'Caviar, Cake, and Tales of the Past'

The strangest (in retrospect most tantalising) book offer to come my way a generation ago was from a former silent-screen star, a New Yorker whom Artur Rubinstein remembered as a coquettish, provocative ‘Persian miniature’ with ‘heavy black hair, almond-shaped eyes, pretty nose, and full, red arched mouth'. (She in turn wrote of him as ‘My torment and my dream […] Didn't Artur know that I would die for him? All he had to do was ask it.’) We met for English tea (sans danse) in the marbled, glass-roofed Palm Court of the Waldorf, off the Strand in Edwardian Aldwych. She wanted me to 'ghost' her pianist-father's biography. Aged, roundly-proportioned, over-bearingly ‘painted’, Jewishly flamboyant in her memories, ever the actress, she spoke as she wrote. It was so unreal, I turned her down. Dagmar, she called herself, Dagmar Godowsky - but I let her go.

Spring 2004

Image: The Paris Review