5 Things You Didn't Know About Wallis Simpson
It takes quite a woman to get a man to give up the English throne just to marry her, but twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson pulled off the trick in 1936 when she married King Edward VIII. Here are five things you might not know about the woman for whom Edward abdicated the throne.
1. She Was the First 'Woman of the Year'
In 1936, Time honored Wallis Simpson's major coup of getting Edward to abdicate his throne by naming her "Woman of the Year," the first time the magazine had ever given its "Man of the Year" award to a woman. She didn't sneak past a field of slackers to get the honor, either; the other finalists included FDR, Mussolini, Eugene O'Neill, Chiang Kai-shek, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, Lou Gehrig, Jesse Owens, and Margaret Mitchell.
Why did the magazine choose to honor Wallis Simpson over so many people who changed the course of 20th century history? According to Time, "In the single year 1936 she became the most-talked-about, written-about, headlined and interest-compelling person in the world. In these respects no woman in history has ever equaled Mrs. Simpson, for no press or radio existed to spread the world news they made."
2. Their Wedding Cake Sold for Big Money—in 1998
Remember the episode of Seinfeld where the fictional J. Peterman bought a slice of Edward and Wallis' 60-year-old wedding cake for $29,000? That little quirk didn't just spring from Jerry Seinfeld's head; it actually happened.
In 1998, Sotheby's held a large auction of the duke and duchess' personal effects, including a slice of cake in a box marked ""A PIECE OF OUR WEDDING CAKE WE WE 3-VI-37." (The "WE" stood for "Wallis and Edward.")
Sotheby's expected the cake curiosity to sell for $500-1000. The bidding for the slice of cake quickly became heated, though, and in the end California couple Benjamin and Amanda Yim forked over $29,000 for the well-aged baked good. Benjamin Yim explained his purchase by saying, "It is almost unimaginable to have such an item exist. It is something totally surreal. It represents the epitome of a great romance."
3. She Loved Pugs
As a fellow pug fancier, I had to include this one. The duke and duchess owned a pack of pugs with great names: Disraeli, Davey Crockett, Black Diamond, Imp, Trooper, and Ginseng. Wallis didn't just love live pugs, though; she also had 11 pug-shaped pillows arranged at the foot of her bed. The pillows were replicas of a needlepoint done by actress Sylvia Sidney and sold for $13,800 after the duchess' death.
At least one funny story sprang from the duchess' lifelong love of pugs. Famed photographer Richard Avedon got an opportunity to photograph Edward and Wallis during a 1957 stay at the Waldorf Astoria. Avedon didn't want to take another bland, guarded picture of smiling members of the royal family, so he got creative. After remembering that the couple were dog lovers, he told a long, sad story about seeing a taxi run over a pup. He then snapped the picture right as their faces looked the most concerned. The photo, which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, is one of Avedon's more memorable works.
4. She Stayed in Hitler's Guestroom
Wallis and Edward ran afoul of the rest of the royals (and much of the British government) during World War II. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor made a high-profile trip to Nazi Germany during 1937 to see how the German people lived under Hitler's regime; they even stayed with the Fuhrer as his personal guests. When tensions flared during the early days of World War II, the couple was still said to entertain fascist friends in their French home.
Others thought that the Nazis were gleaning information about French defenses from the loose-lipped duchess. Some of the rumors were pretty steamy: people speculated that German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had been Wallis' lover during the mid-1930s and sent her 17 carnations a day as a reminder of how many times they slept together.
The British intelligence community became so worried that Wallis and Edward were Nazi sympathizers that they decided to make a preemptive strike against any future leaks. Edward received a new assignment—the relatively low-risk governorship of the Bahamas. The couple spent five years there in a Napoleon-like exile. Wallis hated life in the Bahamas and made frequent shopping trips to the U.S., which irked many British citizens who were having to deal with severe rationing and ongoing blackouts.
5. Madonna Wants to Play Her
In February 2009, rumors started to circulate in the British press that Madonna wanted to make a musical about Wallis Simpson's life and play the starring role. Sources close to the singer reported that Madonna closely identified with Simpson following her divorce from director Guy Ritchie. Apparently Madonna identifies with the idea of a tabloid-mocked American marrying a British institution, but the project isn't in production yet.
'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here.