Liz Smith: What Did Adolf Hitler say To The Duchess of Windsor About The Ruins of Berlin? What Did The Duchess Say About Him?
SIT BACK, reader, especially if you’re a curiosity seeker, minor historian, and lover of gossip. I am going to tell you about a book coming in August from Simon & Schuster and compiled by Craig Brown. He is the “Private Eye” columnist for the Daily Mail and has been called “the wittiest writer in Britain today.”
The work is titled “Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings.”
Sound complicated? Believe me, it’s not. It is entirely devine, delicious and delectable — like eavesdropping on the gods, forbidden observances of VIPs at play, gossip and anecdotes to the max.
NOW, would you care to know what Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain had to say when they met? What they thought, said and did? How they traded places? How about Madonna and the dance genius Martha Graham after the Big M went to take lessons? You think you don’t really like or approve of Madonna? After this anecdote you might change your mind.
You probably haven’t heard of the hapless Eton failure John Scott-Ellis, self-described as having an “ingrained laziness or lack of will.” He is the man who in 1931, almost killed Hitler in Munich. He met Hitler later on in life and Hitler recalled the incident.
These are just a few of the anecdotes and though some are so British to the core that I did not recognize the people or care about them, 99% are first rate.
You can read these brief encounters written in 101 words each — the meetings of Jacqueline Kennedy and Andy Warhol … of Marilyn Monroe and Frank Lloyd Wright … of Princess Margaret and Kenneth Tynan … of J. D. Salinger and Ernest Hemingway … of Rasputin and Czar Nicholas II … of Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust … of Peggy Lee and Richard Nixon … of Elvis and Nixon … of Paul McCartneyand Noel Coward — and on and on, 101 of them.
HERE is the remarkable thing the Duchess of Windsor said after meeting Hitler in 1937. “I decided Hitler did not like women.”
After the Duchess remarked to Hitler on the incredible architecture of the new Germany, Hitler is reported to have said, “Our buildings will make more magnificent ruins than the Greeks.” (He turned out to be wrong.)
Kipling was entranced by Mark Twain wondering if there’d ever be a sequel to “Tom Sawyer.” He denied Twain the right to Tom, saying, “he belongs to us!” He longed to steal Twain’s corncob pipe. Twain left the meeting venerating his fan and became a fan of Kipling’s, reading him every day.
Madonna ends up by giving Martha Graham the money to keep her school going. (Graham burst into tears of gratitude.)
J. D. Salinger, after meeting Laurence Olivier comes to detest the actor, and says his performing was on a par with John Wayne in “The Shootist.”
I haven’t told you the half of this wonderful book. And it’s all documented. Where there are varying versions, author Brown says he selected the more credible.
(This book reminds me a bit of the current fashion hit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where the works of Prada and Schiaparelli are being offered under the title “Impossible Conversations.” This show of contrasting design generations runs until Aug 19. Don’t miss it!)
But, listen, whatever you do, don’t fail to pick up “Hello Goodbye Hello” It is masterpiece of style, form and splendid efficiency in writing. Not a wasted word, not a pointless adjective.
It’s a great book to flip through just before dining with friends. If certain famous names come up, you can astound them with your knowledge!
This column originally appeared on NYSocialDiary.com on 7/19/12