On Saturday, April 4th, 1970 President Richard Nixon hosted a lavish dinner for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. It was to be the White House dinner party from Hell.
Richard Nixon – The introverted President
He was the President who seemingly had it all. Robust, intelligent, conscientious, ruthless, courteous, articulate, competitive and an experienced political operator. However, his personal strengths were too often undermined by chronic insecurity. It was a self-doubt that made him both susceptible to flattery and desperate for the respect and recognition of others. Leonard Garment, a White House counsel who worked for Nixon, summed him up as a man who got what he most wanted and then was overwhelmed by it. “A climbing man. Scaling his way up, rung by rung, agonisingly. Finally making it, then realising he didn’t belong there. The curse, for Nixon, was the wise man’s realisation that he didn’t have it.”
A Very Strange Affair
In April 1970 Nixons honeymoon period with the press was coming to an end. This may have been partly the justification for inviting the Duke and Duchess to the White House. It was an odd engagement all around. There was no official reason for it to have even taken place. The Duke, though once King Edward VIII, now held no formal or even ceremonial, diplomatic position. Both the British Government and the Royal family openly shunned him and his wife Wallis But to Nixon, he was still a former King. The lustre of which he hoped would reflect admirably on his Presidency. The President and the King-Emperor. It all sounded so grand. Yet even as he greeted them on the North Portico of the White House, the masquerade began to fall apart.
The two leading players in this farce were already leading an empty, peripatetic lifestyle. As they constantly shunted from home to home, Wallis spent her days shopping. Her husband did little but golf and garden. The Duchess had become increasingly tired of the man who had given up everything for her love. She now regarded him as little more than a weak and tiresome bore. By the time of the dinner, they were barely on speaking terms.
“Buzz off Mosquito”
Nixon expected the occasion to be a media celebration of the grandeur of his Presidency. He was quickly disappointed. The press paid cursory lip service to the event. In a brief news clip, Nixon can be seen eagerly awaiting the official limousine. A slightly dishevelled and clearly ill Duke alights to casts a quizzical eye over his host. Nixons enthusiasm for the event is not returned by the jaded Royal couple.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bV5Dft138oA
The guest list was extensive but dull. Heavy on Government and Military worthies it had sprinkled among it a few Hollywood celebrities like Fred Astaire. In a nod to the Duke’s favourite hobby of golf, Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper also sat at the top table. However, the importance the Duke put on the event was summed up by his personal invitee. A certain Florida socialite Christopher Dunphy, laconically listed as “golfing partner of the Duke.”
The table conversation was dominated by Wallis, who was not averse to mocking her husband in public. “Buzz off Mosquito” was one of her favourite barbs when she wished the Duke to leave her. Edward, on the other hand, seemed a distant and broken man. Gore Vidal, who met the Windsors socially, reported on the vacuity of the Duke’s conversation. The tedium of the evening was broken briefly by the entertainment provided by the black Jazz pianist Bobby Short.
After three laborious hours, the party finished. A relieved Duke and Duchess briefly appeared arm in arm with a beaming and distinctly delighted Nixon.
A symbolic pairing – the broken King and the shattered President
in many ways, the dinner party, was emblematic of Nixon’s administration. The Duke and President had held the highest office their nations could offer. Both resigned it. Neither ever again achieved the respect they felt they had earned and deserved. Similarly, both ended their lives as sad, isolated and bitter figures.
There is one additional irony. The Duke, a lifelong chain smoker died just two years after the party on May 28th, 1972. That same day operatives working for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) burglarized the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex.
Wallis Simpson was the first American to marry into Royalty. Meghan Markle will be the second. Like Wallis, she will never be called a “Princess”. For the reasons why see my blog on “Princess Meghan Markle” http://www.englishmanlovesamerica.com/princess-meghan-markle/