The Riviera Set: Mary S. Lovell. 4 Stars
Author: Mary S. Lovell
Format: Paperback / softback
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Imprint: Little, Brown
Source: Hachette Australia
A portrait of high society in the twentieth century, told through the stories of the guests of Maxine Elliott and Prince Aly Khan at the Chateau de l'Horizon in Cannes.
The Riviera Set is the story of the group of people who lived, partied, bed-hopped and politicked at the Chateau de l'Horizon near Cannes, over the course of forty years from the time when Coco Chanel made southern French tans fashionable in the twenties to the death of the playboy Prince Aly Khan in 1960.
At the heart of this was the amazing Maxine Elliott, the daughter of a fisherman from Connecticut, who built the beautiful art deco Chateau and brought together the likes of Noel Coward, the Aga Khan, the Windsors and two very saucy courtesans, Doris Castlerosse and Daisy Fellowes, who set out to be dangerous distractions to Winston Churchill as he worked on his journalism and biographies during his 'wilderness years' in the thirties.
After the War the story continued as the Chateau changed hands and Prince Aly Khan used it to entertain the Hollywood set, as well as launch his seduction of and eventual marriage to Rita Hayworth.
Mary Lovell tells her story of high society behaviour with tremendous brio and relish, and this book has all the charm and fascination of her bestselling The Mitford Girls and The Churchills.
This book, by renowned biographer Mary S. Lovell is not, she tells us, a biography, but about a house and of those who were entertained within its walls.
It is written in three parts, the first being an account of the early years of Jessie Dermot:
Jessie Dermot, by dint of her beauty, talent and sheer determination, transformed herself into the fabulously rich queen of high society Maxine Elliot.
At her beautiful Chateau de l'Horizon Maxine entertained princes and politicians; the incredibly rich; the cream of high society, and the glitterati of those times.
The second part features the 1930s, the high days of Maxine’s reign at the Chateau de l'Horizon
What fascinated me is what some of these people got up to in the privacy of the Chateau! The chapter entitled “Courtesans and Assignations” is a real eye opener. Take Daisy Fellowes for instance, described as being “rich as Croesus” she thought nothing of spending thousands of pounds on a dress. Her secret to livening up a party was to add benzedrine (an amphetamine) to the punch!
The third part features the days of the war and the changes that took place post-war. Particularly interesting to me was the account of the return to Britain of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, sensitively organised by Winston Churchill.
Following the death of Maxine and the eventual return of peace, things changed at the chateau, it was purchased by the Prince Aly Khan. There is a lovely account of his wedding to Rita Hayworth, the chateau providing a sumptuous venue for the lavish affair.
This book is highly readable and enjoyable with a good balance between the deliciously gossipy and the factual.
Review copy provided by Hachette Australia