“THE GREATEST story since the Resurrection!” said one journalist after King Edward VIII abdicated his throne for the sake of “the woman I love.”
Well, that was back in 1936. And in these days of the rampant Internet and everything else that has changed the world of print, the story seems to be making a comeback, in spades.
I am talking now, again, about the ultimate villain, Wallis Simpson, who became the internationally known Duchess of Windsor when her lover, the most famous Prince of Wales in 20th century history, informed her that he could no longer be “the Emperor of India.” His younger brother, Bertie, would have to take over.
Wally, the American divorcee from Baltimore, a siren of sorts, became an anathema in Great Britain, in her aspired-to empire and everywhere in the English-speaking world. The British Royal Family, which the Prince – then briefly King Edward VIII — deserted, has enjoyed tough times, both before and after Wally. But now everything about this amazing story is back in vogue again.
A TV show, “The Darkness of Wallis Simpson,” was broadcast in Great Britain on Dec. 28. It depicted Wally not so much as a mean, horrible woman, but as someone who actually tried to dissuade the playboy prince from abdicating his throne. She was evidently willing to disappear or just be a mistress. Or nothing at all. This playlet was written by Rose Tremain, who interpreted the Duchess in retirement in old age in Paris, unable to even remember the man she called “David.” He had died before her. Not everybody believes that version of a self-sacrificing Wallis.
In the current movie hit “The King’s Speech,” both the Duke and Duchess of Windsor appear as negatives. Played by actress Eve Best, Wallis seems to be a thoughtless, climber who disregarded history.
But that was largely Edward VIII’s fault. The Prince sacrificed his worldwide popularity. He didn’t seem to care about anything but Wallis, and moved off the throne so that he could have his life with her. He thought it was fine that his unwilling younger brother would have to become George VI. (The latter, as you know, stuttered and feared he couldn’t shoulder responsibilities for which he had never prepared. This future also included World War II. But events turned out mercifully and possibly for the best, eventually producing the long-running successful monarch, Elizabeth II.)
You probably know that Madonna has already filmed a movie titled “W.E.” (meaning Wallis and Edward) and it is being cut and edited as we speak. Andrea Riseborough plays the Duchess of Windsor in this one, and I have heard the film is partial to the woman who almost destroyed the British monarchy.
Another film on British TV, called “Any Human Heart,” written by William Boyd, showed the actress Gillian Anderson as the Duchess.
I have heard also that the American writer Joan Juliet Buck, famous reporter for Vogue and points elegant, is prepping a show about the Duke and Duchess. There is also a musical, already being evaluated by Broadway producers; it has been seen to good reviews on the West Coast where it bowed at the Pasadena Playhouse. Written by New York City’s Judith Steir, this one is titled “Only a Kingdom.” Again, it seems to come down on the side of The Duchess.
Probably hundreds of other aspiring creators, citing the success of “The King’s Speech,” which shows the Windsors as callous, immature, opportunistic and selfish, are now in the big pot, circulating, pro and con.
When I met Oscar-winning Colin Firth recently, he asked if I recalled the days of the abdication of Edward VIII. I told him I had been in junior high school in Fort Worth, Texas, but even I knew all the scandal being printed week after week in the Hearst newspapers. We Americans knew a lot about the subject about which the British people had been kept firmly in the dark. They didn’t really get much time for even a hint before their idol, the Prince of Wales, (the newly minted Edward VIII) was on the radio abdicating and saluting his inept brother “Bertie.”
Then, David flew off to the South of France and married his Duchess. They lived the rest of their days being distanced from the British royals, buying a beautiful getaway home near Paris. They bitterly governed the Bahamas during the war and then became so-called Society’s guests, accepting plane tickets, hotel suites, and freebies in the flickering fleshpots of the world. In time, they even posed upstairs in the nightclub El Morocco, wearing paper crowns and being themselves.
Playwright Tremain says, “History’s damning verdict on Wallis Simpson will never change.” But, hey, there is so much going down – who knows?