“Grandma rolled her own cigarettes, her stockings, and her happy way of life…”
~Ted Peckham, Grandma Rolled Her Own
I spotted the book on the bookshelf and decided it was time for a re-read. The inscription reads; “I’m sure you will be rolling your own” Ted Peckham, 1970.
It is always interesting to hear first-hand accounts from those charitable purveyors of tattle and tidbits who had the good fortune to secure a sought-after invitation. What made them exceptional as guests were their acute observational skills, social dexterity, villainous wit, disarming candor and their gift for storytelling. History and high society is filled with some of the greatest galloping tattlers, like...
Upon arriving in Paris, many years ago, I found a message from Monina saying why didn’t we look up Ted Peckham at the Paris Ritz. We called on Mr. Peckham in the lobby and found him to be tall and tanned with the even features of the pre-war leading man with bright blue eyes that didn’t miss a beat. Mr. Peckham was full of smiles and radiated well being.
“I’ve seen so many people I know,” he said. “I just ran into Bobo Rockefeller.” The blue eyes swept the lobby.
Even after finding so many over-the-top characters in Mona's life this one proofed to be top of the list. Mona told us that Mr. Peckham ran an international escort service before the war. “The escort had to be Tout-Paris or in the Almanach de Gotha or in the New York Social Register. I was very snobbish,” Mr. Peckham said.
Later he took up dress design and at the year of our meeting was designing jewellery.
“I deal in anything that amuses me I’ve sold everything from yachts to Paulette Goddard’s garter belt even jewellery to Kenny Lane and a bracelet to Eva Gabor with a huge ugly lion’s head and a lot of bad diamonds very effective.”
“Mona said I should tell you about the time I went to the Ritz Thrift Shop in New York and bought all the furs-yellow ermine, long capes with Joan Crawford shoulders. A friend of mine gave me a free air-conditioned cabin on a freighter he owned and took my furs to Damascus and Lebanon. Those I couldn’t sell privately I sold in the souks. It was a huge success.”
Another specialty at the time of our meeting was his own version of the Tupperware party. His Louis Vuitton luggage packed with jewels, he went to Texas, California and Florida and a few points in between. “I never go to a town where I don’t know anybody,” he said. “My friends give a ‘cocktail party’ I get a piece of black velvet and put jewellery on it. That’s the hors d’oeuveres. A woman who doesn’t bring her check book doesn’t get to eat.”
“I live by my wits, but honestly,” Mr. Peckham said. “It takes imagination. I’m sort of a cream puff with a concrete base.
I’ve been coming to this hotel since I was a boy.” The blue eyes closed briefly. “The older I get, the smaller the room. But I don’t care. I meet such nice people in the elevator and lobby.”
He was born in Cleveland, Ohio. “Sell any jewellery there?” I ask. “No, the people are so conservative,” he said. His mother was Frances Miles, a silent film and Follies star. It was his mother who first brought him to Europe.
“My mother knew a couple of Follies girls who’d married peers. They’d pass names on to each other. I met Lady Mendl through one of them, and the escort service started in 1936 when I was eighteen.”
The escort service had branches in London, New York, Paris, Vienna and Budapest, and was managed by the Paris boulevardier Andre de Fouquieres. Mr. Peckham also furnished stag lines for New York deb parties (“I could get 200 men in two days”) and in London arranged for Americans to be presented at Court.
How? Oh, I knew a lot of old duchesses,” was the cryptic reply. “I didn’t know what I was doing-if I’d known I couldn’t have done it. I didn’t know how lucky I was or who the people were. I wish I’d kept an address book, now I keep them religiously.”
Mr. Peckham pulled out a green address book, the biggest I’ve seen since Rene showed me his. “I have six of these,” he said.
I’d been looking with some attention at Mr. Peckham’s shirt, unable to describe the color. “Cerise!” he said. “You are shocked, but I think it’s all right with a conservative suit” (his was a grey pinstripe). “I’ve been influenced by women all my life,” he said.
As we started to shake hands to say good-bye, Mr. Peckham said, “I just had my fortune told by Countess Mary Tolstoy.”
How, we asked, is 1970 going to be?
“I knew it was going to be anyway,” Mr. Peckham added. “I believe in magic. You have to make your own, and I’m a wizard at it.”