"Only an expert fabricator could survive the public tightrope walk required of someone trying to portray herself as both the taste-making doyenne of European society and a self-effacing American nobody." - biographer Sam StaggsIf you weren't invited to an Elsa Maxwell party in the mid-20th century celebrity whorl, you were nobody. She knew something about everyone.
Elsa Maxwell injected a sense of fun into post-war society parties, and the great and the good came flocking to her door to lap it up, from royalty to Hollywood. The superstars of the entertainment world all carefully kept the grande dame on side, for fear she would launch a tirade against them in one of her syndicated newspaper gossip columns or numerous TV appearances.
She not only entertained in person and in print, she also wrote books on "etiquette", wrote and produced music for theatre and film (and appeared in a few) - and in 1959 she even recorded an album of her own, Elsa Maxwell - Her Voice and Music [oh, if only I had a copy of that!].
A bizarre mix of contradictions, Miss Maxwell was renowned for being coarse and vulgar yet aspired to mix with the highest echelons, and she was probably a lesbian (and quite possibly a stalker at that) yet publicly decried homosexuality. Certainly, by all accounts she was a much-feared harridan.
Her endless name-dropping and not-so-subtle snobbery belied the fact that she was (in her own words) "a short, fat, homely piano player from Keokuk, Iowa, with no money or background, who decided to become a legend and did just that."
Yet when she died, aged 82 in 1963, barely a dozen people turned up for her funeral. The party probably wasn't big enough, or fun enough. Or maybe the joke had simply run its course.
"Life is a party. You join after its started and you leave before its finished."
"I don't hate anyone. I dislike. But my dislike is the equivalent of anyone else's hate."
"Nothing spoils a good party like a genius."
"Laugh at yourself first, before anyone else can."
Elsa Maxwell (24th May 1883 – 1st November 1963)