Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Remembering A Rothschild

Cooling down in Washington Square Park. 5:00PM.
Elie de Rothschild
Obituary from the Telegraph of London

Baron Elie de Rothschild, who has died aged 90, was a partner of the Rothschilds' bank in Paris and for some years ran Château Lafite -Rothschild, the family's premier cru Pauillac vineyard in the Médoc.

Elie Robert de Rothschild was born on May 29 1917, the younger son of Baron Robert de Rothschild. Baron Robert was a partner, with his cousin Baron Edouard (Baron Guy de Rothschild's father), of the family bank, de Rothschild Frères, at 19 rue Laffitte.

Elie's mother Nelly, a noted beauty and hostess, was a daughter of Edmond Beer, the descendant of a German-Jewish banker from Frankfurt, who settled in France on a small estate at St Germains. Nelly was a great-great-niece of the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer; her younger sister, Marie-Louise, married Baron Robert's English cousin Lionel de Rothschild, the rhododendron and azalea expert, of Exbury.

Elie and his siblings Diane, Alain and Cécile were brought up by British nannies at Château de Laversine, near Chantilly, and in Paris at 23 avenue de Marigny, a mansion built by their grandfather Baron Gustave de Rothschild in 1885 and set in several acres of gardens just across the street from the Elysée Palace.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Alain and Elie rode off to the front with their cavalry regiment, the Anciens 11èmes Cuirassiers - "like Pancho Villa," Elie said, "with a horse and a sabre". After German forces invaded France in May 1940 the brothers were captured (Alain was in hospital, recovering from wounds) near the Belgian frontier.

Elie de Rothschild with Prince Aly Khan
Elie was sent to a German PoW camp near Nienburg from which, after an unsuccessful escape attempt, he was sent to Colditz. Subsequently he was moved again, to a camp at Lübeck, where he was reunited with Alain.

During his internment, Elie wrote to his childhood sweetheart, Liliane Fould-Springer, proposing that they be married by proxy; she accepted. The groom took his vows at Colditz in October 1941; the bride took hers in the town hall at Cannes, in Vichy France, in April 1942 - sitting beside an empty chair with a photograph of Elie in front of her.

After the war Elie helped his cousin Guy and brother Alain to put de Rothschild Frères back on its feet, and to expand their Compagnie du Nord.

In 1967, the old rue Laffitte building was pulled down to make way for a modern concrete and glass structure. The bank, which had hitherto specialised in providing investment services, began to take deposits, and changed its name to La Banque Rothschild. Eventually, much to the family's chagrin, it was nationalised by President François Mitterrand.

In 1956 Elie had also become president of the family company PLM, an enterprise to build and promote hotels, motels and restaurants. PLM built up a chain in France and Switzerland, and its first hotel in Paris, the 812-room Hotel Saint-Jacques, was opened in 1972. Liliane supervised the interior decoration of PLM's properties.

In addition to his business activities in Paris, in 1946 Elie had assumed charge of running Château Lafite-Rothschild, which he owned jointly with Alain, Guy and their Anglophile cousin Jimmy de Rothschild (of Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury). Château Lafite had been bought by Baron James de Rothschild - younger brother of the celebrated NM Rothschild and the founder of the bank in Paris - a few months before his death in 1868.
Château Lafite
In 1855 Château Lafite had been classified, along with Châteaux Latour, Margaux and Haut Brion, as premier crus clarets, Lafite being then judged the best of all. This left out Lafite's neighbouring vineyard, Château Brane-Mouton, which was later bought by one of NM Rothschild's sons (and Baron James's son-in-law) Nat, who subsequently renamed it Mouton-Rothschild.

By the time Elie took over at Lafite, his original and creative cousin Baron Philippe, Nat's great-grandson, was running and making great strides at Mouton-Rothschild. Philippe was also keen, with every justification, that his wine should be included in the premier cru classification, and had launched the Association des premiers crus for all five vineyards.

AP Photo/Jean-Jacques Levy, file
Having initially gone along with Philippe, Elie then decided to oppose the idea of Mouton-Rothschild's inclusion in a new premier cru classification; for a time the cousins were barely on speaking terms. Philippe persisted, and in the end won; Mouton-Rothschild finally attained the well-deserved - and valuable - premier cru status in 1973.

In the immediate postwar years, in Paris, Elie and Alain and their wives shared 23 avenue de Marigny. During the war the house had been occupied as Luftwaffe headquarters and had been frequented by Hermann Goering; it was then taken over by their English cousin Victor, Lt-Col Lord Rothschild, who had become a wartime specialist in counter-sabotage (bomb disposal).

In the 1950s Elie and Liliane and their children moved into a house of their own, 11 rue Masseran. An 18th-century mansion built by Brongniart for Prince Masserano in 1785, their new house was almost as big as 23 avenue de Marigny, and more attractive. It provided a fine setting for their magnificent 18th-century French furniture, objets d'art, Old Masters and modern paintings.

But not everything was perfect. In 1954 Elie met Pamela Churchill (later Harriman) at a party in a Paris restaurant organised by some American bankers; Liliane was away from home at the time. Pam Churchill was then being looked after handsomely by Gianni Agnelli, with an allowance, a flat and a Bentley.

Pamela Churchill Harriman
Elie - tall, slim, boyish, rich and fast - had heard about Pam Churchill (three years his junior), and had taken a rather dim view of her grand-demimondaine set-up. When they met, though, he was much taken with her red hair, fair skin and pleasant manner; before long they began an affair.

"She wasn't coquettish," Baron Elie told a friend, "just very sweet and charming and pretty. I wanted to go to bed with her, and I did." Despite Pam Churchill's hopes, though, Baron Elie - no stranger to the brief affair - never contemplated leaving his wife, on whom he depended and who, deploying her sharp wits and loyal friends, soon saw off the mistress.

In 1974 Elie handed over the reins at Château Lafite-Rothschild to his nephew Eric, Alain's son. Elie de Rothschild and his wife were noted for their hospitality, and once employed the young Jean-Christophe Novelli, and encouraged him to work in England. Elie de Rothschild remained active until his death yesterday at his hunting lodge in the Austrian Alps.

Elie and Liliane de Rothschild had a son and two daughters.

The baron Rothschild, Elie (Ellie) as he was
known to his many friends and admirers, was, in the words of an old friend, “a charmer,” and “the greatest flirt that ever existed,” with a penchant for beautiful women to amuse him. It was a style of life of another age that began to evaporate after the Second World War and will now completely fade from memory with his passing.

Ondine de Rothschild
He had another child also, whom you have seen or read about in these pages as recently as last June on our trips to Venice and Paris. She is Ondine, born in 1979 when he was in his early 60s, from his long and very well known liaison with the beautiful Paris antiquaire Ariane Dandois.

When the child grew up and came to America to attend Princeton (Class of ’01), she did something that was unheard of until her generation, she claimed her birth father’s name, although her parents were not married. She was her father’s daughter, after all;  it was a very great name in the world into which she was born, and she is an intelligent young woman of the 21st century.

All Paris knew about Ondine’s mother and father. His late wife knew this. It was known to the international media who reported on his death, and never mentioned it. Presumably such an omission is carried out in the name of tradition or “the family” or whatever it was that his generation and those that came before him paid lip service too. Ondine de Rothschild’s marking her origins by taking her father’s name is the new world, one that her father was too conditioned to not understand.

The baron lived his life as he pleased, and a good life it was. It was defined by connoisseurship, be it art, sports, or finance. It was a celebrated life, lined with great luxury, full of friendship, full of romance (when he wished), and with easy access (if not always easy influence) to the politically powerful.  He had several liaisons besides Pamela Churchill and Ariane Dandois, including the French Vogue editor Francoise de Langlade de la Renta, who later became the first wife of Oscar de la Renta.

Knowledge of his penchant never escaped his wife who unlike his ex-domestic interests, was not beautiful in the popular physical sense. She was, however, very beautiful in the ethereal and cultural sense. She endured her husband’s extra-marital life from a very early time in their marriage.

There is an oft-told story about a dinner party she attended in the late 1940s and was seated next to the Duke of Windsor.

“And who would be the Rothschild whose mistress is Pamela Churchill?” the duke is said to have innocently inquired of his dinner partner.

“That would be my husband,” Liliane de Rothschild replied.

Liliane was a loyal, devoted wife who bore him three children and represented him well in society where she presided as a wise and valued friend. She also bore the knowledge of his other interests with the same upfront finesse portrayed in that anecdote. She was not a cold woman and she loved her husband, as much as we know, and was never pleased about her marital situtation which she did not have the power to change.

Liliane, however, came from a very well known Austrian family, the Fould-Springers. Her mother and father’s marriage that was, in its way, even more complex than her own. Several years into the marriage, after the birth of Liliane and her brother and sister, Baron Fould-Springer one day brought home a very handsome man much younger than himself, with whom he was very infatuated.

Aniela Rubinstein and Liilane de Rothschild (right)
The younger man became a member of the family as it were and was also befriended by the Baroness Fould-Springer with whom he got on famously. The troika went everywhere together and traveled the world. Evidently it was acceptable and agreeable enough to be accepted by all three individuals because after the Baron Fould-Springer died, his widow, Liliane de Rothschild’s mother, married the younger man. They lived together for the rest of her life. This too was a story known to all in their circle, although never written about until it was told by a son-in-law, the Englishman Allan Pryce-Jones, in a book about his life.

Exposure to nature’s marital variations at a young age may or may not have been helpful to Liliane de Rothschild in her marriage to Baron Elie. She was, however, a great presence in the world and in her family, and scholarly in her passion for Marie Antoinette. She had her own brand of charm also, albeit different from that of her husband. And besides her adoring family and legions of friends and acquaintances, he adored her also. Furthermore she knew this.

Nevertheless, despite her wisdom and worldliness, her husband’s “liaisons,” including that which produced another Rothschild, was never something she was able to entirely let go of. How she and her husband came to terms with it and, with each other is not known to this writer, and very possibly, as it is in most intimate relationships,  not known to any other human being. What is known by many who knew them was that when Baroness Rothschild died, her husband knew the loss could never be replaced, and the grief never entirely relieved. There is a lesson there, and it may have been achieved by the baroness in her late age.

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