Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 2001

Warren Allen Smith

Gossip from Across the Pond

by Warren Allen Smith

Talk about dishing the dirt! Christopher Wilson’s Dancing with the Devil, The Windsors and Jimmy Donahue (HarperCollins, £12.50) is in a class with Jean-Claude Baker’s The Josephine Baker Story and Gore Vidal’s Palimpsest. It’s more mouth-watering than Monicagate!

Wilson’s blow-by-blow account tells of the Duchess of Windsor’s relations with the Duke as well as with Donahue, the handsome young grandson of the super-rich “dime store” Woolworth family.

Little wonder that Buckingham Palace at the time disliked the Duchess, American-born Wallis Simpson. The wonder was that in the 1950s the Duke continued to adore her once it became known that she was romantically involved with Donahue, the colorful and promiscuous homosexual son of a manic depressive and bisexual father. In short: a dysfunctional trio that was bankrolled by Donahue’s mother, who delighted in throwing spectacular parties at which the Duke and Duchess became freeloaders. The book’s index is like a who’s who of high-society types, many of whom most readers will probably not know were gay.

Oh, the tales Wilson tattles: Oxford students, talking about Hansel and Gretel, romantically linked tutor Henry Peter Hansel with his student, Prince Edward. After the 1936 abdication, the Duke and Duchess were often strapped for funds. Donahue’s mother, despite her huge gambling losses, willingly paid many of their bills, putting them up in the States and displaying them like trophies at her parties. The Duchess, allegedly playing dominatrix, allowed the Duke to dress in diapers while she played Mommy. After years of unfulfilling sex with the Duke, she fell in love with the flamboyantly homosexual Donahue, when he wasn’t cruising bars and picking up chorus lads.

Donahue was a school dropout who enjoyed playing expensive practical jokes, including angering an admiral by buzzing his aircraft carrier; dressing as a nun and, squatting in public to defecate, causing gawkers to create a traffic accident; getting thrown out of Italy for standing on a hotel balcony in imitation of Mussolini, urinating on the people below; rigging up a microphone when the Windsors visited in order to record the sound of the “royal wee”; shocking some dinner guests by placing his penis on his plate to make it look “like some pink sausage” among the vegetables. The wealthy, spoiled boy’s pranks continue on and on.

Donahue was an intimate friend of Francis Spellman, New York’s gay Cardinal Archbishop, and he mischievously talked the Duke into attending a Christmas Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, resulting in what “may have been the first British monarch, or ex-monarch, to take the sacrament from a disciple of Rome since the reign of Charles I three hundred years before”. The book’s Christian theists all come off looking like hypocrites, of course. But a nontheist – Ned Rorem, the nominal Friend who is a pacifist, not a Trinitarian – is inspiringly described as having been hit on by Donahue simply because of his good looks, not because of his musicianship. Rorem was disgusted.

Wilson’s book’s a hoot, even on this side of the pond!

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Created : Sunday, 2001-05-13 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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