Lovell (The Churchills: In Love and War, 2011, etc.) turns her attention to the French Riviera between the wars and into the 1960s.
Like the author’s tale of the Mitford family, this is a gossipy book with courtesans and famous politicians hopping from château to château and bed to bed. Though British wealth ruled the 1920s and ’30s, after World War II, the Americans and Europeans took over. Within this glamorous milieu, one always needed money, but breeding, talent, beauty, sociability, and a good sense of humor were also very important. The author anchors the story with a biography of American actress and businesswoman Maxine Elliott (1868-1940), a grande dame of the scene. Though she is relatively unknown today, Elliott amassed a fortune—with helpful advice from J.P. Morgan—and built the much-visited villa the Château de l’Horizon in 1932. Invitations to her events were always highly sought-after, and she gave parties from morning to night. Winston Churchill, in his wilderness years, found sanctuary with her in his own suite of rooms to accommodate his staff. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, at loose ends after WWII, depended on Elliott for privacy and a safe haven. The list of guests is endless and includes Daisy Fellowes, Doris Castlerosse, and Lady Diana Cooper, ladies well-versed in enjoying the moment. The postwar years without Elliott made it a sunny place for shady people, until it was sold to Aly Khan, whose fascinating best friends were Elsie de Wolfe and the incomparable Elsa Maxwell. It was Maxwell who introduced Khan to Rita Hayworth, which led to the wedding of the century. As the rich and famous built larger and flashier homes along the Riviera, the days of Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward gave way to visits by the Kennedy family, Onassis family, and other high-profile guests.
Lovell packs in as many celebrities as possible, which makes for an entertaining book but not one likely to end up on a reference shelf.