Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sins of the father

Hudson River fog beyond the 79th Street Boat Basin. 4:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011. Raining in New York, melting away the blackened snow banks from the big storm of ten days ago. Warmer too, in the 40s, prompting people to start talking about Spring being just around the corner. Watch out for the corner.

In last weekend’s Financial Times, reporter Lucy Kellaway interviewed Max Mosley, the former head of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile a/k/a Formula One. Mr. Mosley was the client in a headline grabbing scandal involving sadomasochistic sex sessions with several prostitutes in a London flat in March 2008.

Max Mosley in his office as photographed for the interview with Lucy Kellaway of the FT.
Referring to it as a “sick, Nazi orgy,” the activities were splashed all over the tabloid, the News of the World, including photographs and video extracts of the session which the paper implied had “a Nazi theme or were intended to mock victims of the Holocaust.”

The 68-year-old Mr. Mosley subsequently sued the tabloid and was awarded 60,000 GBP in compensation. The judge ruled that there was no evidence of the “Nazi theme” or mocking of victims of the Holocaust. The News of the World was also ordered to pay Mr. Mosley’s legal bills totally close to 900,000 GBP.

Mr. Mosley also acknowledged that he had been involved in the S&M scene for decades although claiming that none of his sessions were re-enactments of Nazi behavior. He added that he could think of nothing more “unerotic.” As a son of Sir Oswald and Lady Mosley, the two most famous British fascists of the 1930s and 40s, he evidently felt compelled to add that he had “sought to distance himself from his parent’s controversial history.”

The incident was deeply embarrassing to Mr. Mosley, who said that he believed people’s sex lives were private. He has been married to the same woman with whom he had two sons since 1970. Mrs. Mosley, until that time, was reported to have been completely unaware of her husband’s inclinations.

In May of the following year, one of their sons, Alexander, 39, was found dead in his mews house in Notting Hill, West London, from an accidental heroin overdose. It was popularly believed that it was a suicide resulting from his father’s scandal. However, young Mosley, an economist and a successful Chelsea restaurateur, was known to have a heroin addiction since he was in his twenties.
Sir Oswald Mosley on the march with his "blackshirts," the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in the early 1930s.
What surprised many when the news broke about Max Mosley’s S&M session was that although he admitted to participating, against the advice of his lawyers, he sued on the grounds that it took place between consenting adults, caused no one any harm and was nobody’s business but his.

The “Nazi” affiliation referred to in the story harkened back to his father and mother’s activities before he was even born. The couple, both of whom had been married before, were married “in secret” in 1936 in the Berlin home of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief and in the presence of Adolf Hitler himself.

The couple were both from ranking British aristocratic families. Sir Oswald had previously been married to Lady Cynthia Curzon, a daughter of Lord Curzon, one time Viceroy of India, and a granddaughter of Levi Leiter, a Chicago retailer and founding partner of Marshall Field. Diana Mosley, one of the famous Mitford sisters, had been married to Bryan Guinness.

Mosley, who was always known as Tom to friends and family, aside from his well known fascist politics, was famous amongst his peers for his sexual prowess, having had many affairs including one with his first wife’s sister Alexandra Metcalfe (wife of Fruity Metcalfe, equerry to Edward VIII – later Duke of Windsor, as well as Lady Alexandra’s stepmother Grace, Lady Curzon. Diana Guinness was his mistress when his wife Lady Cynthia died of peritonitis in 1933.
The Mitford Sisters, Unity and Diana, with SS troops in Sept '37 Nuremberg Nazi Party rally. Hitler referred to the tall blond Diana as “the perfect Aryan woman.”
When England went to war to defend itself against the Nazis, the Mosleys became persona non grata, and when Max was 11 weeks old, his parents were arrested and imprisoned for the duration of the war.

After the war, Sir Oswald again became politically active forming the Union Movement which proposed a single nation-state of Europe. In 1951, the Mosleys moved to Ireland and then later to Paris although Sir Oswald continued to be active in a peripheral way in British politics. When he died at age 84 in Paris, the London Daily Mail referred to him as a “much maligned and much misunderstood political giant of his era.”

That misunderstanding has remained and today his son Max carries that weight on his shoulders. Were it not for the revelation of the sexual fetish, the matter would have remained basically dormant.
Young Max Mosley with his mother and father.
Lucy Kellaway’s interview with him in last Saturday’s FT “Max Mosley Fights Back” is especially interesting because both reporter and subject made remarkable efforts to be frank and truthful about a most delicate and (for most of us) difficult subject to discuss, namely his sex life.

Mosley’s willingness to discuss the matter in the first place provokes all kinds of curiosity. Kellaway presents the questions that are obvious but trenchant to the reader (and not so easy for the reporter):

“I sink into a comfortable sofa and glance at the uncomfortable questions I’ve written in my notebook. ‘Why was MM drawn to S&M’ and ‘Was the death of MM’s son related to the stories about his father?’”

For the full article, click here.

Max Mosley, head of the FIA (Formula One).
He explains that his reasons for discussing it all have to do with the “absolutely outrageous, (a) total violation of someone’s privacy.” His lawyers had advised him to do and say nothing when the story broke, telling him it would cost a fortune and only expose the story to millions who otherwise would never have known about it.

But Max Mosley was not afraid. Since what he had to hide was totally exposed, he felt no compunction about hiding anymore. His family had been devastated by the revelations. His parents’ dark political background had been dredged up once again, and he felt that “destroying people’s lives for the sake of selling a few newspapers is utterly, completely wrong.”

Finally, the reporter gets down to the nitty gritty, asking Mosley what drew him to S&M, what made him do it. (“Yet isn’t inflicting pain on others for fun something that even animals don’t do?”)

His reply is straightforward, likening the impulse to “being homosexual.” This goes into more detail about it – the most I’ve ever read in a newspaper account, that’s for sure. I found myself agreeing, disagreeing, and evaluating Mosley’s opinions about the matter, but at the same time admiring him for his frankness and honesty and willingness to shed light on a situation that he believes has destroyed his family.
Max Mosley having won a 60,000 GBP judgment in his favor from News of the World.
Asked from where the desire might have sprung, he is uncertain. He recalls visiting his parents in prison when he was a toddler. Did it begin there, at that early impressionable age? Not that he knows of.

Mosley’s responses to the most intimate questions frustrates Kellaway (as well as the reader) because she’s hit upon an area where there are no answers, only judgments, moral, emotional and otherwise. When, interview over, she asks herself what is Max Mosley really like, she has no answer.

For the reader, the result is the same. Although the discussion is replete with honesty and truthfulness, beyond the revelation, and in the final analysis, there is nothing remaining except the entropy. And the sins of the father.
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