Inventing Elsa Maxwell: How an Irrepressible Nobody Conquered High Society, Hollywood, the Press, and the World

Sam Staggs. St. Martin's, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-69944-4
Though largely forgotten today, Elsa Maxwell (1883–1963) was vastly influential all over the world infrom the 1910s to the 1950s, holding court with royalty, dignitaries, and famous actors and musicians. She was best known as a party planner to the stars, inventing clever themes like a murder mystery dinner (for bored British aristocratsand a "Come As You Were" party in which the guests were asked to show up "in the state of dress–or undress–they were in when the invitation arrived." Maxwell began as a songwriter and pianist, attracting the attention of actress Marie Doro, who paid for Maxwell's first trip to Europe. Maxwell was also a journalist, radio personality, and in later years, a frequent guest on The Jack Paar Show. She starred in several films during a brief stint in Hollywood in the late 1930s, including Elsa Maxwell's Hotel for Women. She had an amusingly stormy friendship with Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson. But her most notorious relationship was with the opera singer Maria Callas, with whom Elsa, then in her 70s, was desperately, obsessively in love; their friendship ended with an ugly public falling out. Maxwell is a fascinating character and Staggs does an excellent job exploring her life and honoring her memory. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/15/2012
Release date: 10/16/2012
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