pearls before frogs

Escoffier once prepared a special dish, “Nymphs’ Thighs”, for Nellie Melba, Lily Langtry, the Prince of Wales and Duc d’Orleans. The recipe called for frogs’ legs poached in a court-bouillon with white wine and placed on a layer of champagne jelly with chervil and tarragon leaves between the legs to resemble grass.

image by Milanko

The Prince travelled to Paris, where a far more daring dish was served. When the lid of an enormous tray was raised, there lay before him the celebrated courtesan Cora Pearl, naked save for sprigs of parsley and a rope of pearls.

Coral Pearl

Cora fancied herself as a singer and dancer and often supplemented the income from her wealthy clients with theatrical performances.

“Cora’s artistic rebirth on the Paris stage was a breath of spring for a country anxious about the possibility of war. Determined at last to be seen as an artist, and not merely as a hard working woman, Cora spared no expense, and emerged on the stage in a very provocative costume that left little to the imagination. She had learned from the Italian Masters that there was nothing shameful about the human form, as long as it was exposed for noble purposes. Accentuating the outfit was a pair of boots that caused a gasp of astonishment in the crowded theater. Knee high, they were buttoned with diamonds the size of easter eggs, and the soles were encrusted with more precious stones from toe to heel. One nobleman, a Count, was seized by the desire to own them, and offered 50,000 francs for the chance – twice that if Cora would wear them when she relinquished possession. Though nothing is known of the outcome of this transaction, the evidence will show that Cora was always malleable when it came to men, and quite probably acquiesced to his request, if only so as not to hurt his feelings.


Cora was the trendsetter of 1860s France. Whatever she did, the nation followed. One day, in a lighted-hearted moment of whimsy, she dyed her hair to match the upholstery of her carriage, and the women of France followed suit. She had learned of a cunning make-up house in London, and began to have silver and crushed pearl face powders sent from across the Channel. She even shocked Parisian sensibilities by browning herself in the summer months, something unheard of at the time.

match your rocking horse’s hair to your own

When the Franco-Prussian War begun Cora proved her mettle, and a heroism unparalleled in the history of high society was revealed for the world to see. She turned her largest house into a hospital for officers, ripping apart her curtains and table linens to make bandages for wounded officers.

Torn Curtain by Robert Pyle

After the war ended, Cora attempted to pick up the pieces of her life. One man, Alexander Duval, harassed her constantly. He threw so much money at her that she didn’t know what to do. She tried to make him understand that she could never love him but he pulled out a gun and shot himself on her doorstep.

So overcome was she that she quite forgot to summon help, naturally thinking that others, too, had heard the shot and would do so. At her first social engagement after the shooting, she was stunned to realize that gossips were saying that she had left Mr. Duval to die on her steps, out of a cold-hearted indifference to his plight.

She was forced to sell her possessions and move to a shabby rooming house, where she died in 1886.

Instead of a sad, lonely farewell from a society that had used her and cast her aside, Cora’s funeral was a fairy-tale event organised by a mysterious benefactor, who paid anonymously for the largest, most lavish burial that France had ever seen

image (2010) here

Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 7:29 am  Comments (36)  
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Time to straighten the record

On October 29, 1934, Elliott White Springs wrote a letter to Time, politely correcting some inaccuracies in a story they had printed about him.


“I found your report [TIME, Sept. 24] interesting. I am sure you want to keep your files accurate and suggest that they be changed slightly.

When I wish to dress up around the mills and wear a coat it is not of 1917 vintage, as you report, but was made in 1921. The straw-woven shoes are now no more, as at least a dozen old friends read your report and have supplied me with new pairs. The $20,000,000 with which I am credited is entirely a myth but since your article appeared I have received wires and letters from acquaintances of years gone by requesting immediate loans. I believe I am also safe in stating that I have been given the opportunity to finance at least half of the new inventions which have patents now pending.


To offset that, however, my social popularity has increased as much as if I had learned to play the piano, gotten rid of halitosis, used Lifebuoy, or spoken to the waiter in French. . . .

Upon my recent visit to the marts of trade and the fleshpots of Egypt, your assurances as to my financial stability caused such interest that I feel my days as a wallflower are over.

The fact that my wife read the article also and spent several days shopping upon the strength of it will have to be charged to the debit side.

Every tailor in the country now feels it is time for me to buy a new coat and I think it only fair that when I do so they should give TIME a commission on the business.”

On Monday October 8, 1934, they printed an article about Diamond Jim Brady and his collection of precious gems.

Besides such curios as a diamond-tipped cane, he owned 30 complete sets of jeweled cuff links, studs, tie pins, fobs, watch chains, etc. A railroad man, he enjoyed blazoning the fact by wearing what became one of his most famed diamond arrangements— the Transportation Set.

image from here. click to enlarge

Most amusing to today’s public was a design of a Pullman car which Mr. Brady liked to pin on his underwear. Almost two inches long were his freight and passenger car cuff links. A bicycle-shaped stud was reminiscent of the goldplated, diamond-studded bicycle he gave to Lillian Russell, who kept it in a plush case when she was not riding it.


But according to another letter to the editor penned by Lillian Russell’s daughter, Dorothy Russell Solomon de Castiglione Einstein O’Reilly Calvit, this fact was disputed.

My mother, Lillian Russell, was not even acquainted with Mr. Brady during the bicycle era. As for the vehicle itself, it had a goldplated handlebar with mother-of-pearl grips, no diamonds. The pedals were also goldplated. The bicycle was a gift from the Columbia Bicycle manufacturers in appreciation of the vast amount of publicity they derived from her using their product and because she had purchased so many of them, one for each member of the family. . . .

To Dorothy Russell Solomon de Castiglione Einstein O’Reilly Calvit, who won fame of her own by upsetting the will of her stepfather, the late Alexander Pollock Moore (TIME, May 4, 1931), thanks for a description of her mother’s bicycle. Confronted with it, Author Morell sticks to his story.


Published in: on August 4, 2010 at 8:03 am  Comments (36)  
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pass the parure

In 17th century Europe multiple matching items of jewellery were all the rage. A parure, as these collections were known, could include diadems, coronets, belts, bracelets, earrings, pendants, corsage studs, fasteners, necklaces and other accessories.


Among the most intriguing jewels in the world are pieces formerly in the collection of the French Crown Jewels. Nearly all the jewels were sold during an auction the French government conducted in 1887. The ruby and diamond diadem was sold to a Mr. Hass and the matching bracelets were sold to Tiffany & Co. Within a year, these jewels were resold to Mr. Bradley-Martin of New York City, an original member of the “Four Hundred,” a term coined for New York City’s high society.


The new owner became Cornelia Bradley-Martin, who played a colorful part in America’s social history during the 1890s when New York was in the midst of an economic panic. Thousands were unemployed and long bread lines formed on the streets. Cornelia Bradley-Martin was distressed over the misery she saw around her and suggested that an extravagant party might help to lift New York out of its slump. It not only would lift spirits, she thought, but also would employ out of-work florists, hair stylists and dressmakers.


Guests were asked to dress “appropriately for the court of Versailles at the time of Louis XIV.” Newspapers around the world began to print detailed accounts of the preparations. The New York Times told readers how carloads of orchids and roses arrived to transform the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria into the Great Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.


The Bradley-Martins were costumed as Louis XV and Mary, Queen of Scots. She complemented her costume of black velvet and white lace with a stunning collection of jewels, including the pair of ruby and diamond bracelets dating from 1810 (which she wore joined together to form a dog collar), a large diamond brooch known as the Sevigne brooch dating from 1856, and the center plaque from the piece known as the great girdle set with diamonds, pearls and colored stones dating from 1864. On her right shoulder was a quatrefoil pendant set with rubies and diamonds.

Sevigne Brooch

In addition to the royal pieces, she wore an impressive diamond tiara, a necklace designed as a line of ruby and diamond clusters, a large diamond sunburst brooch, a belt set its entire length with large diamonds, and three additional diamond strands draped from her shoulder to her waist. She was a picture of extravagance.

“Waist and Extravagance”

Several ministers condemned the lavish display of wealth during a time of economic hardship. Soon the story of the ball erupted into a full-blown controversy. Collier’s magazine printed critical editorials and a political cartoon lampooning it. The New York City tax authorities doubled the Bradley-Martins’ tax assessment and, by the end of the year, the couple moved to England.

Their daughter, also named Cornelia, married the Fourth Earl of Craven and acquired the title Lady Craven at age 16. The Earl of Craven fell off his yacht and drowned at age 53 in 1921. His death was said to be an example of the curse on the Craven title (whereby all who inherit the title die young).

His body was found a day after his disappearance off the deck of the 63 ton yawl, Sylvia. In the police description of Lord Craven it was stated he was dressed in a dinner jacket, silk shirt and pearl cufflinks with his family crest tattooed on his breast. He was succeeded by his son, the one-legged Viscount Uffington.


Published in: on July 28, 2010 at 7:58 am  Comments (36)  
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you look like a fabulous chicken

In 1962, writer Liz Smith had dreams of being discovered as a newer sexier version of Estelle Parsons. Hanging out with her friends Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton gave her plenty to write about…..


“While we wait for Elizabeth to have Alexandre do her hair, I overhear a secretary ordering lingerie from Henri Bendel. Someone is always ordering lingerie around the Burtons. You visualize a world of hotel suites with lovely once-worn panties, bras, slips and body stockings left behind and delighted maids exclaiming over the windfall. Richard, on the other hand, claims to have only six sets of drawers to his name. He declares either he or his wife washes out a pair nightly.

lingerie made from discarded cans

Elizabeth is wearing a coffee-colored suede coat trimmed with a dramatic flounce of fox at the bottom and a matching explosion at the top. Richard is very Southern Californian in a white cardigan and wraparound sunglasses. Alexandre has on something by Cardin, and there’s a bodyguard who is neither introduced, nor distinguished by tailoring. We pile into a robin’s-egg-blue Rolls to go two blocks. All in all, we are as likely to escape notice as an orange tie on St. Patrick’s Day.

nurse’s uniforms by Pierre Cardin

Grand entrance into David Webb’s jewelry emporium on 57th Street. ”I am omniscient and triprescient,” Richard murmurs, as the place dissolves into elegant pandemonium. People are springing to attention as if we were wearing stocking masks.

Elizabeth says to the salesman: ”Well, look, Andrew, what will these three pieces be with my spectacular discount?” She indicates leopard, zebra and serpent rings. ”Never mind — send them to the hotel, and these, too.” She points to a $2,500 lighter and a $29,000 shell purse…..

Zebra Handbag $4995.00

Weeks later she accompanies them to a party in Paris.

The Burtons enter in a crush. Elizabeth is wearing glittering emeralds and white egret feathers worked into her hair with diamonds. As she wedges her way past, I whisper, ”You look like a fabulous chicken.”

She blows a feather out of her face: ”You mean I look like a chicken’s behind.”


She wiggles her fingers and says, ”Bye, bye,” as she goes down the hall like a delicious snowdrift on legs……

Want to eat like the Burton’s did? Here’s their recipe for Chipped Beef a la Krupp Diamond:

Chipped beef




Curry powder

Hard-boiled eggs.

Shred the chipped beef, dredge in flour. Saute in melted butter in a hot skillet. In a saucepan, make a white cream sauce using three tablespoons of flour and a little milk. Add several pinches of curry powder to this. Serve over the beef. Add a few hard-boiled eggs to dip in sauce, or slice them and place on top. (Elizabeth’s verdict: ”We eat this at high noon; 11 a.m. if it’s ready!”


Published in: on July 25, 2010 at 7:17 am  Comments (36)  
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Eugene’s raisin

The first maitre d’hotel at Maxim’s was Eugene Cornuché.  He prided himself on pleasing his clientele and saw to it they could order almost any dish. When one man shouted angrily that there was a beetle in his soup, Cornuché put the insect in his mouth and swallowed it, assuring the complainer that it was only a raisin. An American cotton millionaire asked for, and was brought, a naked girl resting in an ambrosial pink sauce on a silver platter.


He encouraged glamourous women to come to the restaurant every night. Haitian beauty Jeanne Duval arrived carrying her tiny pet dog in her jewel encrusted chastity belt. Caroline Otero fandangoed on the tables, Liane de Pougy wore emerald rings on her toes; and men flocked to be seen with them.


Of Caroline Otero, it was said that ‘her spectacular breasts preceded her by a quarter of an hour‘. The writer Collette described them as ‘elongated lemons, firm and gloriously upturned at their lovely tips’.

Caroline and Liane both boasted that they owned the choicest jewels in France, and it was agreed that they should bring their collections one night to Maxim’s and allow its habitués to judge. Caroline was the first to arrive, laden from head to foot. Her victory seemed certain as the only part of her left uncovered was her face.


Liane appeared dressed entirely in black velvet without a single jewel. Behind her came her personal maid, who removed the coat she was wearing and, in the words of an onlooker, resembled an illuminated Eiffel Tower. As abounding applause proclaimed her the winner, a raging Caroline rushed towards the winner and had to be restrained by the ever ready urbane Monsieur Cornuché.


“In 1913, Jean Cocteau said of Maxim’s: “It’s an accumulation of velvet, lace, ribbons, diamonds and what all else I couldn’t describe. To undress one of these women is like an outing that necessitates three weeks advance notice, it’s like moving house.” Other famous guests of that time period were Edward VII and Marcel Proust.

window dressing inspired by Proust

Maxim’s was also immensely popular with the international elite of the 1950s, with guests such as Aristotle Onassis, Maria Callas, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Porfirio Rubirosa, Max Ophuls, and Barbara Hutton. When the restaurant was renovated at the end of the decade, workmen discovered a treasure trove of lost coins and jewelry that had slipped out of the pockets of the wealthy and been trapped between the cushions of the banquettes.


Published in: on July 19, 2010 at 10:49 am  Comments (40)  
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