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.
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