Elsa Maxwell Tribute Page

b. May 24, 1883
Keokuk, Iowa
Elsa Maxwell d. (December? November 11?) 1963

Who was Elsa Maxwell?
She was best known as a hostess to the celebrities of her day. In her own words, she was

photo of elsa

"... a short, fat, homely piano player from Keokuk, Iowa, with no money or background, [who] decided to become a legend and did just that."
from The Celebrity Circus

[Portrait of Elsa Maxwell, on the Conte de Savoia
from the Carl Van Vechten Photograph Collection ]

New! information on "Her Voice and Music" (musical album).

I became interested in her when I came across her book How To Do It. Part of my interest stems from the campy quality of her endless name-dropping and not-so-subtle snobbery. But there's also the mystery: she seemed to do nothing but hang with celebrities. How did she get away with it?

Elsa's style is superbly captured in a hilarious essay by Ian Frazier.
Now compare his parody to these actual examples:

"I next met Einstein at Charlie Chaplin's home in Hollywood."
"The week after refusing to meet Mussolini, I inadvertently spent an evening in the company of a fouler megalomaniac -- Adolf Hitler... I tried to make casual conversation ... but he was so rude and surly that I gave it up."
"I was directly responsible for attracting the middle-class summer tourist to the most glamourous spots in Europe -- Venice and Monte Carlo."
"While [Jack Barrymore and I] were standing on the hill watching the raging fires that had sprung up after the earthquake [San Francisco 1906], Jack London, the writer, and George Sterling, the poet came along. They told me I was insane to thing of lunch at the St. Francis [with Enrico Caruso]."

Recent events

Bob Kingdom performs Elsa/Edgar.
"High above the glittering skyline of 1950's Manhattan, in her rent-free suite at the Waldorf-Astoria, the incomparable Elsa Maxwell - hostest-with-the-mostest, social power broker, and confidante to the stars - dolls up in drag for her next masquerade. Meanwhile, the infamous J. Edgar Hoover - head of the FBI and champion of a better, cleaner America - checks his files, tightens his grip and slips into something more comfortable. ".
-- from the press release.

"Elsa/Edgar" was also performed by actress-singer Elaine Stritch in 1998, directed by Gene Saks, in Sag Harbor, NY.
This performance begs the question: was she gay ?

Elsa also shows up in another play Only A Kingdom.

David Staller plays King Edward the Eighth of Great Britain, a man so in love with American divorcee Wallis Simpson, played by Crista Moore, that he gives up his throne for her. Society mavin Elsa Maxwell and a crew of gossipy followers both comment on the ups and downs of the couple and act as comic relief. Sally Struthers is hilarious in the role of Elsa Maxwell.

Elsa influenced Frank Sinatra's career:

"...Frank worried about his opening at the Wedgewood Room of the Waldorf-Astoria [in 1943]. ...the boy from Hoboken was apprehensive about the reception he might receive from the haughty sophisticates who were accustomed to liveried doormen, chauffered limosines, and debutante balls. He was especially afraid of society chronicler Elsa Maxwell, the columnist, who had already charged him with "musical illiteracy" and derided his fans as "emotionally unstable females who paraded naked and unashamed for the drooling, crooning, goonish syllables of a man who looked like a second-string basketball player." She then recommended the girls be given 'Sinatraceptives.' "
Later that evening at a party given by Waldorf owner George Boomer, Frank, who had been coached...approached Elsa Maxwell. "You disapprove of me," he said, "and my mother agrees with you. She said, 'You tell that Miss Maxwell she is right!'"
"I disapprove of you, Frankie, only because I think it is a pity for anyone with your naturally lovely voice to resort to such cheap tactics."
"My press agent, George Evans, thought up the squealing girls and the way I hold the mike," said Frank. "I do not like any part of it. But it all has made the headlines. And the headlines have made me, I guess."
Miss Maxwell mellowed. The next day she wrote up Frank's opening night, telling her readers, "He has found a setting to show off the sweetness of his voice."

From "His Way: the Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra", pp. 91-91
by Kitty Kelley.
Bantam paperback edition, 1987.

Elsa also (indirectly) inspired a James Bond novel.

"The Schloss Mittersill {in the Austrian Alps} had been founded in 1936 by three expatriate Austrians living in Paris, after some prodding from the society columnist, Elsa Maxwell. It was closed during the war when the Nazis used it as the centre for pseudo-scientific studies into Asiatic races. On their return the owners found thousands of skulls from Tibet, India, and China eerily stored on the newly constructed shelves in all of the rooms. This provided Fleming with the model for Piz Gloria, Ernst's Blofeld's scientific research station in the Alps, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service."

In her day job, Elsa was a columnist. She also appeared on the Jack Parr Show.

Witty Quotes by E.M

[Some of these appear thoughout the internet as .sigs]

Elsa Maxwell on the 'net

Elsa Maxwell was among a number of San Franciscans who found temporary shelter at Mare Island following the earthquake. Elsa was 23 at the time, but her talent as a hostess was clearly evident even then to the great delight of the yard's younger set.
from Echoes of Solano's Past

Visited Vigoleno Castle.

At a party she threw for Maria Callas, she introduced the opera singer to Aristotle Onassis.

A heart-warming story about good-hearted police officers that begins:

Some months ago my son Garth and I were motoring home from the Elsa Maxwell party at Pebble Beach Lodge.

The Carmel Pine Cone, April 19, 1940, p. 9.

A survey of New York City's rooftop bars has this to say about the Rainbow Room:

"Steppin' out has been an art form on this 65th-floor landing ever since opening night, October 3, 1934, when Cole Porter, Noel Coward, Elsa Maxwell, and the creme of New York society gave it the royal nod of approval."

The RAINBOW PROMENADE is at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, 65th floor NY NY

(SIZE 33K) Elsa Maxwell, Ann Sheridan and Sun Valley PR man Steve Hannagan

TV/radio appearances by E. M.

"The Tonight Show" (1954) TV Series [Actress .... Regular (1957-1958)]

Available from the Radio Program Archives

Available from Old Time Radio CHARLIE MCCARTHY
Guest: Elsa Maxwell 11/4/45 (Ray Noble, Anita Gordon) (Excellent, AFRS, Comedy)

Old radio ads, available from here.
26c. Bill Stern's Colgate Shaving Cream Sports News.
On NBC, from 1946. These were short (15 minute) sports shows that also featured the appearance of a name entertainer. The four here feature (15 minutes each) Lucille Ball, Tommy Dorsey, Elsa Maxwell, and Dinah Shore. (60 minutes, tape 380)


Some Reader's Digest book, including the complete 'How to Do It'.

Etiquette book.
New York, Bartholomew House, 1951
189 p.

How to do it; or, The lively art of entertaining.
Boston, Little, Brown, 1957
275 p. illus. 21 cm.

Melinda and her sisters,
by Mrs. Alva E. (O. H. P. Smith) Belmont [1853-1933] and Elsa Maxwell; music and lyrics by Elsa Maxwell.
New York, R. J. Shores,
2 p. L., 58 p. 20 cm.

R.S.V.P.; Elsa Maxwell's own story.
1st ed.
Boston, Little, Brown
326 p. illus. 22 cm.

My grateful thanks to Salvador Dali for his frontispiece drawing, and to his wife, Gala, who has always been his inspiration.

The Celebrity Circus
Appleton-Century, NY

Books about E.M.

Party Girl : The Elsa Maxwell Story
by Rosemary Kent
Published by Donald I Fine
Publication date: August 1989
ISBN: 1556110405

What is this ?

NEW YORK, 1909

Music by E.M.

Elsa recognized early on that music was an important component of entertainment. She was not only a piano player but also wrote music. I'm wondering what other pieces she may have written.

Elsa Maxwell - Her Voice and Music [1959]
complete with album cover!
an extra special thanks to Mike Hadenfeldt for find this!

A tango dream : transcription for piano solo of the famous song / by Elsa Maxwell.
London : Enoch ; U.S.A. : proprietors for the United States of America : Chappell,
E. & S. 4550
6 p. of music ; 35 cm.

Please keep out of my dreams
words and music by Elsa Maxwell.
from the Sousa collection.

Films with/about/by Elsa Maxwell

[gleaned from the Internet Movie Database ]

Lady and the Lug, The (1940) [Actress .... Herself]
Reporter Doug Abbott wins a boxer's contract in a poker game. His aunt, Elsa Maxwell, arranges for the fighter to stage an exhibition bout for her favorite charity.
Summary written by Jim Beaver {bajw32a@prodigy.com}

Public Deb No. 1 (1940) [Actress]
When a waiter (Murphy) gives a society girl (Joyce) a public spanking for attending a Communist rally, her soup-tycoon uncle (Ruggles) makes the waiter a vice-president of his company.
Summary written by Ed Stephan {stephan@henson.cc.wwu.edu}

Throwing a Party (1940) [Actress .... Herself]
Elsa Maxwell bets playboy Larry Scoffield that she can take any unknown girl and make her headline news within 2 weeks. Larry, however, tries to foil her plans by asking his reporter buddies to keep anything about the girl out of the papers.
Summary written by Jim Beaver {bajw32a@prodigy.com}

Hotel for Women (1939) [Actress] [Writer (story)] ... aka Elsa Maxwell's Hotel for Women (1939)
A girl (Darnell) from Syracuse goes to New York to see her boyfriend, successful architect who no longer cares for her. Fellow residents at a women's hotel encourage her to become a top model. When boyfriend tries to come back to her he has rivals.
Summary written by Ed Stephan {stephan@henson.cc.wwu.edu}
Our Betters (1933) [Miscellaneous crew (technical advisor)]

Stage Door Canteen.
Three soldiers fall for three gals who work at the Hollywood Canteen, but the real interest in this patriotic musical is the appearance by literally dozens of stars as entertainers (and staff) for the servicemen on leave.(AMG-Unknown)
Top grossing film of 1943, US

Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story
1987 TV movie starring Farrah Fawcett. Miriam Margolyes plays Elsa Maxwell.