The first maitre d’hotel at Maxim’s was Eugene Cornuché. He prided himself on pleasing his clientele and saw to it they could order almost any dish. When one man shouted angrily that there was a beetle in his soup, Cornuché put the insect in his mouth and swallowed it, assuring the complainer that it was only a raisin. An American cotton millionaire asked for, and was brought, a naked girl resting in an ambrosial pink sauce on a silver platter.
He encouraged glamourous women to come to the restaurant every night. Haitian beauty Jeanne Duval arrived carrying her tiny pet dog in her jewel encrusted chastity belt. Caroline Otero fandangoed on the tables, Liane de Pougy wore emerald rings on her toes; and men flocked to be seen with them.
Of Caroline Otero, it was said that ‘her spectacular breasts preceded her by a quarter of an hour‘. The writer Collette described them as ‘elongated lemons, firm and gloriously upturned at their lovely tips’.
Caroline and Liane both boasted that they owned the choicest jewels in France, and it was agreed that they should bring their collections one night to Maxim’s and allow its habitués to judge. Caroline was the first to arrive, laden from head to foot. Her victory seemed certain as the only part of her left uncovered was her face.
Liane appeared dressed entirely in black velvet without a single jewel. Behind her came her personal maid, who removed the coat she was wearing and, in the words of an onlooker, resembled an illuminated Eiffel Tower. As abounding applause proclaimed her the winner, a raging Caroline rushed towards the winner and had to be restrained by the ever ready urbane Monsieur Cornuché.
“In 1913, Jean Cocteau said of Maxim’s: “It’s 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.” Other famous guests of that time period were Edward VII and Marcel Proust.
Maxim’s was also immensely popular with the international elite of the 1950s, with guests such as Aristotle Onassis, Maria Callas, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Porfirio Rubirosa, Max Ophuls, and Barbara Hutton. When the restaurant was renovated at the end of the decade, workmen discovered a treasure trove of lost coins and jewelry that had slipped out of the pockets of the wealthy and been trapped between the cushions of the banquettes.