Galavanting Gossips

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Diana Vreeland

It is always so wonderfully interesting to hear first-hand accounts of people who have crossed paths with royalty, celebrity, power, fame, privilege, even infamy. It’s not that we expect perfection or demand performance from those who occupy loftier positions than our own; what we’re usually after is the discovery, or even the hope, of imperfections, foibles, flaws, the unrevealed, or little known secrets, that make them more like us.

Even if, we, ourselves, don’t enjoy the entitlement of moving in the coveted spheres of the privileged, we can still witness from afar through the glimpses and impressions of those who do, or did; those charitable purveyors of tattle and tidbits who had the good fortune through ability, birthright, marriage, acquaintance or ingenuous skullduggery to secure a sought-after invitation, a private audience or an arranged assignation through highly-placed friends. And make no mistake. Many of those who moved in said circles were, oftentimes, themselves, legends in their own right.

What made them so exceptional as guests and gossipers were not only their reputations, but their keenly acute observational skills, social dexterity, villainous wit, disarming candor and their gift for storytelling. History and high society is filled with some of the greatest galavanting gossips of their day, like Cecil Beaton, Truman Capote, Kenneth Tynan, or raconteur extraordinaire — Diana Vreeland who had the God-given knack for turning the ordinary anecdote into something approximating an award-winning screenplay.

Following is one such story taken from the archives of the divine Miss “V” on the legendary, but highly temperamental, and excruciatingly troubled, Maria Callas, scorned flame of Aristotle Onassis and one of the most renowned operatic singers of the 20th century.

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Maria Callas, 1958. Anonymous.

“For years, I couldn’t get over [Maria] Callas. This is a paparazzi picture of her I had tacked up on my bulletin board in my office. It’s a killer-diller! This, to me, is Callas.

I knew her–just. One Thanksgiving, I had five or six people in for lunch, people who had no other place to go–Europeans and so forth. A friend called.

 

“She was

as common

as mud.”

 

“Diane, chére,” he said, “may I bring Maria? I think you two should meet. I know she has nothing to do, and as her oldest friend, I don’t think I should leave her alone on Thanksgiving. Would it be all right if I brought her?”

“Listen,” I said, “can a duck swim?”

So she arrived–the greatest actress in the wold. She wore black Milanese clothes; her hair, which she wore in a pony-tail, was literally this thick; her manners were beautiful; she was very, very sustained emotionally; she made things very clear emotionally–she was everything you would expect of Callas. We sat down at the table. Then, suddenly…the veil dropped. She was as common as mud. I didn’t know anyone could be that ordinaire and still know how to use a knife and fork.

Yet on stage, she was the most extraordinary performer I have ever seen in my life–ever. Once we went to see her in Traviata. We were in the second row. I remember the boulevards and the tablecloths and the crowds going by and the men and the women having something to say to each other and the men talking to each other about business and the women talking to each other about mmm…clothes–and however else the chorus starts.

Then…there’s a break in the crowd and you see a man and a woman sitting at a table talking and she looks at the audience and a note comes out.

She just opened her throat. But I want to tell you that a tenth of a second later I was totally drenched, I mean totally–it had nothing to do with crying or weeping. It was shock. It was total electricity. I had been prepared to hear the most dramatic singer in the world, but this…and by God, when she died, was she dead. I’ve never seen such a death scene. On stage she didn’t have a gauche thing about her. She was unique. That’s a word I use sparingly.

 

Diana Vreeland
Allure
Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1980

 

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~ by eaesthete on 08/17/09.

4 Responses to “Galavanting Gossips”

  1. What a find! DV and Callas together- I have always thought- and in this case to have Thanksgiving and have an ear. It is this type of thing that makes her all the more fascinating.No? The quirk, the tick, the common, the raunch- the reality of what these people were really like- step off that pedestal gently.

    • Little Augury,

      Wonderfully put “the quirk, the tick, the common, the raunch.”
      All the essentials to enrich a life and a legend. Thank God for these
      poets of bad behavior.

  2. Mrs. E.’s comment upon meeting those in the public eye is always something along the lines of “… much shorter and what a enormous head….”

    I suspect we seek out the mote in the eye in order to feel as if we too, given a break, could join that lofty rank and file. Me? Not in the least. Spare me fame and grant me the fortune. I’ll hire someone taller, thinner and better looking to impersonate me in public.

    • How I chuckled over spare me fame and grant me the fortune. I would most heartily concur “In a New York minute” as the saying goes.

      As for the “enormous head” noted by Mrs. E, there is wide agreement in the entertainment industry that the very successful are usually endowed with just that — a very large head, often, quite disproportionate with the body bearing it. Interesting premise with enough celebrity examples to support it.

      And finally, E, you’re much too modest. You cut quite the dashing figure yourself for inclusion among the loftiest of the rank and file.

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