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Inventing Elsa Maxwell: How an Irrepressible Nobody Conquered High Society, Hollywood, the Press, and the World Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (October 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312699441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312699444
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #750,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though largely forgotten today, Elsa Maxwell (1883‚--ì1963) was vastly influential all over the world infrom the 1910s to the 1950s, holding court with royalty, dignitaries, and famous actors and musicians. She was best known as a party planner to the stars, inventing clever themes like a murder mystery dinner (for bored British aristocratsand a "Come As You Were" party in which the guests were asked to show up "in the state of dress‚--ìor undress‚--ìthey were in when the invitation arrived." Maxwell began as a songwriter and pianist, attracting the attention of actress Marie Doro, who paid for Maxwell's first trip to Europe. Maxwell was also a journalist, radio personality, and in later years, a frequent guest on The Jack Paar Show. She starred in several films during a brief stint in Hollywood in the late 1930s, including Elsa Maxwell's Hotel for Women. She had an amusingly stormy friendship with Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson. But her most notorious relationship was with the opera singer Maria Callas, with whom Elsa, then in her 70s, was desperately, obsessively in love; their friendship ended with an ugly public falling out. Maxwell is a fascinating character and Staggs does an excellent job exploring her life and honoring her memory. 16 pages of b&w photos.

From Booklist

If you think elaborately scripted and themed parties are a contemporary phenomenon, think again. In the early- to mid-twentieth century, hostess Elsa Maxwell reigned supreme. Setting the standard for glamour and glitz, she herself was anything but glamorous and glitzy, professing herself to be “a short, fat, homely, piano player from Keokuk, Iowa.“ What Elsa lacked in stature and good looks, however, she more than made up for in sheer wit and audacity. Determined to be the hostess with the mostest, she threw legendary parties that attracted the rich, the famous, and the eccentric. An invitation to one of her bashes was a social coup, and both celebrities and wannabes jockeyed for invitations. As Staggs explores who she was, where she came from, and how she achieved infamy and acclaim, the extraordinarily revered, reviled, and remembered woman behind the parties is given her long overdue props. --Margaret Flanagan

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Customer Reviews

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Great pictures also.
Tri-State Market
I have attempted previous books by Sam Staggs, but thought this may be a worthy subject for his limited ability.
James Cooper
Love, Loved, this book; wish I had been alive back then to have met her....She was an inspiration.
Sandra J. Mendelson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Robert Sanchez on November 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Elsa Maxwell may not be so well-remembered today, but once she was as famous as Elizabeth Taylor. She was known for her lavish parties, celebrity-filled newspaper columns, and TV appearances on Jack Paar's talk show. This book is a terrific read. I was very impressed that Staggs was able to cut through the fiction Elsa perpetrated in print about her own past (despite her frequent tales of coming from humble beginnings, she actually came from a socially-prominent family in San Francisco) and uncover a great deal of truth about her early years. The author also does a good job of showcasing evidence to prove his theory that in many ways, Maxwell was a big proponent of (and in some way, an inventor of) modern public relations as a cottage industry in itself. Famous stories of Elsa introducing Rita Hayworth to Prince Aly Kahn, her championing of opera diva Maria Callas in the press, and her rarely discussed personal life are all here. An entertaining and engrossing biography, thoroughly researched, highly recommended.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Sandra J. Mendelson on November 11, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Love, Loved, this book; wish I had been alive back then to have met her....She was an inspiration. I recommend this book to anyone, and everyone.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By kip on July 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very good biography of the famed society hostess and party giver, Elsa Maxwell. Maxwell is all but forgotten today, but she led an amazing life, being a pianist and composer in her early years and somehow stumbling into the role of society hostess, journalist, broadcaster, actress and celebrity in middle age. She knew celebrities in the arts, politics, and other fields and gloried in her acquaintance with them. Staggs does a wonderful job of bringing her to life, warts and all, including her many contradictions, and clears up some of the misunderstandings about her. She was internationally famous, spent the majority of her time with the wealthy, became a television personality late in life, and yet died leaving less than $15,000 to her heir, her companion of fifty years, Daisy Gordon Fellowes. Maxwell was a highly interesting woman, and someone looking for a good biography to read could do much worse than to pass their time reading this entertaining and informative account of her life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nana on June 24, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
poorly written junk with no real structure to the story. some interesting tidbits along the way but weak and boring for the most part
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By ScottinDFW on March 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I hated to see the party end when I finished the book. Elsa Maxwell was a true original who knew everyone who was everyone from before the Jazz Age through the Eisenhower years. Life to her was one big party - or a banquet, to borrow from Patrick Dennis - and Sam Staggs has brought her to delightful life again. I highly recommend this book!
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By Judith A. Carlson on February 15, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Elsa Maxwell was a very interesting lady. Wow - talk about guts and glory! This lady had it all. This book is well worth reading if you're at all interested in the rags-to-riches phenomenon.
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By Angelo Diretto on October 28, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I loved this newsy, gossipy, romp thru the life and antics of this historical party-giver. I remember hearing about her in my younger years and sometimes confused her with Pearl Mesta. No more! It's a fun and historical glance (well spiced with "The Truth" as documented. The world was well populated with closeted gay and lesbian personalities. It is nice to have them all out in the open and have them take their places in recent history as just nutty people along with all the other "nuts." I did get a lot of clarity for myself about incidents and memories from my teen years that were concerned with News Events of the time that were merely headlines.
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By parmalee on October 5, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read the synopsis of this book in the Wall Street Journal, and then found it on my Kindle. It was a delight to read all the names of stars and the cunning way old Elsa used them to her advantage. well written. Parmalee
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