Monday, 6 June 2016

rosalind russell meets winston churchill in 1938

I put on my long white gloves and off I sailed [to a dinner at the American Embassy in London, in 1938]. The Kennedys were charming to me, and during the cocktail period (we weren't really given cocktails, only a glass of sherry apiece) Rose Kennedy brought a cherubic-looking gentleman over to meet me and said he would be my dinner partner. She introduced him as a Mr Churchill, there was no Sir Winston about it. In fact, Churchill wasn't much in favor then. When people looked at him they tended to have this "remember the Dardanelles" expression on their faces.

The season was spring, the company distinguished - the guest of honor was the French Foreign Minister - and I chatted with various agreeable strangers until time to go in to dinner. Then Mr Churchill came and offered his arm.

There was a long narrow table in the center of the dining salon, and seated right in the middle of this table were Ambassador and Mrs Kennedy. At one end, far, far below the salt, were two chairs for Mr Churchill and his dinner companion. After we'd taken our places, Churchill turned to me. "Well," he said, "I understand you're an actress from the United States, and I'm sure you're very fine, but still and all you can't amount to much if you have to sit down here with me."

After that, we never stopped laughing. Anthony Eden was at dinner too, a little further up the table; he and Churchill were obviously fond of each other and Churchill ribbed him constantly. "Even Eden got a better seat than we did," he boomed. He also groused about not smoking. "If they'd only finish this food. It's barbaric that you can't have your cigar during the meal."

A few months later Mr Chamberlain came back from Munich, bringing a white paper and peace in our time, and soon Churchill and Eden were returned to power. Neither of them would ever again have to sit in the coffin corner at a party. But for me, that Embassy dinner is a lovely memory; I feel proud to have spent those hours with Churchill (he couldn't escape me; he couldn't just get up and leave after the soup) and I know the experience was salutary. Young actresses tend to think of fame as a permanent condition; to see a once-lionized man maintaining his grace when he was out (not down, he was clearly never down) was a valuable lesson.

- Rosalind Russell, Life Is A Banquet (p76 of my American Ace paperback edition)