Westleigh,  History

Westleigh: Part Nine

Lord Renfrew

August 16, 1924

Polo. An endless string of dinner parties. As Rose said in the movie Titanic, “. . . always the same narrow people, the same mindless chatter.” That was a reality I would recognize in my own life after a few short years of marriage, nodding in silent agreement when watching the film. I often wondered when any member of the smart set, of which I was not a part, had time to work. Part of the job, I supposed, was being “on” no matter how one felt or looked. Being in the spotlight 24/7 was the position, an open checkbook at any charity event a prerequisite for entry.

Hindsight being 20/20, David Windsor struggled with his unprecedented fame, the seeds of his abdication planted long before he relinquished his throne. And such began his second journey to America in the late summer of 1924, when the Jazz Age was at its height, prohibition was in full swing, and flappers danced into the wee hours of the morning after an evening of glitz. Their carefree ways were on full display after the First Word War, as were the sweet, high notes of a clarinet serenading the sunrise. It was the year George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue debuted at Aeolian Hall in New York City, the symphonic scoring not occurring for another two decades. A rhapsody, that year, was in pure form. 

The Prince’s visit to the United States would be carefree as well — a grand tour designed for rest and holiday. “Of simple character,” as Major Oscar Solbert, the Prince’s honorary aide-de-camp — a position designated by Secretary Weeks at the request of President Coolidge — said. And since the visit was in an unofficial capacity — mostly — the Prince would travel under the name of Lord Renfrew, which was a play on Baron of Renfrew, a dignity held by the heir-apparent to the British throne dating back to 1404. Lord Renfrew would hope for anonymity, but that would be futile as The New York Times could not help but share every detail, no matter how banal. 

David Windsor, it had been decided, would stay at the home of James A. Burden, his picturesque estate in Syosset, Long Island, while the Burtons traveled to Europe stag shooting in the Scottish Highlands. They would return at the end of October, appointing Mr. and Mrs. H.R. Winthrop as official hosts during the Prince’s stay.

Besides polo, the Prince hoped to play golf, other sports, and dine — informal lunches and dinners on the itinerary. Off the official itinerary was his passionate affair with Hollywood starlet Pinna Nesbit Cruger who was the wife of a New York millionaire. As the author F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “A damned attractive woman.” Of course, Ms. Cruger wasn’t the only woman David Windsor, a.k.a. Edward, Prince of Wales, a.k.a. Lord Renfrew, had his wandering eye on. His affair with Freda Dudley Ward lasted from 1918 until 1934, when he met still-married Wallis Simpson. 

She was, in 1924, living on a small street called Oakland in an exclusive suburb called Lake Forest, where David Windsor was soon destined to visit. 


An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Foster Place.
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