Margaret and her Marquis

Margaret Strong de Cuevas de Larrain, the twice-titled American heiress, was the only child of Bessie Rockefeller, the eldest of John D. Rockefeller’s five children.

Bessie Rockefeller found here

“As a young woman Margaret went to Paris to live. Following the Russian Revolution there was an influx of Russian émigrés into Paris, and Margaret developed a fascination for them that remained with her all her life. She was most excited to meet the tall and elegant Prince Felix Yusupov, the assassin of Rasputin, who had taken to wearing pink rouge and green eye shadow, and supported himself by heading up a house of couture.

Felix Yusupov found here

At that time Prince Yusupov had working for him a penniless young Chilean named George de Cuevas. The plain, timid heiress was enchanted, and promptly fell in love, thereby establishing what would be a lifelong predilection for flamboyant, effete men. The improbable pair were married in 1928.

Marquis de Cuevas found here

When World War II broke out, they moved to the United States. In New York, Margaret always kept a rented limousine, and sometimes two, all day every day in front of her house in case she wanted to go out. 

De Cuevas is well remembered for an episode of histrionics which took place in 1958. Fifty-two year old Serge Lifar became angry when the marquis’s company changed the choreography of his ballet Black and White. After a heated exchange of words the marquis, who was seventy-two at the time, slapped Lifar in the face with a handkerchief in public and then refused to apologize. Lifar then challenged de Cuevas to a duel and épées were chosen as the weapons. The location of the duel was to be kept secret because dueling was outlawed in France, but more than fifty tipped-off reporters and photographers showed up at the scene. For the first four minutes of the duel Serge Lifar leapt about while the marquis remained stationary. In the third round the marquis forced Lifar back by simply advancing with his sword held straight in front of him, and pinked his opponent. It was not clear, according to newspaper accounts of the duel, whether skill or accident brought the maraquis’s blade into contact with Lifar’s arm. “Blood has flowed! Honor is saved!” cried Lifar. Both men burst into tears and rushed to embrace each other. Reporting the event on its front page, the New York Times said that the affair “might well have been the most delicate encounter in the history of French dueling.”

Serge Lifar found here

As a couple, the Marqius and Marquesa de Cuevas became increasingly eccentric. George often received visitors lying in bed wearing a black velvet robe with a sable collar and surrounded by nine or ten Pekingese dogs, while Margaret grew more and more reclusive and slovenly in her dress. She only wore black and kept an in-residence dressmaker to make the same dress for her over and over again. When she traveled to Europe, she would book passage on as many as six ships and then be unable to make up her mind as to which day she wanted to sail. Once, unable to secure a last-minute booking on a Paris-Biarritz train, she piled her daughter, maid, ten Pekingese dogs, and her luggage into a Paris taxicab and had the driver drive her the five hundred miles to Biarritz. The trip took three days.

Pekingese found here

The apex of the social career of George de Cuevas was reached in 1953 with a masked ball he gave in Biarritz; it vied with the Venetian masked ball given by Carlos de Beistegui in 1951 as the most elaborate fête of the decade. The costumes were fantastic, and people spent most of the evening just staring at each other. Elsa Maxwell came dressed as a man. The Duchess of Argyll, on the arm of the duke, who would later divorce her in messiest divorce in the history of British society, came dressed as an angel. Ann Woodward, of the New York Woodwards, slapped a woman she thought was dancing too often with her husband, William, whom she was to shoot and kill two years later.

Duchess of Argyll found here

Inevitably, the marriage of George and Margaret de Cuevas began to founder. They maintained close communication, however, and Margaret would often call George in Paris or Cannes from New York or Palm Beach to deal with a domestic problem. Once when the marquesa’s chef in Palm Beach became enraged at her unreasonable demands and threw her breakfast tray at her, she called her husband in Paris and asked him to call the chef and beseech him not only not to quit but also to bring her another breakfast, because she was hungry.

Chef found here

Then Raymundo de Larrain entered the picture. He was talented, brilliant, and wildly extravagant, and began making a name for himself designing costumes and sets for George de Cuevas’s ballet company. A protégé of the marquis’s to start with, he soon became known as his nephew. In 1960 the Marquis de Cuevas offered Raymundo de Larrain, with whom he was now on the closest terms, the chance to create a whole new production of The Sleeping Beauty, to be performed at the Théâtre de Champs-Élysées. George de Cuevas attended every performance up until two weeks before his death. He died at his favorite home, Les Délices, in Cannes, in 1961. Margaret, who was in New York, did not visit her husband of thirty-three years in the months of his decline.

Sleeping Beauty found here

Meanwhile, Margaret’s physical appearance had been deteriorating. She covered her face with a white paste and she blackened her eyes in an eccentric way that made people think she had put her thumb and fingers in a full ashtray and rubbed them around her eyes. She wrapped handkerchiefs around her wrists to hide her diamonds, and her black dresses were frequently stained and held together with safety pins. For shoes she wore either sneakers or a pair of pink polyester bedroom slippers, very often on the wrong feet.

image found here

Her behavior also was increasingly eccentric. In her bedroom she had ten radios, each radio was set to a different music station—country-and-western, rock ’n’ roll, classical—and when she wanted to hear music she would ring the butler and point to the radio she wished him to turn on.

Margaret and Raymundo became the Harold and Maude of the Upper East Side and Palm Beach. In 1977, the Marquesa Margaret de Cuevas, then eighty years old, married forty two year old Raymundo de Larrain, in a hastily arranged surprise ceremony. For the wedding, Raymundo told friends, he gave his bride a wheelchair and new teeth.”

Harold and Maude finger puppets found here

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44 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It’s unknown whether skill or accident has landed me the first comment. Maybe Ellen’s makeup artist can explain it to me as I slowly digest the concept of ten pekingnese dogs in one taxi at the one time.

    • Let’s put it down to skill Mitzi

  2. Not so sure about a wheelchair (yet) but a nice new set of porcelain veneers would make a great wedding – or birthday – gift!
    (No intention of ever marrying again…)

    • Veneers, yes. False teeth, no.

  3. Dueling was illegal but then more than 50 reporters were tipped off.
    Such a funny irony.

    • Celebrities love their publicity

  4. I approve of the pink bedroom slippers, but the safety pins are just a fashion no-no…

    • I beg to differ 😉

      Somewhere on this blog, way back at the beginning, is a photo of me in a dress with two safety pins joined together by a chain across the chest and the words Catholic Discipline written underneath

  5. “Both men burst into tears and rushed to embrace each other.

    my heart darling, my heart….not sure i can take this….

    • How i wish I had been there

  6. Always like a happy ending…..

    • In real life anyway. In movies and books I like to be left up in the air

  7. Elsa Maxwell was a significant rug-muncher. Conversely, Margaret Duchess of Argyll was a major league sausage-gobbler. Bet that made the party swing!

    • The Duchess of Argyll would make Paris Hilton look like a nun

  8. The head of a house of couture wearing rouge and green eyeshadow.
    My, how things stay the same through the ages….

    • Must be time for the beauty patch to make a reappearance

  9. “For shoes she wore either sneakers or a pair of pink polyester bedroom slippers, very often on the wrong feet.” I wonder whose feet she put them on …..

    • One of the Pekingese perhaps?

  10. “….the most delicate encounter in the history of French dueling.”

    Definitely a case of handbags at ten paces.

    A wonderfully entertaining post nursemyra.

    • We have Dominick Dunne to thank for that. He writes such wonderful highbrow gossip

  11. ‘…”Blood has flowed! Honor is saved!” cried Lifar.’
    It’s just a flesh wound.

    • I like the expression “pinked”

  12. What a duel. It sounds like it couldn’t have been camper if they tried!

    • I wish someone had recorded it

  13. Why do these crazy nut jobs get money falling into their hands? It is not fair in the order of things. What about us normal nut jobs?

    • Oh Carl, I find you quite the OUTSTANDING nut job. And coming from a charter member such as myself, that is high praise indeed! 😉

      • Thank you for the validation. I’ve worked very hard at being a nut job. Perseverance does pay off, eh?

      • Normally, I’d say practice makes perfect. For us, though, I think it’s practice makes ANNOYING! 😉

  14. the parties i go to are so boring… just people getting hammered and having group sex in the hot tub. so boring. i need to incite a duel, and there better be a bunch of small dogs involved in it!

    • I know where you can get a couple small, yappy dogs, and the owner wouldn’t even miss them. Alternately, I can get you cats. Lots of cats. TONS of cats. Need cats? 😉
      Oh, and if I may set aside my usual gentlemanly reservations, may I say of your aqua corset at the Wit Hotel in Chicago – YOWZA!
      And now the gentleman in me must profusely apologise for such a crude and crass statement. Would “devastatingly stunning” be less chauvinistic? 😀

  15. I always get a raccoon to apply my makeup. They’re very talented.

  16. I can kind of understand the radio thing. Some stations can be difficult to tune.

    And for the record, I’m against dueling — but I would have loved to have seen that duel.

  17. There are way too many crazy people on this planet.

  18. I don’t know how you choose or find any of these stories but they’re always fascinating. I mean, I never even considered that I’d need two titles – or two limousines.

  19. Love to stay and chat but I’m off out to find a black velvet robe with a sable collar for greeting guests in. I’ll have to fix the dog setup too, definitely don’t want 10 (or any) Pekes, my cousin had a couple when I was a kid and they were useless. The indeterminate pitbull street rescues won’t cut it either- I’m thinking maybe a brace of Deerhounds or Borzois? These people were mad, but they at least had some style.

    • Who is going to clean up after a brace of deerhounds?

      • I’m more interested in just how you brace a deerhound? Using dogwood boards? 😉

      • Ideally, a beautiful and leather clad doghandler would be a nice accoutrement to it all, or at least some sort of small shovel made from precious metals. The plastic bags are a bit bourgeouis.

  20. dude.

    that’s what i gotta do to get some new teeth?!

    but seriously, this made me feel slightly better about my mental condition.

    so, thanks.

    • You’re welcome BD

  21. I rather like the idea of a party where all people do is stare at each other. Perhaps an improvement on making inane conversation to complete strangers you’ll probably never see again.

  22. Speechless.

  23. If I ever decide to get my cat (and my cat’s cat) a dog, I hope it looks exactly like that Pekingese. Or a dachshund.

    • queenwilly has just adopted a dachshund puppy. Too too cute

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