A Sunny Disposition
Gramercy Park. 6:30 PM. Photo: JH.

Arts & entertainers. While the wags are wondering what’s going on in the marriage of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, the movie hunk, whose latest movie role is that of Achilles in Troy which opens next week, is seriously pursuing his avocation of architecture.

Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt

The Art Newspaper out of London reports that Pitt is determined to serve an informal apprenticeship with Canadian-born, Los Angeles-resident architect Frank Gehry who designed the sensational new Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

Pitt is already an avid collector of architecture. He and Aniston live in a beautiful house in Beverly Hills designed and built by the now legendary architect Wallace Neff in 1936 for another famous film couple of their day, Frederic March and Florence Eldridge. It is the same house where the late Carter Burden grew up and was later the longtime residence of heiress Wallis Annenberg. Pitt also owns a classic Craftsman-style house in Los Angeles as well other Neff-designed houses.

The actor hopes to spend “at least a year learning computer-aided architectural design,” and that his “ultimate ambition is to design a ‘modernist’ town ‘filled with light’ which is to include a chair museum.”

Jude Law

Meanwhile, speaking of architectural history and movie hunks – this also according to the Art Newspaper Jude Law will spend the summer in Derbyshire, England at the country seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, Chatsworth, filming an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Law will play Sebastian Flyte, the role made famous in the 1981 series by Anthony Andrews. Sebastian, “whose beauty is arresting,” and “whose eccentricities know no bounds” is gay and dissolute (according to the mores of the times – pre-World War II).

That version of Brideshead was filmed at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, starring Claire Bloom and Sir Laurence Olivier. The role of Charles Ryder, Sebastian’s very romantic school chum who was infatuated but evidently straight (close but no cigar) was played by Jeremy Irons and made him a star.

Sir Laurence Olivier with Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons in Brideshead Revisited

All of which reminds us, somewhat circuitously, of an obit which appeared yesterday in the London Independent (there was also one in the New York Times) of a man named Tom Corbally who died here at the age of 83 after a long life living on the wild side. Mr. Corbally played a decisive role in famous British scandal known as the Profumo Affair, which brought down the government of Prime Minister Harold MacMillan (whose wife was a sister of the Duke of Devonshire), and which also elevated a couple of very pretty hookers to the status of Household Words in the early 1960s.

Corbally, a boy from New Jersey where his father was a cop, had a very adventurous and colorful life, and, some claimed, was the model for Ian Fleming’s James Bond character. Whether or not that was so, he was, in fact, a legendary lover of women, a few of whom are still very much on the scene and very much married to rich and prominent men here in New York and in Europe, and whose faces occasionally grace the pages of NYSD (as recently as the past couple of days).

Thomas Joseph Corbally, business consultant: born Newark, New Jersey 25 March 1921; three times married; died New York 15 April 2004.

Beyond a shadow of doubt, Thomas Corbally was the American businessman who in January 1963 tipped off the then American ambassador in London about the Profumo affair - that unmatched scandal of spies, call-girls and politicians that hastened the resignation of Harold Macmillan later that year. Almost everything else about him, however, ranged from the ambiguous to the downright mysterious.

He was a magnetic figure, fond of Savile Row suits, large cigars and beautiful women, a fixture of the smart set on both sides of the Atlantic. He was said to look like Jason Robards, with a voice so deep "it made Johnny Cash sound like a soprano".

Corbally seemed to know everyone. No one, however, was quite sure exactly what he did, where his money came from (though he always seemed to have plenty of it) - even on occasion who he was married to. Was he a spy, a con man or a merely a superbly connected business consultant? Every rumour added to the aura of exoticism and intrigue. And that was how he liked it.

Queen Elizabeth II with John Profumo
The derring-do began early. Even before the United States entered the Second World War, Corbally left Seton Hall University in New Jersey to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he flew Spitfires in the European theatre. At some point, he signed up with the new Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, and thereafter was regularly suspected of working for unnamed intelligence services. True or not, the combination of glamour and mystery led Nancy Bretzfield, a socialite in southern California and longtime friend, to call him "the original James Bond".

His vague line of business and a wealth of A-list contacts in both Britain and the US only cemented Corbally's image. In London, he developed a circle of acquaintances that included the likes of James Goldsmith and the future Lords Hanson and White. It was the same story later in the US: Lee Iacocca, Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters, Rita Hayworth, Heidi Fleiss, Larry Tisch . . . he knew them all, or people said he did. In that opaque, overlapping world of the international business consultant, the private investigator and multi-purpose fixer, Corbally was king.

He was also, incontestably, a Lothario. He was married three times (his first wife, for a few months in 1956, was the US tennis player Gertrude "Gorgeous Gussie" Moran, whose short dress and lace-trimmed panties created a sensation at post-war Wimbledon). The extra-curricular conquests seem to have been even more numerous.

According to Ralph Blumenthal, in his history of the Stork Club nightspot in New York, Corbally divided the opposite sex into "girls you slept with and took to the Copa [the Copacabana night-club], and girls you bought a black dress for and took to the Stork". The former seem to have been more numerous. Once a woman approached him at dinner to greet him, but Corbally had no idea who she was. "I suppose you don't recognise me with my clothes on," she said sweetly, before moving on.

Almost certainly the pleasures of the flesh led to Corbally's gaining a ringside seat at the Profumo affair. In an internal FBI report on the scandal, he was described as a businessman "who reportedly ran sex orgies in his London apartment" which he rented in Duke Street, Mayfair, with an American friend.

At a party one night a fellow guest noticed that Corbally's knee was hurting badly, took him aside and, seemingly miraculously, made the pain disappear. The Good Samaritan proved to be Stephen Ward, the charming society osteopath, supplier of female company to the well connected, and suspected British (some even murmur Soviet) agent, who would be the central and ultimately tragic figure in the scandal.

The two evidently hit it off. "He knew a lot of pretty girls and I like pretty girls ... I entertained a lot and Stephen was around my flat a lot ... I certainly liked him and considered him a friend," Corbally acknowledged in Honeytrap, the riveting 1987 account of the Profumo affair by Anthony Summers and Stephen Dorril. Through Ward, Corbally came to know some of his girls, notably Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, of whom he became a longtime friend. From Ward, he learned about Keeler's simultaneous liaisons with John Profumo, Macmillan's Secretary of State for War, and Yevgeny Ivanov, the Soviet naval attaché.

Prime Minister Harold MacMillan with JFK
More tantalisingly still, he might have heard about the exploits of Mariella Novotny, another of Ward's "pretty girls" who claimed to have had amorous encounters with President John Kennedy immediately before and after his inauguration. Eventually, Corbally took the bombshell information about the Profumo-Keeler-Ivanov triangle to David Bruce, the American ambassador. Bruce was a close friend of Macmillan; possibly, he was the person who first told the Prime Minister of the allegations.

Be that as it may, the interest from across the Atlantic by the FBI was instant and intense. The bureau opened a file codenamed "Bowtie" into the affair, and continued to keep the closest eye on events even after the suicide of Ward, the British establishment's designated scapegoat for the scandal.

Roy Cohn
In the years that followed, Corbally moved back to New York, working in particular for the investigative and consulting agency Kroll Associates. His final foray into the headlines was less fortunate. Corbally fell in with a swindler named Martin Frankel, who in 2002 pleaded guilty to defrauding insurance companies of over $200m. As always, he provided introductions and is said to have been handsomely recompensed for his trouble - an American Express card on which he spent $112,000 in a single month, a Mercedes 600SL, and $1.5m in a Swiss bank account.

Somewhat unconvincingly, the supreme man of the world maintained he had no idea of the scam, and had taken Frankel at his word that he was collecting money for Catholic charities. But that mystery pales beside the one of three decades earlier, which Corbally took to the grave.

Was there a Kennedy link to the Profumo affair? The answer may lie in two documents in the Bowtie file. One contains information provided by Roy Cohn, Corbally's lawyer at the time and a friend of the FBI's director J. Edgar Hoover. The other is a 17-page interview with Corbally himself. Both documents have been released under the Freedom of Information Act - with every single word in them blacked out.

— Rupert Cornwell in the London Independent


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May 5, 2004, Volume IV, Number 75

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