Tag Archive: Cannes


Eden Roc

For Fashionable Society, Bright Young People, elements of Bohemia (whether Genuine, High or Pseudo-Smart) and various other  free-living folk,  the South of France, from the mid-twenties onward, became a sort of spiritual second-home. Perhaps “fleshly” rather than “spiritual” is more appropriate in the case of many of this blog’s regulars.

Eden Roc 1936

The list of favoured places running, from West to East,included Marseilles, Toulon, St.Raphael,Cannes, Antibes, Nice and Monte Carlo. Each location had a different ambience and drew a slightly different clientele. Monte Carlo was the most respectable, Marseilles the roughest, Cannes (Elvira’s favourite) was, according to her friend Billy Milton, all gigolos, sex and drugs (not that they were lacking elsewhere). Billy, in 1931 just before he met Michael Scott Stephen, bumped into Napper Dean Paul on the beach, Napper was dodging creditors (as usual).

Toulon was the most Bohemian –  Brian Howard, Anthony Powell, Constant Lambert, Burra and friends all spent time there.An added draw was the presence of Cocteau, who shuttled between Antibes and Toulon and was something of a hero for all the more aesthetically-minded English tourists as well as introducing quite a few to the delights of opium-smoking.

Cocteau, Toulon 1930

Arthur Jeffress, though favouring his beloved Venice, spent at least one summer in the South of France. Summer is the key word – and the novelty. Odd as it might seem today, it was only in the 1920s that the area became a summer rather than a winter destination for tourists. In the late nineteenth century wealthy British and Americans had built winter residences and hotels developed to cater for sporting enthusiasts. Casinos added to the appeal.

The Murphys at Antibes 1925

Credit it for the change has many candidates but two names that continually crop up are Gerald and Sara Murphy, a wealthy couple, part of the “Americans In Paris” set. In 1923 they rented the Hotel Du Cap, Antibes for the whole summer and held open house there. They also bought a nearby villa (The Villa America) and soon Cole Porter (a friend of Murphy’s from Yale), Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Picasso and others were to be seen in what had previously been a relative backwater. Scott Fitzgerald later immortalised the hotel as the “Hotel Des Etrangers” in Tender is the Night.

The Hotel Du Cap included the pavilion and bathing area, Eden Roc, which became equally iconic and is where Cyril Connolly heard the era-defining voice of June Carberry (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/voices/ ). Connolly’s novel The Rock Pool, which deals with the dissolute remnants of Bright Bohemia , is set nearby in Cagnes-sur-Mere, between Cannes and Nice.

Each resort had a hotel to which the chic and arty headed – The Hotel Du Port, Toulon, The Majestic and the Carlton in Camnes,The Negresco at Nice.Brian Howard saw Elvira at the Majestic and she was on her way to the Continental in St.Raphael with Audrey Carten when drunkenness diverted them to a less salubrious venue. It was also on the road to Nice that Elvira had her famous crash.

For the artists and the wealthy alike, the South of France simply meant pleasure and comparative freedom. The Bohemians waxed more lyrical about the land and the locals but they were all essentially tourists and behaved as such.Nonetheless they gave the area a glamour and a reputation for sophisticated licentiousness that it has never lost. Eden Roc remains a place for the rich and the artistic  – which, since the twenties, has largely meant film stars.

Marlene Dietrich Eden Roc 1939

Gerald Murphy, inspired by the circle he drew around him, had a brief spell as an artist. Unlike most amateurs, he produced some important works. One, which encapsulates the period nicely, is, I am pleased to say, entitled Cocktails.

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Countess Karolyi and More Car Crashes

Elvira’s behaviour after the trial rapidly turned her, in the public eye, from a figure of some sympathy into an object of scorn and disapproval. Rumours of a party at the Berkeley Hotel on the day of the acquittal did not help nor did the photographs of her smiling broadly on her return, the following day, from a hairdresser’s appointment. Her beloved and expensive car also seems to have caused offence.

More damaging was a ghost-written article, promising to be the first in a series, which appeared in the Sunday Dispatch on July 10th. A lurid piece, printed together with what purported to be Michael Stephen’s diary, it opened with the phrase “I write in tears” and went downhill from there. It said much about her great love for the deceased but did not allude to the “wild” lifestyle that the public wanted to hear about and which it saw as at the bottom of the tragedy. Elvira was simply not contrite enough nor did she admit to breaking any moral codes. The backlash was swift, questions were asked in Parliament and no more articles appeared.

Elvira left for St.Raphael in France at the end of the month. She could not, however, keep out of trouble.Drunken scenes on the ferry and in a hotel were followed by a serious car crash on the road to Cannes. On July 30th or 31st she collided with the car of Countess Katrina Karolyi, the wife of the exiled Hungarian Prime Minister, and herself a glamorous figure on both the French and English social scene.

Mirror Photograph of Countess Karolyi by Andre Kertesz

The Countess, variously known as Catherine, Katrina or Katinka, received injuries to her arm as her car was shunted 50 feet across the road and into a telegraph pole. An unnamed man in Elvira’s car was cut about the face and arms.Elvira was arrested but not immediately charged. As ever her main concern was her mother’s reaction. Fortunately the Countess was not, as first thought, critically injured and the story was rather buried at home – although the overseas press gave it maximum coverage.

Some months later Elvira was given a nominal fine for (wonderful term) “furious driving”. She was however forced to pay considerable costs and damages. Elvira was not present at the hearing. She was according to her parents recuperating in a nursing home after an emotional breakdown.

This, after the murder trial and the barely avoided scandal of the events surrounding the mysterious suicide of Gertrude Gamble (post forthcoming), was, for Lady Mullens, the last straw. Elvira was from now on kept at a distance and on a considerably reduced allowance. She divided her time between Paris and West End hotels and possibly attempted a change of name.

Occasional touches of defiance remained; she is believed to have told the dancers at the Cafe De Paris “Yes, go on and stare. I’m the woman who shot her lover”.  The drinking and drug-taking continued. However, her moment in the public eye, first as the unfortunate victim of an immoral lifestyle then as the personification of that immorality, had passed. Her death in 1936 went largely unnoticed.

The Karolyis continued in exile in France and then London. Katrina became known as “The Red Countess” – both she and her husband had moved politically to the Left, to the extent of being denied entrance to the USA. She died in 1985.

for earlier incidents involving cars see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/of-cars-and-car-crashes/