"elsa maxwell party"

Published October 1, 1957





Mrs. John Felt, Somerset Maugham, Clare Booth Luce, Prince Aly Kahn, Elsa Maxwell, Lord Astor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Noël Coward, Mrs. David Bruce, Duke di Verdura, Duchess of Devonshire, Cole Porter

Born in Keokuk, Iowa, Elsa Maxwell was a renowned gossip columnist, song writer, radio and television personality, and, perhaps most famously, a professional hostess famed for her parties for high society and royalty. She was not humble. She wrote: “I am recognized as the arbiter of international society and the most famous hostess in the world.”  Hirschfeld drew her seven times, twice with Noël Coward.

Noël met Elsa in 1922: “I loved her at once. I loved her round friendly face, with its little shrewd eyes darting about like animated currents in a Bath bun. I loved her high spirits and her loud infectious laugh. It was before the days when she became the Queen of Paris and curdled her own personality with too much crème de la crème. In 1922 she was still a roistering buccaneer, and with all her boastfulness and noise and assertiveness, intelligent and immensely lovable.”

Early in their friendship, Elsa took Noël to Venice, as a sort of chaperone for her and a friend. The three of them fell in love with the city. In 1933, after one of the final performances of Design for Living, Noël took Elsa to the top of the Empire State Building, for a panoramic view of another city he loved. There was a bit of an incident, involving police and guns, but Noël ultimately forgave Elsa for turning the evening into a publicity stunt.

One of Noël’s best-known songs was inspired by one of Elsa’s parties:

“During the summer of 1937 or 1938, I forget which, Elsa Maxwell gave a party in the South of France. It was a “Beach” party and when she invited Grace Moore, Beatrice Lillie and me she explained that it would be “just ourselves.” When we arrived (as we were) we discovered that “just ourselves” meant about a hundred of us, all in the last stages of evening dress. We also discovered that one of the objects of the party was for us to entertain. As we were on holiday and had no accompanist and were not in any way prepared to perform, we refused. Elsa was perfectly understanding, but the other guests were a trifle disgruntled. The whole glittering episode was my inspiration for “I Went to a Marvelous Party.”

Noël was to attend many parties and dinners hosted by Maxwell over the years. When she died in 1963, Noël wrote in his diary: “A great sadness. Poor old Elsa Maxwell died. Another old friend gone. How glad I am that I went to see her a couple of weeks ago and made her laugh. I had a feeling that she was on her way, poor old duck.”

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