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

oh olga

The Shell Oil heiress Olga Deterding was known as the Mad Millionairess. For several years she lived like a louche socialite in a glossy white penthouse with realistic sculptured sheep nibbling at the grass coloured carpet. Her partners included television personalities Alan Whicker and Jonathan Routh and she was friends with restaurateur Peter Langan, the original “enfant terrible” of gastronomy. Langan once bet her £5 that she would not sit naked all afternoon by the street window of his restaurant – but she did.

Olga Kurylenko NOT Olga Deterding

Routh was one of the stars of Britain’s version of Candid Camera

Candid Camera was launched on an unsuspecting public in 1960 and became an instant success with viewers, who relished the misfortunes of Routh’s hapless victims. In the first programme he pushed an engineless car into a garage and told the mechanic that it had just broken down. The garage man opened the bonnet to find nothing there. Routh played dumb. Utterly bewildered, the mechanic then looked under the car and in the boot before summoning his mates to see if he’d missed something. Eventually, one of them pronounced to general astonishment that, indeed, there was no engine.

Jonathan Routh

On another occasion he posted himself from Sheepwash, Devon, to the offices of the Daily Mail in Fleet Street, claiming that he was too scared to go to London on his own. As “livestock”, parcels had to be accompanied at all times, he was put in a postman’s care for the duration of the journey and delivered for £2. The postman was silent throughout. Routh thought this episode demonstrated the height of English tolerance and good manners.

Postman found here

Routh also discovered a talent for naive painting. He restricted his subject matter principally to Queen Victoria and nuns because, he said, “faces, arms and legs were beyond me”. For Victoria he created imaginary journeys that she undertook to exotic places such as Jamaica, where Routh eventually settled as a semi-recluse.


Nuns were depicted drinking Coca-Cola, bouncing on trampolines, being shot from cannons, driving racing cars, flying balloons and picnicking in the jungle. The pictures were incorporated into a succession of children’s books, including The Nuns Go to Africa, The Nuns Go to Penguin Island, and Jamaica Holiday: The Secret Life of Queen Victoria. There were also a number of Mona Lisa paintings, showing her naked, drinking tea, smoking a cigarette and holding a tin of spaghetti.


Olga and Peter Langan shared a love of fine wine and whiskey.

His creation was food-as-theatre; when you stepped into Langan’s cream-painted Mayfair restaurant with its black-clad staff and exotically-dressed patrons, it was as if you were stepping on to a West End stage. In Langan’s Brasserie, everyone was a star.

Langan by Richard Young

An irate patron once brought him a cockroach she had found – Langan laughed and swallowed it with a swig of champagne. The designer Emillo Fiorucci came to dine, bringing his dog. Langan, not liking the dog’s looks, got down on his hands and knees and bit it.

Wayne Sleep, Peter O’Toole, the actresses Deborah Kerr and Jill Bennett and doyennes of bad behaviour such as Molly Parkin were regulars.

Molly Parkin

Wayne Sleep, at the height of his celebrity, reciprocated Peter’s gift of a case of chilled champagne after a Covent Garden first night by dancing naked across the Odin’s tabletops, startling the occupants of a nearby nurses’ home

One day he was told that Princess Margaret was dining in the restaurant with her cousin, the Earl of Harewood ‘Oh, is she now?’ he asked puckishly. ‘And what did she eat?’ On being told it was merely a coddled egg, he approached the table, not entirely sober. ‘And how was the ******* egg then?’ he inquired solicitously ‘I’m amazed you’d be bothered to go out, just to eat one of them. Don’t they know how to do them at the Palace?’ Staff say he had to be physically restrained from goosing the princess as she left, but it was Langan’s unique talent to act and speak offensively, yet not cause offence.

Margaret became a regular.

Princess Margaret by Lord Snowden

Published in: on May 24, 2010 at 6:53 am  Comments (36)  
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