Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Maria By Callas | VIDEO: Official US Trailer HD (2018)




‘Maria by Callas’ Charts the Downward Spiral of One of Opera’s Greatest Divas
By James Jorden • 10/02/18 12:29pm

As a general rule, geniuses are misunderstood, even vilified. This phenomenon was certainly true of soprano Maria Callas, whose supernova of a career—barely a decade on the international level—is now revered as a symbol of the most splendid possibilities inherent in the art of opera.

Back during her heyday, though, in the 1950s and early 1960s, Callas achieved household name status not so much as an artist but as a caricature, first as a monster diva who capriciously canceled performances, physically attacked impresarios and, in a pinch, attempted to poison a rival performer. (To be sure, mezzo Giulietta Simionato always swore that Maria could not possibly have known the Coca-Cola bottle contained insecticide.) Later Callas’ name splashed across tabloids as the temptress who was breaking up Jacqueline Onassis’s marriage.

Since Callas’ death in 1977, the pendulum has swung the other way, positing Callas as more sinned against than sinning, and it it upon this now-familiar theme that director Tom Volf has based his documentary Maria by Callas, which had its New York premiere at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s New Film Festival on Sunday, September 30. What emerges from this handsome but sentimental film is a portrait of the artist in decline, cocooning herself in defensive victimhood.

Ironically for a film about a Greek tragedienne, the qualities that make this film so irresistible also doom it. Volf has shaped his picture around rare newsreel, kinescope footage and home movies of the diva. These materials mostly date from around 1958 or so—the zenith of the singer’s fame but toward the end of her best years as a performer. So the narrative arc focuses on Callas’ fall without much sense of what her rise was all about.

There are exceptions: silent snippets of the opera Norma (generally acknowledged as Callas’ greatest role) from 1953 and 1964 offer glimpses of her fabled intensity in rage and despair. Familiar clips of concert performances are presented in beautifully restored video and especially audio: a “Casta diva” from Paris in 1958 had the film audience in Alice Tully Hall rapt and virtually breathless.

But of the scant video material available, a lot consists of “Film at 11” stuff: Callas emerges from a plane in Paris, in London, in New York; Callas attempts to be civil with aggressive reporters; Callas takes her poodle out for a walk.

Volf also has access to a number of Callas’ letters to her friends and colleagues, but even here the bias is toward the maudlin. At the peak of her career, the star was too busy to keep up with her correspondence, but, later, as she phased out her singing and attempted to negotiate her on-and-off affair with Aristotle Onassis, she was left with a lot of time on her hands. Her insecurity about the future, poor physical health and apparent depression led to her believe she was being persecuted, singled out for unfair treatment. And so she poured out her discontent on writing paper.

In the picture, these letters are read by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, whose performance, achingly heartfelt and fluent, I think distorts the story slightly. Yes, Maria’s pain was in large part real, but in all her communications, written or verbal, there was always a hint of the histrionic. She presented herself as a downtrodden waif despite enormous privilege: fame, wealth, beauty and more than sufficient talent to excel in any number of artistic ventures. True, by this point she couldn’t sing Norma; but then, who can?

So where Maria by Callas gets rather soggy is in attempting to present the final decade of Callas’ life, falling into the trap of imposing a tragic narrative on what was, as so much of live is, a random series of fairly mundane events. Even if the diva herself tried to make her life into an opera, that’s not really an excuse for Volf to follow her lead.

One home movie, though, rescues the last reel from bathos. We see Callas, a guest in Palm Beach in 1976, alone, reclining beside a swimming pool. She’s barefoot, without makeup, wrapped in a muumuu. Her thick wavy hair is falling loose around her shoulders, and there’s a lot of gray amid the auburn.

As in so many other clips in Maria by Callas, she turns and notices the camera, but this time she doesn’t strike a pose. She doesn’t even take off her glasses. (She was famously vain about that.) For the first time (and the only time I have seen documented) Callas looks like an older woman, a sort of earth mother.

She’s neither happy nor sad, but it’s the only time in the film that she does seem to be at rest. Or is she just tired? This ambiguous image, it seems to me, is the ideal finale for the film: we mortals should never know everything about our goddess.



Maria Callas, 53, is Dead of Heart Attack in Paris
By RAYMOND ERICSONSEPT. 17, 1977
September 17, 1977,



Maria Callas, the soprano whose in tensely dramatic portrayals made her the most exciting opera singer of her time, died of a heart attack yesterday at her home in Paris. She was 53 years old.

Miss Callas had told some friends this summer that she was concerned about her health, but other associates reported that she had been in perfect health and was preparing to write her autobiography for a New York publisher.

She once said, “Wherever I am, it is hectic.” This may even have been an understatement. Controversy, legend and myth surrounded the soprano throughout the major part of her career. Those who admired her felt that she was one of the greatest opera singers of all time, while others believed that her vocal inadequacies precluded any such claim.

Disputes and legal action seemed to arise wherever she sang. Her private life was seldom out of the limelight. Yet thr:re was no denying that it was the magic of her personality that made every move of hers newsworthy.

‘Awesome Stage Projection’

A balanced reactron to Miss Callas's artistry was expressed by Harold C. Schonberg, the music critic of The New York Times, after her return to the Metropolitan Opera in 1965 in the title role of Puccini's “Tosca.”

“If you want brains, an awesome stage projection, intensity and musicianship, Miss Callas can supply those commodities more than any soprano around,” Mr. Schonberg wrote. “But if you look for voice and vocal splendor in your Tosca, Miss Callas is not the one to make you happy.”

Earlier hi the review he had written that “her conception of the role was electrical. Everything at her command waf, pia into striking use. She was a woman in love, a tiger cat, a woman possessed by jealousy.... This was supreme acting, unforgettable acting.”

There is no question that Miss Callas sparked new interest in the largely forgotten bel canto operas of the 19th century. These were the works of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini, most of which had not keen heard since the era when they were written. They were considered too difficult and too uninteresting musically to be worth reviving. Miss Callas showed that they could be sung, that the melodies and all the embellishments that were thought to be for virtuoso display could be .turned to genuine dramatic use. It opened up a whole new repertory for singers such as Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills to follow the path set by Miss Callas.

When the soprano was told that she was considered temperamental, her answer was, “I will always be as difficult as‐necessary to achieve the best.” Everyone who worked with her agreed that she.‐was a hard worker, willing to rehearse more than expected, even when a role or a production was not new. Early in her career she sang as many as 16 roles in one season, and she was a quick study. Her own interest in bel canto grew in 1948 in Venice, when she learned the difficult part .of Elvira in Bellini's “I Puritani” in five days in order to substitute for an ailing singer.

Unhappy Manhattan Childhood

Maria Anna Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulos was born Dec. 3, 1923 in Manhattan's Flower and Fifth Avenue Hospitals; her Greek parents had arrived in the ‘nited States a few months earlier. Her father was a pharmacist. Years later, in discounting the rumor that she had been born in Brooklyn, Miss Callas said that she remembered living in Upper Manhattan‐ over a drugstore owned by her father. She attended Public School 164 at Wadsworth Avenue and 164th Street in Washington Heights, and by the age of 9 was singing for her schoolmates.

The soprano spoke often of her unhappy childhood, which was marred by the squabbles between her parents and her jealousy of her older sister—Maria was squat, while her sister was attractive and favored by the parents. The family returned to Athens when Maria was 13. She won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, where one of her teachers was Elvira de Hidalgo, a famous Spanish soprano in her day. She remembered Maria as being “square and fat, but she put such force, such sentiment, such wonderful interpretation into all she sang. She would want to sing the most difficult coloraturas, scales and trills. Even as a child her willpower was terrific.”

Before she was 15, the student was singing the dramatic role of Santuzza in Mascagni's “Cavalleria Rusticana.” Four years later she made her official debut with, the Athens Opera.

At the end of World War II, she went back to New York on her own. She auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera, at the time that Edward Johnson was the general manager. She was offered the title roles in Puccini's “Madame Butterfly” an r: Beethoven's “Fidelio.” “Fidelio” was was to have been sung in English. Miss Callas recalled the impossibility of singing Butterfly: “I was then too fat‐210 pounds.” As for “Fidelio”: “Opera in English is so silly. Nobody takes it seriously.” She turned down the offers.

She came close to making her American debut in Chicago with a group of Italian singers, but that fell through for financial reasons. In 1947, she was given a contract to appear in Verona, and she sailed for Italy. She made her debut in the famous Arena in the title role of Ponchielli's “La Gioconda.” Also making his debut in the opera was the late American tenor, Rchard Tucker.

Met Conductor in Verona

In Verona, Miss Callas met one of her most important mentors, the Italian conductor Tullio Serafin. He took her to Venice, where she sang roles that required a dramatic voice, Isolde in the Wagner opera, Turandot in the Puccini opera, even Briinnhilde in Wagner's “Die Walkiire.” In other cities she sang the name parts in Verdi's “Aida” and Bellini's “Norma.”

The natural goal of every opera singer in Italy then, as now, was La Scala in Milan. MiSs Callas sang an Aida there in 1949, but it was not in the regular season. She would not join the company officially until 1951, because already independent minded, she would sing only leading roles in major operas and would not share a percentage of her salary with a powerful artist agency in Milan.

In;ihe early 50's, Miss. Callas sang in a number of rarely heard operas in Italian houses. These included Haydn's “Orfeo ed Euridice,” Gluck's “Alceste” and Cherubini's.“Medea.” She had a notable triumph in the last work, which was staged by Luchino Visconti and conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

She was offered a contract at the Met in 1952 by the general manager, Rudolf Bing,‐but this did not work out because she would not come to New York without her husband, Giovanni Battista Meneghini; who was unable to get a visa.

In this period, she had gained experience ‘land a large measure of success not only in Italy, but also in South America, Mexico and Covent Garden in London. She took off /0 pounds, which left her at a slim 135 pounds. At 5 feet 8 inches tall and with a face made striking by her bload cheekbones, uptilted eyes and large nose, she became one of the handsomest women of the operatic stage.

She finally made her United States debut in 1954, with the Chicago Lyric Opera, in the role of Norma. Two years later, on Oct. 29, she sang the same part for her debut at the Metropolitan Opera. By this time her reputation was such that announcements of her appearances generated long lines outside the box office of the houses where she was to sing. Although critical reactionwas usually mixed because of the individual timbre of Miss Callas's voice and the flaws in her technique, she was ecstatically received for her musicianship, her personal appeal and the originality of her characterizations.

Miss Callas's voice, whicn some critics maintained was man‐made rather than natural, had three sections. At the top it was inclined to be steely, even shrill, and the highest notes were often little more than shrieks. The middle voice could have a covered sound or could be velvety; used at a soft level, it was beautiful. But in the lowest register itt could be edgy again.

Technically, the soprano often did thrilling things with the tonal coloration and with the fioriture, and she could sing a descending chromatic scale dazzlingly But sometimes, too, the voice would not respond smoothly to the demands she made on it.

Having conquered many of the great opera companies of the world, the soprano began to have trouble with them. In Chicago she was served with a lawsuit backstage during a performance, and she said she would never sing there again. She was accused of breaking a contract with the Vienna State Opera over a question of fees. She canceled an engagement with the San Francisco Opera just before the season opened, pleading illness, and the company preferred charges against her with the American Guild of Musical Artists, the singers’ union.

At the gala opening of one season in Rome, she sang the opening act of “Norma” and then refused to go on after that, because of laryngitis. At the Met, she quarreled with Mi. Bing over a matter of dates and repertory, and he canceled their contract. She did not show up for scheduled performances at the Edinburgh Festival and at Athens.

All these actions made headlines, and Miss Callas earned a reputation for temperamental behavior. She had an answer to these charges, in most cases explaining that she would not sing unless she or performing conditions were at their best, and this was the reason for her walking out on performances or contracts. “To me, the art of music is magnificent, and I cannot bear to see it treated in a shabby way,” she said in a Life magazine interview in 1959. “When it is respected and when the artists who serve it are respected, I will work hard and always give my best . . . I do not want to be associated with inferior staging, taste, conducting or singing.”

Valuable Artist and Attraction

In fact, most of the feuds were patched up, and Miss Callas returned to sing with the various companies again. She was considered too valuable an artist and too great a box‐office attraction to ignore.

As Mr. Bing said of Miss Callas yesterday after he heard of her death: “I was privileged to bring her to the Met and I am proud of that. She was a difficult artist, as many are, but she was one of the greatest artists of her time. We will not see her like again.”

In fact, Miss Callas, was re‐engaged by the Met in 1965 to sing Tosca, and these became her last public opera performances.

In subsequent years, the soprano would make announcements from time to time that she was considering singing somewhere, causing a flurry of excitement in the music world. But no performances materialized. In 1971. she went to the Juilliard School to give a series of 12 master classes. These were iammed with auditors, many of them coming from out of New York City, and Miss Callas was credited with exceptional success in her teaching.

Went on Worldwide Tour in ‘73

In 1973, she and her close friend, the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano, tried their hand at staging opera. They directed a production of Verdi's “I Vespri Siciliani” in Turin, but in’ the view of the critics, the results were disastrous.

That same year, they decided to make a worldwide concert tour. It began in Hamburg, West Germany, in October, and the singers appeared at Carnegie Hall in two programs in February 1974. The audience was almost hysterical in its adulation, but the critics lamented that there was not much left of Miss Callas's voice, even if her interpretations remained unexcelled. When the tour ended, it represented the soprano's last singing in public. She did, however, continue to add to her extensive list of recordings.

When she married Mr. Meneghini, 20 years her senior, in 1949, the Italian building‐materials tycoon rave her security and, it was said at first, affection. She called herself professionally Maria Meneghini Callas, and he became her manager and agent. They were separated in 1959 after she had become romantically involved with Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping magnate. The marriage with Mr. Meneghini, was annulled six years later.

The public eagerly followed the relationship between the singer and the entrepreneur, particularly after it was learned that Mr. Onassis had given her controlling stock in a $3 million freighter.

They had apartments near each other in Paris. When Mr. Onassis married Jacqueline Kennedy, attempts were made to have Miss Callas comment on a supposed rebuff. The singer said little about it except that she and Mr. Onassis were still good friends.

The singer was also known for the bitterness with which she spoke of her family. “There is no communication between my family and me,” she said in 1971. “I know my mother wrote a book about me, but I never read it.”

She also broke with her musical mentor, Mr. Serafin, ostensibly because the conductor chose another soprano for a recording that she had expected to make with him.

A celebrated feud between Miss Callas and Renata Tebaldi, who was her contemporary, was kept alive in the press and by the fans of the respective soparsons. They were rival singers at La Scala at one time, and it was reported that they avoided each other backstage. Miss Tebaldi refused to attend Miss Callas's performances, while Miss Callas went, with some ostentation, to those of the other soprano. Gossip writers hinted that she did so in order to make Miss Tebaldi nervous.

In 1968, Miss Callas attended the Met's opening performance, in which Miss Tebaldi was singing the title role of Cilea's “Adriana Lecouvreur.” Afterward, the two singers met backstage and this time embraced each other.

In recent years, Miss Callas's name had been steadily linked with that of Mr. di Stefano. They had frequently sung on stage and in recordings together in the earlier stages of their careers.

Miss Callas made a film based on Euripides's “Medea,” which was released here in 1971. it was written and'directed by the late Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Leonard Bernstein, the conductor, on being informed of Miss Callas's death, said yesterday, “Besides being a cherished friend, she was for me the uniquely great singer of bel canto in the mid‐20th century and has for some years been irreplaceable.”

Dario Soria, former head of Angel Rec ords, the label on which Miss Callas's recordings have been issued in this country, and now director of the Metropolitan Opera Guild, had remained a steadfast friend. He said yesterday that he had talked by phone to the singer last summer, and that she sounded remote in spirit. In response to a query as to what she was doing, she told him in a flat voice, “Nothing.” “Without being able to perform,” Mr. Soria said, “she apparently had nothing left to live for.”

Mr. Soria also summed up Miss Callas's career succinctly: “As a singer, she was responsible for the revival of bel canto. As an actress, she made the stage exciting theater. As a personality, she had the kind of magic that makes news. I think she'll be remembered as one of the greatest opera singers of all times.”

The New York Times/Larry Morris

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Trouble in the "golden cage".Jimmy Donahue and the Duchess of Windsor / VIDEO: 'Love in Exile' - The Duke and Duchess of Windsor



The night that Edward confronted Wallis over her gay lover: After 60 years, secret notes reveal truth about playboy pal
Anne Seagrim kept secret notebooks during her service with the royals
They revealed the Duchess had become bored with her husband
Which led to an affair with an American 19 years her junior

By CHRISTOPHER WILSON FOR MAIL ON SUNDAY
PUBLISHED: 22:32 BST, 20 September 2014 | UPDATED: 11:23 BST, 21 September 2014

The dramatic moment when a devastated Duke of Windsor accused his wife of adultery has been revealed in the previously unseen papers of his former private secretary.

In a scene that undermines the myth that the marriage was ‘the greatest love affair in the world’, the former Edward VIII tearfully told Wallis Simpson, the divorcee for whom he gave up the throne in 1936, to break off her relationship with a wealthy playboy.

The private notebooks of Anne Seagrim, which she kept secretly during her service with the royal couple, offer further evidence that after 13 years of marriage, the Duchess had became bored with her husband, leading to an affair with a young American 19 years her junior, Jimmy Donahue, who until then had been a promiscuous homosexual.

In an undated eyewitness account detailing the moment the ex-king became aware of the affair, Miss Seagrim  wrote: ‘The day that he came back from the [New York] Racquets Club where someone had told him “in his own interests” that the Duchess had  been out every night till dawn with the same young man –  he went to his room and lay  on his bed. She came in and, gaily unknowing, went into  [his room].

‘I heard him choking back  the tears in his voice, telling her what he had heard. I heard him say what he had no doubt rehearsed over and over again – “It’s not because you are the Duchess of Windsor, it’s because you are my wife. Any man would mind his wife  doing this.”

‘His voice wavered. She never said a single word – or at any rate I didn’t hear her voice,  and very soon she came out, all her gaiety gone – walking slowly with her head bent, her face submissive, her eyes blue & bewildered. She gave me a quick glance as she went through my room.

‘She was very quiet and submissive for a long time afterwards. She telephoned immediately cancelling whatever arrangement she had made with the young man.’

And Miss Seagrim says damningly of the Duchess:  ‘She revelled in this shoddy little success.’

The Duchess had started her affair with Donahue aboard  the Queen Mary in May 1950, when she was 54 and he 35, having first met him at his mother’s home in Palm Beach nine years earlier. He was a grandson of the founder of Woolworth’s and led an indolent life after being kicked  out of Choate, the ‘American Eton’, for non-attendance.


The affair continued even after the Duke’s intervention, and came to an end in 1954, when he finally lost patience with his wife’s lover.

Miss Seagrim, who worked  at close quarters with the couple in Paris and New York between 1950 and 1954, wrote in her notebook of the Duchess: ‘She naively always hoped to get away with her affairs – brazened it out when another would have given herself away by seeming guilty.’

She added: ‘[She was] determined to have her fun – but when she realised she had been caught out, she didn’t excuse herself or try to fool him.

‘She was also really [regretful] at having upset him because although I was pretty sure she never felt the same passionate love for him as he did for her, she was very fond of him and had set herself the job of making him happy. But it was a “job”. It wasn’t a reciprocal love on the same scale as his for her.’

The notebooks, stored in a recently opened archive in Churchill College, Cambridge, are particularly revealing because throughout her life Miss Seagrim, who died aged 92 in 2011, publicly maintained her devoted support for  the Windsors.

She wrote: ‘When HRH was happy, he used to call her “Peaches”. Nothing could be further from the truth!’ And of the Duke she observed: ‘Donaldson [Frances Donaldson, one of the Duke’s early biographers] misses the essential point about his character – his fundamental uncertainty about his sexuality & his ability to be a heterosexual man. He was fundamentally afraid of women.’

For four years, as I revealed in my biography Dancing  With the Devil: The Windsors and Jimmy Donahue, the trio were inseparable.

The Duke, who was pathologically worried about money  and happy to allow others to bankroll his expensive lifestyle, knowingly allowed himself  to be cuckolded.

Although rumours often swirled about the Duchess’s relationship with Donahue, his previously homosexual love-life led observers to believe that there was no sexual attraction between them.

After the affair ended, the dynamic between husband  and wife remained unchanged – he needy, she expecting total devotion.


A bejewelled Cartier tiger brooch and matching bracelet which were ordered by the Duke after the affair are being sold  at Christie’s in November and are expected to fetch £1.5 million.

The Cartier tiger brooch the Duke gave his wife after the affair

"The story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor is one of the most romantic of all time: Edward VIII abdicated his throne and gave up an empire so that he could marry the woman he loved, American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Very few people suspected, and even fewer actually knew, that the Duchess cuckolded him—and almost gave him up—for a gay playboy twenty years her junior.

Blond and slender, Jimmy Donahue was the archetypal post-war playboy. He could fly a plane, speak several languages, play the piano, and tell marvelous jokes. People loved him for his wit, charm and personality. The grandson of millionaire Frank W. Woolworth, Jimmy knew he would never need to work. Instead, he set about carving for himself a career of mischief. Some said evil.

Gay at a time when the homosexual act was still illegal, Jimmy was notorious within America’s upper class, and loved to shock. Though press agents arranged for him to be seen with female escorts, his pursuits, until he met the Duchess of Windsor, were exclusively homosexual. He was thirty-five when he was befriended by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1950. The Duchess was fifty-four, and despite the difference in age, there was an instant attraction. A burgeoning sexual relationship – a perverse sort of love – was formed between Jimmy and the Duchess. Together with the Duke, they became an inseparable trio, the closest of friends. As Jimmy had planned, the royal couple became obsessed with him.

With information from surviving contemporaries, Dancing with the Devil is the extraordinary tale of three remarkable people and their unique and twisted relationship."


Donahue claimed he had had a four-year affair with Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, the wife of the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII. This claim is endorsed by Lady Pamela Hicks, daughter of Earl Mountbatten of Burma and a cousin of the Duke of Windsor:
(…)”In the summer of 1936, a weekend house party included Wallis Simpson and her husband, along with King Edward VIII. Simpson presented her hostess with a cold chicken from Fortnum & Mason, which everyone thought odd. Mr. Simpson left after only one night, but the others remained, which prompted “a good deal of talking among the adults.” That December, the King renounced his throne for “the woman I love,” to the shock of seven-year-old Pammy. “I was surprised to learn my cousin Lilibet and her sister Margaret Rose would actually have to live in Buckingham Place…. This took some digesting,” Pamela writes.

In later life, Pamela saw quite a bit of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. “Whenever I was in Paris with my father he’d ring up the Duke: ‘I’ve got Pammy with me,’ he’d say. ‘Would you like us to pop around?’ The Duke would whisper, ‘Oh Dickie, let me see…. Wallis is going to the hairdresser at 2:30. Come at 2:30.’

“The Duke wanted to reminisce about his old regiment, his English past, etc., and that stuff bored Wallis to death,” Pamela explains.

“She was the most marvelous hostess,” Pam admits of the Duchess. “Her houses were perfection. At giving parties and serving food, she was the best.”

But did she have any warmth? “No. She was an American hostess,” is her answer.

“She was hard-hearted,” she continues. “I was shocked that she got this man to give up the throne of England, with the idea that she would devote her life to him. Instead of which, she had Jimmy Donahue [a rich American playboy and heir to the Woolworth fortune]. I remember the Duke being in tears with my father, saying, ‘Wallis is with Jimmy.’ He had no alternative [other] than her.”
In : “Lady Pamela Hicks and her sister, the Countess, knew extreme privilege and epic tragedy.”




Scandalous Love Affairs: Jimmy and the Duchess

Monday, October 4, 2010

"You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance." the Duchess of Windsor to a friend.
It was a relationship that baffled and mystified their friends, and entertained their enemies. She was one of the most famous women in the world, one half of 'the love story of the century.' He was a rich, handsome, high school drop-out and mama's boy twenty years younger, and gay. They were an odd couple in many ways but despite their differences, the Duchess of Windsor and Jimmy Donahue kept gossips and high society on both sides of the Atlantic agog as they danced and flirted their way from New York to Palm Beach to Europe. Wallis was so enthralled with her young swain and the lifestyle that he offered her that she actually contemplated leaving the Duke for him.


Jimmy Donahue and the Duchess of Windsor had been introduced in the early 1940's when the Duke and Duchess had traveled to Palm Beach from the Bahamas where the Duke was serving as Governor General. The Duke of Windsor's former Lord-in-Waiting, the Earl of Sefton, suggested her as a hostess to the royal visitors. Jimmy's mother Jessie Woolworth Donahue hoped that rubbing shoulders with the royal couple would boost her own social standing. Although she had inherited millions from her father F.W. Woolworth, she was still considered new money to the old guard of Palm Beach Society. Her marriage to James Donahue, whose family had made their money from fat rendering, hadn't burnished her pedigree.

For their part, the Windsors found America more congenial than Europe where the Duke's indiscret behavior, like his meeting with Hitler in Germany, embarrassed the royal family. Here the Windsor's were treated like royalty. Jessie Donahue was thrilled when the Windsors attended lunches and dinners at her palatial Cielito Lindo in Palm Beach or at her triplex in New York. As a kid Jimmy had dreamed of being the best friend of the Duke of Windsor when he was still the Prince of Wales, and now here he was sitting having tea in his mother's living room. The Windsors were equally impressed by the Donahue's money, houses, servants and lifestyle.

Everything changed in 1950, when the Duke and Duchess decided to take the RMS Queen Mary from New York to Cherbourg. It was a trip they had taken many times before but this time Jimmy Donahue was on board. It was there, on the high seas, that Wallis fell in love with Jimmy. He was an old hand at entertaining older women. His mother had often pulled him out of school to accompany her on her travels. He was a brilliant gossip, prankster and jokester. At the start of the trip, Jimmy and Wallis were just friends; by the time they disembarked they were lovers. He was thirty-four and she was fifty-four. Friends say that Wallis did the chasing, that the idea would never have occurred to Jimmy to pursue the Duchess.

By the time the Duchess and Jimmy fell in love, they were both at a cross roads in their lives. The Duchess was bored and vulnerable. It had been 14 years since the Duke had abdicated the English throne for the 'woman I love' and maintaining the love affair of the century was stifling. The Duke may have once been King of England but now he was just an ordinary man. He was needy and childlike, his love smothering. Their love life was unsatisfying, the Duke not only had a foot fetish but he liked to play 'nanny' games which infantilized him, wearing a diaper, with the Duchess punishing him for his being a 'naughty boy.' When she wasn't in the room, the Duke would visibly wilt. Wallis had also suffered her share of health problems, been diagnosed with cancer, and would soon have to have a hysterectomy. Life seemed to be passing her by; ahead of her was a long, lonely, empty road. Not even making the best-dressed list year after year made up for the slights and snubs from the Royal Family.

Her relationship with Jimmy was a diversion from the empty and meaningless life that she had been leading. He was witty and charming, and despite his sexual inclinations, an intense attraction sprang up between them. Jimmy wasn't raised to have a career; he was raised to be rich which gave him ample time to cater to the Duchesses whims. He was the archetypal postwar playboy; he spoke several languages, could fly a plane, play the piano, and had impeccable manners. He was also mischievous, loving to shock high society with his pranks. For instance, the time he dressed up as a nun, pulled up his habit and squatted in the middle of the road, defecating. And all those grand dinner parties when, according to Aileen Plunket, the Guinness heiress, he'd liven things up by unbuttoning his trousers and laying his private parts on his plate among the potatoes and gravy and sauces, "looking like some pink sausage."

Like Wallis, Jimmy was trapped. In his case, it was his wealth and the Woolworth name. He was the quintessential 'poor little rich boy' Jimmy was kept on a tight leash by his mother Jessie, who alternately smothered and neglected her favorite son. She kept such a tight leash on her money that even after her death Jimmy wouldn’t have inherited the Woolworth millions if he had outlived her. Jimmy often had to borrow money from his wealthier cousin Barbara Hutton to fund his expensive lifestyle.

But Jessie was quite willing to open the purse strings now that Jimmy was close chums with Wallis and the Duke. Jimmy treated Wallis to shopping sprees at Mainbocher and Hattie Carnegie where she bought dresses and hats as if they were going out of style. He encouraged her to acquire a substantial wardrobe of furs, which he paid for. The two would lunch together at the Colony and at Le Pavillion, their heads pressed together as they joked and gossiped. At night the trio would hit El Morocco, the Stork Club and '21 with Jimmy picking up the check. When the three of them went out, it was not uncommon for the Duke to leave Wallis and Jimmy to dance the night away while he went home to bed alone. Jimmy would whisk the couple away on pleasure jaunts, cruising the Mediterranean on a private yacht, treats they would never have been able to afford on their own. There was never a dull moment when he was around. But it wasn't just Jimmy's unlimited expense account that kept Wallis happy. According to biographer Christopher Wilson, Jimmy offered Wallis pleasure in the boudoir like she'd never experienced before which boggles the mind.

At first the Duke was pleased with Jimmy's friendship, they would play golf together, but he soon realized that he was becoming the odd man out in the little trio. When the Duke had to go to England for the deaths of his brother King George VI and his mother The Queen Mary, Wallis and Jimmy painted the town red in his absence. The Duke would place frantic phone calls trying to reach her only to be told that she was unavailable, or worse there was no answer at all. The poor Duke watched helplessly as his wife slipped away from him.

But after the idyll couldn't last. Jimmy was tired of having to address the Duke in a courtly fashion, and Wallis had become too possessive. Behind her back, Jimmy told friends, that on the pillow, her face looked like an old sailor. There was also the matter of the Windsors treating Jimmy and his mother like their own personal cash machine. The Windsors gave little in return other than themselves. On Wallis' side, she began to realize that Jimmy was limited intellectually. She was used to hobnobing with politicians, ambassadors, and generals. Friends also warned her that her association with Jimmy was ruining the couple's already tarnished reputation.

The end came while the trio were in Baden-Baden. Jimmy was bored, the atmosphere in the spa town was too full for him. At dinner that night, Wallis remarked that Jimmy reeked of garlic. Jimmy drunk after an several pre-dinner cocktails saw red. He kicked Wallis in the shin hard enough to bleed under the table. After tending to his wife, the Duke turned to Jimmy and said, "We've had enough of you. Jimmy get out."

With those words four years of friendship went down the tubes. Jessie Donahue was devastated, but the door was shut tightly in the Donahues face. The cold front lasted for almost twelve years. Finally the Windsors consented to attend a lunch with Jessie, and later visited Jimmy's house on Long Island but there was no renewal of the special bond that had existed. The relationship with Jimmy in the end brought the Duke and Duchess closer together. In the end, the Duchess realized that she had made her bed and seemed to finally settle into it.

Jimmy's life drifted on in a never ending quest to stave off the boredom in his life, drifting from relationship to relationship until his death in 1966.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Robert "Romeo" Coates THE "BEST" BATH’S WORST ACTOR.



Robert "Romeo" Coates (1772–1848) was an English eccentric, best remembered for his career as an amateur actor. His self-image included a highly mistaken belief in his own thespian prowess. Born in Antigua in the West Indies, the only surviving child of a wealthy sugar planter, and educated in England, he began to appear in plays in Bath in 1809, and became notorious for his fondness for appearing in leading roles. His favourite part was the male lead in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, hence his widely used nickname. After professional theatrical producers failed to cast Coates in roles prominent enough to satisfy him, he used his family fortune to subsidise his own productions in which he was both the producer and the lead actor.

ALAS! POOR ROMEO: BATH’S WORST ACTOR
Historian Catherine Pitt tells the story of a man considered to be the worst actor in history, yet Bath audiences queued to see him perform

Bath, 1808 – genteel, sedate, elegant. Quietly the social season began unhindered, the glorious colour and buzz of the Beau Nash years a faded memory. Into this calm stepped an exotic character – the self-styled Amateur of Fashion, a man who was soon to be considered “the worst actor in English theatrical History”. Ladies and Gentleman, allow me to introduce to you – Robert ‘Romeo’ Coates.

Born in 1772 in Antigua, the only surviving child of plantation owners, Coates was schooled in England but returned to the West Indies after his parents refused to allow him to pursue a military career. When he wasn’t travelling, Coates would dabble in amateur dramatics. After his father’s death in 1807, Robert rapidly headed for England, first to London and then to Bath.

When Coates appeared on the peaceful city streets in 1808, few had seen his like before. Even in the period of Regency dandyism his appearance raised more than a few eyebrows. He was wont to wear vast furs in all weathers even during the day, and at the height of summer. In the evenings he would appear in the Pump Room and Assembly Rooms resplendent in a sky blue coat, yellow breeches, a multi-coloured cravat and a feathered hat.

If this wasn’t enough, Coates embellished every accoutrement of his attire – from his shirt buttons to his garter and shoe buckles, with hundreds of diamonds. Even his walking cane was topped with a vast sparkling jewel. He was, as one observer noted, surrounded by a “halo of rainbow-changing colours like those of the Antiguan moonlight” and almost immediately gained the moniker of ‘Diamond’ Coates.

To add to his outlandish image, Coates chose to travel in a carriage of his own design. This two wheeled chariot, known as a curricle, was shaped like a shell or kettle drum, and was pulled by two white horses. Atop the curricle was Coates’ mascot and motto – a crowing fighting cockerel, wings outstretched, and underneath the boast: “Whilst I live I’ll Crow”.

Despite his noticeable presence in Bath, few knew who he was or where he was from; all they knew was that he must be a man of wealth to indulge in such eccentricities. There are conflicting views as to where exactly he lodged in Bath, but what is certain is that he could be found, daily, enjoying breakfast and lunch at York House on George Street, a large coaching inn (and still a hotel today). It was here that, according to Pryse Gordon, a man who takes the claim (or blame) for introducing Coates to the Bath stage, he approached Coates when overhearing him rehearsing passages from Shakespeare. Apparently correcting Coates on a line, he was met with the words, “Aye, that is the reading I know . . . but I think I have improved upon it.”


On further enquiry Gordon discovered Coates’ passion for Shakespeare and for amateur dramatics, and currying favour with this wealthy eccentric, Gordon offered to introduce Coates to the manager of the Theatre Royal, William Wyatt Dimond. Coates declared that he was “ready and willing to play Romeo to a Bath audience.”

Dimond was unwilling to risk the theatre’s reputation on an unknown, but much reassurance from Gordon that seats would be filled (Gordon had persuaded a number of his friends to purchase theatre boxes prior to the performance) and probably some monetary reassurance from Coates, Dimond agreed to a date. Playbills were plastered throughout the city announcing that on 8 February 1809 a new production of Romeo and Juliet was opening and that the male lead, Romeo, was to be played by “an amateur actor from the fashionable world”.

As word spread of Coates’ acting debut, seats began to fill up fast. On the evening of the production the Theatre Royal was packed with curious Bathonians, with many more turned away at the door. Inside the anticipation was palpable. Bejewelled necks craned to the stage and excited murmurings were heard in the packed house.

On Coates’ entrance the audience were at first dumbfounded at the vision stood before them, described by an observer as “one of the most grotesque spectacles ever witnessed upon the stage”. Romeo wore “a spangled coat of sky blue silk, crimson pantaloons,” the usual diamond additions; plus a huge baroque wig. Balanced on top of this was a white trimmed hat with plumes of ostrich feathers. Coates took a nervous bobbing bow, grinning away, and the audience burst into peals of laughter and roars of applause in equal measure.

Unfazed Coates proceeded, though it was like no version of Shakespeare’s play ever seen before or since. Coates had a tendency to forget his lines, add in his own where he thought they needed improving, and would alternately whisper sections to just one box in the theatre. During the famous balcony scene, Coates turned away from Juliet, pulled out his snuff box and proceeded to take a pinch. As the public roared their approval he took this as a sign and ended up offering it to a number of ladies and gentlemen in the audience.

As if that wasn’t enough to amuse the Bath audience, Coates’ costume was so tight, it made him move about the stage in an awkward and what must have been highly amusing gait. Half way through the play, during the rendition of an impassioned speech, the seams at the seat of his red breeches could take no more and burst open, revealing a “quantity of white linen sufficient to make a Bourbon flag!”

“Convulsed with laughter a number of members of the audience shouted out “Die Again, Romeo” and happily Coates obliged, not once but twice more”

On appearing at the tomb of Juliet, crowbar in his hand, the audience thought there couldn’t be more to this tragedy turned farce, but before proceeding with his death scene, Coates took out a silk handkerchief, laid it on the boards, put his hat down to act as a pillow and then went through a most lengthy and, apparently from his grimaces and groans, agonising ‘death’ before carefully laying himself out on stage.

Convulsed with laughter a number of members of the audience shouted out “Die Again, Romeo” and happily Coates obliged, not once but twice more. He was about to attempt a third encore when Juliet appeared from the wings and stopped him. Dimond, unsure on what to do at this juncture, and fearing retribution from the public, hastily dropped the curtain bringing the play, finally, to an end. Meanwhile on stage Coates ran around, hanging off boxes, shouting “Haven’t I done well?”– so Robert ‘Romeo’ Coates was born.

It seems that the jeers and heckles that Coates received made little impact on him – in fact he could give back as good as he got and thought nothing of turning to the offending heckler and giving them a piece of his mind. He was positively buoyed by what he considered his success in Bath, so much so that he decided to tour his production of Romeo and Juliet around the country, including playing the Haymarket Theatre in London, as well as in Brighton and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Although a subject of mockery and satirisation around the country, Coates still considered himself just an amateur actor and did not take a wage. In fact he probably had to pay actors and actresses to appear alongside him. His reputation preceded him so theatres were packed. Any profits Coates would request went to charity.

By 1816 Coates decided to forgo the stage, and in December he headed to the city, and theatre where it had all began, for the final act. Over three days in Bath he decided to perform another of his favourite plays, The West Indian, but for the final public performance Coates went full circle and chose Romeo and Juliet.

It was said by audience members who had seen him seven years previously that he was much improved but by how much is not implied. As before, Coates was jeered, but this time he didn’t ignore the jibes; but paused and declared that people could request their money back if they were not happy with his performance, but that his intention was that the money from this play, and his performance the following day, were to go to the local Pierrepont Street Charity. Shamed into silence, a more reverent crowd allowed Coates to continue.

After 1816 he would do the occasional private charitable performance, but it was the last the public would see of ‘Romeo’ Coates. Dogged by debt collectors during the financial troubles of the 1830s, Coates took refuge in Boulogne for a few years where he was often spotted in his furs.

His death, in February 1848, was as bizarre as his life had been – he was crushed between two carriages in London’s Covent Garden after a night at the Opera. Alas, Poor Romeo!



Coates claimed to be the best actor in Britain. He would appear in bizarre costumes of his own design, invent new scenes and dialogue mid-show, and repeat parts of the play he particularly liked—usually dramatic death scenes—up to three or four times a night. His fame quickly spread and people flocked to see whether Coates was really as bad as they had heard. They laughed and jeered at him; Coates sometimes turned to the audience and answered in kind. By 1816 audiences had tired of mocking Coates, and theatre managers were no longer willing to let him use their premises. After some years living in France to avoid creditors, he returned to England, married in 1823, and had two children who both predeceased him. Coates died in London in 1848, aged about 76, after a Hansom cab hit him outside the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Robert Coates was born in Antigua in the West Indies, the only surviving child of a wealthy sugar planter, Alexander Coates, and his wife Dorothy. He was educated in England, and on returning to Antigua took part in amateur dramatics. When he inherited his father's estate and a large collection of diamonds in 1807, he moved to Bath, England, where he lived as a man of fashion. He eventually drew the attention of the manager of the Theatre Royal, Bath and had begun to appear in plays in 1809, though not as a professional actor.

Later he appeared in Romeo and Juliet in the part of Romeo – in a costume of his own design. The costume had a flowing, sky-blue cloak with sequins, red pantaloons, a vest of white muslin, a large cravat, and a plumed "opera hat," according to Captain Rees Howell Gronow – not to mention dozens of diamonds – which was hardly suitable for the part. The too-small garments caused him to move stiffly, and at some point, the seat of his pants split open. The audience roared with laughter.

Despite this ridicule, Coates went on to tour the British Isles. If a theatre manager would hesitate to let him show his talents, he would bribe them. Managers, in turn, often called in the police in case things went seriously wrong.

Coates was convinced he was the best actor in business – or at least that is what he claimed. He forgot his lines all the time and invented new scenes and dialogue on the spot. He loved dramatic death scenes and would repeat them – or any other scenes he happened to take a fancy to – three to four times over.

Coates claimed that he wanted to improve the classics. At the end of his first appearance as Romeo he came back in with a crowbar and tried to pry open Capulet's tomb. In another of his antics he made the actress playing Juliet so embarrassed that she clung to a pillar and refused to leave the stage. Eventually no actress would agree to play the part with him.

The audience usually answered with angered catcalls and embarrassed jeering – and loads of laughter. His fellow actors would try to make him leave the stage. If Coates thought the audience was getting out of hand, he turned to them and answered in kind.

His fame spread and people would flock to see whether he really was as bad as they had heard. For some reason, Baron Ferdinand de Geramb became his foremost supporter. Even the Prince Regent (the future King George IV) would go to see him. In 1811, when he played the part of Lothario in The Fair Penitent in London's Haymarket Theatre, the theatre had to turn thousands of would-be spectators away. In another performance in Richmond, Surrey, several audience members had to be treated for excessive laughter.

Coates went on with his antics. Once, when he dropped a diamond buckle when he was going to exit the stage, he crawled around the stage looking for it. During his first performance of Romeo & Juliet, he pulled out his snuff box in the middle of a scene and offered some to the occupants of a box. Then, during Romeo's death scene, Coates carefully placed his hat on the ground for a pillow and used his dirty handkerchief to dust the stage before lying on it. Finally, at the invitation of the audience, he acted out Romeo's death twice—and was about to attempt a third before his Juliet came back to life and interrupted him.[4] The amusement of the audience was enormous. There is some question as to whether Coates believed he was a great actor as he professed to, or if his performances weren't brilliant parody.

Offstage
Outside the stage Coates tried to amaze the public with his taste in clothing. He wore furs even in hot weather. He went out in a custom-built carriage with a heraldic device of a crowing cock and the motto While I live, I'll crow. In receptions he glittered from head to toe with diamond buttons and buckles. His predilection for diamonds of all kinds gave him the nickname "Diamond Coates".

Coates was never a professional actor, and only made his stage appearances in support of charitable causes: his own nickname of choice was 'the Celebrated Philanthropic Amateur'. After 1816 his performances ceased, as audiences had tired of laughing at him and theatrical managers were wary of allowing him use of their premises. Later he fell into financial difficulties and to avoid creditors moved to Boulogne-sur-Mer, where he met Emma Anne Robinson, daughter of a naval lieutenant.After Coates put his finances back into better order they returned to England and were married on 6 September 1823. The two lived quietly in London, living lastly at his residence, 28 Montagu Square.They had two children, both of whom predeceased Coates. Emma remarried in the year of Coates's death, her second husband being Mark Boyd.

Robert Coates died in London in 1848 after a street accident. He was caught and crushed between a Hansom cab and a private carriage as he was leaving a performance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 15 February, and died at home six days later. At his inquest the coroner brought in a verdict of manslaughter by person or persons unknown. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

Friday, 12 October 2018

New show at the Textile and Fashion Museum in London / Exhibition Dates: 12 October 2018 – 20 January 2019


A new show at the Textile and Fashion Museum in London recalls classic garments from the 1930s. 


Following the success of 2017’s 1920s Jazz Age: Fashion and Photographs, we are thoroughly excited to announce our Winter 2018 exhibition: Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs!

As a decade of design, the Thirties saw off the excess of the Jazz Age and ushered in the utilitarianism of World War II. As the flapper grew up, so too did her fashions. The new silhouettes of the 1930s played with the hard edged chic seen in the Art Deco and Moderne styles, the unexpected as seen in the surrealists and the sensuality of silver screen sirens.

The exhibition will explore the day and evening styles of the decade, complemented by photographs of the stars who championed them. With fashion as the lens, Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs will traverse the great period of social change that was the 1930s.

Exhibition Dates: 12 October 2018 – 20 January 2019
Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11am–6pm
Thursdays until 8pm
Sundays, 11am–5pm
Last admission 45 minutes before closing
Closed Mondays



Published on 14 September 2018
Cecil Beaton and more star at the Fashion and Textile Museum
written by Diane Smyth

Merle Oberon wearing a pearl headdress designed by Cecil Beaton and costume by Oliver Messel, photograph by Cecil Beaton, 1934, courtesy of The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, Sotheby’s copy

Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs features a special display devoted to Beaton plus images by pioneering photographers such as Paul Tanqueray, Madame Yevonde and Dorothy Wilding

Born in London’s prosperous Hampstead in 1904, Cecil Beaton went to school with Evelyn Waugh (who bullied him), and Cyril Connolly (who admired the beauty of his singing). Taught photography by his nanny, Beaton found work assisting cutting-edge young photographer Paul Tanqueray, and became famous for his portraits of the Bright Young Things – the decadent young socialites of the 1920s and 30s, whose hedonistic lives were captured in Waugh’s glittering, somewhat fatalistic novel Vile Bodies.

Beaton was taken on by Vogue in 1927 and moved to the US in 1929; he was a staff photographer for both Vogue and Vanity Fair until 1938, when he was fired for inserting anti-Semitic phrases by the side of an illustration of New York society in American Vogue. Returning to Britain, he went on to take photographs for the British Ministry of Information during World War Two and later rehabilitated his career, going on to photograph stars such as Mick Jagger, Marilyn Monroe, and Andy Warhol. He also launched a successful career in set and costume design in the 1950s and 60s.

But it’s his photographs from the 1930s that star in The Fashion and Textile Museum, where a display titled Cecil Beaton: Thirty from the 1930s – Fashion, Film, Fantasy will show off the work that helped define an era. Curated by Terence Pepper, the display includes Beaton’s photograph of heiress Daisy Fellowes, wearing a custom-made Cartier necklace, for example; it also takes in Beaton’s icily glamorous portrait of Merle Oberon, who was born in the-then Bombay and went on to star in films such as The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Dark Angel.

The Beaton display is part of a much larger exhibition titled Night and Day: 1930s Fashion & Photographs, which includes day and evening fashions of this tumultuous decade, the advertising photographs and magazines that helped popularise them, and iconic photographs of the stars who championed them – shot by pioneering image-makers such as Beaton’s one-time employer, Paul Tanqueray.

Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs and Cecil Beaton: Thirty from the 30s – Fashion, Film and Fantasy are on show at The Fashion and Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF from 12 October 2018 – 20 January 2019 www.ftmlondon.org



Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs - in pictures
Photograph: Rights Managed/Fashion and Textile Museum
A new show at the Textile and Fashion Museum in London recalls classic garments from the 1930s. Meanwhile, Cecil Beaton: Thirty from the 30s explores the photographer’s works on fashion, film and fantasy.
Both shows run from 12 October to 20 January 2019
Fri 12 Oct 2018 07.56 BST







Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Helena Bonham Carter 55 STEPS / Helena Bonham Carter to play Princess Margaret in The Crown / VIDEO: Official Trailer (2018) Helena Bonham Carter, Hilary Swank Movi...



Interview
Helena Bonham Carter: ‘Standing up to Harvey wasn’t easy’
In her 35-year career, the actor has seen the best and worst of Hollywood. She talks about divorce, depression and making her most personal film

Simon Hattenstone
Mon 8 Oct 2018 06.00 BST Last modified on Mon 8 Oct 2018 09.48 BST

Helena Bonham Carter does not attempt to disguise her hurt. She says she has just made the most important and personal film of her career, and is convinced nobody will see it. 55 Steps tells the story of Eleanor Riese, a psychiatric patient who successfully fought the US’s medical and political establishment in the 1980s for the right to refuse antipsychotic drugs.

Bonham Carter, who executive-produced the film as well as playing Riese, tried to get the movie made for 15 years, but it kept collapsing – budget problems, casting problems, director problems. Initially, she was going to play Colette Hughes, the campaigning lawyer (think Erin Brockovich) who represents Riese, with Susan Sarandon in the central role. But so much time passed that Bonham Carter ended up playing the older psychiatric patient, with Hilary Swank cast as the lawyer. And now the film is going straight to video.

We meet at a restaurant close to where she lives in London. You can spot her a mile off. If she weren’t so famous, you might think she was down on her luck – massive dirty black coat and trainers disguising a gorgeous floral dress (“I wore it as a tribute to Eleanor – she loves flowers”); massive shades disguising a gorgeous girlish face. Bonham Carter is the establishment’s oddball – uninhibited, direct, forceful, funny and, at times, vulnerable. (Riese was always an outsider, but they have much in common.)

She takes a bottle of Coke out of her bag, pours it discreetly into a glass and asks the waiter for ice.

“I want some food,” she says to me. “Have you eaten?” She puts on her filthy reading glasses, which are hanging on a pearl lanyard. Are the pearls real? “No, but they’ve got the weight. Feel them. Look. I’ve got to get them for Margaret, because she likes pearls.” She is playing the famously hot-blooded and hot-tempered princess in the next series of The Crown. She pulls a finger across her mouth to zip it. “I’m not allowed to talk about The Crown.” She turns her attention to the menu. “I’m going to do lots of meze. Aubergine salad! Mmmm. Tabbouleh, chicken shashlik, hummus, tzatziki and some lentils.” She bursts out laughing. “I’ll just buy the whole lot.”

Bonham Carter, 52, seems to have been with us for ever. She comes from a well-to-do family (her great-grandfather was the Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith), made her name in the 1980s playing English roses in tasteful Merchant Ivory adaptations of EM Forster classics (A Room With a View, Maurice, Howards End) and evolved into something entirely grungier. She first reinvented herself in the late 90s, cast as a louche siren in David Fincher’s Fight Club. Then came a professional and romantic relationship with Tim Burton, master of the ghoulish fairytale, who cast her in unlikely, often unearthly, roles – a rebel chimp in Planet of the Apes, the Red Queen with the huge, hydrocephalised head in Alice in Wonderland, the eponymous zombie in Corpse Bride, and the adorable serial-killer Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd. Bonham Carter and Burton had two children (Billy Ray, now 15, and Nell, 10) and became a tabloid staple. They were fabulously eccentric – supremely childlike (the goths who never grew up) and a Hollywood power couple. One day, Bonham Carter would be photographed shopping for milk in her pyjamas, the next she would be enjoying a New Year stroll with then prime minister David Cameron. (And, no, she says, she is not a Tory – “Rule of life: you don’t have to be a Tory in order to be friends with one. Even if they end up being PM.”) There were endless stories about their wacky lives – notably the fact that they lived in adjoining cottages, and slept separately (he snored in his sleep, she talked). Even she referred to herself and Burton as “the bonkers couple”. Then, four years ago, they announced they were splitting up.

“It’s a miracle this film got made,” she says of 55 Steps. “It’s fallen apart so many times.” But the more knockbacks, the more determined she was. She says she felt a responsibility to a woman who had been silenced for so much of her life. “It was like I was carrying the baton for Eleanor. The main thing she wanted was to be heard.”

The film is called 55 Steps because, among other things, Riese had OCD – she was an obsessive counter of her footsteps, and had to climb 55 steps for her first day in the San Francisco court. Has Bonham Carter ever had OCD? “No. I’ve had depression. My periods of depression usually relate to the end of things. But I don’t have rituals. I’ve had times when my mind is not helping me.” She stops. “Actually, when I was little, I did. I used to jump up and down three times. This was just before I did the 11-plus. I thought if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t get in. It obviously worked.”

The curious thing is, she says, it only gradually dawned on her just how personal a film this is. She shows me a picture on her iPhone of her younger self, little more than a toddler. “I look so concerned. Already worried. I was a worrier.”

After the death of her grandfather, her mother, Elena, had a breakdown; Bonham Carter was five. “Grief can bring a hell of a lot of other stuff up,” she says. “But she always felt her breakdown was a gift. Mum has been a real example of wearing her depression and her mental frailty as a badge of honour. She’s saying: ‘Look at what I survived.’” (Her mother trained as a psychotherapist when she recovered, and still practises today at 84.)

When her mother had her breakdown, says Bonham Carter, “she had a recurring dream that she was eating her father – carving him up and eating him. She thought it was the most horrifying dream, and the therapist she ended up seeing said: ‘What did he taste like?’ And she said: ‘No one’s ever asked me that. Really sweet.’ After that, the dream went. Suddenly it was solved.”

The family links to 55 Steps run deeper. When Riese was 10 years old, she contracted meningitis, and an operation went wrong, leaving her with brain damage. When Bonham Carter was 13, her father, Raymond, a banker, was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma – a noncancerous growth – in the brain cortex. The surgeon prolonged the operation by six hours to try to save his facial nerve; he subsequently had a post-operative stroke that left him paralysed and cortically blind. She adored her father. “He was amazing. He was so clever and flipping hilarious. When somebody is so disabled, other bits compensate. He got even brainier, and more bold. My dad sat down for 25 years of his life. He was never upright. The only time I saw him upright was when he came down the stairs in his mortuary bag.”

It was only when she was shooting a scene towards the end of 55 Steps that Bonham Carter linked her father’s experience with Riese’s. “I thought: ‘Of course I’m doing this film because of my flipping father; because he also had a medical intervention on the brain that went wrong.’”

She talks about how optimistic she was when 55 Steps was finished. It premiered at the 2017 Toronto film festival, the two real-life lawyers (Hughes and Mort Cohen, played by Jeffrey Tambor) attended the screening, and it got a rapturous ovation. “Mort came up to me and said: ‘You have no idea how much this is going to help; this film will do more to raise awareness of people like Eleanor than anything I can do.’ Then no one bought it.”

Why does she think that was? “One or two reviews were OK about me and another two really assassinated me. I was like, maybe they’re right, maybe it is completely over the top. There was one really horrible one and at the end of it somebody tweeted and said: ‘Excuse me, I knew Eleanor and she pitched her perfectly.’ When Colette saw the film she said: ‘You’ve resurrected her.’ So I felt a bit of vindication.”

Of course, it’s a big performance, Bonham Carter says – Riese was a big personality. “What I didn’t like about it was that they assumed I was being patronising. I am the last person to patronise this woman. I am her biggest champion.” Her voice rises. “Don’t you dare level that accusation. Maybe I’m a crap actor, but don’t don’t don’t say that I’m patronising her.” She is right; it is a big performance. But it is a big, touching, life-affirming performance that could just as easily have been Oscar-nominated as panned.

Bonham Carter says she thinks there might be another reason why the film wasn’t bought. “It might have been something to do with Jeffrey [Tambor], who has had a whole sexual scandal drama to do with the Amazon TV series Transparent. Unfortunately that came out just at the time, and people might have thought: ‘Oh, we can’t touch it.’” This year, Tambor was fired from Transparent after allegations of sexual harassment which he has denied. Bonham Carter is staying loyal to Tambor. “He has such compassion, and I don’t believe that same heart would be capable of any kind of abuse.”

A number of people Bonham Carter has worked with have been caught up in abuse allegations. Johnny Depp, who starred with her in five films Burton directed, was accused of being “verbally and physically abusive” by his former wife Amber Heard after they separated. Depp denied the allegations and Heard dropped her domestic abuse case against him. Did the allegations affect her relationship with Depp? “No. Johnny is still a friend. He’s the godfather to my children. I haven’t seen him for a long time. But he’s quite an elusive character.” Silence.

What does she think of the #MeToo movement? “It is definitely a good thing that #MeToo has happened. Any kind of abuse is not on. But I think one has to be careful. You have to be absolutely rigorous about what somebody has done to stand up and accuse them. You have to honour #MeToo.”

The #MeToo movement began on social media after the first abuse allegations were made against film producer Harvey Weinstein, with whom she has also worked. When I ask about Weinstein her response is typically measured. “Nobody is wholly bad and nobody is wholly good. He was very clever. There are a lot of reasons he was very powerful. He knew how to get you Oscar nominations. Both my nominations are due to him. And he had great taste in films.” What was the downside? “I found the way he treated certain people chilling – without any kind of respect. There were many times I disagreed with the way he behaved, and I don’t mean sexually.” He was bullying? “Yes. There were times when Harvey asked me to do certain things, and I said no. I knew I was running a thin line. Standing up to him wasn’t an easy thing to do because I knew I could potentially lose work.”

Why could she stand up to Weinstein when so many others couldn’t? “Because I already had a career. Other people were employing me. I wasn’t reliant on him.” Despite this, she says, she did discover the cost of disobeying him when working on the Jean-Pierre Jeunet film The Young and Prodigious TS Spivet, about a genius boy who runs away from home. “Harvey wanted me to tell Jeunet to change it. There is a scene in which he hitchhikes and Harvey said as soon as that kid gets into a truck everyone will think the truck driver is a child molester and all the kids in America will be freaked out. I said: ‘I don’t think you’re right, and I’m not going to tell Jean-Pierre Jeunet I know better than him.’” What did Weinstein say to her? “‘You’ve got to tell that arrogant asshole he’s being a shit, he doesn’t know the American market like I do.’ I found it revolting.”

Did she think Weinstein’s behaviour would come back to haunt him? “No, absolutely not.” Because he was too powerful? “Yes.” Had she heard allegations of sex abuse? “I was aware certain actresses had had sex with him, but I thought it was consensual.” Did her experience put her off working with him? “No. It’s a business.”

Bonham Carter is admirably honest about Weinstein. As she is about the end of her relationship with Burton. Reports have suggested they still live side by side in their adjoining cottages, but she says this is untrue. Earlier, she mentioned that she tended to get depression when things end. Did she have a bout after they split up? “I had a depression, definitely. I think when you’re with somebody your identity is wrapped up with that person, so it’s a loss of identity when you break up. I wouldn’t say divorce is the easiest thing.” Were they married? “No, but we were emotionally married. We’re family. So even when you know something is meant to end, that it’s had its proper life, you still have to grieve for all the good bits. It’s a whole massive re-formation.”

There have been rumours that they will get back together, but she says she now thinks of the relationship as the past. “I think we’ll have a friendship because we made the two greatest things in the world.” Do they share custody of the children? “Yes.” She pauses. “Well, they share us.” Is there anybody new in her life? She grins. “I’ve got two bunnies and a tortoise. I’m not prepared to talk about my friends.” Pause. That sounds like a yes? “Maybe.” She tugs at a huge silver hairpin that says “Maybe”. “Look there’s a Maybe in my hair.”

She talks about how the world has been turned on its head in recent years – Trump, #MeToo, Brexit (“God, it’s a disaster. Now we know what we’re talking about there’s no doubt we should have another referendum”).

After all the grieving, she says, she now feels positive. “I’ve got a whole new life. It’s fun. It’s less boring. It’s got a whole new unpredictability. It’s really nice.”

She is also excited about her work. While so many middle-aged female actors bemoan the lack of interesting work, Bonham Carter feels it is getting more interesting. After all the bonnets and Burton-inspired weirdness she is establishing herself as a character actor, with the rare ability to do frumpy (Enid Blyton and Riese) and glam (Elizabeth Taylor in the fine TV drama Burton and Taylor, and her forthcoming Princess Margaret in The Crown).

It is time to leave. But she is still thinking about 55 Steps. She says she knows it might sound funny, but she genuinely believes Eleanor Riese has helped her through her tough times. “I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve done. The irony is that I think three people will see it. But, luckily, even if you are in a nominal flop, as an actor you always have the gift of playing someone who’ll leave her imprint on your soul and psyche. I’m a wiser, more joyous person for having known her.”

55 Steps is available to buy and rent from 15 October

 
Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret in The Crown. Photograph: Netflix/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock
 Helena Bonham Carter to play Princess Margaret in The Crown
Actor says she is terrified to be taking over from Vanessa Kirby for third series of Netflix drama

Press Association

Thu 3 May 2018 18.24 BST Last modified on Thu 3 May 2018 22.00 BST
 This article is over 5 months old

Helena Bonham Carter has said she is terrified to be taking over from Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret in the third series of the drama The Crown.

Bonham Carter, who was previously rumoured for Netflix’s show, was officially announced for the role alongside Jason Watkins, who will play Harold Wilson.

They join previously announced cast members Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II and Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip, who are taking over from Claire Foy and Matt Smith.

Kirby was nominated for a Bafta for her portrayal of Margaret.

Bonham Carter said: “I’m not sure which I’m more terrified about – doing justice to the real Princess Margaret or following in the shoes of Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret.

“The only thing I can guarantee is that I’ll be shorter [than Vanessa].”

Watkins said: “I am delighted to become part of this exceptional show. And so thrilled to be working once again with Peter Morgan. Harold Wilson is a significant and fascinating character in our history. So looking forward to bringing him to life, through a decade that transformed us culturally and politically.

“And I am excited to be working so closely with Olivia; and the whole team.”

Bonham Carter, 51, is known for her many film roles, including her Bafta-winning peformance in The King’s Speech, as well as The Wings of the Dove, Hamlet and the Harry Potter films.

Watkins, 51, won a Bafta for his role in mini-series The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, and has also starred in TV shows Trollied, Being Human and Dirk Gently.

Created by Morgan, The Crown will refresh its cast as time goes on to reflect the ageing of the characters.

The first series covered the period 1947 to 1955; the second 1956 to 1963.


The Crown will return for series three in 2019.