spare me the bag inspection

Alexander Comstock Kirk (1888 – 1979) was a United States diplomat. I think he would have been rather a pleasure to hang out with…..

His family’s wealth was derived from America’s largest soap manufacturing concern. Its national brands were “American Family” for laundry and “Juvenile” for the bath.


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At age 9, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago until his family decided he was too young to be drawing nude models. He was then sent to work incognito in a soap factory until his identity was discovered. 


Andy Warhol as a child found here

Kirk joined the American Diplomatic Service in 1915. He managed the State Department budget for a time in the 1920s, and later said he thought it “an obligation” to spend the entire amount in order to support the argument for additional appropriations. While posted to Cairo, Kirk kept one house in the city for lunch, another near the pyramids for dinner and sleeping, and a houseboat on the Nile.

houseboat on the Nile found here

While posted to Berlin, he lived in an enormous mansion in the swank Grunewald neighborhood. A visitor described it as “one vast hall after another, and he quiet and alone in the midst of it. Very funny; a little like the theatre.” His staff of servants spoke only Italian. He held “a large buffet luncheon every Sunday noon, as a means of revenging himself for such hospitality as his position required him to accept.

Karl Lagerfield designed the Schlosshotel in Grunewald

In 1945 he attributed “his excellent health to the fact that he has never worn himself down by any form of exercise more violent than scratching, which he only does when suffering from insomnia at 6 a.m.”

A few years after Kirk’s retirement, as Senator Joseph McCarthy launched a campaign against suspected homosexuals in government, one investigator’s report charged that certain State Department employees “were very close personal friends of former Ambassador Alexander Kirk who is not now in the service but who had a very bad reputation of being a homosexual and certainly protected a lot of homosexual people.

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He was a carryover from an older day when to be rich entitled you to be eccentric, and he made the most of the privilege. As a gesture of defiance, and in the indulgence of a fine sense of the theatrical, Kirk presented himself as the sort of American career diplomat of which the American philistine has always been the most suspicious: elegant, overrefined, haughty, and remote. His conversation consisted largely of weary, allusive quips.

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Kirk claimed he escaped from diplomatic functions by whatever ruse the situation required. At one embassy in Rome he found it necessary to leave by a door he could only reach by going under a grand piano. “In a case of this sort, Kirk recommends slow motion, which, he says, often prevents witnesses from even noticing a maneuver which, if executed fast, might horrify them.”

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Retiring after his mother’s death, he disclaimed all further interest in the Foreign Service. He had entered it, he solemnly maintained, only to spare her having her bags inspected at frontiers.

Published in: on January 28, 2012 at 10:58 pm  Comments (49)  
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a wolfe at the door

Elsie de Wolfe (December 20, 1865? – July 12, 1950) was an American actress, interior decorator and a prominent figure in New York, Paris, and London society.

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De Wolfe began her professional career in theatre, making her debut as an actress in Sardou’s Thermidor in 1891, playing the rôle of Fabienne. On stage, she was neither a total failure nor a great success; one critic called her “the leading exponent of . . . the peculiar art of wearing good clothes well.”  She became interested in interior decorating as a result of staging plays, and in 1903 she left the stage to launch a career as a decorator.

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She introduced a variety of things, including the cocktail party, comfortable chaise lounges, faux finish treatments, animal prints and delicate writing tables. While Elsie designed the interiors of many prestigious homes she also did opera boxes and a dormitory.

Danish dormitory found here

She continued to design interior spaces for a long list of prestigious clients and wrote several books and articles. During World War I she volunteered as a nurse in France, and it wasn’t until nearly the end of her career that, at the age of 61, she married diplomat Sir Charles Mendl, making front page news in the New York Times.

Shortly after her marriage, she scandalized French diplomatic society when she attended a fancy-dress ball dressed as a Moulin Rouge dancer and made her entrance turning handsprings. A guest chided her: “Elsie, it is wonderful to be able to turn handsprings at your age. But do you think it is in perfect taste for the wife of a diplomat to perform acrobatics in a ballroom?”

unknown Moulin Rouge dancer found here

The Times said that “the intended marriage comes as a great surprise to her friends,” perhaps because since 1892 de Wolfe had been living openly in what many observers accepted as a lesbian relationship. During their nearly 40 years together, Elisabeth Marbury was initially the main support of the couple. Dave Von Drehle speaks of “the willowy De Wolfe and the masculine Marbury… cutting a wide path through Manhattan society. Gossips called them “the Bachelors.” Shortly before the First World War, they both set up house at Versailles with Ann Morgan, heiress to the Pierpont fortune, forming an eccentric menage a trois dubbed the Versailles Triangle. 

Anne Morgan and Anne Dike found here

The parties she gave were always a success as she knew how to hold people’s interest. In 1930, for example, she hatched the idea for “murder parties“, a type of party game that was entirely new. On her appearance, too, she lavished much fervour and fantasy. Her morning exercises were famous. In her 1935 autobiography, de Wolfe wrote that her daily regimen at age 70 included yoga, standing on her head, and walking on her hands.

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Having been at thirty a vaguely plain woman with a marmoset face, Lady Mendl improved her looks throughout the years. She maintained a svelteness of figure throughout her life and introduced pale blue or heliotrope coloured hair. She was also one of the earliest, most successful devotees of facial surgery. In later years there was much speculation about her age, and when she was over eighty Lady Mendl came into her own as a beauty, acquiring an almost mythical look of serenity.

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Published in: on January 26, 2012 at 11:38 am  Comments (56)  
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