Meeting Royalty at Maxims
Princess Diana von Furstenberg, Princess Tamara Nyman von Leichtnestein and Prince Albrecht von Leichtenstein.
I had not been in Paris long before I was introduced to a charming young man, who always seemed to be out and about in the posh night clubs that were popular with the International Jet Set. His full name was Prince Albrecht Johannes Géza Augustinus Wilhelm Maria von Liechtenstein, a royal prince, who later was also given the title of Baron von Landskron. He was in line as heir to the throne of a tiny fairy-tale monarchy in the Alps, with an older brother who would inherit the crown. I had not even heard of Liechtenstein but I looked it up in my guide book later. It was the only predominantly German-speaking country not to share a common border with Germany and the only predominantly German-speaking nation to have a monarch. It was known as a principality as it was a constitutional monarchy headed by a prince. The country had a strong financial sector located in the capital, Vaduz, and had been identified as a tax haven.
Prince Albrecht was handsome and tall, with dark wavy hair and a slight Teutonic accent. I couldn’t help being attracted to him. He seemed very knowledgeable about culture and society, and he took it upon himself to show me Paris in a way I had not yet experienced. He was familiar with the exciting world of theater, opera, ballet. He loved fine wine and gourmet dining, my weakness to this day. He always behaved as a perfect gentleman. He did not come on in s flirtatious way. His manners were more Germanic than French.
Having eagerly studied “Berlitz Teach Yourself French”, I could already exchange greetings, ask for things, say please and thank you. I knew how to count to one million and how to order every item on the menu. With these rudimentary communication skills I could get around quite well. Thanks to my parents strict insistence on good table manners I was able to behave acceptably.
Later I became engaged to a French aristocrat, who gave me a crash course in French etiquette and protocol. There was not too much I needed to learn, but there were certain important things I did not know. For example, you never slice a cheese at a right angle. The greatest cheese faux pas is cutting off the end of the wedge, which is called ”le nez”, the nose of the cheese, with a cross cut. You must cut it at a 45-degree angle. Anyone who did otherwise was considered terribly gauche. I also had to learn not to freak out when and entire broiled trout was served to me, head, skin, fins, tail and all, with a great white hard boiled-eyeball staring up at me. Not only that, but I learned how to decapitate and de-bone the entire thing, using just a knife and a fork, in the French style, with my elbows at my side and without making a mess. There were many little things I had to learn. Another one was never to thank a waiter. But I constantly ignored that one.
I was very busy working for Pierre Cardin and other Couture designers. In 1966, French Couture was still taken very seriously although later many houses closed. The influence of London and the demand for affordable and attractive ready-to-wear fashions in the new fabrics changed the fashion industry. I was lucky enough to have exactly the right look and proportions to work a bit as a model and see the world.
A few years earlier an enterprising lady named Madame Lebesque had become the owner of the hotel at 56 Rue Jacob which had been the site of Peace Treaty signed by John Jay and Benjamin Franklin in 1783. She brought her signature family style to every possible corner. The rooms all had antique furnishings and an eclectic decor. In the early 60′s, the hotel had offered its very simple comfort to students from the nearby Fine Arts School (Ecole des Beaux Arts) and to painters and other artists. But, now it also housed a bevy of very young international fashion models who enjoyed its excellent location, reasonable prices and bohemian atmosphere.
One evening Albrecht called for me at the little old-world Hotel du Danube.It was only my first week in Paris and except for the dinner at Castel, I had seen nothing but the insides of couture houses and frantic all night shoots. Susan Brainard, my roommate was working in Milan for a few days, and Ulla Bomser, my other chum, was off in Germany, working for the big catalog house Burda Moden. It was a Thursday night and I had nothing to do so I was happy when Albrecht called me at the last minute. I was impulsive in those days and an eleventh hour invitation was a passport to adventure. He suggested I come with him to meet some old friends for dinner.
Through the decades the former mansion had faded a bit, it might have been a bit shabby but it retained an air like a lady of faded beauty and presence. The elevator was broken, as usual, so I took the little winding staircase down to the small lobby. The little mustachioed concierge was seated behind the counter, in front of a wall of cubbyholes with keys and messages for the guests. Sometimes he would snooze late at night and you could reach beside him and just take your key. Or anyone’s key. That is how I was involved in a big robbery a few weeks later. Prince Albrecht was standing there, in the small shabby chic lobby with shabby chic chintz covered chairs, waiting for me, looking tall, dark and debonair in his dark Savile Row suit, worn with a black turtle neck.
We exchanged the obligatory three cheek kisses and a hug. He led me to chauffeur driven Citroen, parked on the Rue Jacob just outside the hotel. His hair was slicked back and he smelled like very good cologne, When I asked what he had in mind, he said we were going to dine with a couple of his old friends, who were in town for the evening, a distant cousin that he had spent a lot of time with as a child and young man. He said it was a last minute thing. He was smiling to himself.
The door shut with a substantial but muted thud, indicating a well made car. I settled back into the plush seats. The chauffeur got in the front seat and began driving slowly through the glistening cobblestone streets and made a left onto the Quai alongside the the eternal River Seine. The evening was mild, the windows were open and the breeze from the river ruffled my short cropped hair. I leaned forward and put my head out the window a little. This was the Paris I had dreamed of. Here was the River Seine. At my side was a fairy tale prince who was behaving as the perfect gentleman he was. We turned right onto Pont de la Concorde and crossed over. I saw the other Parisian bridges reflected in the deep irresident green river, I looked down the river. All the bridges looked like luminous circles as they were reflected in the smooth water.Couples were strolling along the banks, holding hands and stopping to kiss as the car turned onto the bridge. From the festive Bateaux Mouche passing beneath the bridge, I could hear strains of Parisian music and laughter Along the river bank there were several barges where people lived on houseboats moored to the Quai. It was a coveted address if you had an excellent converted barge, I had been told. It all seemed like a dream. I was so far from home, in a completely new world playing a very different role, but enjoying it immensely. I was ready for anything, full of youthful enthusiasm, good will, and a large dose of naivety, which I was told was part of my charm.
As we drove across the Place de la Concord I was very impressed with the obelisk in the center that had been brought from Egypt by Napoleon and the beautiful architecture. The driver stayed straight and we drove slowly onto the Rue Royal.
Where are we going, Albrecht, I asked.
“We are going to Maxim’s” Albrecht said nonchalantly.
I thought we would be staying on the Left Bank, which was the younger hipper part of Paris. I had never gone out to dinner n the Right Bank. I only went over there for business reasons, meaning photography shoots. There were usually no go-sees, or auditions, If you came from New York and had tearsheets you worked.
There was actually too much work. I was on my feet all day, rushing form studio to studio, or to the airport, or the train station. When I was in town, I usually ate at Café Flore with any of the models who came back, exhausted, to the Danube after their busy days running around Paris on bookings, some times two or three a day. This entailed getting from one side of Paris to another toting a large satchel full of a complete selection of scarves, necklaces, bracelets, shoes, make-up, hot rollers, combs, brushes, hats and wigs. Part of the expense of being a model was maintaining an up to date accessories collection. After wearing designer clothes all day, I just wanted to be casual. So I was dressed down.
As the car turned the magnificent Rue Royal, you could see the Obelisk of the Place de la Concorde at one end and the Madelaine church at the other, looking like a Greek Temple. The symmetrical beauty of it took my breath away. We pulled up in front of Maxim’s, one of the most famous restaurants in the world. I had read about it in books and now I was actually here. A uniformed door man stood outside.
I had anticipated a typical evening , going to Brasserie Lipp, or Au Pied de Cochon, and then on to Chez Castel, the most exclusive private nightclub in Paris, for a night of dancing with the stars, which was becoming a weekly event for me. I was wearing my up to the minute black Cardin hip huggers and a black ribbed turtleneck sweater also by Cardin, and short white go-go boots by Couregges. It was what Mademoiselle was calling “The American Image”, pure snap, crackle and pop. I had on full Mod make-up, false eyelashes, pale lips and a closely-cropped, boldly geometric Sassoon haircut. As we entered this ancient citadel of dining, I felt hopelessly under dressed. It seemed most of the clients were in cocktail attire or evening dress. There were plenty of Diors, Givency’s, and Balenciagas.
In 1913, Jean Cocteau said of Maxim’s: “It was an accumulation of velvet, lace, ribbons, diamonds and what all else I couldn’t describe. To undress one of these women is like an outing that necessitates three weeks advance notice, it’s like moving house.” Well, they were not dressed quite so elaborately when I was there, but the structured couture dresses were pretty formidable.
Of course, even I had heard of the legendary Maxim’s, the timeless symbol of a certain art of living, a mythical vision of festivities in all of their expressions. Maxims’s was the most famous restaurant in the world, and one of the most expensive ones as well with an international prestigious reputation It had been founded as a bistro in 1893 by Maxime Gaillard, formerly a waiter. It later became one of the most popular and fashionable restaurants in Paris under its next owner, Eugene Cornuché who created the dining room’s elaborate Art Nouveau décor. I had heard that at the end of the Fifties when the restaurant was restored, the workmen found a treasure trove of lost coins and jewelry. It had slipped out of the pockets of the well-to-do diners and been trapped between the cushions of the banquettes for years. It certainly was believable.
For decades Maxim’s had always been filled with beautiful women and their glittering escorts. “An empty room… Cornuché would say : Never! I always have a beauty sitting by the window, in view from the sidewalk.” Renowned guests of that time period were Edward VII ,the notorious king who had abdicated the throne of England for love of his mistress, Wallis Simpson. They married and lived in Paris as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and remained steady clients for years, their every moved written about in the newspapers and magazines. Marcel Proust, Jean Cocteau, and Georges Feydeau, were regulars. Feydeau wrote a popular comedy called La Dame de Chez Maxim, which I had read in school.
The décor had not changed since those days. And now I was actually going to go in to this sanctum of glamor and history. Maxim’s was immensely popular with the present day international elite of the Swinging Sixties. I spotted Aristotle Onassis with Maria Callas at a table for two and did not allow myself to stare.
The opulent interior decoration, featuring a beautiful stained glass window, lush soft linen table cloths, glittering lighting and lots of dark wood reflected in large mirrors. We passed by a table for four, where two handsome men were with the popular French singing star Sylvie Vartan. One of was Johnny Halliday, France’s answer to Elvis and the other was Gunther Sachs, the handsome German Playboy who was married to Brigitte Bardot. The fourth chair was empty, awaiting the arrival of the number one French sex symbol who was on her way from a movie shoot.
The maitre d’ and the waiters were bowing and scraping to Albrecht and calling him “Your Excellency”. Up until this time I had not really thought about Albrecht being a Prince of the Royal family of Liechtenstein and all that title entailed. To me he was just another guy, although quite a special one. He, like many of the titled youth, did not want to make a big fuss. To him the to-do over the aristocracy was boring. The exciting world of fashion was very glamorous and interesting for these sons and daughters of very conservative families. Diana Vreeland had made people like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton objects of fascination through the pages of Vogue.
The Jet Set and the Young Bloods were fascinated with models. The political climate was moving way toward the left as the working classes were beginning to get more and more power. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones set the tone and a working class hero was something to be. Sons of Dukes and Barons came to Paris, London and Rome to mix and mingle with the Mods, the designers, artist, and musicians and of course the models. And the Mods were mingling right back. And so it was that a regular girl from Long Island found herself in this fantastic place, and many others.
We were led to a table for six that had only four plush antique chairs around it. It was covered with a fine linen table cloth and set with crystal and Limoges china. The other “couple” was already there, waiting for us, seated on the plush red banquette, facing us with their backs to the wall. I could not believe my eyes when I saw who was sitting there.
I don’t know how I kept my poise when I was presented to Prince Rainier, the reigning ruler of Monaco and Princess Grace, the former actress Grace Kelly. They were to be our dinner companions. Was I supposed to curtsy? And how do you curtsy in bell-bottoms? I kept calm and collected as Prince Rainier rose and kissed my hand, the first time anyone had ever done that to me. He was tall and dark haired, like Albrecht, not quite as handsome but with his own special charm. His hair was tinged with silver and he sported a neat mustache. He was dressed in a tuxedo and tails, a red diagonal sash across his chest covered in medals. Evidently they were in Paris for some state event.
Princess Grace remaining seated, of course, offered her hand for me to shake. Her blond hair was swept up in a chignon. She was wearing a long, white satin evening gown, studded with pearls, with a matching 3/4 sleeve jacket. I think it was Dior. On her left hand, she had THE RING, it was huge, a diamond set in rubies, and she had dazzling diamonds on her ears and throat. She was thirty-seven years old and very beautiful. Her white satin gloves were folded beside her. The maître d’ pulled out the chair for me opposite Her Serene Highness, as she was known. And I sat down. The waiter put my napkin on my lap.
Now I knew I was really hopelessly underdressed, and felt a bit awkward, but no one seemed to mind. Everyone else was dressed in cocktail or evening attire. The prince and princess were relaxed and natural and very nice to me. Fine Champagne was poured, and although I did not drink, I took a few sips. I decided to just brazen it out as if I dined with royalty every day. I couldn’t believe I was having this opportunity to have a conversation with these two world famous people. Because of Rainer’s close relationship with Albrecht, they were all acting very congenial and unpretentious, glad for an unexpected chance to get together. Ever the actress, I played along, as if to the manor born.
I was discovering that the rich and famous are just like everybody else when they let their hair down. They like honesty and they often are interested and intrigued by talented youth. Albrecht mentioned that I was known as Super Chick from another planet and they thought it very amusing. Everyone was fascinated with Outer Space and Super Heroes in 1966. My mother had always taught me not to talk about myself, but to take an interest in other people. One of my good points was being able to ask a question that the other person would enjoy answering. I learned a lot that way.
“How did you to meet” I asked naively. They had met and married in 1956. while I was still too young to read the tabloids, so I really didn’t know. But I had seen Grace’s picture very often on the covers of French magazines and was well aware that she was a former American movie star who had married a romantic prince and was living happily ever after.
“I was in the palace for a pictorial with Paris Match”. Grace answered, not at all taken aback that I didn’t know. “It was during the shooting of a movie I did with Cary Grant, “To Catch a Thief.”
I remembered the movie, but I had not seen it. I was only nine when it came out.
“The camera crew and I were there on time, but Rainer was delayed, so we decided to improvise,” she continued. “We were a little bit panicky, thinking he was not going to show up! Photographs were being hastily contrived. Someone suggested that I sit on his red-canopied throne, when suddenly the door opened and there he was.”
|The throne room of the Palace at Monaco. Grace Kelly was seated there when the Prince first saw her.
She turned to the Prince and smiled. I could tell that she was proud of her husband and in love with him. What was not to love? He was quite good-looking, very smart and charming and he had his own country. I had recently seen a beautiful picture of the two of them and their three young children. The prince picked up his glass of red wine by the stem and twirled it around, savoring the sight of the rich garnet color making small swirls inside the sparkling crystal.
“The first time I saw Grace, she was sitting on my throne”, Rainier sighed., “And she looked pretty good there. For me it was love at first sight. I made up my mind that she would one day be my Princess.”
“He didn’t tell me that” , Grace laughed, “But, after the photo session he did take me on a tour of his exotic gardens and his private zoo with the most ferocious lions, and tigers and rare tropical birds.”
Rainer said, “I had to make up some excuse to see her again. I went to America to visit the wounded veterans, and I contacted her. Somehow I wangled an invitation to Grace’s home at Christmas time.” he smiled.
“And the rest is history” Albrecht added, slightly bored. “He proposed, she accepted and here they are!”
To him it was all old hat. He had been to the wedding where the world had gathered in its finest attire to pay homage and offer its congratulations. Champagne flowed freely and there was dancing everywhere as flags waved, cannons boomed and fireworks splashed in the sky.
Suddenly there was an uproar. Albrecht and I turned around in our chairs and Rainier and Grace craned their necks to see, Who, but Brigitte Bardot, the biggest movie star in France had entered the restaurant looking like she had just walked off the beach at San Tropez. She strode in, her long blond hair streaming, wearing a quite beautiful lace dress her pretty bare feet treading the luxurious Persian carpet. People were looking askance and murmuring, ” Dit donc” which is French for “ I say!”The buzz was not about who she was. The place was filled with stars. The problem was Brigitte had no shoes on.
|Brigitte Bardot and Gunther Sachs Hippie Chic stars of the Sixties.
With a little flurry of activity the situation was deftly handled. The owner, Louis Vaudable, offered the beautiful Bardot his arm and escorted her to her table, the one with Sylvie Vartan, and everybody went back to their business. Nobody said anything about it at our table although Albrect was smiling to himself. The food was exquisite. I concentrated on eating with my best manners. I did not say much. I thought I should say something.
“I’ve never been to Monaco”, I said, but I’d love to go!”
“You must come and see us when you do”, said Rainier. Grace smiled at me. “By all means,” she said.
Too bad I never took them up on the invitation. But as fabulous as they were, they seemed a little old and stodgy for my Mod tastes. Besides the invitation was rather vague and probably just given out of politeness. We spent the rest of evening eating the delicious food, sipping the fine wine, joking and reminiscing and I even was able to come up with a few ‘bon mots’ of my own, but mostly I just listened. They told me a little about the history of Monaco and Albrecht and Rainier gossiped about mutual friends, using their first names, so I had no idea who they were talking about.
As they chatted in French, I looked over the Princes shoulder. The wall behind the table was dominated by a huge, beautiful oval mirror richly framed in ornate dark wood. It reflected the Art Nouveau lamp in the shape of a sensual flower which was placed at the top of the mirror The wall behind the mirror was an sumptuous antique painting of figures in classical robes interacting in a fantastical landscape. Reflected in the mirror was the high ceiling, consisting of beautifully painted tiles, featuring flowers.
As I listened to them chattering away in French, and English, laughing and smiling, it all seemed like a dream. I was thinking about the movie Sabrina, starring Audrey Hepburn, where a little Long Island nobody attends a culinary school in Paris and returns a very attractive and sophisticated woman. Perhaps that would happen to me.
Suddenly they began lifting their glasses and toasting, the crystal tinkling musically. I snapped out of my reverie and joined in. Prince Rainier toasted me and wished me great success. Then we had dessert and coffee and, all too quickly, it was over. When Princess Grace arose I was able to see the entire magnificent gown, truly fit for a queen. A hush fell over the restaurant as Albrecht and I followed the Prince and Princess out of the restaurant. Then they got into their Bentley and were whisked away, Grace’s white gloved hand waving good-bye.
On the way home, I playfully swatted Albrecht with my purse. “Don’t ever pull a trick like that on me again!” I said. Albrecht laughed and said the evening had been a great success. He had wanted to delight his friends with his interesting ‘mannequin Americaine’, and that they had been very happy to meet me. It was hard for me to believe that but it seemed to be true. After years of being the biggest geek in Lindenhurst, here I was living a fantasy. I decided to learn as much as I could and enjoy every minute of it while it lasted. Driving down the Rue de Rivoli, hardly seeing the beautiful Palais du Louvre. I peered at Albrecht, sitting back in his seat beside me, enjoying a Cuban cigar and looking like a cool, sassy pussycat. He was still laughing at me. I still thinking of the white bejeweled couture dress with the incredible jewelry.
“She had so many diamonds and I wasn’t wearing any.” I laughed. I actually didn’t have any at the time. Albrecht took my hand and bringing it to his lips, he gently kissed it. The second time I had had my hand kissed that evening, and by another prince! Then looking deeply into my eyes he said with a disarming smile. ”My Dear, your eyes are your diamonds.”
The car dropped me off at the hotel again and I ran up the stairs to my room where Susan Brainard was already lying on her twin bed under the eves. She loved my story about the evening and matched it with one of hers where she got forced down in Iceland on a private jet with Laurence Harvey and John Ireland, two very big movie stars, These are the kinds of things that happened. All the models have stories.
Shortly after I took off for Rome and London and lost touch with my charming friend, Albrecht. He married one of the most beautiful models of the time, Tamara Nyman, who was a very lovely Princess indeed.