smelling to heaven in bathtubs of champagne

Maury Henry Biddle Paul was a short, plump, chain smoking dandy who pinned a fresh carnation in his lapel each day and worshipped his widowed mother. From his bare, draughty office (where he entertained a string of elegantly frail young men) he telephoned all day to his upper crust contacts, fly zipper open to ‘relieve pressure’.

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By 1919, when Hearst hired him as Cholly Knickerbocker for the American, Paul was writing columns for three New York City papers under three different names, and making $140 a week. Hearst called him, declaring: “You’re working too hard.” For $250 a week, Paul agreed to write only one column. Eventually, with his Cholly Knickerbocker column widely syndicated, Paul earned more than $100,000 a year, becoming the highest paid society reporter of his time.

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Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton reportedly sent him ruby and diamond cufflinks; hotels showered him with cases of liquor; and there were personal gifts of gold lighters, silver ornaments, jewellery, Aubusson rugs and even a cellophane wrapped station wagon. He took extended holidays with his lover, the illustrator Carl Haslam, and bathed other more casual boyfriends in bathtubs of champagne.

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As a self-avowed snob, he considered himself the high priest of what remained of the old social aristocracy which had been all but obliterated by the rising horde of new millionaires spawned by the ’20s.

In Park Avenue drawing rooms and 52nd Street nightclubs he cut an exquisite figure. Always heavily perfumed, he was in the habit of remarking complacently: “I smell to heaven.” He carried his own special brand of tea in a silver snuffbox to drink in nightclubs. He wore evening scarves by Schiaparelli, delighted in yanking up his pants leg and displaying his solid-gold garter clasps, studded with his four initials. He took up golf once but dropped it immediately, after finding himself in a locker room with a crowd of muscular, boisterous players. “It was too goddamn manly,” he said.

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