Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bubbles Rothermere

Pamela Harmsworth, Viscountess Rothermere,
in the library of her New York City apartment.
Photo by Fred R Conrad for the NY TIMES.
Despite what your mother may have told you, it sometimes makes more sense to start with dessert first.  As a prequel of sorts to a series of upcoming posts of The Devoted Classicist, this will not be in chronological order, but with the subject that first comes to mind.  Those who followed International Society in the 1980s will conjure up this image at the mention of the Rothermere title, the larger-than-life wife of the 3rd Viscount, media billionaire Vere Harmsworth, universally known by her nickname "Bubbles."

The actress Beverly Brooks,
later to become Viscountess Rothermere.
Kobal Collection mage via New York Times.
Patricia Evelyn Beverly Matthews quit secretarial school and was working as a model when she met and married Christopher Brooks, a wealthy, handsome Coldstream Guards captain in 1951 (with some sources saying 1953).  They had a daughter in 1956 but, as actress Beverly Brooks, she appeared in five films released in 1955 and 1956. She gave up the acting career in 1957, getting a divorce and marrying Brooks' friend since school days at Eton.


Pamela Harmsworth
photograph by Baron, 1962.
Image: National Portrait Gallery
via Fashion's Most Wanted.
In the T Magazine series by Christopher Petkanas, "Fabulous Dead People." the writer contends that the captain suggested to his wife, on learning of interest from Harmsworth, that an affair would be more suitable than marriage due to the class difference.  "Talk about bitchy and cutthroat" she was quoted to say years later.
Bubbles Rothermere.
Uncredited photo via Google Images.
After having two daughters with Harmsworth, Bubbles pulled through a potential family catastrophe by producing a son in 1967, providing an heir to both the title and fortune.  A separation eventually followed in 1978, however, but the couple stayed on good terms.  It was reported that Bubbles received an annual stipend of seven figures, so lack of funds was not an issue.

Eaton Square, London.
Photo via Fashion's Most Wanted.
Bubbles Rothermere maintained a London apartment that spanned two townhouses on Eaton Square, a country retreat, Stroods House in Sussex, a house in Round Hill, Jamaica, a house in Beverly Hills, a seaside villa in the south of France, and a penthouse at 960 Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Bubbles Rothermere's NYC apartment
as it appeared in House Beautiful.
Image via a private collection of clippings.
Charles Jennings, working as a tutor for her daughters, wrote about his experiences in PEOPLE LIKE US: A SEASON AMONG THE UPPER CLASSES (with used copies starting at just $.01 from The Devoted Classicist Library).  Also, there is some insight on the Viscountess Rothermere in AN UNLIKELY HERO: VERE ROTHERMERE AND HOW THE DAILY MAIL WAS SAVED by S.J. Taylor, a book commissioned by Lord Rothermere and published in 2002 after his death.

The Library of Bubble Rothermere's
NYC apartment as it appeared in House Beautiful.
Image via a private collection of clippings.
As a slight detour in the story, the penthouse at 960 Fifth Avenue, has recently come on the market for $65 million.  Last occupied by Edgar Bronfman, Sr., Bubbles Rothermere's name is associated with the apartment in the recent articles as being the former owner.  The photos do not clearly correspond with the real estate listing or floor plan, however, so these previous two images might be another apartment.

The floor plan of the penthouse,
960 Fifth Avenue.
Image via The Realestalker blog.
The Viscountess Rothermere reportedly traveled with 2,000 pills in 75 bottles.  Her fatal heart attack at age 63 in August, 1992, in the villa on the French Riviera that was formerly owned by Greta Garbo was ruled "death by misadventure," accidental drug overdose. 

Villa Roc at Cap D'Ail,
Bubbles Rothermere's home in France.
Image via Fashion's Most Wanted blog.
Not long afterwards, Viscount Rothermere married his long-time mistress, always referred to in the press as a former Korean hand model, Maiko Jeong Shun Lee.
Bubbles Rothermere photographed by Helmut Newton
in her Eaton Square apartment, 1985.
Image via Fashion's Most Wanted blog.
The several upcoming posts of The Devoted Classicist will feature Daylesford, the sumptuous home of Bubbles Rothermere's father-in-law.  Those reading an abbreviated version of this blog can leave comments, search previous posts, and sign up to follow The Devoted Classicist at the regular web site here.



28 comments:

  1. I had of course read about her in society pages, but did not know anything about her background, or the extent of the family's wealth. The current viscount is her son.

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  2. I thought about her only the other day – the way a stray thought just floats into one's head. Bubbles Rothermere! She seemed to be all over the press at one time a long time ago. I like her library.

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  3. That image of her...leg showing ala Jolie, could be a Boucher of DuBarry! She was singular, beloved by many...and I have a Zandra Rhodes Emerald Green Silk and Black Tulle confection of a Dream that belonged to Bubbles, and I can say firsthand, ZR has nothing but GREAT memories of a Stylish Swan who didn't give a hoot what anyone said...but I say perhaps died of a broken heart! How odd she left, in Garbo's former home, the quintessential Camille...love her NYC apartment with Pine paneled library...so chic, and those phones of yesteryear placed nearby all but missing the Karl Springer telephone table. Wasn't there a murder in her Beverly Hills home whereupon she tore it down? Did Peter Pannaker build there?

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    1. The Swan, I was told that her house in California was not nearly as sumptuous as her other residences and that in was in that area know as the bird streets; I had a couple of leads, but nothing turned up. Maybe someone reading this knows more. Thank you for your comments.

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  4. Blue, a big tapestry can really make a room, can it not? Sadly, I never met her. She must have been lots and lots of fun in her prime. Thanks for commenting.

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  5. I love that: "Death by misadventure." She reminds me of the characters in Bemelman's adult fictions that I have been binging on lately. Thanks for another great post!!
    Best,
    Liz

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    1. Liz, some think she was the model for the vivacious character Bubbles DeVere on the BBC comedy series "Little Britain." Video clips may be seen on YouTube, etc. "Champagne, champagne for everyone." Thanks for commenting.

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  6. Love it when you give us floor plans. Interesting that the gallery seems unusually small for a grand New York apartment like this. The dining room is really isolated, accessible to guests only through the living room.

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    1. Reader, you comments are appreciated. Of course, part of the reasoning behind the plan is that there are set-backs to take into account so the layout of rooms is not as good, in some respects, as found on the other floors. Another factor to take into account is that there was (and still is to some extent) the Georgian Room, a beautiful private dining room on the ground floor of the building where the residents would normally take their meals as well as entertain.

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  7. The price for NYC luxury real estate just blows my mind. $65 million! Seems like yesterday that these apts were going for $10-20 million tops. Would love to see the house in Cap D'Ail.

    I don't see anything wrong with the dining room. It faces 5th with access to pantry, kitchen on other side. Better than an inside room. Looking forward to more!!!

    By the way, reading House of Outrageous Fortune (15 CPW). Not as interesting as 640 Park but entertaining. $6000/sq foot! is the price or was the price for the best apts. I guess I have definitely priced myself out of living in Manhattan ever again!

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  8. Was there ever a better drag name than Bubbles Rothermere?

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    Replies
    1. Lynn Guini?
      I agree, D.E.D. Thank you for commenting.

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    2. You are hilarious. Both of you!!!

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  9. Bubbles seemed to have indulged herself every and any pleasure. Pretty good story for a secretarial school drop out!

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    1. I agree, JOWS. Thank you for commenting.

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  10. She was truly a character! I was lucky enough to meet her twice (the first was better!) She had a beautiful party in Newport RI; (I think she had rented the house); She was very friendly and funny! (she looked just like that last picture by Helmut Newton. Kinda scary overweight.

    About 5 or 6 years later; again at the Mauna Kea with her son. I spoke to her; but she was really kind of "out of it"; some kind of drugs or something, and he was embarrassed and trying to cope!

    Too bad; she really did "have it all in many ways"! Yowzers that house on Cap d'Ail!!! And her library I could move into this moment and change nothing!

    "Death by misadventure" is classic! I'll try to avoid it!! So young! She looked much older when I last saw her!!
    "Bubbles" was exactly what she was like the first time!!!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for commenting, P.B. Despite the fun and adoration, there was apparently an unfulfilled need.

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  11. I met her in the first-class compartment on British Airways flying LA to London in August 1984. She was sitting right behind the bulkhead with her broken leg outstretched in a cast. We immediately struck up a friendship and I thoroughly enjoyed her company. She was very generous with her invitations, taking me to the theatre and inviting me and my boyfriend to Anabel's for a private party she was giving. She was an absolute blast, so warm and always so much fun.

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    1. "fun" is such a great and correct description! And endangered species these days!

      Who the hell is "FUN"????

      It is so sad!

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    2. P.B., I try to avoid today's "celebrities" but, other than relishing the spotlight, they really do not seem to be having much fun, do they?

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    3. No they really don't. "Fun" people are rare and wonderful!

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  12. What I don’t get about the Edgar Bronfman, Sr.’s apartment is all that white space between the private elevator and the kitchen – what is in there?

    Then there is that staircase connecting the laundry room and the staff rooms below. How does it work? I cannot get my head around it.

    What does the grey rectangle between the master bedroom and bedroom represent?

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    1. DdG, plans for real estate offerings are always a bit vague, not wanting to give the idea that there is more livable space than there actually is available. The service area, therefore, is not shown in detail. There is a service stair connecting the two floors that twists below a closet. And the grey space is a chimney for the building.

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  13. Reading this and all the comments is really fun because although she's my grandmother I never got to meet her. Nice to know she knew how to have fun though, I hope I inherited that quality.

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  14. Great blog, John. You are correct that the photos in the article you post do not correspond to the Bronfman penthouse at 960 Fifth Avenue. The NY Times and other sources incorrectly describe Lady Rothermere's apartment as the penthouse. Her unit was 11A, directly below Bronfman's penthouse and on the southwest corner of 960 Fifth Avenue. You can view the floorpan from this unit on Columbia's Real Estate Brochure collection, where you will see that the photos do correspond with that layout. At 10 feet, it's ceilings were the lowest of any unit on the Fifth Avenue side of the building and only one room (the living room) faces the park. This is because the rest of the 11th floor was designed as the bedroom level of what was once Preston Pope Satterwhite's apartment, the largest most expensive apartment ever built in New York. That said, as a high floor park view unit in one of the grandest buildings in the world, unit 11A is not bad for a pied-a-terre, and it could easily be mistaken as a penthouse given the current loose definition used in new construction condominium projects. It was last sold in 2006 for $16 million by Bruno Bich, heir of the pen manufacturer, BIC.

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