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Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Rita Hayworth weds Prince Aly Khan May 27, 1949-- and becomes a 
bona fide Princess!

America has always been its own land, influenced by the East but varied in its interpretations. We have no ruler, but we do have some guy we appoint every four years to help guide this ship. We have no palaces, but our richest society members can afford extravagant mansions at which we can marvel. We have no capitol Kingdom... but we do have Hollywood. As Tinsel Town grew into a burgeoning community of wealth and fame, our stars became the Kings and Queens of our universe-- the cream of the crop, the most beautiful we had to offer. As our economy boomed and we proved our mettle as builders, entrepreneurs, and even master businessmen, this little punch of public appeal lent us even more respect from the more aged countries across the sea-- who seemed antiques to our brave new, and finally thriving world. Hollywood would help put us on the map as a definite competitor in business, for as the world wars ensued and stalled filmmaking in the initially, equally prosperous German and French cinematic worlds, America's cameras kept rolling, and rolling, and rolling. As film continues to be one of the most far-reaching mediums in existence, so too do the faces that grace the silver screen remain the most famous and the most adored. These American idols, thus, became idols the world over, and soon, more historically rooted royal families started rubbing elbows with our own invented, ordained beings.

The first King and Queen of Hollywood, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, bridged this gap when they began entertaining the Duke of Alba, the Duke of Sutherland, the Marquis of Vienna, the King of Spain, the Prussian Princess, and the Prince of Sweden at their own illustrious, colonial style castle: Pickfair. Different curious foreign figureheads too began visiting the stars on the film set to see how they created their magic pull. Lon Chaney once entertained the Princess of Sweden in between shots on the lot (see his hamming here), and Russian government leader Premier Nikita Khrushchev later came to visit Shirley MacLaine on the set of Can-Can (right)-- he would memorably say, after watching the high-kicks, "The face of humanity is prettier than it's backside." (Can-can you believe it)? Some may have poo-pooed celebrity appeal, declaring that these newly appointed social rulers were not given their position through generational inheritance, as true royalty was, but the grit and determination of self-made American men and women somehow made their new, elevated status seem even more deserved. After all, true Kings and Queens were simply famous for being famous, wealthy, and guiding the general course of their nations. How were Hollywood idols any different? At least they didn't pretend to be entitled. They had worked hard, and publicly, to earn their places in adulation. They too were not chosen by a metaphysical God, but were chosen by the people and for the people. They were not creatures of tradition, but creatures of change: modern, alive, now. At the very least, they made things interesting... and much more aesthetically pleasing.

In no time at all, as if Hollywood had just discovered a great new plot, true royalty began romantically courting this new American royalty. Not surprisingly, the male heir to the foreign throne was usually the one who came to woo a beautiful American Princess back to his Kingdom. The movie starlet, after all, was the ultimate, two-dimensional sex object. A Prince was just a regular man in the end, and he saw marriage to a film goddess as the culmination of all his fantasies, just like any other guy. The only hiccup, of course, was that the perfection on the screen was an illusion, and these gorgeous screen creatures were actually three-dimensional, full-blooded women. Life with them would prove to be much more complicated off camera. Of course, the ladies too would make the mistake of getting involved with a real Prince as a result of their own yearning Princess fantasies. As such, more often than not, the glass slipper would prove to be a little too tight, and an alliance between the various Kingdoms and the world of America seemed not to be, if only because America's modernity is naturally averse to old-fashioned values and traditions. American movie stars are working women, not housewives nor the placid trophies and ornaments that the magazine covers make them to be. Nonetheless, more than one couple would defy reality, try to bring a fairy tale to life, and marry in the name of Love (aka delusion). Almost always, they would divorce in the name of War. (Marilyn Monroe tries to win Laurence Olivier's heart (and crown) in The Prince and the Showgirl, right).

The Love Goddess Becomes a Live Princess

Rita Hayworth met Persian Prince Aly Khan in Cannes through Elsa Maxwell. Much like her second husband, Orson Welles, Aly was on a mission for Rita, in his case after seeing The Loves of Carmen (left). Rita wasn't a fool. She knew why men were interested in her: her stardom, her sex appeal, her screen persona. She knew too that it was all bull-hockey. Just as she had Orson, Rita initially rebuffed Aly's advances-- after all, she was already dining with the Shah of Iran and King Farouk-- but she finally agreed to meet him for an afternoon visit. Yet, to show that she was no easy sell, she showed up late from another date and dressed in a casual pair of shorts as if to say, "Look bud, I'm just a regular girl-- but not a daft one." Of course, her moderate attempts at self-preservation started to crack due to her natural, maternal nature and sensitive heart. Aly was persistent and charming. Most importantly, he was attentive. During the early days of their courtship, it was as if there weren't any other people in the world. Aly even proved to be a devoted father figure to Rita's daughter Rebecca, giving her much more affection than her own father (Welles). After Rita's recent divorce, heartbreak, and her growing, increased antipathy toward Hollywood, an escape with an exotic Prince seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. After a fortune teller encouraged Rita to dive into the relationship, that's just what she did-- although certain people believe that Aly paid the "psychic" in advance for every premonition she would foretell.

Despite their love for each other, matrimony wasn't going to be as simple as a swapping of vows. First, Rita had to win over Aly's father-- Aga Khan III, the head of Ismaili Muslims. A very shy person, Rita was afraid she wouldn't be able to impress him, but Aga was immediately enchanted with the American beauty, whom he deemed incomparably lady-like. Step-one completed, Aly had to clear up one final snafu- a divorce from his wife Joan Yarde-Buller, with whom he had already had two sons. The divorce was obtained after much effort and protest, and Rita was unceremoniously dubbed a homewrecker-- this despite the fact that the wedded couple had been separated for some time, and Aly had been unfaithful with a slew of women before Rita. Needless to say, Joan should have been grateful for the release and sumptuous alimony, and Rita should have been more skeptical of her suitor. But, as they say, love is blind. The wedding of Rita Hayworth to Aly Khan was held in May of 1949 to much ballyhoo, despite their attempts to keep it quiet and private. The paparazzi party-crashers and the chaos of the day was nearly enough to send super-shy Rita into a nervous breakdown, but she made it through the ceremony. Little did anyone know that she was already a couple of months pregnant with her daughter with Aly, Princess Yasmin, who would be born in December of the same year.

Almost immediately, the beauty of their love affair became one beast of a burden. Rita was not cut out for politics nor the party life, which is what Aly's somewhat immature existence was all about. Instead of a quiet life away from the cameras, she seemed to be even more scrutinized and imprisoned than ever. Aly would throw or attend lavish get-togethers, often leaving Rita surrounded by strangers or else completely alone at home. He too did not give up his wandering eye. After Rita had had enough, she smuggled her daughters out of Cannes and back into America, fearing that Aga Khan would try to stop her from taking his heiress granddaughter. Such was not the case, but once the divorce proceedings commenced, a great debate was waged regarding custody, as well as what religion Yasmin (with mom and sis Rebecca, left) would be raised to practice. The Aga wanted her to receive Muslim instruction; Rita wanted her to be raised a "normal, Christian, American child," although she probably used the religion issue as a bargaining chip to maintain U.S. public sympathy. Aly, for his part, tried unsuccessfully to win his wife back, but despite her vulnerabilities, Rita was not the shrinking violet that she was sometimes believed to be. She wanted her freedom back and hopefully a chance at happiness with a man who could give her the life she'd always dreamed of. Aly, nice guy though he was, was not it. He would return to his wayfaring ways, seducing Joan Fontaine, Yvonne De Carlo and Gene Tierney, all while still legally wed to Rita. Rita would endure two more failed marriages, never finding her Prince Charming. You go to bed with a Prince, and you wake up with a frog...

Gloria Swanson and the Guy with a Long Name (Henri le Bailly, the Marquis de La Coudraye de La Falaise)... and Constance Bennett

She was the ultimate silent screen siren. He was a French nobleman who had inherited his title (Marquis de La Coudraye) from his grandfather. There was much appealing about Gloria Swanson-- diminutive but almost dangerously beautiful, glamorous, and noted for her embrace of a decadent lifestyle (see right). It seemed that she was only waiting for a like-minded man to make her healthy brand of business-savvy narcissism an official Queenship. Henri was equally intriguing. Born into privilege-- but not money-- he had to work for a living, which made him a rare, down-to-earth regal. The legendarily handsome man, who preferred to be called "Hank,"  became a war hero then set his sights on Hollywood. He served as a translator on the set of  Madame Sans-Gêne (1925), where he met his leading lady, Gloria. Though he took on jobs as her assistant, he lacked the business smarts of his wife, and Gloria remained the family breadwinner. Clearly, she hadn't married him for money, so it must have been his title alone that she found so hypnotic. The marriage only lasted until 1931, by which time both were already thoroughly involved with their replacement spouses: Irish sportsman Michael Farmer for her and Constance Bennett, another actress, for him. But some believe that it was the appearance of business partner Joseph Kennedy in Gloria's life that put the final nail in the relationship's coffin. Joe sent Henri to France to work at Pathe simply to get him out of the way. Joe wasn't the gentleman Henri was, and he wouldn't stick around too long after Gloria's career took a dive after Queen Kelly, particularly since her financial woes were partly his fault. By this time, Henri had already written Gloria a letter suggesting that they amicably call it "kaput." Thus, Gloria turned to Farmer, whom she accidentally wed while still technically married to Henri-- thus instigating a bigamy charge. Oy. Vey. Henri and Gloria remained friendly, though, unlike her former two spouses Wallace Beery and Harry Samborn. Henri was a great guy, just not husband material.

Constance Bennett would disagree. Henri's marriage to Constance (left) would last a few years longer than his partnership with Gloria, and at first they seemed a good team. Constance was herself true "Hollywood royalty," having come from a family of esteemed thespians, including father Richard and sister Joan. Her beauty was as famed as Gloria's, as was her impeccable sense of fashion. A shrewd business-woman, she too had a love of controversy, which is perhaps why she jumped at the chance to wed a nobleman, and most importantly, a nobleman who was still married to Gloria Swanson! Always ambivalent toward the press, this royal wedding probably seemed like more of a game to her than anything else, and the fun-loving Henri simply enjoyed being along for the ride-- with beautiful company, of course. The duo had some successes as a couple, such as establishing a production company, Bennett Productions, through which they produced two films together, but by 1940, both their business and personal institutions hit the skids: too much flash, too little substance. Connie quickly moved on to actor Gilbert Roland (for awhile) before settling on army Gen. John Theron Coulter. Henri would marry again to a Colombian divorcee, but would die with no heir to pass on his notorious title. Just as well, for the moniker hadn't served him too well in the end. Heavy is the head the wears the crown... 

Mae, Pola, and Those Damn Mdvanis

The noble Mdvani family hailed from Georgia-- not the American State, but the Eurasian country nestled between Eastern Europe and Western Russia (ironically, a Georgian Prince, Gregory Eristoff, would tutor Rita Hayworth in royal etiquette during her marriage to Aly). While the Mdvani name and their country are little familiar to the ears today, they caused quite a scandal in the 1920s that would make them, briefly, both famous and infamous. The family was understandably unnerved during the Russian revolution of 1917, which encouraged the five offspring of parents Zakhari and Elizabeth Mdvani to flee to Paris. Of course, woeful times of war were not going to knock this highbrow family off their pedestal, and the killer instinct-- or rather lady-killer instinct-- led to them all finding safe harbor through fortunate marriages-- emphasis on the "fortune." They were thus referred to as the "marrying Mdvanis." The three sisters Alexis, Isabelle, and Nina did well for themselves, the latter of whom married Denis Conan Doyle, son of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but it was the two brothers, Serge and David who would make the greatest claims to fame by wedding Hollywood starlets. David found a paramour and partner in Mae Murray (right). The "girl with the bee-stung lips" was hit by Cupid's arrow, and the duo wed in 1926. Unfortunately, after David had bled the movie queen dry and bankrupted her, he abandoned her for better prospects.

For his part, Serge attached himself to drama queen extraordinaire and exotic film siren Pola Negri (left) in 1927, but after she too lost her fortune in the stock market crash, he quickly ditched her to find a more profitable union. This proved to be more than enough impetus for Mae and Pola to spend the rest of their lives single. Mae had already endured three prior marriages, including one to director Robert Z. Leonard, and her heart was officially finito. Her acting career would too become non-existent, and she ended her days in near poverty at the Motion Picture Country Home. Pola, memorably devastated (and overstated) at the funeral of lover Rudolph Valentino, had too suffered through a previous marriage to Polish Count Eugene Dambski-- oh yeah, she was married to a Count too, and thus was temporarily a Countess, which she happily publicized. Anyway, after the debacle with ol' Serge, she opted to forevermore avoid the sacrament of marriage... and allegedly men. She was rumored to favor only the fairer sex throughout the rest of her life (though indiscriminately). Temporarily, Mae and Pola were regal sister-in-laws; afterward, they were separately, equally, and thoroughly disenchanted.

The Near Miss (Flynn)

Errol Flynn had no shortage of women to choose from. While in his early Hollywood days, this was a welcome bonus to his celebrity, which only enhanced his already irrefutable charm, as he aged, he seemed to favor a quieter, less pretentious lifestyle. Of course, two failed marriages (to actresses Lili Damita and Nora Eddington) had certainly weathered him, particularly the first. After the notorious statutory rape trial that dragged his name through the mud and left his reputation forever sullied by the popular phrase "In Like Flynn," he felt that he had been through the ringer. Despite public perception, he was not proud of his reputation as, what he found akin to being, a gigolo. This was particularly embarrassing for him as a father, a job that for once he was totally devoted to. The skills he lacked as a faithful husband, he made up for as a loving dad. As he tried to leave boyish hijinks behind in pursuit of more mature aspirations-- a career in writing, an acting reputation of repute-- he too thought it time to man-up in the ways of matrimony. Perhaps in a further need to class-ify himself, he drew his attention to Romanian Princess Irene Ghika. The two became engaged (right), with Errol perhaps hoping that some of her royal blood would rub off on him. He, in turn, made suggestions about getting a career started for her in film. However, the nuptials never came to pass. It took one mere look at newcomer Patrice Wymore on the set of Rocky Mountain for Errol to forget all about that royal bird, Ghika. He would settle for being a mere Hollywood Prince by marrying Patrice in 1950. They remained married until his death, though at the end they had become estranged. All of the hard living in Errol's earliest years had fractured his chances at love and happiness, perhaps because he had never truly learned to love himself. But, as he would say, he had still had "one Hell of a time."

The Happy Ending

The one royal wedding that has gone down in history as a true fairy tale is that between Grace Kelly and Prince Albert Rainier III of Monaco (left). Having met on May 6, 1955 while Grace visited Cannes (strangely where Rita and Aly had met), Grace had not been interested at all in meeting the Prince, and was a bit miffed that she was expected to take time out of her vacation for, essentially, a publicity ploy to meet some guy who happened to be royal. She was still engaging in a fling with Jean-Pierre Aumont anyway, so romance was not on the agenda. Begrudgingly, she agreed to the meet n' greet, so imagine her annoyance when Rainier showed up late for his personal tour of the palace. Despite this, Grace made nice, and Albert was cordial, but no one would exactly say that sparks flew at this meeting. Still, something had been ignited. Unlike the fiery, passionate affairs that both had engaged in previously, this romance began slowly. The two found themselves still thinking of each other after they had politely parted, and a correspondence began. What could a little love letter or two hurt? After all, Albert had, from Grace's own lips, been "charming." While Grace began performing her role as the conflicted Princess Alexandra in The Swan, few people knew of her secret affair with a man who would in time make her a real life Princess!

After coming to know each other through their letters more than most people ever do, and meeting clandestinely when appropriate, they fell in love, and Albert proposed. He was under the wire and in need of bringing an heir to the throne. He saw his meeting with Grace, therefore, as fortuitous. Her natural aristocratic air, intelligence, and poise made her a prime candidate for a royal wife, which is why she said "Yes" and then "I do." Grace finished filming on High Society, then boarded the S.S. Constitution for her new home across the sea in April of 1956. The wedding was extravagant and the event of the season, not to mention one of the most memorable movie star moments of all time. As a woman of discipline and duty, Grace would fulfill her obligations as a political wife, including mothering three children (right) and enduring the snooze-fest schmooze-sessions she had to attend as Rainier's arm candy. There would be a tinge of regret in her choice to leave her career behind, and unfulfilled roles and opportunities must have hung heavy on her heart. Nonetheless, she remained Princess Grace of Monaco until her dying day and proved to little girls everywhere that impossible dreams do come true.

Paramount was ecstatic about the publicity Gloria Swanson's
marriage to Henri de la Falaise generated.

When it comes down to it, all of these marriages or attempted marriages were about dreams. Everyone is looking for his or her perfect soul mate-- a fellow traveler who will walk this crazy, winding road with them and give them peace. Too often, the illusion of what one wants is far from reality, which is why most of these regal pairings wound up royally screwed. Yet, you can't hold it against them for trying. When offered the chance of a lifetime, one is bound to seize it, even at the cost of not thinking it through. You can't blame the stars for trying to solidify their own powerful but somehow unsteady existence by "marrying up;" nor can you blame movie-loving royalty for literally reaching for the Stars. In either case, the film performers who failed at the altar still reign supreme on the silver screen. Since many of them will be remembered long after names like Mdvani and Ghika are forgotten, I think we know who really rules the world.


  1. I always found it amusing how some starlets ended up with these phony princes and counts. I think these ladies knew these guys were fakes but they had everything else so why not a husband with a European title? Back then these dudes didn't have TMZ looking over their shoulder to expose them.Sorry that Rita's marriage didn't last to a real royal but Grace and Ranier seemed happy. In a related story, Mabel had the Khedive of Egypt (Prince Ibriham) chasing her thru continents for her hand in marriage. Good luck catching her. thanks Mer for another outstanding .

    1. I agree. I think the whole fantasy of being "royal" was too enticing to pass up. Didn't know that tidbit about Mabel, but I can totallys see it, haha! I'm sure she drove him crazy in more ways than one.

  2. This is just Wonderful I love your Blog

    1. Thank you, sweet lady! And thanks for reading!