The Irish, they’re pigs.”

The issue would not die down. A certain segment of the Irish American community became infuriated. As the controversy grew, and the newspaper articles spread from sea to shining sea, the threat to the Princess’ safety escalated dramatically. Just 27 hours before the Princess landed in Los Angeles—her next stop following Houston— on Thursday, October 18, the Los Angeles Police Department uncovered a plot by a “high-ranking member of the IRA” to assassinate the Princess at the Friday, Oct. 19 dedication of a new Rolls Royce facility in Beverly Hills.

Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Edser was Princess Margaret’s bodyguard at all times. He was armed with a standard Smith and Wesson .45 revolver and had undergone extensive firearm training.

The intelligence had come from Scotland Yard through the U.S. State Department which was quickly relayed to the LAPD. The LAPD had a photo of the suspect which they did not release but there was talk that he went by the name, “The Jackal” and was suspected in the murder of Lord Louis Mountbatten. The hit man had hired a film crew as a cover. He was pretending to be making a documentary on the Princess and wanted photos of her at the caviar and champagne event at the Rolls Royce building. The LAPD conducted a search of a West Los Angeles motel where the suspect had hidden out for two weeks in advance of the Princess’ visit but the room was empty. The security to protect the Princess was heightened. On October 24, 1979, when the Princess was on her way out of the country to the island of Mustique, the Los Angeles Times broke the story in full detail. The article, that ran for several pages, began on Page One, with these headlines:

ASSASSIN SCARE IN L.A.

Protecting the Princess

Report of IRA Death Plot Triggers Massive Security

The Provisional Wing of the IRA responded to the rumor that they were planning to carry out a hit on Princess Margaret, stating coolly that while the Princess was a “legitimate target” for an assassination attempt, such an operation would not be carried out on American soil.

Despite the danger, the Princess went ahead that Friday with the Rolls Royce dedication ceremony, although the police advised her to avoid any of her characteristic side trips on the way, to which she agreed. Linda Gray, famous for portraying the alcoholic “Sue Ellen Ewing” character on the popular Friday night soap opera, “Dallas,” was to join Princess Margaret at the presentation of a plaque. Because there was no bulletproof Rolls Royce limousine in existence, the Princess arrived at the service center in a bulletproof Cadillac limousine, with presidential style security. Along the route to the location, her security detail included an armed motorcycle escort, plain-clothes State Dept. agents, and a helicopter fitted out as air ambulance. Marksmen were situated along the motorcade’s route, according to Capt. Larry Kramer, Chief of LAPD Metropolitan Squad.

For her Los Angeles October 1979 stay, Princess Margaret enjoyed presidential style security, including a motorcade escort of 13 motorcycle police. The Los Angeles Times, Oct. 24, 1979.

Disappointing the assembled crowd at the Rolls Royce plant, Princess Margaret did not linger. She neither chit chatted with the crew nor partook of the tony refreshments. She left after thirty minutes.

Her schedule in Los Angeles was tight. There was a private dinner that same evening, a charity event the next day in the afternoon (Saturday), and, at 8:30 that evening, an intimate dinner party at the Bel Air home of Sue Mengers, the super agent to the A List Hollywood stars.

Hollywood celebrity super agent, Sue Mengers, is shown here with one of her clients, Jack Nicholson. Sue Mengers was besotted with the British royal family. She longed for an invitation to Buckingham Palace.

American celebrity super agent, Sue Mengers, referred to her stars as “My Twinkles.” Shown at center, Sue is joined by actress Faye Dunaway and film producer Robert Evans.

As usual, Margaret had seen Sue’s guest list in advance and had made several changes. She requested that the singer Barry Manilow be invited. Margaret was more at home with show biz types—singers and actors—than with politicians like Mayor Jane Byrne. Plus, she liked men much better than she liked women. She wanted to talk to men, not to women. She was sure that Sue would seat her next to two gorgeous men, whom she could charm. Lord Drogheda (pronounced Droy-da), head of the Royal Opera fundraising committee, who was traveling with her U.S. entourage, thought Princess Margaret was charming. At least he had said just such a thing at the beginning of the tour and to a reporter, no less. His quote had appeared in the newspaper.  Speaking of the Princess and her fundraising tour before it was launched, he was quoted as saying that

“I think it’s rather splendid. She [Princess Margaret] has never done anything like this before in her life. But I think you’ll find that when she goes to these different receptions,the trouble she takes to shake hands with people, and to make an effort with people, is quite remarkable. She is very bright, very perceptive, and has enormous personal charm.” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Oct. 17, 1979)

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READERS: Before reading this post, please read Parts One and Two of Princess Margaret’s Trip to America, 1979.

This family portrait of Princess Margaret and her children, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, 15, and David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley, 17, was released to the press just as the Princess embarked upon her fundraising trip to America to raise money for the renovations to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. The Princess was President of the Royal Ballet. October 1979. Photo by Norman Parkinson.

On October 11, 1979, Princess Margaret (1926-2001) and her entourage landed in Chicago to begin her tour of America to raise funds for the renovation of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, London. As President of the Royal Ballet, she would appear in five cities over a course of sixteen days. She would start off with a stay of five days in Chicago’s Drake Hotel. Upon her arrival, she met with a group of journalists and made her first faux pas. She asked Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Irv Kupcinet, who wrote a syndicated column, “Kup’s Corner” a foolish question.

“Is Richard Daley still mayor of Chicago?”

Kupcinet was aghast. Not only had Daley been dead for three years, two other mayors had been elected since then. Jane Byrne was mayor now. She was the first woman to be elected mayor of a major city in the United States. Byrne was educated (bachelors’ degrees in both biology and chemistry), savvy, and powerful, having begun her political career in the Democratic Party as a volunteer in the 1960 U.S. presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy.

John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States — the youngest ever elected….But perhaps what most set him apart when he was elected was that he was Irish. And even more unthinkable: he was Catholic. His family was built on its faith. His campaign for president was almost crushed by it.

Jane Byrne, too, was Irish and Catholic. All Chicago mayors since 1933 were Irish. Jane, 46, had just returned from a trip to Ireland. She went there after her September 5, 1979, appearance in London at the funeral of Lord Louis Mountbatten, assassinated August 27 by Irish radicals of the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army. Mayor Byrne was part of a ten-member U.S. delegation headed by former New York Governor W. Harriman traveling to England at the request of President Carter. While she was there, Byrne met in Ireland with the Irish Prime Minister Jack Lynch to discuss the current political situation in Ireland and the United Kingdom. She went on to County Mayo to research her family’s Irish roots.

Mayor Jane Byrne of Chicago strums an Irish harp in a Dublin pub. She stopped over in Ireland after representing the U.S. at the September 1979 funeral of “the fallen warrior,” Lord Louis Mountbatten, assassinated by IRA terrorists the previous month. Byrne is in Ireland to research her family genealogy. Chicago Tribune, Sept. 8, 1979.

Sir Nicholas Henderson, newly-appointed as the British ambassador to America by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of England, was traveling with the Princess’ party. He was puzzled as to why Chicago was one of the stops. He wrote in his diary that it was

…not to my mind, an altogether straightforward piece of fund-raising, given that we are in the heart of the Middle West.

Henderson should have been briefed. True, Chicago was in the American Midwest, but the Chicago of 1979 was no longer the cow and pig town of the early Twentieth Century of which, in 1914, American Poet Carl Sandburg immortalized in his poem, “Chicago”:

Chicago 

 

Hog Butcher for the World,

   Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

   Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;

   Stormy, husky, brawling,

   City of the Big Shoulders

An even more disparaging portrayal appeared in print in 1952 in the book, Chicago: The Second City, written by A.J. Liebling, “a disgruntled and displaced New Yorker whose few months’ sojourn in Chicago provided him enough ammunition for a malicious attack on the City of Big Shoulders.”

For the cosmopolitan Mr. Liebling, Chicago consisted of an “exiguous skyscraper core and the vast, anonymous pulp of the city, plopped down by the lakeside like a piece of waterlogged fruit.” Liebling saw no cultural life in Chicago to speak of, no worthwhile theatre, no decent dining spots or nightclubs. To Liebling, the city was a conglomeration of dullards and conventioneers whose idea of a night on the town was a meal of “pig’s ribs” followed by a trip to the nearest strip joint. (1)

In 1954, with the building of its Lyric Opera House, Chicago hoped to distance itself from its former déclassé image as The Hog Butcher of the World where haute cuisine was considered a meal of pig’s ribs. The Lyric Opera House of Chicago is North America’s second-largest opera auditorium, after the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. On Sunday, October 14, Princess Margaret would attend a matinee performance of the Lyric Opera of Chicago where Leontyne Price and Luciano Pavarotti would perform. The night before she would attend a private dinner at the private home of millionaire Abra Prentice Anderson.

Chicago was cosmopolitan now, with a vibrant social life with lots of rich, well-coiffed women raising money for good causes. Rockefeller heiress and Chicago’s No. 1 debutante in 1961, Abra Prentice Anderson (b. 1944), was one of these social tigresses, a philanthropic treasure, who lent her energy to supporting the Lincoln Zoo, Prentice Women’s Hospital, and Ethel Walker’s Boarding School.

Actress Barbara Rush and journalist Abra Prentice Anderson appear at a 1969 Prentice Women’s Hospital Board tea. The hospital is named for Abra’s parents, the Rockefeller Prentices.

Abra, tall at 5’10, with thick, dark hair, began her career in journalism in 1966 as a fledgling reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, purportedly being one of the first to cover the story of the murder of eight Chicago nurses by Richard Speck. From 1969-1972, she and her husband the impossibly-handsome Jon Anderson had a gossip column of their own in the Chicago Daily News called “Jon & Abra.” At the time, the Andersons were Chicago’s No. 1 “young couple about town.” In 1972, Abra came into her fortune of $35 million and, with Jon, launched the short-lived monthly magazine, The Chicagoan. The two divorced in 1976. Abra was still employed by the Sun-Times. In a 1979 Tribune “Lifestyle” article, Abra was listed as one of Chicago’s ten most eligible women. She wasn’t in a hurry to remarry, she said in the interview for the piece:

“Basically, I’m financially independent, I’ve had my children, so there’s no reason for me to get married again unless I meet someone I can’t live without….I’m a better person than I was before I got married the first time. I’m more secure, I’m willing to take more risks, and I don’t have zits anymore.”

When Abra’s daughter, Ashley Prentice Norton, was eight or nine years old, ca. 1978-79, Abra sent out a Christmas card with a photograph of her and her three children posing stark naked. Ashley was mercilessly teased at school and Abra was raked over the coals in the Chicago gossip columns. Abra did not regret sending out the controversial snap, saying that the nudity was tastefully done. (2)

Saturday, October 13, Princess Margaret was the guest of honor at Abra’s Drake Tower penthouse with its posh address on North Lake Shore Drive, then called “the richest block in Chicago.” Abra and her little children lived on the 29th and 30th floors in the Drake Tower penthouse. Ashley Prentice Norton, in her novel, The Chocolate Money, described the penthouse:

I venture into the living room….[I]t’s the best room in the aparthouse…[I]t is two stories high and takes up one whole half of the aparthouse. Standing in it is like being in a Lucite box that’s suspended in the sky. Instead of a solid wall, there is a huge pane of glass that goes floor to ceiling and allows for an amazing view of Lake Michigan. Besides being really big, it has cool things, like the spiral staircase that winds up to her [Abra’s] bedroom. The steps are big chunks of creamy veined marble, and the railing is a long silver tube that curves like a Krazy Straw. Straight silver bars connect the railing to the steps….

What Abra Anderson really liked to do was throw a party. Everyone wanted an invitation. As was the custom, Abra’s fifty dinner guests arrived ahead of Margaret, allowing her to make her royal entrance. She was usually late, sometimes hours, but that was to be expected.  Princess Margaret was seated at the table with Mayor Jane Byrne (1933-2014) who had arrived on the arm of her husband, former reporter, Jay McMullen, also a colorful Chicago fixture. He was known for his bawdy tales of sexual conquest and weird ties made of yarn. McMullen had appointed himself the mayor’s “tough guy,” protecting her against the press and anyone else he deemed harmful to his new bride.

Mayor Byrne remarked to Princess Margaret that she had just returned from England where she had attended the funeral of the Princess’ second cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Out of Margaret’s loose mouth rolled these words,

“The Irish; they’re pigs.”

Too late, she realized her mistake. Turning to the Mayor, she gasped.

“Uh-oh. You’re Irish.”

Irv Kupcinet, known as “Kup,” who was the first journalist to report the story in his Tuesday, October 16, 1979, column says that the Mayor was outraged and left the dinner as soon as possible. It was not revealed for three weeks who had leaked the story. Later it was determined that it was Jay McMullen, the Mayor’s husband. This revelation ran in the Chicago Sun-Times at the end of the month, now outraging the hostess, Abra Anderson, who resigned her “Click” column at the Sun-Times.

Word of Margaret’s remarks traveled fast. Newspapers hounded her social secretary, Lord Napier. He denied that Margaret had used derogatory words. At first, Mayor Byrne denied Margaret had said those words. Then her press office said that the Mayor and Princess Margaret had discussed Irish jigs. This comment was so ridiculous that a Guardian journalist in London pondered sarcastically whether or not Princess Margaret does not eat Irish figs.

Later, Mayor Byrne confirmed that Margaret had made the remark but that she was referring to Irish terrorists as pigs, not the Irish people. Then Abra Anderson confirmed that Mayor Byrne had told her of the conversation. The proverbial poopoo hit the fan. Newspapers from New Zealand to Scotland to Tyler, Texas carried the story.

On the 1980 Census, forty million Americans would declare Irish ancestry. Many people in America and globally considered Margaret’s words to be an Irish slur. They became infuriated. They planned anti-British protests at each of the next of Margaret’s planned tour events. In Irish pubs across America, patrons passed tin cups at “Irish brunches” to gather dollars for NORAID, the IRA’s money source. NORAID claimed the money was used to support widows and orphans. Prime Minister John Lynch of Ireland called that “hogwash.” The money is used to create widows and orphans. Nevertheless, Margaret had given their cause of kicking the British out of Northern Ireland through guerrilla warfare a rallying cry.

Headlines excoriated the Princess:

‘Irish are Pigs’ causes work stoppage

Meg in Irish Stew

Margaret in hot water over ‘Irish pigs’ remark

Irish ‘pig’ puts her majesty in a poke

In England, however, where the British people and the Royal Family were still in shock and mourning for Lord Louis Mountbatten, feeling ran in a different direction. From the Newcastle Journal, October 23, 1979, a letter was published from a reader to the Editor:

Had no one a kind word for Princess Margaret? She’s not on the list of my next dinner party, but if she were, I would expect her to choose a rather stronger epithet than ‘pigs’ for the terrorists who assassinated her favourite uncle.

Then there was the British writer, Auberon Waugh, writing in his Private Eye diary from England, that “all over the country people are raising their glasses to toast the Bonnie princess.” This annoyed him, writing that for Princess Margaret’s entire life,

“this woman has been flouncing around embarrassing everybody with her rudeness, self-importance, and general air of peevish boredom. Now it looks as if everything will be forgiven for the sake of one bon mot.”

Then there were the pig lovers.

Margaret had traveled to America with 27 trunks full of jewels and designer clothing, the American ambassador, a lady-in-waiting, a social secretary, a Scotland Yard bodyguard, and three others but neglected what she needed most: a press secretary to quell the furor that erupted into a major international incident of dangerous proportion. Why had Buckingham Palace and the Foreign Office given Margaret’s trip the green light when anti-British feeling was at such fever pitch? Flames kept being fanned as more and more papers picked up the story and comments continued, both in favor of and against the Princess.

Readers: For more on Princess Margaret on this blog, click here

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First, please be sure you have read this post: “Princess Margaret’s Trip to America, 1979, Part One

It was August in 1979, a time when almost every Briton took a holiday to some faraway family home or destination. Queen Elizabeth II loved to go to Balmoral Castle in Scotland. This year, as in many years, she was spending the late summer with her sister, Princess Margaret, and some of the children. Princess Margaret had celebrated her 49th birthday at Balmoral on August 21. She was resting up for her October U.S. tour. The Queen Mother stayed nearby at Birkenhall. The Queen’s husband Prince Philip (the Duke of Edinburgh) was in France. Prince Charles (the Prince of Wales) was fishing in Iceland.

Every year Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom spends the summer break at Balmoral Castle, where she is joined by other members of The Royal Family. Queen Victoria bought the Castle in 1852. The original castle was built in the Fifteenth Century.

Aberdeen Press and Journal (Scotland)

Monday, August 27, 1979

Braemer’s Royal guessing game

Although Balmoral [Castle] is the holiday base for the Royal family at this time of year, individual members are constantly coming and going to attend public and private engagements. This always leads to interesting speculation on who will occupy the Royal Pavilion at the Braemar Gathering. On current information, Saturday, September 1 looks like being pretty much a ladies’ day.

At Balmoral at present are the Queen, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne, and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones. The Queen Mother has been at Castle of Mey….On the male side at Balmoral are Prince Edward, Prince Andrew, and Viscount Linley [David Armstrong-Jones].

Royal visitors are a treasured tradition at the gathering but no one knows who will be present or when. It adds an intriguing touch to an already fascinating day.

“Uncle Dickie,” Prince Philip’s uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten, 79, was at his usual summer haunt, the family’s home in Ireland, Classiebawn Castle.

Louis Mountbatten with his daughter, Lady Patricia Brabourne, and her children, from left, Joanna, Philip, Norton and Amanda, in front of Classiebawn Castle, County Sligo, Ireland. (Getty Images)

 

Lord Louis Mountbatten, white-haired and wearing a black turtleneck, is boating with his family and friends aboard his wooden cabin cruiser, Shadow V, probably in Donegal Bay, Ireland.

Lord Mountbatten was a prominent member of Britain’s Royal Family with an impressive record as a war hero and elder statesman. In 1947, as the last Viceroy of India, he negotiated that country’s independence from the United Kingdom. On September 12, 1945, he received the Japanese surrender in Singapore, signaling the end of World War II. Since the age of 16, he saw active service in the Royal Navy rising to its highest rank—Admiral of the Fleet. He was very popular and gregarious. He is credited with having brought together his nephew Prince Philip with the then-Princess Elizabeth when she was only a teen. Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth were friends of his daughters, Pamela and Patricia.

Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II) dances with Lord Louis Mountbatten during a fundraising dinner at the Savoy Hotel in London. July 3, 1951. Photo by Jimmy Sime/Central Press/Getty Images)

 

Charles, Prince of Wales and Lord Louis Mountbatten (Louis, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma)  cutting a ribbon to allow the public to enter Lord Mountbatten’s home, Broadlands in Romsey, Hampshire. May 22, 1979 (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Prince Charles considered “Uncle Dickie” to be the grandfather he never had. He served as Charles’ mentor. By 1978, Mountbatten had grown concerned with Charles’ playboy behavior. He had hoped that Charles would settle down and marry his granddaughter, Amanda Knatchbull, but she turned down Charles’ proposal. Mountbatten warned Charles that he was “beginning on the downward slope that wrecked your Uncle David’s [Edward VIII, later, Duke of Windsor’s] life and led to his disgraceful abdication and futile life ever after.”

800px-Lord_Mountbatten_Naval_in_colour_Allan_Warren

Lord Louis Mountbatten, Earl Mountbatten of Burma

Aberdeen Press and Journal (Scotland)

Tuesday, August 28, 1979

Anger grows over killing of Lord Louis Mountbatten

Earl Mountbatten of Burma was killed yesterday when a bomb blew apart his boat as it sailed from a quiet harbor in the Irish Republic. A grandson and a teenage boatman died with him as terrorists struck at Mullaghmore, County Sligo.

Lord Mountbatten, 79, a second cousin of the Queen and uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh, was setting off on a holiday trip on his 29 ft. motor vessel Shadow V when the blast occurred.

The former Viceroy of India and wartime leader, known affectionately as “Uncle Dickie” to the Royal Family was already dead when he was brought ashore.

His 14 year-old grandson Nicholas was dead. So was 16 year-old Paul Maxwell, who was with the family as a crew member.

Lord Mountbatten’s daughter, Lady Patricia Brabourne, her husband, Lord Brabourne, and their son, Timothy, Nicholas’ twin—and the Dowager Lady Brabourne—were all badly injured.

After the blast the I.R.A. issued a statement in which they claimed responsibility for “the execution today of Lord Mountbatten.”

As fury over the latest violence mounted, the British Prime Minister [Margaret Thatcher] said, “By their actions today, the terrorists have added yet another infamous page to their catalogue of atrocity and cowardice. 

If reports of their involvement in the death of Lord Mountbatten prove true, they will earn the condemnation and contempt of people of goodwill everywhere.”

Speculation is that Mountbatten was checking the lobster traps on his boat when the fifty-pound bomb was set off by remote control by a terrorist at a distance. He did not die instantly, as was initially reported. His legs were blown off. Locals were carrying him out of the water but he died before reaching shore.

Belfast Telegraph (Northern Ireland)

Tuesday, August 28, 1979

Murder Toll Climbs

The death toll from the bomb explosion which killed Lord Mountbatten rose to four today. The latest victim was the Dowager Lady Brabourne, 82-year-old mother-in-law of Lord Mountbatten’s daughter. It was also learned today that three medical experts from Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital went to Sligo Hospital following a personal request from Buckingham Palace to give advice on the care of the survivors of the explosion.

Flags flew at half-mast throughout India today as a mark of respect for the country’s last Viceroy.

The Royal undertakers J. H Kenyon’s today flew in a chartered plane to prepare for the removal of the bodies of Earl Mountbatten and the Dowager Lady Brabourne.  A police spokesman said: “With the tides the wreckage has been scattered. There’s still quite an amount over Donegal Bay and on the shore. It’s a difficult job.” And it was also learned today that the bomb which destroyed Earl Mountbatten’s boat may have been left on the seabed in a lobster pot he [Mountbatten] checked each day.

There are reports that on Sunday holiday makers saw two skin divers emerge from the water near the line of lobster pots owned by Lord Mountbatten. This has strengthened the police theory that the bomb was in a lobster pot and not attached to the boat.

Viewpoint: Mountbatten: the glory and the grief

The murder of Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma and the killing of 18 British soldiers by the Provisional IRA in one day marks a watershed. The horror of Irish affairs and the cold ruthlessness of Republican terrorists has been shown to the people of these islands in a starker dimension than at any time during the past ten years….

The gravity of events has been such that, internationally, the busy world has had to stop and stare….The impact in Britain is literally incalculable. Lord Mountbatten was more than a mentor to the Queen and the Royal Family. He was a father figure to the nation and an embodiment of all that was best in the British character….

The British public and the public in Northern Ireland are absolutely clear about the reality of terrorist firepower within the Irish Republic. It is a firepower that must be faced and faced down.

There is no doubt that Mr. Jack Lynch and other political leaders in the Irish Republic are deeply shocked and ashamed that such evil can spring from their midst….[W]ords are not enough, messages of condolence are not enough….Terrorists should no longer be able to hide behind the lack of extradition for so-called political crimes. Extradition must become a reality.

Prince Philip flies home

The Duke of Edinburgh is flying back to Britain tonight, arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport at 8 pm. on board an Andover of the Queen’s Flight….The aircraft will go to Iceland to bring Prince Charles home from a fishing holiday….Arrangements for Lord Mountbatten’s funeral at Westminster Abbey on September 5 are being worked out by Lord Chamberlain’s office…the Queen drove from Balmoral Castle to nearby Birkenhall to tell the Queen Mother personally of the tragedy.

Reading Evening Post (England)

Friday, August 31,1979

Round Up—100 arrests in police purge on the IRA 

POLICE CELLS were bulging today as a massive round-up of IRA sympathizers continued in the Irish Republic in the wake of the “Bloody Monday” killings. More than 100 people with terrorist links have so far been arrested. But although two men have been charged with the Mountbatten murder, another two are still eluding police.

Mourners Expected in their thousands

Earl Mountbatten is home. His body lies in the marbled Sculpture Hall at Broadlands, his estate near Romsey at Hampshire….Prince Philip and Prince Charles stood in silence…as the bodies flown home by the RAF were gently carried to the hearses.

 

The Funeral Of Lord Mountbatten of Burma following his murder by the IRA (L-R), Reverend Edward Carpenter, HM Queen, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, Prince Andrew Prince Charles, Princess Margaret (at far right, straining to see something), Princess Anne, Captain Mark Phillips, the Dowager Duchess of Gloucester, gathered outside Westminster Abbey, London, September 5, 1979. (Photo by Central Press/Hutton Archive/Getty Images)

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Princess Margaret, 1980

Hopes ran high for Princess Margaret of Great Britain‘s October 1979 fundraising tour in America. The cause was the London‘s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, a centerpiece of world opera and ballet. By 1979, backstage conditions at the 120-year-old building had become “rather grotty” said the Princess’ 30-year-old nephew, Prince Charles, and terribly cramped. Money was needed to construct an extension to contain rehearsal studios for both the Royal Opera chorus and the Royal Ballet dancers, modern dressing rooms, and improved wardrobe maintenance and storage areas. In her role as President of the Royal Ballet, Margaret was tapped to harness her star power among American “art cats” to rustle up another £4,000 to add to the £12,000 already raised by the Royal Opera House Development Appeal in the previous four years. In response, the American Friends of Covent Garden had sold advance tickets for one formal dinner at each of five stops in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Cleveland where Princess Margaret would be the guest of honor. The film, “Prince Charles Backstage at Covent Garden,” would be shown to highlight the downtrodden state of affairs at the Opera House.

Princess Margaret is to be in the Venetian Room at the Fairmont [Hotel] on Monday, October 22 for a dinner dance. $500 tickets. For tickets, write Mrs. Gordon Getty [Ann]. (1)

Princess Margaret speaks to David Wall of the Royal Ballet, 1978

As Princess Margaret (1926-2001) was not traveling as a representative of her government, the trip was semi-private and somewhat relaxed. There would be both times of pleasure and of duty. Margaret would attend the Lyric Opera of Chicago where Leontyne Price and Luciano Pavarotti would perform. In Houston, she would visit the NASA space center, have a luncheon with former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, and witness open heart surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital. In Los Angeles, she would unveil a plaque at a new Rolls Royce Facility. She would travel outside Cleveland to a horse farm. Social doyennes jockeyed for the opportunity to throw the Princess a cocktail party, dinner, or luncheon. She would mingle with Hollywood stars. The charity, Les Dames de Champagne, in Los Angeles scored a coup when the Princess’ social secretary squeezed their charity event into Margaret’s busy schedule:

On the evening of Saturday, October 20, Les Dames will play hostesses to H.R.H. Princess Margaret who’ll attend their reception upstairs at Bullocks Wilshire Los Angeles and promenade her royal presence past some interesting “international tasting tables”…It had originally been scheduled for Sunday, October 21 but when Les Dames founder Wanda Henderson read about the Princess’ visit to L.A., she got on the phone to the British consul general’s office and the wheels began to spin…[H]alf of the money raised will go to the Princess’ cause. (2)

Yet not everyone in America was as excited about Her Royal Highness’s impending visit. One reader of the L.A. Times wrote to the paper’s editor:

I resent Princess Margaret invading our country to beg money for refurbishing and expanding…[the] Royal Opera House….Princess Margaret inherited a fortune in jewels from her grandmother, the late Queen Mary. I wonder why she and her sister, Queen Elizabeth, don’t sell some of their jewels to restore some of their famous landmarks. (3)

American gossip columnists got a lot of mileage covering Princess Margaret’s love life:

Reader: I have been fascinated with that romance between Princess Margaret and her young boyfriend Roddy Llewellyn. Is that still going on?”(M.A., Greenwood, Louisiana.)

Columnist: I wouldn’t call it a romance. The royalty grapevine insists that Roddy is amusing and keeps the Princess diverted. They still are companionable and had been vacationing at a secluded villa on Spain’s Costa del Sol. (4)

Yet American gossip columnists enjoyed trashing Margaret in print, gleefully reporting the breakdown of her unhappy marriage with her former husband, the internationally-acclaimed photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon) and their bitter July 1978 divorce.

At

At left, Tony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon) watches as his fiancee at the time, Princess Margaret, takes a photograph at the Badminton Horse Trials. ca. 1960

Gossip columnists were keen to report Margaret’s fashion sense in their articles, often inserting subtly-catty remarks.

On a gray day, she wore…white platform sandals that showed the heel reinforcements in her hose….Before she plunged in to shake hands with everyone there, she extracted a cigarette holder and a cigarette case from her white ostrich-patterned bag. The Princess is adept at clenching the cigarette holder between her teeth as she lights up…. (5)

Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, The Countess of Snowdon, the maverick in Britain’s royal family, will be back in L.A. Wednesday evening….[S]he is petite and inclined to plumpness….[with] startling blue eyes and a lovely British complexion. (6)

The timing of Margaret’s October arrival in America should have been favorable to her fund drive. The Royal Ballet that had just wound up its exceedingly successful North American summer tour on August 5 in Mexico City. For six days in late July, the company had performed in the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium, their repertoire including the ever-popular Shakespeare tragedy, “Romeo & Juliet.” The premiere had been at 8:30 p.m. on July 24, 1979. L.A. Times gossip columnist Jody Jacobs reviewed the premiere two days later with this headline: “Warm Hello for Royal Ballet.”

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English dancer Marguerite Porter became Senior Principal Ballerina at The Royal Ballet in 1978.

Jody Jacobs was not kidding about warmth! This was the first big event in which President Carter‘s strict temperature controls had been put in effect. Temperatures had soared into the 80s that day in L.A. with hazy sunshine predominating. The air conditioning thermostat in the Shrine had been set at the federally-mandatory 78 degrees. The Shrine, which had been “magically staged as an English Maytime tent,” became, in that summery, smoggy heat, a “giant communal steam bath.” The ballet fans were packed into their seats, wearing their best clothes, sweating profusely, mopping brows, dabbing at armpits. Middle-aged women suffered menopausal hot flashes and fanned themselves with the evening’s program. Nevertheless, aside from a few good-natured grumbles, the soggy but devoted ballet patrons and the dancers, in the spirit of the English, remembered to

Keep Calm and Carry On

Ironically, an article on menopausal health appeared in the L.A. Times alongside Jacobs’ review, with the headline,

Estrogen Useful

Later that week, Governor Jerry Brown of California would fill out the necessary paperwork to challenge President Carter in the 1980 Democratic primary. (President Carter would keep the Democratic nomination but he would not go on to win a second term.)

On August 21, 1979, just seven weeks before she disembarked for America, Princess Margaret celebrated her 49th birthday with her children, David, 17, and Sarah, 15, at Balmoral Castle, the Scottish holiday home of the British royal family. Margaret’s sister, Queen Elizabeth II, was there, as was her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. In her role as head of the British Commonwealth, the Queen had just returned from tense negotiations in Lusaka, Zambia, to discuss the Rhodesian conflict, where there was tremendous anti-British feeling.

gettyimages-139758977-1567612103

Queen Elizabeth II on a state visit to Botswana, summer 1979. See Prince Philip on our left and Prince Andrew on our right. SERGE LEMOINEGETTY IMAGES

Guerrilla forces were operating out of bases in Zambia and the Queen had put herself at great risk. The Queen arrived two days ahead of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister of England. As was her custom, the Queen hosted a banquet and reception for all forty-two African leaders. Behind the scenes, she held private talks, bringing down the temperature so significantly in the negotiations that Thatcher called for a constitutional convention in London in September to pave the way for Rhodesian independence.

In a little over a month, Princess Margaret and six others would hop on a British Airways Concorde jet and fly from London to the U.S. to begin her fundraising swing through the States. The Princess’ lady-in-waiting, Lady Annabel Whitehead, had been steadily packing the Princess’ jewels, purses, shoes, and outfits in the 27 trunks that she would need for such a variety of appearances. Everything was falling in place and the Princess was looking forward to some good press.

Roddy Llewellyn and Princess Margaret not long after they met in 1973. Picture: SuppliedSource: News Corp Australia

Margaret had significant image problems at home. A recent poll had put her dead-last in royal family popularity, even below her niece, Princess Anne. The public disapproved of her romance with Roddy Llewellyn, an aspiring pop singer and gardener seventeen years her junior, who, just a month before Margaret turned 49, in July, had had his drivers’ license revoked for 18 months. The previous February, he had been arrested for drunk driving after he crashed his Ford van into an unmarked police car in Kensington High Street, London. Roddy had sped away and the police had given chase. Roddy’s car had skidded to a halt when it ran into a cement median in Highbridge. Roddy was fined a measly £12.25 but not being able to drive was proving to be hard on his gardening business as he needed it to haul soil, pots, and plants to landscaping sites. For months, Roddy’s drink-driving incident had been splashed across newspapers internationally. Even worse, the passenger in Roddy’s car that fateful night was a married woman whose husband later filed for divorce naming Roddy as his wife’s seducer.

Also that same July, Lord Snowdon (“Tony”) and his new wife, Lucy Lindsay Hogg, gave birth to a baby girl, garnering sweet headlines. Even worse, the baby would be christened just days before Margaret was landing in America. There would be photographs of Tony, Lucy, and the baby, Lady Frances at the ceremony, where Tony and Margaret’s daughter, Lady Sarah Armstrong, was to be named as the baby’s godmother.

lord-snowdon-former-husband-of-princess-margaret-leaves-news-photo-1574273653 shortly after dec 1978 wedding

Lord Snowdon and his second wife Lucy Lindsay Hogg shown shortly after their December 1978 marriage. She is expecting a baby.

Then, in November, when Margaret had left America, Tony would arrive in America on a book tour.

Both Margaret and Tony craved constant attention and competed for center stage. Now Tony-Cheating Tony-was getting nothing but glowing press.

A London writer was calling for Margaret’s exile to America where, the writer said, the people had the bad taste needed to appreciate her.

Princess Margaret needed to get out of England. She needed an image makeover. Photos of her relaxing at her private home on the island of Mustique in the Caribbean were making their way into the tabloids.

Princess Margaret, center. Colin Tennant in white hat, to the left. Anne Tennant, short blond hair, to the right. Roddy Llewellyn stands behind Anne. On the island of Mustique where the Princess had a home, the land of which was a gift from the Tennants.

As President of the Royal Ballet, Margaret would be mingling with the rich and well-connected Americans; their cachet would build up her profile. Perhaps association with cultured ballet and opera folk could erase some of the damage done to her reputation by those photos that had appeared in The Daily Mail the previous fall. She had been at the Glen, the Scottish home of Anne and Colin Tennant, at a private costume party with Bianca Jagger and Roddy. Wearing a slinky black dress and blonde wig, she had channeled American sex goddess Mae West, crooning seductively, “Come Up and See Me Some Time.” Anne, the hostess at the Glen, was one of the Princess’ ladies-in-waiting. She snapped some pictures of the fun time. Unfortunately, Anne’s oldest son, Charlie, had a serious heroin addiction and wanted money to buy drugs. He found the photos that his mother had tucked away in her drawer and stole them. Through an intermediary, they were sold to the press.

Pictured l. to r., Roddy Llewellyn, Princess Margaret, Anne Tennant, Charlie Tennant. on Mustique ca. 1979

Margaret longed to return to America, and, in particular, to Hollywood (“Tinsel Town”) where she was popular and the movie star men were so good-looking. Writer Gore Vidal, a lifelong close ally of the Princess, said of her love for Hollywood,

Like many British royals, she was fascinated by the place.

 

Read the next installment: Princess Margaret’s Trip to America, 1979, Part Two: Lord Louis Mountbatten

Readers: For more on this blog about Princess Margaret, click here

Readers: “The Queen Mother and the Rogue Kiss” tells of the 1977 visit by President Jimmy Carter to meet the Queen and family. 

Readers: For more on the British Royal Family, click here

Sources:

  1. San Francisco Examiner, October 4, 1979
  2. Jody Jacobs’ column, L.A. Times, Sept. 21, 1979
  3. Virginia Cohen, Santa Monica. LA Times, Letters to the Editor, September 22, 1979
  4. Robin Adams Sloan’s column, The Indianapolis News, September 14, 1979
  5. L. A. Times, October 22, 1979, “Party Notes,” IV, page 6
  6. L.A. Times, Oct. 16, 1979

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Nancy Pelosi is greeted by a scrum of reporters as she leaves the speaker’s meeting. July 24, 2019. Vanity Fair. PHOTOGRAPH BY ANNIE LEIBOVITZ.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-CA), the most powerful woman in the history of American politics, legendary for her strong work ethic, has a weakness.

“I’ve been eating dark chocolate ice cream for breakfast for as long as I can remember, “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (b. 1940) told Food & Wine. “I don’t see it as different from having a cup of coffee,” which she doesn’t drink, preferring a cup of hot water with lemon. Among her favorite ice cream flavors is New York Super Fudge Chunk.

Pelosi doesn’t restrict herself to just having chocolate for breakfast. Her husband got her a stationary bike once, and during the brief period that she actually used it, as she doesn’t exercise, she ate pints of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate ice cream the entire time.“It’s okay to eat ice cream while you’re riding a bike,” Pelosi told The Huffington Post. “If you can’t eat ice cream while you’re doing it, why would you do it?”

Surrounded by her grandchildren and other children, Nancy Pelosi is sworn in for her second time as U.S. Speaker of the House. She is second in line for the presidency. Jan. 3, 2019

For Pelosi, eating chocolate is not just a pleasure trip. When asked how she managed to get through the grueling health care debates of 2009-2010 that resulted in the victorious passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, Pelosi replied, “Chocolate. Very, very dark chocolate.” She eats chocolate round the clock and in many forms. By 4 p.m. on the day of the Huff Post interview, for example, she had already eaten chocolate truffles, chocolate candy, and a dark chocolate bar that day. Sometimes she eats chocolate before bed and regrets it, waking at 3 a.m. with a sugar high. She admits her vice openly:

I don’t know what it is. But some call it dedication, some call it an addiction, others call it an affliction.

Pelosi’s Capitol Hill office is always fully-stocked with Ghiradelli chocolate bars, which are made in her San Francisco district. When she’s back home, Pelosi makes a point to go to ice cream shops and get “all-around brown” milkshakes, which involve chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrup and chocolate milk. Some shops don’t carry chocolate milk anymore, she notes, but she just makes up for that gap by “going heavy” on the syrup, which adds to the cost but pays off in richness of flavor.

On March 26, 2014, then Speaker John Boehner sent then Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pints of chocolate gelato for her birthday.

 

“Here’s hoping — and guessing — you didn’t give up chocolate for Lent,” Boehner wrote. Lent is a time on the Christian calendar that falls in the early spring. During Lent, many Christians choose to give up a favorite food or something else important to them.

That year, Nancy Pelosi had indeed given up something important to her—and that something was chocolate. Asked by a colleague, “How’s it going?” meaning her Lenten sacrifice, Pelosi replied, “Terrible. I’m dying.”

In November of 2018, Speaker Pelosi showcased her love of chocolate when she appeared in the green room for a taping of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Blindfolded and smiling, she performed a chocolate taste test for the cameras.

Related: Roald Dahl: The Joy of Chocolate

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Harriet Tubman Wanted!

Harriet Tubman, 1885, by H. Seymour Squyer.

From the Daily News: 

In “Harriet,” the first feature film biopic celebrating the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, moviegoers get a chance to see the legendary fugitive freedom fighter like never before.

Starring Tony, Emmy and Grammy Award winner Cynthia Erivo as the African-American woman who helped shepherd hundreds of slaves to freedom during the mid-1800s, the Kasi Lemmons-directed epic, which hits theaters Friday, breathes new life into the legacy of someone who has been a Black History Month fixture for decades.

Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross (c.1822 –1913) but changed her name to Harriet shortly after she was married. She was nicknamed “Minty.” There’s a lot to know about Harriet—she was a Union spy, for one—but I thought you might want to see this wanted posted for Harriet and her brothers, when they escaped their slave master in September 1849.

Harriet Tubman reward poster

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Asia Booth Clarke

The 19th-century American writer, Asia Booth Clarke (1835-1888), was born into a family of actors. Her famous brothers were Edwin Booth, Junius Booth, and John Wilkes Booth.

 

booth bros.

Credit…Brown University Library

On the morning of April 15, 1865, Asia was in bed in her Philadelphia mansion, sickly pregnant with twins, when she was handed the newspaper. She screamed when she read the headlines: her brother, John Wilkes Booth, was wanted for the murder of President Abraham Lincoln.

President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th president of the U.S.

Asia could not believe it—and yet it was true. On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, the actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. Asia—and the nation—would never fully recover from Booth’s terrible act, his retaliation for Lincoln’s freeing of American slaves.

A copy of a hand colored 1870 lithographic print by Gibson & Co. provided by the U.S. Library of Congress shows John Wilkes Booth shooting U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as he sits in the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre

In the immediate aftermath of the crime, the nation went into shock. Disbelief gave way to tears, sobs, and solemn displays of mourning. The newspapers dubbed the moment “our National Calamity.” Easter Sunday came and went with little notice. The people were focused on the President’s funeral procession which was to take place Wednesday.

Lincoln’s body lies in state in the East Room of the White House. Harper’s Weekly, May 6, 1865.

Tens of thousands of people poured into the nation’s capital. Every hotel in Washington, D. C., sold out. Thousands of visitors slept in parks or on the streets.  Somber black crepe and bunting replaced the patriotic banners adorning buildings from just a week before when the city had been positively giddy with excitement, ablaze with candles and gaslights in every window, marching bands, dancing, singing, and the ringing of bells upon learning of the fall of Richmond, the capitol of the Rebel States, spelling a Union victory in the American Civil War.

In his diary, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles noted the city’s sad transformation from celebration to gloom:

Every house, almost, has some drapery, especially the homes of the poor…the little black ribbon or strip of cloth… (1)

On the morning of April 19, the funeral procession carrying the President’s body slowly made its way to the Capitol, “the beat of the march measured by muffled bass and drums swathed in crepe.”

Lincoln’s funeral on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., on April 19, 1865. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

At the Capitol, the President’s coffin was received in the rotunda, where, beneath the Great Dome, thousands of mourners streamed by to view the President’s remains in the open casket.

It was a sacred day except for one detraction. Five days had passed since John Wilkes Booth had killed this most beloved of men and Booth was still a free man.

John Wilkes Booth

The manhunters were aggressively tracking the fugitive’s movements in and around the capital, following all plausible leads and, still, they could boast of NO ARREST. The newspapers abounded with tales of those who had spotted someone matching Booth’s description. Meanwhile, the authorities descended upon anyone associated with Booth, questioning many and arresting scores. Asia Booth Clarke and her husband, the comedic actor, John “Sleepy” Clarke, were not spared. The day of Lincoln’s funeral, swarms of detectives appeared at their door. John Clarke was seized, taken to Washington, and imprisoned in the Old Capitol with two of Asia’s other brothers, Joe and Junius Booth. The Clarke’s house was raided. (2)

Booth was on the run a full twelve days before he was cornered. He refused to surrender and was killed. Three weeks after his death, Asia wrote her friend Jean Anderson:

Philadelphia, May 22, 1865.

My Dear Jean:

I have received both of your letters, and although feeling the kindness of your sympathy, could not compose my thoughts to write — I can give you no idea of the desolation which has fallen upon us. The sorrow of his [Wilkes Booth’s] death is very bitter, but the disgrace is far heavier; – 

Junius and John Clarke have been two weeks to-day confined in the old Capital – prison Washington for no complicity or evidence — Junius wrote an innocent letter from Cincinnati, which by a wicked misconstruction has been the cause of his arrest. He begged him [John Wilkes Booth] to quit the oil business and attend to his profession, not knowing the “oil” signified conspiracy in Washington as it has since been proven that all employed in the plot, passed themselves off as “oil merchants”.

John Clarke was arrested for having in his house a package of papers upon which he had never laid his hands or his eyes, but after the occurrence when I produced them, thinking it was a will put here for safe keeping — John took them to the U.S. Marshall, who reported to head-quarters, hence this long imprisonment for two entirely innocent men –

I was shocked and grieved to see the names of Michael O’Laughlin and Samuel Arnold. I am still some surprised to learn that all engaged in the plot are Roman Catholics — John Wilkes was of that faith — preferably — and I was glad that he had fixed his faith on one religion for he was always of a pious mind and I wont speak of his qualities, you knew him. My health is very delicate at present but I seem completely numbed and hardened in sorrow.

The report of Blanche and Edwin are without truth, their marriage not to have been until September and I do not think it will be postponed so that it is a long way off yet. Edwin is here with me. Mother went home to N.Y. last week. She has been with me until he came.

American actor Edwin Booth as Hamlet. Edwin Booth was so beloved that he was not arrested after the Lincoln assassination, although two of his brothers were. He testified at the trial of the conspirators.

I told you I believe that Wilkes was engaged to Miss Hale, — They were most devoted lovers and she has written heart broken letters to Edwin about it — Their marriage was to have been in a year, when she promised to return from Spain for him, either with her father or without him, that was the decision only a few days before the fearful calamity — Some terrible oath hurried him to this wretched end. God help him. Remember me to all and write often.

Yours every time,

Asia (3)

“Miss Hale” refers to Lucy Lambert Hale (1841-1915), the younger daughter of Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire.

Lucy Lambert Hale, ca. 1865, courtesy of Ford’s Theatre.

Lucy met John Wilkes Booth at one of his performances in Washington, D.C., when he played the character Charles De Moor in “The Robbers” (1862 or 1863). She presented him with a bouquet. (4) By early 1865, Booth was regularly lodging at the National Hotel in Washington, D.C., where Lucy lived with her parents and sister, Lizzie. We know they were close as Lucy’s cousin stayed in Booth’s rooms during Lincoln’s Second Inauguration. Lucy also procured a pass for Booth to attend the March 4, 1865, inauguration, a pass no doubt she obtained through her father, as only about 2,000 tickets for entrance inside the Capitol were issued. (It was later learned that Booth contemplated killing Lincoln then and there but was talked out of it by an associate also present.)

Although Lucy Hale and John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) reportedly were seen in each other’s company around the city, it was not publicly known that they were engaged. This plan was kept secret, since Society considered an actor to be in a social class beneath the dignity of the daughter of a U.S. senator. Just a month before, President Lincoln appointed Senator John P. Hale to be the new ambassador to Spain. Shortly, Lucy, Lizzie, and their mom would be moving to Spain with Senator Hale.

By some accounts, Lucy, an ardent abolitionist, had broken off the engagement with Booth when she learned he had strong secession views. A newspaper article suggested that this rejection occurred ten days before the assassination, fueling Booth’s “mental excitement, occasioned by drink.” (5) However, Lucy’s letters to Edwin Booth—written after John Wilkes Booth’s death (as mentioned in Asia’s letter here)—suggest otherwise. According to those accounts, the engagement was very much active when Booth died.

A veiled reference to Lucy Hale’s grief over Booth’s death appeared on page five of the New York Tribune on April 22, 1865:

Lucy Lambert Hale, 1863, photo by Mathew Brady, courtesy of wikimedia commons.

On the afternoon or early evening of April 14, 1865, the day of the assassination, Lucy Hale, age 24, was reportedly studying Spanish with two old friends from the Boston area, where she had attended boarding school. They were President Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and the president’s assistant private secretary, John Hay. She had many suitors but her heart was set on only one. She was one of multitudes of women around the country who were captivated by the charm and beauty of the romantic star of the stage, John Wilkes Booth.

When the fugitive John Wilkes Booth was killed at age 26 by U.S. troops, he carried a diary. Tucked inside were photographs of five women, four actresses and a well-known belle of Washington society. The horrified authorities recognized the society belle as the daughter of the new American ambassador to Spain and, as only Washington gossips knew, Booth’s secret fiancée: Lucy Lambert Hale. Someone ordered the pictures to be suppressed so tongues wouldn’t wag with the tale that Lucy Hale was engaged to a murderer! That knowledge would shred her reputation and Lucy would never find a suitable husband

It would be decades before those five photos were made public. The one of Lucy in Booth’s wallet is the photo of her face in profile.

Had Booth used Lucy to get into social and political circles denied to him as a mere actor? Or, as some close to him say, was he smitten by Lucy, head-over-heels in love to such a degree that he would commit to just one woman when so many threw themselves at his feet?

Lucy went off to Spain with the family. It was nine long years before she would wed—a senator.

As for Asia, when her husband returned home from prison mid-May, he announced he wanted a divorce and wanted nothing further to do with the name “Booth.” John Wilkes Booth had been right about John Sleeper Clarke. Booth had warned his sister not to marry “Sleepy.” He believed that Sleepy wanted to marry Asia only in order to capitalize on the name “Booth” to further his own acting career. The marriage continued but the union was an unhappy one.

Asia went on to establish herself as a writer, writing John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir, a slender volume that offers us a close look at the childhood and personal preferences of the complex arch villain John Wilkes Booth. To remove themselves from the stigma of association with the president’s killer, Asia and her family eventually decided to move away from America and settle in England, where her husband got involved with a mistress and treated her with “duke-like haughtiness and icy indifference.” (6)

Sources:

  1. Diary of Gideon Welles. Manhunt, James L. Swanson, p. 213.
  2. Manhunt, pp. 217-219.
  3. Asia Booth Clarke to Jean Anderson, 22 May 1865, BCLM Works on Paper Collection, ML 518, Box 37, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland. cited in John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, Arthur F. Loux. Note: Only 3 conspirators were Catholic. There is no corroboration that John Wilkes Booth converted to Catholicism.
  4. John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, Arthur F. Loux.
  5. Chicago Times, April 17, 1865, p. 2, bottom 3rd column.
  6. John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir, Asia Booth Clarke.

Readers, for more on Abraham Lincoln, click here.

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These American pre Civil War clothes for women were designed in such a way that a woman’s waist, constricted by a whalebone corset, was responsible for supporting the weight of as many as 15 pounds of 6-8 starched petticoats stiffened with straw or horsehair sewn into the hems and voluminous skirts. Dress reform was a significant focus of concern among early women’s rights activists and for good reason. A “wasp waist,” created by tight lacing of the corset, restricted deep breathing, worsening pneumonia and tuberculosis, diseases that afflicted huge swaths of the population in a pre antibiotic age and resulting in premature death. Women’s back and pectoral muscles grew dependent upon the support of the corset and atrophied. Skirts dragged the ground, collecting filth. Women—styling their hair, changing clothes throughout the day for different events, keeping up with the latest trends from Paris and Germany, sitting for dress-fittings—spent an inordinate amount of time keeping up appearances in heavy clothes that allowed neither free movement, decent digestion, nor comfort. 1858

Amelia Bloomer

In early 1851, Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894), the first American woman to own and operate a newspaper (The Lily)took up the idea of wearing a short skirt and loose trousers gathered around the ankles. It was a notion popularized by her friend, Elizabeth “Libby” Smith Miller, who felt that long dresses were “heavy and exasperating.” Amelia made this fashion switch when Libby came to Seneca Falls, New York to visit her cousin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was Bloomer’s neighbor.

All three women used their voices to enact social change, particularly in the areas of women’s rights to better education, better pay, wider fields of employment, the right to vote, and dress reform. Soon these pioneer feminists were appearing on the village streets wearing their sensible and comfortable short skirts and full Turkish trousers.

Elizabeth Smith Miller (1822–1911), photographed wearing her bloomer outfit, 1851. Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (011.00.00)

Amelia Bloomer announced to her readers in The Lily that she had adopted this new dress. In response to many inquiries, she printed a description of her dress and instructions on how to make it. Bloomer recalls the response:

At the outset, I had no idea of fully adopting the style; no thought of setting a fashion; no thought that my action would create an excitement throughout the civilized world, and give to the style my name and the credit due Mrs. Miller. This was all the work of the press. I stood amazed at the furor I had unwittingly caused. The New York Tribune contained the first notice I saw of my action. Other papers caught it up and handed it about.

My exchanges all had something to say. Some praised and some blamed, some commented, and some ridiculed and condemned. “Bloomerism,” “Bloomerites,” and “Bloomers” were the heading of many an article, item, and squib; and finally someone—I don’t know to whom I am indebted for the honor—wrote the “Bloomer Costume,” and the name has continued to cling to the short dress in spite of my repeatedly disclaiming all right to it and giving Mrs. Miller’s name as that of the originator or the first to wear such dress in public. Had she not come to us in that style, it is not probable that either Mrs. Stanton or myself would have donned it.  2

Currier & Ives, The Bloomer Costume

During the summer of 1851, the nation was seized by a “bloomer craze.” Women from Laramie, Wyoming to London, England, embraced the freedom of the new outfit and rejoiced. A million versions of the blouse, skirt, and pants combo emerged. Managers of the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, gave a banquet for any of their female workers who adopted the safer dress before July 4.  In Toledo, Ohio, sixty women turned out in Turkish costume at one of the city’s grandest social events. Bloomer balls and bloomer picnics were held; dress reform societies and bloomer institutes were formed. The craze inspired music to be composed.

The Bloomer outfit became a symbol of women’s emancipation. Thousands of women were soon wearing the reform dress.

But then the tide turned. Controversy erupted. There were laws in some American cities that made it illegal for a person to dress in the clothes of the opposite sex. At the time, pants were considered the domain of the American male, which was also the right to vote. Backlash from men ensued. The movement for a sharing of pants was viewed, in some quarters, as a threat to male power. 3

The same newspapers that had once celebrated the trend as tasteful and elegant were, by August of 1851, scorning it. Public meetings were called to denounce the fad. Some young women were turned away from church membership for wearing the dress. The satirical London magazine Punch lampooned the Bloomers.

The term “Bloomerism” came to be associated not just with wearing trousers but also with other supposedly deviant and negative (for women) behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, gambling, serving in the military, and abandoning husbands and children. Punch cartoon, 1851, artist, John Leech

elizabethcadystanton-1

Elizabeth Cady Stanton with daughter, Harriot, 1856-57

Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton had felt at first “as joyous and free as some poor captive who has just cast off his ball and chain” when adopting the Bloomer costume, her young sons didn’t want to be seen with her. Her father banned the Bloomer costume from his house. Her older sister cried and her brother-in-law, a senator, said that “some good Democrats said they would not vote for a man whose wife wore the Bloomers.” After two years, Stanton gave up the Bloomers.  “Had I counted the cost of the short dress,” Stanton told cousin Libby Miller, “I would never have put it on.” 4

 

Although Amelia Bloomer “had found the dress comfortable, light, easy, and convenient, and well adapted to the needs of my busy life,” after wearing it six to eight years, she, too, laid it aside and returned to long skirts. Bloomer wrote:

We all [women’s right activists] felt that the dress was drawing attention from what we thought of far greater importance—the question of woman’s right to better education, to a wider field of employment, to better remuneration for her labor, and to the ballot for the protection of her rights. In the minds of some people, the short dress and woman’s rights were inseparably connected. With us, the dress was but an incident, and we were not willing to sacrifice greater questions to it. 5

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436-287-WH64_-Lyndon-and-Lady-Bird-at-the-LBJ-Ranch-on-election-day-in-1964

President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady Lady Bird Johnson relax at their Stonewall, Texas ranch following LBJ’s election to the Presidency. November, 1964.

When she was First Lady of the United States (1963-69), Lady Bird Johnson felt that she was often in a moving vehicle. In her diary, she wrote:

LBJ Ranch [Stonewall, Texas]

Saturday, April 10, 1965

“We arrived at the Ranch last night around 10:45 on the Jetstar….

[This morning] Sarge and Eunice Shriver, Ann Brinkley, Lyndon, and I helicoptered to San Marcos to Camp Gary, to the dedication of the Job Corps Camp….”

Lady Bird Johnson (1)

President Lyndon B. Johnson (back to camera at right) speaks with Mathilde Krim and Lady Bird Johnson First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson and Mathilde Krim are on board a helicopter en route from Krim Ranch to LBJ Ranch, near Stonewall, Texas. President Johnson has his back to photographer. November 7, 1966. Photo by Mike Geissinger. LBJ Presidential Library. 3837-37

First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson and Mathilde Krim are on board a helicopter en route from the Krim Ranch to the LBJ Ranch, near Stonewall, Texas. President Johnson has his back to photographer. November 7, 1966. Photo by Mike Geissinger. LBJ Presidential Library. 3837-37

After some emotional speechifying, the ceremony ended, and, around noon, the group was back in the chopper, flying to yet another of the Johnsons’ many Texas properties. This one – the Haywood Ranch – lay northwest of Austin near Kingsland on Lake Granite Shoals (which, by the end of the month, would be renamed Lake LBJ). Though the Haywood Ranch was 4,500 acres of mostly pasture land, undeveloped, it was a lakeside retreat where President Lyndon Baines Johnson kept his many boats. He loved his boats, maybe as much as he loved his Lincoln Continentals.

Then American Vice President Lyndon Johnson entertains guests on his Glaston boat. July 16, 1961. Note Lady Bird Johnson in green. She recalled being “often in a moving vehicle” during the White House years.

LBJ loved packing his boats with guests (especially pretty girls, according to Lady Bird), taking the wheel himself, and zigzagging at top speed across the lake, spray flying, bouncing hard across his wake, oftentimes pulling a skier or two and dropping off guests for a quick dip in the fresh water. Then, around noon, he would head over to Coca-Cola Ranch, slip into the peace of the cove, and – after cutting the throttle – spread out a picnic lunch to enjoy in the warm Texas sun.

At 1:17 p.m., the Presidential party – the Shrivers, the Johnsons, and others – landed at Haywood Ranch. The spring countryside was blanketed in fragrant Texas bluebonnets. LBJ made telephone calls inviting more friends to join the happy party – and to bring bar-b-q and swimsuits. Then the President and guests “went to the boats.” (2)

LBJ diary April 10 1965

excerpt from LBJ daily diary for April 10, 1965

President Johnson couldn’t wait to show Eunice Shriver his new toy. It was a “lagoon blue” convertible. Built in Germany, this Amphicar – half-boat, half-car – was one of only 3,878 produced. The President took Mrs. Shriver and Sgt. Paul Glynn out for a spin in his very unusual car. They drove straight from the land out onto the water and the car didn’t sink. Granted, it only went 15 m.p.h. tops, but it managed to keep the water out. It was a hoot and the President loved a hoot.

President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Amphicar with Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Paul Glynn. April 10, 1965. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto. LBJ Presidential Library A263-8

President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Amphicar with Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Paul Glynn at the Haywood Ranch, near Kingsland, Texas. April 10, 1965. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto. LBJ Presidential Library A263-8.

Joe Califano Jr., then LBJ’s top domestic aide, remembered when the President took him out for a ride in the Amphicar – without LBJ telling him first that it was amphibious:

“The President, with Vicky McCammon in the seat alongside him and me in the back,was now driving around in a small blue car with the top down. We reached a steep incline at the edge of the lake and the car started rolling rapidly toward the water. The president shouted, ‘The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!’
The car splashed into the water. I started to get out. Just then the car leveled, and I realized we were in an Amphicar. The president laughed. As we putted along the lake then (and throughout the evening), he teased me. “Vicky, did you see what Joe did? He didn’t give a damn about his President. He just wanted to save his own skin and get out of the car.” Then he’d roar. (3)”

President LBJ's Amphicar

President LBJ’s Amphicar

 LBJ’s Amphicar is displayed at the LBJ Ranch.

ad Amphicar arrives in America 196o New York Automobile Show Program

Amphibious cars for the civilian population was a trend that never took off.

Sources

(1) Johnson, Lady Bird. A White House Diary. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1970. p. 259.

(2) Lyndon B. Johnson’s daily diary, April 10, 1965. LBJ Presidential Library.

(3) Califano, Joseph A. The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2015.

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What would the American Civil Rights Movement have been without the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? On September 20, 1958, we almost lost him.

The weather boded well for a good turnout. It was a sunny Saturday in New York City and Blumstein’s Department Store – at  230 W. 125th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, Harlem – was hustling to get ready for their big guest. On the ground floor, behind the shoe department, clerks had roped off an area where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would sit behind a desk to autograph copies of his first book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. 

The book related the success of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott that lead to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of segregated transit systems.

wo black ministers who were active in the long boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama were among the first to ride after a Supreme Court integration order went into effect on December 21, 1956. At left, front seat, is the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, while at left in the second seat is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beside King is white minister, Rev. Glenn Smiley of New York, who said he was in Montgomery as an observer.

Two black ministers who were active in the long boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama were among the first to ride after a Supreme Court integration order went into effect on December 21, 1956. At right, is the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, while at left is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Black Americans no longer had to sit at the back of the bus or give up their seats to white people.

Dr. King, with his powerful oratory, had rocketed to fame nearly overnight and had become a significant figure on the national political scene for his participation in the victory. He was making four speeches a week to persuade the nation to stop the practice of racial segregation. It was the dawn of the civil rights movement.

“Dr. King is a rather soft-spoken man with a learning and maturity far beyond his 27 years. His clothes are in conservative good taste and he has a small trim mustache.”(1)

Izola Ware Curry

Blumstein’s Department Store – the site of the autograph party for Dr. King – wasn’t far from where Izola Ware Curry, 42, lived in a brownstone, at 121 West 122d Street in Harlem. Izola was a drifter, a sometimes maid, who had been in Harlem only two months. Izola had Dr. King on her radar. She detested him and all black preachers, calling their boycotts and protests a sham. She felt that blacks should move for social change through appeals to Congress. She hated the NAACP in particular – thought they were controlled by Communists – and white people in general. By 1956, paranoia had taken over her thinking. She started writing the FBI claiming that Communists were out to get her. She was anti-social, tended to babble and rant, her words often unintelligible and ungrammatical. Her neighbors wrote her off as “eccentric.” Izola Ware Curry was African-American.

The Rally The Night Before the Signing

The night before Dr. King’s book signing, just around the corner from Blumstein’s, a rally was held for Dr. King in front of the Hotel Teresa. On the podium he was joined by other dignitaries, among them baseball great Jackie Robinson, New York Governor Averell Harriman, and gubernatorial hopeful, Republican Nelson Rockefeller, with music provided by Duke Ellington. The crowd numbered 5,000. Izola Ware Curry, in her unstable mental state, was there.

When Rockefeller spoke:

This business about [Eisenhower] going slow on integration….I know the man!….Who sent the troops to Little Rock?”(2)

Curry heckled him, calling white people racists. King’s escort in the city, William Rowe,

“did his best to calm her down. And Frederick Weaver, a platform guest, motioned for police officers to make her stop. But the police were reluctant to get tough with her, fearing…an incident…that could escalate into a larger racial disturbance.” (2)

When Dr. King spoke, Curry jeered him, too, as did a few others. Curry shouted that no “negro” should ever try to cooperate with a white person. Rowe had to calm her down once more.

Miraculously, the rally ended without dissolving into chaos. Rowe feared more trouble at the next day’s signing, suggesting a bodyguard for Dr. King, an idea that Dr. King rejected.

The Booksigning

Saturday, September 20, 1958

Blumstein’s Department Store

3:30 p.m.

Izola Ware Curry, 42

Izola Ware Curry, 42

As she pushed her way through the crowd to the desk where Dr. King sat, bystanders couldn’t help but notice the elegantly dressed black woman in her stylish suit, showy jewelry, and sequined cat’s-eyeglasses. Nothing on the surface betrayed the insanity beneath. Little did onlookers suspect that, secreted in Izola Curry’s bra, was a loaded Italian automatic pistol, and, in her enormous leather purse, a 7-inch steel letter opener.

With her purse slung over one arm, Izola Curry strode with purpose straight up to Dr. King, where he was seated, signing a book for a customer.

“Are you Martin Luther King?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied, not looking up. (3)

She reached into her purse and withdrew the letter opener in an arc. Instinctively, Dr. King yanked his left arm up to block the weapon, cutting his left hand as she plunged the blade into his chest. Dr. King recalled:

“The next minute I felt something beating on my chest.”

A bystander knocked Curry’s hand away from the blade before she could withdraw it and stab Dr. King again.

“I’ve been after him for six years!” shouted Curry, starting to run. “I’m glad I done it!” (2)

A group of women chased her with umbrellas, shouting, “Catch her!” A journalist jumped out and grabbed Curry by the left arm and turned her over to the store security guard, who handcuffed her.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits calmly with a letter opener protruding from his chest as Nettie C. Jackson tends his cut hand. September 20, 1958

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits calmly with a letter opener protruding from his chest as Nettie C. Jackson tends his cut hand. September 20, 1958

Meanwhile, Dr. King sat still and calm and clear-thinking, with the letter opener protruding from his chest. Someone called for an ambulance to Harlem Hospital. Dr. King was carried, still seated in his chair, to the back of the store. When the ambulance arrived, he was placed carefully on his back. He was told, as was everyone present, that he must not touch the letter opener.

The stabbing nearly cost Dr. King his life, as the blade of the letter opener had lodged in his sternum, within millimeters of piercing the aorta. At Harlem Hospital, surgeons extracted the blade in a delicate operation. He developed pneumonia and had a long convalescence.

Surgeons performed a delicate 2 1/4 hour surgery to extract the letter opener from Dr. Martin Luther King's manubrium, the top bone of the sternum. September 20, 1958

Surgeons performed a delicate 2 1/4 hour surgery to extract the letter opener from Dr. Martin Luther King’s manubrium, the top bone of the sternum. September 20, 1958

A rare photograph of the operation on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, when he was stabbed in Harlem on September 20, 1958

A rare photograph of the operation on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, when he was stabbed in Harlem on September 20, 1958

Izola Ware Curry, Dr. Martin Luther King's assailant. Following her arrest, psychiatrists evaluated her and diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia and an I.Q. of about 70. She was institutionalized and died in 2015, at the age of 98. (Getty Images)

Izola Ware Curry, Dr. Martin Luther King’s assailant. Following her arrest, psychiatrists evaluated her and diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia and an I.Q. of about 70. She was institutionalized and died in 2015, at the age of 98. (Getty Images)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is embraced by his wife Coretta Scott King during a news conference at Harlem Hospital in New York, Sept 30, 1958, where he is recovering from a stab wound following an attack by a woman. At left is his mother, Alberta Williams King. (AP Photo/Tony Camerano)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is embraced by his wife Coretta Scott King during a news conference at Harlem Hospital in New York, Sept 30, 1958, where he was recovering from a stab wound following an attack by Izola Ware Curry. At left is his mother, Alberta Williams King. (AP Photo/Tony Camerano)

Ten Years Later

On April 3, 1968, ten years after the Harlem stabbing, Dr. King recalled it in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, Tennessee:

“The x-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And, once that’s punctured, you’re drowned in your own blood – that’s the end of you.”

The surgeon told him that, if he had sneezed before the operation, he would have died. To lively applause, he continued, in his “Mountaintop” speech:

“And I want to say tonight – I want to say tonight that I, too, am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting in at lunch counters. 

 “If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in interstate travel.

“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Ala., aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream I had.”

He closed his speech with remarks about the possibility of his untimely death. The next day, in Memphis, he was assassinated by James Earl Ray, a white supremacist.

(1) “Battle Against Tradition: Martin Luther King, Jr.” The New York Times, March 21, 1956

(2) Pearson, Hugh. When Harlem Nearly Killed King. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.

(3) “Izola Ware Curry, Who Stabbed King in 1958, Dies at 98.” New York Times. March 22, 2015.

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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 and Pam 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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