The Marquis

One more quick dip into the British Pathé archives; here we set the coordinates for Biarritz in 1953, where ballet impresario Marquis George de Cuevas is lavishing huge sums of his (wife’s) money on the Cuevas Ball.

The dueling Marquis was no less spendy than Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg had been in the between-the-wars era, but mounting such a spectacle amid the austerity of post-war France was of questionable wisdom. Among the guests at the 18th century-themed ball were “50 princes, 35 marquesses, 95 counts, 20 dukes”, a collision of cluelessness and noblesse of a kind not seen since Louis XVI opened his Filofax on 14 July 1789 and jotted down “rien”.

Cuevas was trying to make a name for himself and even more so for his beloved ballet company, but managed to piss off more or less everyone in the process. The Baron de Redé, who evidently didn’t receive an invite, gleefully trashes the party in his autobiography. Even those pillars of moral probity at the Vatican denounced its extravagance as an insult to the poor. Cuevas defended himself as best he could. “When a movie producer invests thousands in an insipid picture,” he moaned, “no one seems to have anything against it.”

But if anyone had cause for complaint it was the poor beast of burden trudging mournfully through the spectacle, the burden in this case being party-sized partygoer Elsa Maxwell.


  1. I don’t think a word’s been invented to describe the look of extreme smugness mixed with moderate discomfort that Elsa Maxwell always seemed to display in public settings.

    But then maybe I’m seeing things…

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