What an extravagant birth month I’ve had! I’ve been feted, gifted, toasted and celebrated. It sure takes the sting out of turning a certain age.
This weekend at the luxurious Langham Hotel in Pasadena, I got an inside view of Sylvia’s leisure class lifestyle. How splendid to have your every need met, your every pleasure satisfied, your senses constantly soothed.
Through the years, the hotel’s been modernized but the bones of this grand dame remain unaltered and her majesty is undeniable. Whether we were sipping cocktails poolside, strolling through the extensive grounds, dining in the Club Lounge or “in repose” on the fainting couch overlooking the balcony in our room, the peaceful grandeur followed us. It was like walking into an Edith Wharton novel. In the distance lay the glittering city, but the property was like an oasis of refined seclusion.
What a wondrous experience—and Silky enjoyed it the majority of her life. Even during the war or times of great personal loss and sorrow, she was safe and comfortable, surrounded by beauty and ease. Not that a fancy hotel and unimaginable delicacies can replace a loved one, but it certainly makes the day-to-day existence rather nice.
As pampering, luxurious and fun as the weekend was, I was glad to get home to my little cottage, my familiars and my simple little life. Although it isn’t grand and elegant, I’m happy and safe and grateful for all I do have.
This post’s photograph was taken in Silky’s apartments in the Savoy Plaza Hotel, New York in January of 1944, just prior to her marriage to Lord Stanley of Alderly. They were wed at the Copely Plaza Hotel in Boston on a cold winter’s day.
After all my picnics and parties; the cakes, candles and cocktails; the flowers and trinkets, the thing I notice most about this birthday season is the love. My friends and family clearly adore me to celebrate so spectacularly. To be cared for and admired really is the finest luxury one can know.
Well, la de da. I’m writing from the Langham Hotel in Pasadena where my best friend John has brought me for my birthday. I’ve just returned to my room after cream tea in the Club Lounge. There was champers being poured and a fully stocked bar available, but I can see that I’m going to have to pace myself this weekend. Besides, I’m waiting for John to arrive to really dig in.
What luxury, what beauty and bliss. I’m feeling like I’ve stepped into a typical day in the life of Lady Silky. And like I could stay!
The Langham is old world elegance. Though the rooms are modern, the hotel itself was built in the 1920s on a spacious 23 acres of grass dotted with palms and various themed gardens. Looking at my map, I discovered a Japanese garden that I’m very excited to explore. On the other side of the Picture Bridge is the pool, where I intend to spend hours lounging tomorrow. Tonight we’re dining at The Royce, voted one of the top ten restaurants by L.A. magazine. I’m feeling so blessed and lucky and a little like a princess.
This post’s photo is a shot from a Palm Beach newspaper of Lady Sylvia Ashley and her fifth husband white Russian prince, Dimitri Djordjadze on their honeymoon. This final marriage rendered her a princess and though they were estranged after less than a year, they never divorced.
I think it must be happy hour by now…time to put the Sophia on ice…
Silky’s friends and acquaintances reads like a Who’s Who list. During her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks, she was introduced to the entire cast of 1930s Hollywood and before that she was a full-fledged member of London’s upper crust society and theater, the Bright Young Things.
Lord and Lady Plunket were a couple that the Fairbanks’ spent a good deal of time with. I have a shot of the two couples at a racetrack and I’ve seen another photo of Sylvia and Doug skiing with the Plunkets’ two children. What I didn’t know, until I found this post’s picture, was that Dorthea Plunket was the daughter of famous flapper Fanny Ward.
At my birthday picnic last week in Griffith Park, we toasted absent friends. We’ve lost some precious gems over the years and I think it’s important to keep speaking their names so they aren’t truly lost. Gene Stratton. Austin Eason. Paul Grillo.
On their way to Hearst Castle on New Years’ Eve 1937, the Plunkets’ plane was caught in a storm and crashed into a mountain. Fanny Ward brought her daughter’s ashes home from the states to England aboard the Queen Mary and Doug and Sylvia accompanied her.
Understandably it is one of the most somber shots I have in my collection. The rich, famous and glamorous have their share of heartache and loss just like everyone else. Pain isn’t concerned with beauty, class, wealth, race, or religion. It’s one awful thing we all share.
I just spent the most AMAZING weekend in LA where I was celebrated, feted and honored! Three whole days of sheer pleasure and festivities made turning a “certain age” palatable. I was reminded of Sylvia the whole time—of her pleasure-seeking lifestyle, of her era and sensibilities, of the decadent swellagance of it all.
It began with dinner at Chin Chin (my favorite!) with Marty then cocktails at The Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge. Recently renovated, the 100-year-old landmark was in sparkling form and we sipped and giggled feeling young by comparison. Then I had a late check-in to Bungalow 7, my divine guest room at Andy’s Claire House.
Saturday was the Art Deco Picnic in Griffith Park, attended by nearly all my nearest and dearest decked out in period costume. We sipped champagne, nibbled and nattered for five hours, and even got a sneaky bounce or two in a leftover children’s Jumperoo. I was showered with lovely gifts and treated to not one, but TWO birthday cakes!
The fun continued Sunday with a Mah Jongg Tutorial Brunch at Claire House where a small group noshed and learned the ancient game in Asian loungewear. How is it that a person can feel simultaneously exhausted and rejuvented at the same time?
Naturally we took many pictures, turning it into our own private photo shoot. Which reminds me of this week’s shot of Silky. She’s modeling a gown for a fundraising fashion show in the 1940s. Though a Café Society socialite, she always worked tirelessly for the charities she believed in. She would have been Doug’s widow by this time and I don’t know if she’d met Lord Stanley or not, but she was living in a skyscraping hotel in Manhattan, doing her utmost for the war effort. And having a marvelous time!
I’m in L.A. again this weekend–this time to celebrate MY birthday with friends. This group has been together for more years than I’m willing to divulge (Silky always lied about her age and I’m starting to see her point).
My gang is humoring my need to pretend and play dress up and until scientists invent time travel, we’ll just keep staging period picnics. This year’s theme was inspired by an event I saw on the internet. Apparently, I’m not the only one into vintage theme parties.
The Art Deco Society has a Gatsby picnic every year, and rather than drag everyone up to Oakland for it, I decided we’d have our very own. I suppose I’m also partly inspired by the BBC series Mom turned me onto, “The House of Eliott.” It’s another form of virtual time travel and makes me feel as though I’m transported to Sylvia’s London. One of the characters even has an affair with a race car driver with a Blower Bentley. They filmed the racing scenes at Brooklands.
This week’s photo is from Sylvia’s first marriage in February 1926 to Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper. She is veiled and radiant, holding a spray of white lilies while he looks proud and victorious with the woman he loves on his arm–despite his family’s protests.
Weddings, Birthdays, Anniversaries—these are the events we celebrate in the company of those we love; the ones who know us best. We mark these milestones with festivities that reflect our hopes for the future, our joy at being alive and together in this mortal coil. How fortunate I am, even as a woman of a certain age.