sultans of bling

Fahd bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud was the one time King and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia.

From the hotel Incosol just outside Marbella, Fahd directed the construction of his Marbella property, Mar Mar Palace, modelled on the White House. Tales of excess and extravagance, of sex and shopping sprees, filled the pages of the world’s tabloid press.

Fahd was known as the King of Bling, the Sultan of Splendour. His personal wealth was estimated at Euro 25 billion and he was reputed to earn more in a minute that any monarch in history did in a year”.


He arrived at Malaga International Airport in his own customised Boeing-747. Its fittings included a solid gold toilet, gold cutlery and plates, and a gold throne. He turned up with his latest toy; a customised pen that could sign a cheque in gold ink. He also had the casino fountain gush only Cristal champagne while he was at the table.


His half brother King Khaled owned a private jet too. As he suffered from heart trouble he had an operating theatre installed so his doctors could perform open heart surgery in midair should this be necessary. When Queen Elizabeth visited King Khaled in 1979, he arranged a desert picnic for her with 50 lambs roasted on a spit, enormous silver dishes of lobster and a unicorn carved out of butter.


In 2005, Fahd’s health took a turn for the worse and he was back in Marabella.

When King Fahd last summered in here in 1999, he and his vast retinue spent €90m. Hoteliers, restaurateurs, jewellers and florists are waiting expectantly after estimates that the royal party will this time spend up to €6m (£4m) a day.

A local florist is to supply €1,500 of fresh flowers to the palace daily during the royal visit. Five hundred mobile phones have been ordered, the palace will receive 50 specially ordered cakes a day and a direct line of credit has been set up with the nearest branch of a leading department store, which is to remain open round the clock to satisfy instantly every royal whim. A plane will fly in weekly from Ryadh bringing the King water from Mecca, dates, lamb, rice and spices.


Another Saudi royal who loves a plane or two is Prince Alwaleed bin Tahal. He already had a Boeing 747 but added to his fleet an Airbus A380

In addition to a 70-inch flat screen, the dining room features cabinets (to the left and right of the table) that house 42-inch pop-up monitors.

Just a glimpse into how the really really really rich folk live……

Published in: on May 25, 2010 at 8:30 am  Comments (51)  
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abandon skirts!

Harriet Quimby was America’s first licensed female pilot.

At 37, Harriet Quimby already drove her own runabout, held a senior editorial position with New York’s popular Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly and lived as a single woman in Manhattan. Perfecting poise and style in her youthful modeling days also served Quimby well when she stepped into the limelight of another very public career. . .as an aviatrix.

Sensing her place in history, she chose to wear a unique flying costume no one would ever forget. Quimby’s knickerbocker pants, although alternatively disguised as a modest skirt, was not appreciated by all as a fashion statement. In 1911 an editorial ran which quoted a Connecticut Catholic priest who felt the “new woman” was wearing “vulgar” costumes. Quimby ignored this criticism; so secure in her own image she did not even fear the wrath of God.

This priest is also unimpressed by vulgar fashions

Helen Dutrieu, the “Lady Hawk” swooped into the 1911 Nassau Boulevard Air Meet where Quimby also participated. “Her drab colored costume of cravenette serge caught the feminine eye as she swung across the flying field,” wrote the Times journalist. To avoid poking a whalebone through her chest in case of a “crack-up,” the reporter immodestly revealed “Mlle. Dutrieu is always corsetless when she soars. . . Miss Quimby does not take this precaution.”

image of Helen Dutrieu found here

Already famous for her exhibition flying, Harriet Quimby secured her place in aviation history by becoming the first woman to solo across the English Channel in 1912. Although considered so dangerous that a male pilot offered to wear her purple silk flying costume and impersonate her, Quimby’s cross-channel flight was made without mishap. She returned to New York City and less hazardous flying. Ironically, she and her male passenger fell to their deaths just three months later while making an exhibition flight around the Boston Light in Massachusetts.

Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 8:15 am  Comments (42)  
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don’t you dare!

Trapeze artist Leona Dare’s real name was Susan Adeline Stewart, though she sometimes appeared as “Zoe” before meeting and marrying Thomas Hall, one half of an acrobatic duo known as The Dare Brothers. In 1879, Thomas took her to court to regain possession of the equipment she used.

image found here

“The apparatus with which the beautiful, celebrated and courageous Leona enthralls an admiring public was exhibited in court and witnesses marvelled at its construction, novelty and value. The jury agreed on a valuation of £100.00 for the apparatus, without which Mrs Dare will not be able to continue her triumphant professional career.

image found here

Mr Hall did not seem to be favoured with much of the society of his brilliant consort but that perhaps is the lot of those who unite with women of European reputation. An old fashioned song contains an impressive warning against the perils of an alliance with a musical lady and a somewhat similar caution appears to be needed in the case of athletic damsels.

image found here

Mrs Hall is at present in Austria but her deposition was read in court stating that she “will not return to my husband as I do not love him”. Mr Justice Denham suggested with judical humour, “this may be the result of teaching your wife to fly.”

In 1884 Leona had an accident during a performance in Spain, where she dropped her partner, who later died of his injuries.

During the act Miss Dare was seized with a nervous fit and dropped the trapeze. M. George and the apparatus dropped whirling to the floor. The audience were horror-stricken. Everyone rushed for the doors, and a panic ensued, in which many people were crushed and otherwise injured.

Miss Dare clung to the roof, screaming hysterically. She was rescued with difficulty after the excitement had somewhat subsided, and is now confined to her bed from exhaustion following the shock. M. George has since, by cable, been reported dead, and Miss Dare in a precarious condition.’

In 1888, Leona Dare recovered to team up with Swiss balloonist Eduard Spelterini. He would take her, suspended under the basket of his balloon, to great heights while she performed her acrobatics. Their ascents in June and July 1888 at the Crystal Palace in London went on to make them world-famous.

image found here

Published in: on March 21, 2010 at 7:20 am  Comments (38)  
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don’t acosta my sista

The de Acosta sisters had more than their fair share of beauty and brains. Aida was the first woman to fly a powered aircraft solo, doing this after taking only three flying lessons.

Aida flying in 1903

“On June 29, 1903 in Paris, at the age of nineteen, Aida de Acosta charmed Brazilian pioneer aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont into showing her how to operate his personal dirigible. Santos-Dumont was the toast of Paris at the time, frequently flying his dirigible downtown to his favorite restaurant and parking it on the street while he had dinner. Acosta flew Santos-Dumont’s aircraft solo while Santos-Dumont rode his bicycle along below, waving his arms and shouting advice”

Her sister Rita was regarded as the ‘most picturesque woman in America’ and was photographed, sculpted and painted by many famous artists.

“She also wrote one novel, Tragic Mansions (1927), under the name Mrs Philip Lydig, a society melodrama described as “emotionally moving and appealing” by The New York Times.

In 1921 Rita announced her engagement to Reverend Percy Stickney Grant, rector of the Church of the Ascension. Their wedding plans were broken off in 1924 when Bishop William Manning refused to authorise the marriage.  Rev. Grant died shortly afterwards, leaving his personal fortune to the woman he had hoped to marry, and she spent large sums of money on fashion, art, furniture, and other objects to overcome her grief. She died of pernicious anaemia at the Gotham Hotel shortly after, at the age of 54. Her personal wardrobe became the basis for the start of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”

image by Gertrude Kasebier found here

Perhaps the most well known of the de Costa sisters was author, poet, screenwriter, playwright and costume designer Mercedes.

Her mother, a descendant of the Duke of Alba, raised her as a boy, calling her “Rafael” and dressing her in boy’s attire. After the death of her father in 1907, however, Mercedes’ mother became concerned about her lack of femininity and dispatched her to a convent school in France, from which she was removed after an incident involving two nuns who were apparently lovers.

image found here

In 1929, she moved to California, where she met Greta Garbo and almost immediately became her lover. The affair with Garbo was an intense and stormy one, and Acosta frequently found herself in rivalry for the aloof Garbo’s affections, with men as well as women. Indeed, one of the more curious of these triangulations, one that lasted for over two decades, involved Acosta, Garbo, and photographer Cecil Beaton, who, though for the most part homosexual, was nonetheless obsessed with the enigmatic screen idol.

image of Cecil Beaton by George Hoyningen-Huene found here

After a highly emotional split with Garbo in 1932, Acosta began an affair with Marlene Dietrich, which lasted, on and off, for the rest of the decade, although she continued to be Garbo’s lover intermittently through those same years.

image found here of Marlene photographed by Mercedes

Other lovers of Mercedes included the great actresses Alla Nazimova and Eva Le Gallienne and the legendary inovator of dance , Isadora Duncan. In the glory days of Hollwood , folks used to play a “six degrees” connection game (think of the popular “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game of the 1980s) . The less number of degrees it took to make a connection between two people, the more points one got. Truman Capote used to say that Mercedes was his trump card becuse you could connect her so quickly to so many via bed or intellect.”

image of Truman Capote found here

Published in: on January 26, 2010 at 7:27 am  Comments (43)  
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the bernards and the corrigans

Bernard McFadden was the founder of Physical Culture magazine. He changed the spelling of his name to Bernarr because he thought it sounded like the roar of a lion and Macfadden because it sounded more masculine. You can read a lot more about him at where I found this paraphrased extract by Fulton Oursler

“While visiting Rome he met with Mussolini and told him the Italian army’s food bills were too high and the nutriment too low. He said he could give Italy stronger soldiers at half the price. Months later he received a telephone call from Ellis Island telling him a consignment of Italian soldiers were awaiting pickup. He put the young men on a course of physical culture, banning spaghetti, feeding them with cracked wheat and vegetables and putting them through calisthenics. He sent them back to Mussolini much improved and at 1/3 the cost. For this he received an Italian decoration which a few years later he threw away”

image found here

One of his early pupils was Raymond Berna(r)d who started training with him to correct a spinal curvature. He was such an avid student that he became a fitness instructor of the Macfadden method for Hollywood film stars of the 20s and 30s. His physique was noticed and he was first hired as a stunt double in Tarzan the Ape Man, worked his way up to become a star in his own right and changed his name to Ray “Crash” Corrigan.

image found here

Crash made many films, mostly westerns and also appeared in his ape costume in many more, mostly uncredited. In 1937 he bought a ranch which he developed into Corriganville, a location used for films and television shows. It was opened to the public in 1949.

Ray married in the early 1940s, and he and his wife, Rita, had three children. By 1954, the marriage was breaking up. Rita filed for a divorce. The contentious divorce had its amusing aspects. In June, 1954, The Los Angeles Times reported that Corrigan and three detectives had burst into Rita’s motel apartment and found her with another man, Moses Stiltz, who was the ex-foreman at the Corrigan ranch. The Times later reported an 80-m.p.h. car chase between Corrigan and Stiltz which climaxed with both men threatening to file citizen’s arrests charging assault with a deadly weapon. In court, Ray and his wife accused each other of having affairs with workers at the ranch.

Another actor with an interesting history is Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan. He starred as himself in the film, The Flying Irishman after claiming that he set out for California but ended up in Ireland due to a malfunctioning compass.

“Observers were more than a little surprised when Corrigan’s plane banked sharply to the east on takeoff and disappeared into a looming cloudbank over the Atlantic Ocean, the opposite direction of where he was supposed to be headed. They were even more surprised when reports came that, 28 hours and 13 minutes later, Corrigan had landed his little modified Curtiss-Robin monoplane at an airfield outside Dublin, Ireland, and amiably told the workers who gathered around him, “I just got in from New York. Where am I? I intended to fly to California.”

image found here

Published in: on January 20, 2010 at 7:35 am  Comments (30)  
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the romance of lust

A couple of years ago the Bibliothque Nationale presented an exhibition of erotica and pornography gleaned from the forbidden section of the state library

The French are not the only ones to have a hidden stash of such things. The British Library at Saint Pancras also has a Private Case, kept in a strong room and usually only accessible to academics. It holds the correspondence between 45 year old Lady Cavendish and the much younger Count de la Rochefoucauld which was used as evidence in the divorce case of Lord and Lady Cavendish.

image of Private Case found here

“Rouchefoucauld’s letters were so erotic that 12 of them occupy the last 26 pages of the fourth volume of the pornographic classic “Romance of Lust” published in 1876 and confined to the Private Case.

When counsel for Lord Cavendish produced them, he said they were too scandalous to be read in open court. The judge had a look at one or two and told the court, “I entirely agree with my learned friend. I shall take them home and refer to them in my summing up.”

image found here

In them, Rochefoucauld said the Lady Cavendish had picked the ‘flower of his virginity’. He talked of the joys of cunnilingus, fellation, drinking urine and sharing all of the delicacies of each other’s body.

He talked of introducing a naked serving girl to their lovemaking who would perform cunnilingus on Lady Cavendish and ‘violate you with her breasts… filling your womb with her milk to excite your senses’.

image by Becat

He wrote of more debased practices than this but repeatedly stated that Lady Cavendish’s replies were even more explicit than anything he could dream up.

Fast forward to 1930 and another scandalous divorce case used the love letters of Jessie Matthews to her married paramour as evidence.

image of Jessie Matthews found here

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, crowds stood ten deep, together with an army of photographers, all waiting for the conclusion of what promised to be Britain’s first great showbusiness scandal of the 20th century, an astonishing saga of intense sexual passion, illicit love and steamy, pornographic letters.

The wronged wife was not in court. She was in Hollywood, making a film called One Heavenly Night. In her absence, the court was told about the heavenly nights enjoyed by her husband and his devastatingly attractive mistress, and listening to the sexually explicit love letters which Jessie Matthews had written to her married lover, which his wife had discovered.

Presiding over the court on this afternoon in July 1930, was the most censorious and inflexible divorce judge of his generation, Sir Maurice Hill, a 68-year-old widower with a deeply ingrained distaste for divorce proceedings, which he once described as like having ‘one foot on sea and one in a sewer’.

‘It is quite clear,’ he said, ‘that the husband admits himself to be a cad, and nobody will quarrel with that, and the woman Matthews writes letters which show her to be a person of an odious mind.’

You can read extracts from the letters by clicking the link at the end of this paragraph – they appear to be much tamer than Lady Cavendish’s were purported to be. Her affairs were certainly interesting and included a curious night with two royals and a lover who hired a Gypsy Moth to drop matchboxes containing raspberries on the lawn of her house

Raspberry Moth found here

Published in: on December 19, 2009 at 7:53 am  Comments (29)  
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