Formula One And Beyond: The Max Mosley Myth

In a departure from the usual style of asketchofthepast.com, I have decided to write a post not only in a far more personal tone, but also about someone who is still very much alive. This is a response to the rather churlish little piece in yesterday’s Daily Mail, and the hackneyed ‘revelation,’ that Max Mosley’s 2015 autobiography, Formula One and Beyond, describes events from half a century ago with ‘selective memory.’ I have yet to come across an autobiography that would not face a similar charge.

The passage in the book which struck me most was Mr Mosley’s description of a particular conversation with his father, in which he compared their struggles and achievements at the same age. Sir Oswald, whose political career was effectively finished at the age of 34, replied ‘Well, that just shows what a mistake it is to start too soon.’ For his son, one doubts the fight will ever be over.

I met Max Mosley in September 2015. He had kindly agreed to meet me, in order to speak about his family as well as his own remarkable life. I had heard that he was impossibly charming in the flesh, and he did nothing to dispel such assertions. With the gait and appearance of a man several decades younger, and impeccable manners straight from the pages of Debrett’s guide to etiquette, Mosley embodied the sort of genteel Englishman I had always secretly hoped still existed.

After ordering tea – a macchiato for Max, I enquired about his celebrated aunts, the Mitfords. Honest to a fault, he ventured up amusing personal recollections without hesitation. Having written my thesis on the Bloomsbury Group, the most self-aggrandising and cliquey set one could possibly imagine, I found Max’s own modesty and the complete candour with which he described his famous, and in some cases notorious, relatives, as simply being ‘ordinary people,’ incredibly refreshing. He seemed genuinely confounded by the continuing interest in them. Continue reading

Prisoner Of Love: Carole Lombard And Russ Columbo

Ruggiero Eugenio di Rodolpho Colombo was born into a large Italian immigrant family in Camden, New Jersey on 14th January 1908. A musical prodigy, encouraged by his father, a theatre musician, he learned to play the violin at an early age, followed by the guitar, the clarinet and the accordion all by the age of 13, he was also a classically trained pianist. After the Columbo family moved to California’s Napa Valley, Ruggiero began to perform professionally with a number of bands as a violinist and singer. In Hollywood, he found work on film sets, providing what was known as ‘mood music,’ which was intended to aid silent movie stars get into character. It was on one of these sets, that he met Pola Negri, a Polish actress who had previously been romantically involved with Rudolph Valentino, whom Ruggiero strongly resembled. Using her influence, Negri helped him to get minor roles in several films including The Wolf Song (1929) with Gary Cooper and Lupe Velez, and The Texan (1930) starring Cooper and Fay Wray.

At the same time, Ruggiero, who by then had adopted the name ‘Russ’ Columbo, had been hired as a violinist and vocalist by the bandleader Gus Arnheim and his Cocoanut Grove Orchestra, providing the lead vocals for many of Arnheim’s hits, such as Sweet and Lovely and I Can’t Do Without You. In 1931, Columbo was offered a radio slot in New York with NBC, with fans calling him the ‘Radio Romeo,’ a recording contract as a solo artist with RCA Victor Records soon followed. Columbo’s manager Con Conrad never doubted that his protégé was destined to become a star, thanks to his remarkable talent and the fact that, as one contemporary critic remarked, ‘while he may have been born of Italian parentage, when he stepped into the spotlight on stage with his glistening black hair, chiselled facial features and athletic physique he looked to all the world like the statue of a Greek god come to life. And with his flashing black eyes and gleaming white teeth, he had a smile that could melt a sphinx.’

Above: Gus Arnheim’s Cocoanut Grove Orchestra with vocals by Russ Columbo – Sweet and Lovely (1931)

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The Snow Queen: Astrid Of Belgium’s Appeal

The birth of Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid Sofia Lovisa Thyra of Sweden in Stockholm on 17th November 1905, was a cause for celebration. As the third daughter of Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland the brother of the popular Swedish King Gustav V, and his glamorous wife, Princess Ingeborg of Denmark, Astrid was born into a life of immense privilege, but with it, also came certain expectations, such as the idea that when she married, it would most probably be for dynastic reasons, like the union of parents, which though happy, as her mother admitted, ‘I married a complete stranger!’

Her childhood at Arvfurstens palats was an idyllic one, and Astrid, along with her siblings Princesses Margaretha and Märtha, as well as Prince Carl, who was born in 1911, was adored by her parents and the household’s staff,  so much so, that the family’s cook created ‘Princess Cake,’ for the youngsters – a cream covered sponge wrapped in green marzipan, which has since become a national favourite.

Considered as a potential bride for the Prince of Wales, it was announced that Astrid was to marry Crown Prince Leopold of Belgium in September 1929, with the Belgian Queen Elisabeth declaring to news reporters who had gathered outside the Royal Palace of Brussels, ‘It is a marriage of love…tell it to our people. Nothing was arranged. Not a single political consideration prevailed in our son’s decision.’ Continue reading

On The Sentimental Side: Al Bowlly And His Crooners Choir

Albert Allick ‘Al’ Bowlly was born in Lourenço Marques, Mozambique on 7th January 1898 (some sources claim 1899 and others 1890), to a Greek father and Lebanese mother who met on a ship sailing to Australia, married in Perth, and then emigrated to Johannesburg where their son spent his formative years. After leaving school to become a barber, in his spare time Bowlly developed an interest in singing and playing the ukulele, banjo and guitar, and began performing in nightclubs across the South African capital. It was in one of these nightclubs that the bandleader Edgar Adeler, who was on a nationwide tour of the country, first met the budding young musician and invited him on tour as his ukulele player. Adeler would soon discover that Bowlly’s magnificent voice surpassed his ukulele playing abilities, describing it as ‘out of this world.’

A disagreement with Adeler saw Bowlly quit the tour, before travelling to Indonesia. Funding his journey to Europe by busking, in 1927 Bowlly arrived in Berlin where he was re-united with Adeler, and provided the vocals for his recording of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies. The following year, Bowlly joined the Filipino bandleader Fred Elizalde as his singer, during Elizalde’s stint at the Savoy Hotel. Bowlly’s big break arrived in 1930, when he became the vocalist for Ray Noble’s New Mayfair Dance Orchestra. Pouring his heart into every lyric, Noble observed how Bowlly allowed himself to wallow in the emotion of every song, his eyes brimming with tears when he sung the more sentimental ballads so powerfully that, ‘never mind him making you cry, he could make himself cry!’

Collaborating with Noble, as well as other popular bandleaders, like Roy Fox and Lew Stone, Bowlly churned out hit after hit, such as Goodnight Sweetheart (1931) Love Is The Sweetest Thing (1932) and Midnight, The Stars and You (1934). His smooth style of singing, known as crooning, later adopted by countless male singers from Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole to Mel Tormé and Andy Williams, coupled with his leading man looks, earned him the nickname ‘The Big Swoon’ from his army of admirers.

Above: Ray Noble’s New Mayfair Dance Orchestra and Al Bowlly – Midnight, The Stars and You (1934)

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