Archive for the ‘ Famous Love Affairs ’ Category

They Started It.

We’ve had Cagney and Lacy, Castle and Beckett, Marshall Dillion and Miss Kitty, and countless other wisecracking couples to entertain us over the years, but the granddaddy and grandma of them all are Nick and Nora Charles.

Nick and Nora first appeared in 1934 in Dashiell “Hammett’s final novel, The Thin Man.

Allegedly based on Hammett’s own relationship with his long time lover, Lillian Hellman, Nick and Nora, their witty banter, and their dog, Asta, became the model for most of the romantically linked detective duos to follow.

OK, OK, So Cagney wasn’t in love with Lacy.

Considered one of the seminal texts of the mystery novel genre, the novel gave way to a series of movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

The plot line leads us to solve the mystery as we fall in love with Nora’s sarcastic, boozy banter and we watch a reluctant Nick get dragged along.

The film adaptation of the book was a huge success, and though Hammett never wrote another novel with Nick and Nora Charles in it, there were five movie sequels.

The original film, unlike much Hollywood fare, followed the novel closely.  One major change was the casting of William Powell.  Nick Charles in the book is described as “…overweight and out of shape.”  Powell was neither.

Nora, portrayed by Myrna Loy, was the driving force in all the intrigue and mystery.

The thin man character in the title was actually Clyde Wynant, a murder victim Nick and Nora are hired to find.  But over time, the viewing public began to see Nick as the thin man of the films.

The on screen chemistry between the two, who often improvised and who were often mistaken for a real couple, was key to the success of the films.

But, The Thin Man didn’t just entertain us, according to historians; it changed the way we looked at marriage.

Marriage in film had been portrayed as staid, earnest, solid.  Nick and Nora invigorated it with youth, irreverence, and sex appeal.

And of course, there was the dog.

Who doesn’t love a dog?

Asta helped solve murders, find killers, and made us love wire fox terriers more than we should.

Nick and Nora may not have been real, but the characters entertained us, enlightened us, and made us smile a little.

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know.

In British Peerage, she’s known simply as the Honorable Caroline Ponsonby and Lady Caroline Lamb.

She was married to the man who would, after her death, become Viscount Melbourne, Lord Melbourne, and the Prime Minister of The United Kingdom, and Queen Victoria’s favorite.

William Lamb, Lord Melbourne

She would never be Lady Melbourne nor the Prime Minister’s wife, she died before all that, and for those of you watching Victoria on PBS this may help to clear UP a conversation or two between Victoria and Lord M.

Lady Caroline Lamb was best known for her literary efforts and her affair with Lord Byron.  This is where we’ll spend today’s time.

Just as war was breaking out between The UK and The USA for a second time, in March of 1812, Lady Caroline launched into a scandalous, infamous, and well publicized affair with the “quirky” poet.  And why not?  After all, he was pretty dreamy for the day.  He was a playah to say the least.

At first, Lady Caroline rebuffed his attentions.  Byron had a rep, he was clearly bi-sexual, had had affairs with many more than most in his 24 years, and Lady Caroline described him as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

That he was.

But, something called her to him. So much so, she actually wrote him a “fan” letter – pretty forward stuff for 1812.  Ladies just didn’t do that.

But, alas, Lady Caroline was no Lady!

Byron, now that she was interested in him, thought at first to ignore her advances, but as she was the niece of the Duchess of Devonshire, he decided to pursue her passionately; her high social status could help him.

The couple denied the affair publicly but privately pledged their troth from March to August of 1812. When he began to call her Caro, she insisted everyone else do the same.

But, it was a fling, a fancy, a fluke.  It didn’t last.

Byron ended it, and Caroline’s husband carted the poor brokenhearted girl off to his Irish estate.

Absence did make the heart grow fonder, and her ardor did not cool.

She wrote.

He wrote back…and made it abundantly clear he was no longer interested.

Her pursuit of the poet became cause célèbre, and a public campaign to reunite her with Byron ensued.

The couple meet again at Lady Heathcote’s ball, and in the heat of a July evening Byron publicly insulted his former lover causing her to break a wine glass and slash her wrists.

Society was scandalized, Lady Caroline was rescued, her mental state questioned, and Byron, ever the rogue, referred to it as just so much theater, claiming, “…Lady Caroline performed the dagger scene.”

Nice guy!

But alas, she persisted.

Her obsession with the poet defined her later career and life.  It actually influenced his work as well.

They wrote poems in one another’s styles, they wrote poems about one another, and blatantly planted messages to each other in their work.

Her Ladyship’s obsession with Byron was so intense, she stalked him, and during one attempt to gain entry into his home wrote “remember me” in the flyleaf of one of his books.

He responded with this:

Remember thee! Remember thee!

Till Lethe quench life’s burning stream;

Remorse and shame shall cling to thee,

And haunt thee like a feverish dream!

Remember thee!  Ay, doubt it not.

Thy husband shall think of thee!

By neither shalt thoug be forgot.

Thou false to him, thou fiend to me!


As to the jilted husband; despite the efforts of his own mother to rid the family of Lady Caroline, William Lamb considered Byron treacherous and supported his wife until her death.  He agreed to a formal separation in 1825; he dated, she dated, there was no hypocrisy, it became an open marriage.

She stayed at Brockett Hall, the ancestral home of Lamb.  He continued his political climb.  She began to drink and abuse laudanum, and by 1827 was under the constant care of her doctor.  Her frail frame began to shut down, she retained fluids – then called dropsy – and as she lay dying, the cuckolded Chief Secretary of Ireland made a perilous crossing and was at her side when she died in January of 1828.

Byron had died, from a violent fever at the hands of ignorant Greek physicians, four years before.

He was still mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

Someone Remarkable…

I knew immediately she was someone remarkable. Something played off her that gave her a kind of illumination.” Carlo Ponti.

It was an unlikely match.  But then, the great ones usually are.

Born to a single mother in the charity ward of a Roman hospital, Sofia Villani Scicolone started out with little chance of success.

Her father, a construction engineer of noble descent refused to marry her mother.  One would think that would have ended the relationship in 1934, but, alas no.  Sofia would have a sister, Maria four years later.

Fascist Italy was the target of Allied bombing in World War II, and Sofia was injured running for shelter during a bombing raid.  The family abruptly moved to Naples.  When that didn’t work out, they headed to Pozzuoli where her mother opened a cantina in their living room.  Mamma played the piano, Maria sang, and Sofia waited tables and did the dishes.

The place was very popular with American GIs once Italy was occupied.

Beautiful, young Sofia told stories later on of advances and her successful efforts to fight them off.

In 1950, fate played a different hand.  Carlo Ponti an already famous Italian film producer with more than 20 films to his credit subbed as a judge at the Miss Eleganza beauty contest in Rome.

From the moment he saw her, he was done.  He couldn’t take his eyes off her.  Millions of men over time would feel the same way.

Sofia admitted to an unlikely attraction as well.  He was older, he wasn’t handsome, but there was something there.

And there was something in the way.

Ponti was still married to his first wife.

For Sofia, the role of the other woman was out of the question.  Her strict and conservative upbringing wouldn’t allow her to break the rules she’d learned at her grandmother’s knee.

Ponti didn’t give UP.

Realizing that even without a “relationship,” Sofia was movie gold, Carlo took her under his wing, changed her name to Sofia Loren, and launched a career we’ve all enjoyed.

After casting Loren in Anna and other films, Ponti went to Mexico, got a divorce and married Loren by proxy.

Ponti had married Giuliana Fiastri in 1946 and the couple had two children.  They were separated but still married as divorce was out of the question in Italy.

He was warned not to return to Italy as he would be charged with bigamy and Loren would be charge with concubinage.

Really, I was stunned too!

The church threw the book at them.  Threatened with excommunication and everlasting fire, Loren was devastated. “I had fallen in love with a man whose own marriage had ended long before.  I wanted to be his wife and have his children.  We had done the best the law would allow…but they were calling us public sinners.  We should have been taking a honeymoon, but all I remember is weeping for hours,” Loren told the sea of reporters who followed her everywhere!

After having their Mexican marriage annulled to keep from going to an Italian jail, the couple moved to France taking along the first Mrs. Ponti.

All three became French citizens, Giuliana divorced Carlo, Carlo married Sofia, after which the couple moved to Switzerland.

It was 1966, and it had taken 16 years for Carlo to make Sofia Mrs. Carlo Ponti.

In 2007, after 50 years together, Carlo, at the age of 94, and after a 10 day struggle during which Sofia never left his side, quietly died.

The unlikely match of someone remarkable and the Italian film producer is the stuff Hollywood is made of.  Funny how that worked out, isn’t it?

No Happily Ever After

The first time HRH Princess Margaret of the United Kingdom met Peter Townsend, he said she was, “as unremarkable as one would expect of a 14 year old girl.”

He was at the Palace applying for a position as equerry to King George VI, the princess’ father.

Their romance would not begin for another eight years when Margaret was 22 and after the King’s death the same year.

Townsend, 16 years her senior had served in the Indian Civil Service and upon returning to the UK, married one Miss Cecil Rosemary Pawle after a brief engagement.  Two sons followed, and shortly after that, an affair.

Not him, her.

Peter filed for divorce in 1952 and his status as a divorcee made it impossible for the Princess to marry him.

It was a double whammy.  The Parliament was against the match, and the Church of England had a rule or two about marriage being forever.

Something in the Bible, I’m sure.

So, what was the attraction?

Upon meeting her again in the year of my birth, Peter said, “She was a girl of unusual, intense beauty, confined as it was in her short, slender figure and centered about large purple-blue eyes, generous, sensitive lips, and a complexion as smooth as a peach.  She could make you bend double with laughing and also touch you deeply in your heart.”

Rumors of the romance were rampant, but the couple and the Palace went with the usual routine.

Deny, deny, deny.

When Margaret’s big sister, Queen Elizabeth was crowned at Westminster Abbey, Townsend as a royal hanger on was invited.  The Princess flicked a piece of lint off his uniform while waiting outside.

The small gesture “confirmed” to the press that the relationship was true.  Papers worldwide carried the story.

The pesky Royal Marriages Act was getting in the way of romance.  You see, for the royal family, the reigning monarch, in this case, Margaret’s big sister, Queen Elizabeth II had to give her consent.

It wasn’t going to happen

Townsend was divorced, and at the time, the Church of England frowned upon divorce.

With the Queen and the government of Prime Minister Winston Churchill against them, the couple had no choice but to call it quits.

Just to make sure, Townsend was reassigned as an air attaché for the British Embassy in Brussels.

Rumor had it they were seeing one another on the sly.

In 1955, after a two year separation, they were briefly reunited.

One story tells it this way, Margaret realizing true love doesn’t always find a way, came to grips with the fact that the new PM, Anthony Eden (who was divorced) decided that should they marry, Margaret would lose her royal privileges and would be dropped from the civil list.

In other words, there would be no bowing and scraping and no income from the government.

But, documents came to light after Margaret’s death showing the Queen and Eden drew UP a plan in 1955 which would allow the Princess to marry her true love and remain a Princess, keeping her royal titles, status, income, and continue with her public duties.

Eden wrote in a letter, “…Her Majesty would not wish to stand in the way of her sister’s happiness.”

She must have remembered her Uncle David, the man who once was king.  And history has shown that Her Majesty was extremely fond of Margaret.  But, before this was made public, and with or without Margaret’s knowledge of it, she issued a statement on Halloween:

 “I would like it to be known that I have decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend.  I have been aware that, subject to my renouncing my rights of succession, it might have been possible for me to contract a civil marriage. But, mindful of the Church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have decided to put these considerations before any others.”

She was heartbroken.

She moved on.

She drank a bit.

So did he.

In 1960, Margaret married magazine photographer, Anthony Armstrong-Jones.  It was big doings at Westminster Abbey.  Prior to their divorce 18 years later, they had two children.

As to the jilted Captain, well Peter moved to France, married a woman from Belgium who was said to be a doppelganger for the Princess.

The former lovers did meet again briefly in 1993.

No one knows what transpired in that brief conversation.

Margaret died in February 2002 due to complications from years of alcohol and tobacco abuse.

Peter had gone on seven years before.

His opinion may have changed from “as unremarkable as one would expect” to “a girl of unusual, intense beauty,” yet, there was no happily ever after.