a committed aesthete

Alexis Dieter Rudolf Oscar von Rosenberg, 3rd Baron de Redé (1922 – 2004) was a prominent aristocratic aesthete, collector of French 17th and 18th-century furnishings and socialite both in European circles and in New York.

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The Baron de Redé was a committed aesthete. His life was dedicated to manners, protocol, museum-quality collecting and entertaining on a hugely imaginative scale. In 1949, he moved into the ground floor of the 17th century Hôtel Lambert in Paris and restored the building and its décor.

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Redé’s notoriety rested on being the best-kept man in Paris: his wealth derived from his lover Arturo Lopez-Willshaw, whose staggering wealth was derived from guanoRedé had met Lopez-Wilshaw, who was married to his own cousin, Patricia, in a New York City restaurant. “I was not in love,” Redé recalled, “but I needed protection, and I was aware that he could provide this.

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In 1956 he hosted the Bal des Têtes, introducing an unknown named Yves Saint Laurent to Paris society through the decorations and confectionary headpieces of plumes and paillettes that the baron had commissioned. Thirteen years later he bested himself with the Bal Oriental, complete with life-size papier-mâché elephants, a cabaret à la Turc and bare-chested bodybuilders brandishing flaming torches and costumed as Nubian slaves. One guest came dressed as a pagoda; her costume was so big and rigid that she had to be hauled in on a truck and was unable to sit down.

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Among his other peccadilloes, the baron was severely repulsed by men who crossed their legs to expose a sun-starved length of calf; he thought it bad taste to speculate as to who might or might not have good taste; and he held that nothing less than a whole rose head per finger bowl would do, petals being for concierges.

green rose found here

Even more astonishing was his insistence that platters of food look the same at the close of a soiree as at the beginning. No picked-over fish frames, gouged mounds of pilaf or drooling aspics. “It does not matter if people do not eat the food at the end of the evening, as there are always others you can give it to.”

Recounting a dinner given by ballet impresario Marquis de Cuevas, the baron notes the presence of a “coloured” orchestra. Elsewhere his attention is diverted by a “good-looking but boring man, remembered for a diminutive posterior.” As Alexis had a nearly negative sex drive, it must have really been something.

Sonny Clay band found here

De Rede’s own position was that the only person he ever loved was a randy Polish classmate at his prep school who bedded every boy and farm girl he could lure into the hayloft. The baron never acted on his love, which seems sad, but he did keep good company. Prince Rainier and the future Shah of Persia were fellow pupils.

Rainier and Grace found here

In 1962, Redé inherited half of Lopez-Wilshaw’s fortune; and, to manage it he joined Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein in taking control of a bank where he served as Deputy Chairman. With Loewenstein, he was closely involved in managing the money of the Rolling Stones. Though the Stones’s music was obviously not his cup of tea, he did go on tour with them and was at least able to talk shoes with Charlie Watts.

Charlie Watts buys his handmade shoes here

Gentleman Gerry and the upright jerker

Gerald Chapman (1887 – 1926), called the “Count of Gramercy Park”, and “The Gentleman Bandit” was an American criminal who spoke with a near impeccable English accent.

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After being convicted on a bank robbery charge and transferred from Sing Sing, he first became acquainted with ‘Dutch’ Anderson, a swindler and ‘gentleman’ crook, while imprisoned in Auburn State Prison in 1908. Following both men’s paroles in 1919, they conducted successful bootlegging operations in Toledo, Miami and New York City.

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They also managed to amass $100,000 through confidence trickery. Chapman rented an apartment in exclusive Gramercy Park and acquired a pretty English “wife” named Betty, who was as much a born lady as he was a born gentleman.

more photos of old New York here

In 1921, along with another former Auburn inmate, Charles Loeber, Chapman and Anderson began committing armed robberies. On October 24, the three men forced a U.S. Mail truck to stop at gunpoint on Leonard St, successfully taking $2.4 million in cash, bonds and jewelry. 

mail truck found here

While the police were searching frantically for leads, Chapman was back at 12 Gramercy Park, throwing dinner parties for his wealthy neighbours. In another robbery at an American Express office, the gang added a further $70,000 to their capital.

Eluding capture for more than eight months, Chapman and Anderson were eventually arrested after being betrayed by Loeber. While Chapman sat with a detective in the Federal Building on Broadway, he feigned some kind of attack, slumping in his chair and gasping for water. As the detective left the room, Chapman, with hands shackled, rushed out a window and ran along a narrow cornice. He was recaptured but the escape attempt made headlines and he was described as a modern day Robin Hood.

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In an Atlanta penitentiary, faced with a 25 year sentence, Chapman swore he would escape. He stole small pieces of cord from the workshops and braided them into a rope. From stolen cutlery he made a file and a crude hook. When he complained of stomach pains he was admitted to hospital for observation. There he persuaded a “trusty” in the same room to join him in an escape attempt.

more prison weapons found here

They filed through the bars, severed an electric cable (plunging the prison into darkness) then used a rope of bed sheets to get to the ground and over the wall. Two days later they were tracked by bloodhounds and recaptured. Chapman was shot twice as he tried to run away and was transferred to a civilian hospital. While he was there Betty came to visit him and managed to smuggle in a gun. He used it to force an intern to hand over his white coat and walked out of the hospital to freedom once more.

NOT this Betty (found here)

Chapman and Anderson joined forces again and drove east in a stolen car, committing burglaries as they went. They were foiled in an attempt to rob a department store when police arrived and blocked their exit. Shots were fired and Chapman managed to escape once more.

On 17 January 1925, Chapman’s luck ran out and he was arrested leaving the house of a doctor friend and extradited to Connecticut. During the six-day murder trial in Hartford, crowds gathered due to his status as one of the “top 10” criminals in America. The jury deliberated for 11 hours, after which Chapman was found guilty and eventually sentenced to hang. He proclaimed his innocence to the end, asking in his final appeal for “justice, not mercy”. Chapman was executed by the upright jerker** on April 6, 1926.

**The upright jerker was an execution method and device intermittently used in the United States during the 19th and early 20th century. Intended to replace hangings, the upright jerker did not see widespread use.

As in a hanging, a cord would be wrapped around the neck of the condemned. However, rather than dropping down through a trapdoor, the condemned would be violently jerked into the air by means of a system of weights and pulleys. The objective of this execution method was to provide a swift death by breaking the condemned’s neck.

Published in: on January 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm  Comments (48)  
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Rambo va va voom

Natacha Rambova (1897 – 1966) was an American costume and set designer, artistic director, screenwriter, producer and occasional actress. Later in life she worked as a fashion designer and Egyptologist.

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Her mother Winifred Kimball, was married four times, eventually settling on millionaire perfume mogul Richard Hudnut. Rambova was adopted by her stepfather, making her legal name Winifred Hudnut.

Richard Hudnut advertising found here

Rambova was a rebellious teenager. She was sent home from a boarding school for “conduct unbecoming of a lady“. At the age of 17 she fell for 32 year old Theodore Kosloff (who already had a wife and daughter in Europe) and the pair began a tumultuous but short lived love affair. While Kosloff was away on a hunting trip, Rambova packed her bags and called a taxi. However Kosloff returned unexpectedly and caught her leaving; angered, he shot her in the leg. She managed to escape and never reported the matter to the police.

Theodore Kosloff found here

Shortly after this, she started working for Alla Nazimova who employed her as an art director and costume designer. It was on the set of one of Nazimova’s films that Natacha met Rudolph Valentino. They moved in together and devised a plan to sell Valentino’s autograph for 25 cents. This venture kept them afloat between paychecks.

Valentino found here

Natacha took photos of Valentino for a magazine called Shadowland that featured art and dancer photos. The pair were forced to separate (or at least pretend to) as the divorce proceedings for Valentino’s marriage to Jean Acker began. Once the divorce was final, they married on May 13, 1922 in Mexico. However, the law at the time required a year to pass before remarriage and Valentino was jailed as a bigamist. The scandal seriously hurt both their careers.

Jean Acker found here

They worked together on several films, most of which failed to make money at the box office. Natacha specialized in “exotic” effects in both costume and stage design. For costumes she favored bright colors, baubles, bangles, shimmering fabrics and feathers. She also used the effect of sparkle on half nude bodies slathered in paint.

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After her divorce from Valentino, Rambova opened an elite couture shop on Fifth Avenue in 1927. Later she closed the shop and moved to France after meeting her second husband in 1934. Following her second divorce she developed an interest in the metaphysical and published various articles on healing and astrology.

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Natacha believed in reincarnation and psychic powers. Later in life she became an Egyptologist and a follower of Madame Blavatsky, visiting psychics, partaking in séances and automatic writing. In the mid 1960s she was struck with scleroderma, and became malnourished and delusional as a result. She died of a heart attack in 1966 at the age of 69. Her Egyptian antiquities were donated to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and she willed a huge collection of Nepali and Lamaistic art to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Natacha was portrayed by Yvette Mimieux in The Legend of Valentino (1975), and by Michelle Phillips in Ken Russell’s feature film Valentino (1977).

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Published in: on January 2, 2012 at 9:14 pm  Comments (47)  
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