Guest Diary

LIZ SMITH: Remembering Debo ...

Deborah Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire.
Monday, October 20, 2014
by Liz Smith

Imagine the Duchess's Feelings! — Remembering Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire ... Princess Marilyn of Monaco? — It Almost Happened! ... Elizabeth Ailes honored by Green Beret Foundation.

"I'M a housewife!" said the Duchess of Devonshire to the New York Times back in 2003.

At the time she was running a multi-million dollar estate.
Deborah Mitford, the Duchess of Devonshire, at a banquet given by the Royal Society of St George, 1954 (Getty Images).
The Duchess of Devonshire feeding her chickens.
LAST WEEK I said I'd be writing about two famous women who had gone to their rewards and I did manage to praise my longtime friend,actress Marian Seldes. Now I want to say something about the woman I didn't know.

She was Deborah Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire who died at 94 and was one of the famous and infamous six Mitford sisters. I have been hoping for a long time that a movie about these ladies — Deborah, Diana, Pamela, Jessica, Unity and Nancy — could be made. But I suppose the expense would be prohibitive; covering the end of the Edwardian age, world wars, and the farewell to country estates,fox hunts, the upper and lower classes. Anyway, the TV series "Downton Abbey" more or less stole the aristocratic thunder I'm talking about.

The "founding father" of the Mitfords, so-called, was an Edwardian who used to, for sport, "hunt" his own children on horseback. He hadn't any use for his daughters and thought it burdensome to waste education on them. They more or less took care of themselves and, like clotted cream, rose either to the top or sank to the bottom.

Nancy Mitford became a well-known author and a major star of the literary scene. (She satirized the upper classes) ... Pamela married a millionaire and was known as “the rural Mitford” ... Jessica became a Communist and wrote a famous book, “The American Way of Death” ... Diana wed a fascist and eventually went to jail. She supported Goebbels and Hitler ... Unity foolishly fell for Hitler, and tried to commit suicide after Britain declared war on Germany.

The recently departed Deborah, the youngest and best of the lot, was a poultry expert and outlasted them all. She wrote her autobiography "Wait for Me” in 2010. She saved her husband's estate, Chatsworth, which was worth at least $285 million, raising enough money from visitors for it to become self-sufficient. Today, 600,000 people visit it annually, and buy its wares.

Deborah was named a Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order by Queen Elizabeth for preserving Britain's residential heritage. The Duchess of Devonshire taught and wrote another dozen books, essays, remembrances, travel and cookbooks (though she couldn't cook.)
Jessica, Nancy, Diana, Unity and Pamela Mitford in 1935.
She was a big fan of Elvis Presley. And a delightful human being.

Like the Duchess, I can't really cook.

Nevertheless I wrote a book called "Dishing," and in it I included the recipes for 'Scones' and 'Scotch Collops' and ‘Malva Pudding.’ You can read about Malva Pudding in Frances Lincoln's book, "The Duchess of Devonshire's Chatsworth Cookery Book." These recipes are too complicated for me. But would make your high tea really "high."

We salute the Duchess on a life well-lived. The world is going to miss her.
“I’M SO happy you found a way out of this business.” That was a telegram sent by Marilyn Monroe to Grace Kelly, the day of Kelly’s marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Grace Kelly — she was serene even before she became Serene.
This was a nice gesture on MM’s part and one which spoke volumes about how she (MM) viewed her own life. I don’t believe Marilyn and Grace had ever met.

But the back-story to this is even more interesting. You see, when Aristotle Onassis was running Monaco business-wise and was casting about for a glamorous wife for Rainier, the first suggestion was — Marilyn!

Rainier didn’t think this was a bad idea at all, and a letter was sent. Monroe was then on strike from Hollywood, and living with her business partner, photographer Milton Greene and his wife, Amy.

Everybody was highly amused by the idea. For about a week, MM fiddled with the offer, though she laughed and continued to refer to her possible husband as “Prince Reindeer!”

In the end, of course, she declined. She was committed to her career, a budding romance with Arthur Miller, and she wanted “respect” from the Hollywood community. (That last goal she never achieved, unfortunately.)

Marilyn wasn’t the princess “type,” but then again, for a number of years neither was Grace. She just looked the part.
Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of
Princess Marilyn of Monaco? Judging By This, Maybe.
But would the citizens of Monaco have liked this perched on the throne? Photos of MM by Milton Greene.
Click to order "My Days With Princess Grace of Monaco."
I WAS reminded of this little-known tale while reading “My Days With Princess Grace of Monaco: Our 25-Year Friendship, Beyond Grace Kelly” by Joan Dale.

Joan was a close friend of Princess Grace, and she has written as only a close friend would — Grace is sanitized, sacrosanct. There’s plenty of detail, but nothing scandalous. Not even about Grace’s unruly children who caused her such heartbreak. I can’t fault Joan for her take on Grace.

It is probably exactly as she saw and experienced her friend. (“As we had no umbrella, Grace was worried about my suit getting ruined, which was so characteristic of her to be more concerned about others than about herself” ... ”Her light of love still shines for all who knew her and even for those who did not.” These are typical passages in the memoir.)

This is not the most “exciting” biography of a movie star and/or a princess. But it is doggedly sincere and faithful to the popular image of Grace Kelly. (Before that image was sullied by lurid tell-all books.) I’m sure the princess herself would be pleased.
Grace Kelly with her friend Joan Dale in 1957.
ELIZABETH and Roger Ailes will be accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Green Beret Foundation at the Pierre Hotel on October 28th. Money raised goes to help wounded veterans.

I think Mr. Ailes runs a little TV network and he is known to be a foxy fellow. He and I were once planning to take over TV as partners but he started without me.

Go to and don’t miss this big excellent event for a noble cause.

Contact Liz Smith here.