Stalking 19-year-old fairy princesses wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind at the beginning, but it was sunny in Paris, and you don’t usually end up in the shroud and shrubs of La Muette district unless you’re invited.
While sitting in the waiting room at the legation of the Principality of Monaco, I ran through the important things that I already knew about Princess Caroline of Monaco: her birth was accorded a 21-gun salute; she takes a good picture; and once, in front of the Time magazine Paris bureau chief, she told her mother that it was unnecessary for her to attend cooking school because her family had “slaves.”
She also tends to hang out at nightclubs. An acquaintance had approached the princess at Regine’s in Paris one night and asked if she wanted to be interviewed for Rolling Stone. She said yes, but that it had to go through the palace press officer at the legation.
Nigel Pollitzer had assured me that Caroline is really a very normal kid who likes to do normal things. Nigel is a playboy. He used to be seen with Maria Schneider in Rome, they say. He has lost a few hundred thousand dollars on the stock market.
I had somehow decided that the level of journalism implied by wanting to interview a 19-year-old princess should probably include the act of talking to her 33-year-old ex-boyfriend, who had, it was reported in a London Sunday newspaper, actually “snoggled” with Caroline in the back seat of another well-known playboy’s car. Nigel says that he and Caroline almost got married.
The gossip-chasing wasn’t as embarrassing as the scene that day in Paris, as I sat with a Hollywood-trained press officer who for 20 years had handled Caroline’s family’s public exposure….
“Well,” I said, “I would ask her about the Young Friends to Animals Society [Caroline is the president]. The magazine wants to humanize the princess after all of the gossipy press she’s been getting lately.”
The woman at the desk eyed me silently. “I see,” she said finally, “you want the young angle.” “
Yeah, that’s it, the young angle.”
“Well, I’ll have to talk to the princess. I’ll call you at your hotel in Monte Carlo. You’ll love Monaco,” she said, “there’s so much there.”
She smiled that bureaucratic smile that was to haunt me over the next few weeks.
Caroline grew up in a tiny place built on a bedrock of romanticized publicity, new money, and on people’s residual fascination with great wealth.
I was going to Monaco to see the fruits of a great labor which had revived the legendary fairy-tale image of the place and blown it out of all proportion. The efforts of Harvard Business School graduates, Las Vegas pit bosses, Aristotle Onassis, a few American ex-diplomats—and an Oscar-winning actress from Philadelphia—have seemingly created a profitable Xanadu out of a little rock in the French Riviera that was once the haven of the very rich. A huge PR establishment has developed a sort of aberrant Futureworld out of an area only twice the size of Disneyland.
It was with good grace that I accepted the fact that a Rolling Stone interview with Her Serene Highness, Princess Caroline of Monaco, was deemed “out of the question” by the princess’ mother.
“Oh, don’t worry,” the PR people said in unison. “See the doll museum and the exotic gardens . . .”
“. . . you’ll love our new image and the view of the harbor at night,” they said . . .
“. . . there is no crime in Monaco,” they said. “There are no real problems there … see the national museum….”
If I ever do meet Caroline, I will ask her about the ugliness I was about to find in that feudal autocracy that is her home.
“. . . and the weather! Oh, the weather,” they said. “It’s always beautiful there.”
The Rain Pummeled the runway at the Nice airport and continued to do so for the following five days.
The road to Monaco winds gracefully above the legendary stretch of Mediterranean coastline known as the Côte d’Azur. As you come off a curve just past Belieau, the road angles off to the left toward Menton and then Italy. If you veer right, however, you will momentarily leave France and see Caroline’s house hovering 200 feet above the sea. A row of cannons lines the front of the palace and a tall man with a London policeman’s hat walks back and forth in front of candy-cane-striped guardhouses with a rifle that looks like a toy.
The background is a pastiche of new and half-finished skyscrapers which in a cluttered way seem to rise organically out of the cliff. If you approach Monaco by boat, the sensation as you come around the point is something like waking up in a bus in midtown Manhattan after falling asleep somewhere in Connecticut.
Monaco is a 469-acre enclave stuck in the lower right-hand corner of France. Just under 25,000 people live here and fewer than 4000 of them are hereditary subjects of Caroline’s father, an absolute monarch named Prince Rainier III. The 4000 are called Monegasques.
Past the harbor, the road climbs back up toward the section of Monaco called Monte Carlo. Tales of wealth and beauty, frivolity and power, plaster the chinks in the old casino that dominates this view. The Monegasques, who have inhabited this cliff for centuries, are forbidden to set foot in the casino unless it is to work. Monte Carlo houses the most artificial arrangement of human pursuit south of Switzerland and east of Reno, Nevada.
The big spender was an Italian. The diamond cuff link protruding from the three-piece Valentino suit clinked softly on the silver platter to his right as a liveried serving boy stood nervously at his elbow. The man chewed ponderously on an elegant little sandwich. He looked at my notebook for a moment, then dramatically threw his head back as his left hand flipped a 10,000-franc plaque the size of a paperback book onto the table.
Another 10,000-franc plaque replaced it as the man continued to chew slowly–and gaze nowhere with his dull, black eyes.
In amazement I watched the man for over an hour as he lost more than 75,000 French francs—some $15,000—at a game called “trente et quarante.” He never changed the dull, dead expression on his face as he lost and lost.
In the quiet and incredibly ornate ballroom, the Salle Privé of the Monte Carlo casino, no more than 80 well-dressed people silently gambled away money that their ancestors had once worked hard to accumulate.
The gleaming roulette wheels appeared to be made out of gold. The distinctive clack of the ivory ball that travels the perimeters of the antique wheels was the only discernible sound amid the padded elegance.
The scene was like the blurred photomural of a subtitled film. Sleek young Italian men in black linen suits with short slicked-back hair maundered amid the green baize-covered tables in a slow, vague strut.
A blond woman in a long red dress with slits to her hips puffed sexually on a thin cigar. She was breathtaking. The one next to her — she was breathtaking — the other, exquisite. The women here are all so sleek and European and so much “better.” (For years, the man who ran the casino personally decided which women were worthy of entering the casino.) They all seem more well turned than that sort of beauty suggested by the Seven Sisters, or by Candice Bergen. It’s more, a bit more, like Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief.
Though the Rubenesque nudes that frolic on the ceilings seemed to be having a good time, the people in this room were engaged in serious business. Gaming in Europe is more than a sport. It is a tradition of gentlemen—no, noblemen.
There is history here. It is from the gaming rooms and spas of Homburg, Wiesbaden, Baden-Baden or Monte Carlo that the aristocrats of Europe used to run the world. They would meet at specific intervals and converse in French with their Russian cousins and Spanish sons-in-law and make treaties and decisions of geopolitical import in this very room. This was the Patrice Lumumba University, the Harvard Law School, of the Belle Epoque.
They all thought they were doing quite well, until the Russian Revolution and World War I came along and really botched it up for them.
Now the aura of that power has been replaced by one of simple greed.
Before the world’s aristocrats came to Monte Carlo in the mid-19th century, things were going very poorly for the Grimaldi family. Grimaldi is Princess Caroline’s last name when she’s not going by “of Monaco.” The people who lived in the Grimaldi palace at the time were broke and once tried to remedy the problem by leasing the harbor, the only natural resource of the place, to the nascent American navy. Americans began foreign naval incursions in the early 1800s and had seriously considered using the harbor as a staging port while they chased Libyan pirates to the shores of Tripoli. The deal eventually fell through, thus saving the principality from the fate of Guam in favor of that of Nevada.
In the spring of 1855, having decided that there was money to be made in gambling, the royal (ah, princely) family brought a brilliant ex-convict named François Blanc into town to open a gambling establishment. In 1864 Blanc opened a casino and persuaded the prince, whose name was Charles, into naming the new gambling area Monte Carlo. The casino itself was built in 1883. It is a bright beige wedding cake of a structure with grotesque gargoyles, faces and mirrors, dark wood and cascading purple flowers. It is a monument and a mausoleum.
The company that ran the casino was called the Société Anonyme des Bains de Mer et du Cercle des Estrangers à Monaco (SBM)–roughly, the bathing society. The corporation still exists and still holds a monopoly on the clubs, sports facilities, restaurants and hotels in the principality.
There are two sorts of gambling: one is the gentlemanly sort, the other the plebian, mercenary sort, the games played by all sorts of riffraff. . . . The distinction is sternly observed here, and how contemptible this distinction really is. —Dostoyevsky, “The Gambler”
There’s another casino in Monte Carlo now. It’s about 250 steps away from the relic on the hill. I watched a man in a full stagger take 15 minutes to cover the distance between them because of a winning streak that had provided him and his friend with two magnums of Dom Perignon champagne.
At 1:15 a.m., a dentist named Kirschner held some dice over a craps table. He wanted an eight:
“Come on weet! Weet, weet, weet, weet. Baby! Stand away from the man with the shekels!” he screamed. He let fly and lost. “Whatsa mattah with this place? I don’t believe this place. Where’s the barmaid?”
A very short Italian man at the other end of the table was handed the dice. He turned pale as nearby Americans barked at him in a language he thought he understood. “
Come on Professori,” Kirschner yelled at him. “Eeh, Professori, you can do it, you got the hands of God!” The Italian froze at the word and stared at the dentist from Queens with contempt. He dropped the dice, collected his wife from the wheel of fortune and left.
Kirschner winked at the American pit boss and continued to abuse the European croupiers who were working the craps table. He was in Monte Carlo on a junket. (A junket is a promotional device designed to attract heavy bettors to the casino. A gambler may receive free transportation and luxurious accommodations in hotels associated with the casino if the worldwide information system which keeps track of such things spits out the facts that the individual has shown a sufficient proclivity for losing big in the past. A junket will provide a traveler with a great deal of credit as well as obsequious service and treatment, not because of his wealth or social status–but rather as a measure of his profligacy.) And Kirschner’s been traveling free to Vegas for years. The same junket organizers had brought him to Monte Carlo to lose at the “American-style” casino at the newly opened American-style Loew’s hotel.
Loew’s is the centerpiece of a new American financial involvement that started several years ago. In the first eight months of this year, Loew’s has accounted for a 20% increase in tourism in Monaco, and the fact is that, for the first time ever, more Americans are staying in Monte Carlo than the French and Italian citizens who live next door.
The 13,000-foot casino is a transplant out of the Nevada desert. Instead of chemin de fer, banco and baccarat, the place was lined with craps tables, blackjack tables, American-style roulette wheels, endless rows of one-armed bandits, long-life carpeting, plainclothes security men–and the compulsory little old ladies with protective gloves and plastic cups full of one-franc pieces. A free gambling clinic is offered at 11 o’clock every weekday morning for those who wish to “learn the subtleties of American games of chance.”
Loew’s even sent several contingents of European croupiers to Las Vegas for a two-month training program in American gambling before the casino opened. The people running this show were assembled by old pros from various establishments on the Las Vegas strip. They’d brought it all.
There is an imported racket of metallic clanks, bells ringing, screams from the craps tables and whirring change machines. There probably was more polyester fiber in that casino in one evening than had ever passed through the vaulting entrance of the big casino upstairs in its illustrious 93-year history. For a recent celebration at the new casino, the first 747 ever seen at the Nice airport landed with 200 American high rollers, Al Hirt, and the entire cast of Bubbling Brown Sugar in tow. A woman squealed at the wheel of fortune and screamed, “I just won $40.” Dollars, francs, it didn’t really matter. The room was filled with Americans who’d always wanted to tell their grandchildren that they gambled in Monte Carlo—now they could.
As Kirschner continued his Las Vegas patter, groups of young Europeans assembled to listen to the nonstop jive. They were wide-eyed. A woman whispered to her husband, “C’est formidable.”
A woman with hair the color of marmalade pounded the blackjack table as she looked at the cards totaling 16 in front of her. The dealer showed 14. Suddenly she started screaming, “Big, big, big!” The young French croupier faltered perceptively. She turned to her friend. “Look at ‘im, will ya. I hollered ‘Big’ and nearly scared him half to death.” The woman continued to talk about the Frenchman as if he couldn’t understand. He could.
The new Loew’s Monte Carlo is literally built into the side of Monaco. Its seven tiers appear to cling to the side of the cliffs like fungus on a tree. The top floor is just below the level of the square in front of the old casino. The hotel is sort of camouflaged by new trees and bushes growing on top of the building. When the grass comes in, there will be veritable combat webbing over the structure and the Americans will be all but out of sight. They’ve even rerouted the famous Monte Carlo Grand Prix auto race so that the course now turns right in front of the Loew’s and then disappears underneath it through a tunnel.
Loew’s is also the most visible aspect of a concentrated program to make Princess Caroline’s father an even richer man. In the process, Rainier’s moneyed clients at the old casino feel intruded upon—for them, everything that Monte Carlo stands for is being threatened.
In 1955, the man who controlled the old casino on the hill decided that it was time to make the place turn a profit. Things were slow and only a few of the wealthy old regulars were around. The man in control of the SBM and thus in control of Monte Carlo was Aristotle Onassis.
At the time, Prince Rainier didn’t even live in Monaco. He had a minor reputation as a playboy and a still more minor one as a race-car driver. Onassis and the rest of the wealthy habitués of the place probably wouldn’t have cared about Rainier one way or another except for a quirkish aspect of the treaty that allows Monaco to exist. If the prince didn’t marry and bear a male heir, then the place would automatically become part of France and the residents would forfeit the paramount luxury of Monaco—no taxes.
So some American-based friends of Onassis conceived a plan to save the principality and to restore a bit of chic. The plan, which was acted upon before Rainier was informed, was to have the prince marry Marilyn Monroe. When they put the idea to Monroe, all she wanted to know was whether or not the prince was rich and handsome. When they asked her if she thought she could get the prince to marry her, Monroe said, “Give me two days alone with him and of course he’ll want to marry me.”
The rest is history. The deal fell through because agents of the Vatican were busy brokering a different match for the prince. Rainier was able to turn a crush on another American film star into an engagement with the help of an Irish-American priest named Francis Tucker. Father Tucker was a Philadelphian who was the superior of the parish of Monaco. In December of 1956, the New York Times reported that the Vatican had sent Tucker to talk to his old friend John Kelly about his famous daughter. So on April 8th, 1956, Prince Rainier married Grace Kelly, the archetype of the Fifties nice girl. Kelly really did typify all that was clean and good and healthy and American and rather inviolable at the time. She had won an Oscar two years before the marriage and her fame was in league with Monroe, Taylor and Loren.
People were bored in 1956. So the idea of a dashing prince and a beautiful film star falling hopelessly in love and getting married was continual front-page news. Even their wedding gifts made the front pages.
According to Gwen Robyns’ biography of Princess Grace, “Of all the parts she ever played, her own wedding was her finest performance.” Her wedding dress came in an MGM wardrobe box. Fashion and cosmetic concerns fought over sponsorship rights to television and radio coverage of what was billed as “the wedding of the century.”
Prince Rainier, as he cut a giant wedding cake with his sword, wore a chestful of medals that would have embarrassed Napoleon.
Onassis had helicopters drop carnations all over the place and gave rubies and diamonds as wedding gifts. Grace Kelly thus became the most titled woman in Europe and the wife of the last absolute monarch in the Western World. As far as Ari Onassis was concerned, she also became the greatest public-relations coup of the decade. Monaco went back on the map.
It wasn’t long before the two men began to quarrel. Rainier wanted to “democratize” Monaco by bringing in middle-class tourist hotels. He wanted a piece of the action. Onassis continually resisted and, as majority shareholder of the monopolistic SBM, vetoed Rainier’s new programs. His friends didn’t want people with name tags and Instamatics around. The shit finally hit the fan in 1966 when Rainier authorized the production of 600,000 new shares of SBM stock that the government of Monaco would buy for a fraction of their value. The prince moved Onassis out, something that rarely happened to the Golden Greek. Onassis told him that he couldn’t do it, but as I was soon to find out, if you’re the prince of Monaco, you can do whatever you damn well please. Rainier did. (Back in 1257, one of Rainier’s relatives, a fellow named François, known to his friends as “The Malicious,” snuck into the fortress in Monaco disguised as a monk and led a slaughter of everyone in sight. The Grimaldi coat of arms shows a monk with sword–as if to remind people that you don’t mess with a Grimaldi.) A contract with Holiday Inn, a bowling alley, a go-kart track and a host of other democratic institutions began pouring into Monaco.
There is a constitution and a legislature of sorts—both of which Rainier can dissolve at will, and has. The place is actually administered by a prime minister who operates under Rainier’s supreme authority and, as the present one told me, can be fired and out of town the same day.
Monaco is effectively sanctioned by a treaty with France. France will defend Monaco as long as the principality acts in France’s interests. In 1962 Charles de Gaulle decided that Rainier wasn’t acting in France’s interest by letting rich Frenchmen avoid taxes while living in Rainier’s paradise. Someone strung barbed wire along the back of the principality while Rainier went to Paris to confront de Gaulle with the “rights of man.” De Gaulle said he’d turn off the water and electricity. Now most Frenchmen in Monaco pay their taxes. The locals still refer to the incident as “the war” and recall it as one of the few times Rainier did something he didn’t want to do.
Monaco — a sunny place for shady people. —W. Somerset Maugham
The cops in Monaco stand everywhere. More numerous than PR people, they can often be seen walking into the street to stop automobiles and ask people at random to show identity cards and tell where they are going. If the cops don’t like the looks of somebody, they’ll invite them to leave town. There are numerous plainclothes men around and residents report being addressed by name by police—men whom they’ve never seen before. To ensure good clean fun for people who have something to lose, you have to do away with the possibility of crime. If you can’t do that (despite having—it is rumored—one policeman for every 17 residents), then you make sure that nobody finds out about the crime that does in fact occur.
There is incessant white- (or should it be white-silk-) collar crime in Monaco:
“This is Mississippi bottom land for swindlers,” one American lawyer explained. “All along this coast you have a heavy concentration of professional swindlers. The rich people here are so gullible and frivolous with their money that a lot of them are taken in quite easily for a hundred thousand or a quarter of a million dollars.”
Except for those directly involved—and even a few of them are included—people in Monaco seem to enjoy a good swindle. It is a major subject of conversation, and conversation is the major source of entertainment. The most repeated story is the one about a fellow who towed a 900-pound shark into the Monaco bathing area and threatened to let it loose if the SBM didn’t come up with $200,000.
When Rainier finds out about a swindler, he throws him out immediately. Expulsions in Monaco are a purely administrative matter. You get an order saying be out by a certain date (usually five days) and that’s it. Expulsions are not a matter of public record, and a request for a copy of an expulsion order is considered audacious. There’s no hearing, and certainly no machinery for appeal.
People are thrown out for far lesser crimes—such as insulting policemen, creating a public nuisance, not paying bills on time or in any way insulting the man on the hill. A wealthy Englishwoman, Lady Docker, was expelled for allegedly ripping up a small paper Monegasque flag in a restaurant. Her son hadn’t been invited to one of Rainier’s parties and she was reportedly pissed off. She was soon to find that Rainier’s summary expulsions are honored in the three nearest French departements, so that she (and her 214-foot yacht) was banned from the entire Riviera for the rest of her life.
“My dear boy,” said another lawyer, “it’s a simple way to get rid of people without a messy trial—it’s a feudal system and that’s all there is to it.”
In 1967, a friend of John Kelly Jr.’s—Princess Grace’s brother—opened an American college in Monaco. Things were fine until Rainier heard that some of the kids were smoking marijuana. The college and everyone in it were expelled. The prince was reported to be “upset” about the incident.
The local paper is called Nice Matin. The section devoted to news about Monaco reads like something out of the egregious Palm Beach Shiny Sheet. There is no real news reporting, just lists of parties and who attended them, and it is common knowledge that the money and politics behind the paper will continue to preclude their reporters from ever “looking into” anything in Monaco.
After a week of work in Monaco, I sensed a growing belligerence toward my presence in a variety of camps. But the overt uneasiness and hostility didn’t really emerge until I started asking questions about an American citizen named Mrs. Doris Payne and the purported theft of a diamond from Cartier’s: in November of 1973, Nice Matin did report that an American woman was tried and convicted in Monaco for stealing a diamond.
The American vice-consul in Nice received a phone call one evening from the French police saying that they had arrested an American black woman at the request of the Monaco police department. She was accused of stealing a large diamond from Cartier’s Jewelers. When the consul arrived at the police station, the woman insisted that she hadn’t done anything wrong.
After some time in jail in Marseilles, Doris Payne was extradited to Monaco for trial. It was pointed out in court that she had arrived in Nice from New York but that her baggage was checked through to Switzerland. She reportedly tried to get into Van Cleef et Arpels first. It was closed, so she went into Cartier’s. No one was able to explain why Van Cleef et Arpels was closed. Cartier’s is one of those jewelry stores with a guard at the door and only two little tables in a room. Jewelry is only displayed upon request. I was told that the only reason she got past the door was because there was a famous black singer in town and they thought it was her. Half an hour after Payne’s departure, it was discovered that a diamond was missing. Mrs. Payne was arrested. Nobody saw her take it, although there were many other people in the store. The diamond was never found. The only hard evidence that it ever existed was a Cartier inventory statement.
“The evidence wasn’t even circumstantial,” said an American lawyer who tried to help at the time. “Where was the diamond? They never found any trace of the diamond. It was all presumption and inference. If there’s a murder, you want to find a body. The only evidence they could have brought in that case had to be interested.”
It appears that the trial was conducted in broken English. There is no record of the proceedings. There is only one set of notes and they were taken and kept by the judge. Payne, one observer said, professed innocence to the end.
She was sentenced to three years in prison and shipped off to France. Monaco has no prisons. The case received little publicity and has been forgotten—even by those who were in some way involved.
It is said that the fact that the American consul in Nice at the time was also a black woman has a lot to do with the paucity of public notice. Anything with racial overtones is bad for publicity.
I spent several weeks both in and out of the principality trying to find Doris Payne and to ask her what happened. From the prime minister of Monaco on down, I began to badger people on their memories of the case and about their actions and reactions at the time—sometimes feeling like an apostate of a Zola, usually a bit obsessed.
For several days I used a literal translation of the word “railroad” in asking questions. People didn’t seem to understand. When I switched to saying, “You know, like the Dreyfus case,” people would get very upset.
. . . A man of wealth and taste
A tunnel runs between the old casino and the nearby Hotel de Paris. The tunnel serves the dual purpose of insulating the grand patrons from the hoi polloi in the street and of guarding the anonymity of those gentlemen who are not with their wives.
The beautiful Hotel de Paris was completed on New Year’s Day in 1864. The wine cellars underneath the building antedate the hotel by a century and house the most extensive collection of wines in the world: 140,000 bottles of wine and 70,000 bottles of spirits are stored in the cavelike chambers that are bored into the rock.
Cadaverous old women move slowly across the lobby of the beautiful old hotel. Their diamonds and varicose veins attest to a regal time, long-gone; like so many Bette Davises in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
The summer gala balls are over now. Fall is a time to “put oneself back together,” to “have something cut out” or “tucked back.” They go to Montecatini in Italy for a mud bath or to Switzerland for oxygen treatments.
Here is the old guard, the hidebound conservatives who often stay in the huge suites that cost over $360 a night. They wonder if being so rich isn’t supposed to protect them from the improprieties of loud Americans. They consider the Loew’s an insult.
One of the managers showed me suites and servants’ quarters: “People still bring servants,” he said. “It used to be a maid, butler and a chauffeur. Now we get a chauffeur and two bodyguards.
“One change I’ve noticed is that we get less overt eccentricity now,” he noted. “People don’t put up with eccentricity much these days.”
I left the Hotel de Paris and headed toward the Hermitage, the other famous old hotel. I was to attend a tiara-studded cocktail party at the behest of a disenchanted socialite from down the coast who was furious at the prince over something or other. He wanted to show me the “picasettes.”
Invitations for a society function in Monaco usually go out only two or three days before the event. That way, the host can assume that only twice the number of people he invites will show up. “Picasettes” are, effectively, the institutionalized party crashers.
Before agreeing to take me, my new friend had pulled out an old photo of a very familiar-looking young man.
“I want to show you a picture of a friend of mine,” he said.
I stared at the photo: “Oh, it’s Walt Disney,” I said.
“That,” he said angrily, “is Walter Cronkite.”
“They sort of look alike.”
He just shook his head. Word came from New York several days later that Cronkite had never heard of the man.
He still agreed to get me past the receiving line on the condition that I desist from calling the princely family the royal family and that I attempt to rally “the colored people of the greatest freedom-loving nation on earth” to his newfound cause, the railroading of Doris Payne.
When I realized that the men in the receiving line were all executives from TWA, I ducked behind them and snuck in past the smoked salmon.
The mixture of platitude and pulchritude moved slowly around the room, elegant in Givenchys and Diors.
Eavesdropping unashamedly, I heard Prince Youka Troubetzkoy tell someone that something occurred “before the Revolution.” The Romanovs and their cousins were the mainstays of the Belle Epoque in Monaco. It’s no accident that the hotel is called the Hermitage.
An impeccably continental French lady with hennaed hair asked me what I was up to. I said I was eavesdropping:
“It is all make-believe here, you know,” she said. “It is a fairyland, and some people play their roles better than others.” She then switched into that cute Maurice Chevalier Franglais-English: “Look at them all,” she whispered, “you can tell who ees good at eet and who ees nut.”
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“I’m from Kansas,” she said. “I came here a long time ago.”
I told her that there was a tunnel in Manhattan between the 34th Street Lexington IRT stop and Penn Station where all the bums go in the winter. I told her that we used to call it the Winter Palace.
She’d never heard of Doris Payne. She’d also never heard of Buddy Hackett or Joey Bishop or Joan Rivers, and she’d never been to the Loew’s and never intended to go.
“You know,” one man told me, “the old boy [Rainier] is the laughingstock of real people here. Imagine trying to put this place on a par with Las Vegas—it’s like trying to run a gold thread through a loud plaid.”
I struck up a conversation with a man who turned out to be the French vice-consul. We talked about an article we had both read in the New Republic.
“Well,” he said, “I suppose you are enjoying your vacation here.”
“I’m not on vacation, I’m on assignment.”
He smiled, got up, tugged on his vest and walked away.
It’s not a question of principles, it’s a question of principalities. —Noel Coward
Rolling Stone!” One of the PR people had exclaimed, “You can do the article that Anthony Haden-Guest has always wanted to do. I mean, a really, really good article on who’s here. It’s just amazing who’s here. You know, there’s Christina Onassis, Bjorn Borg, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Peterson and Jody Schecter and so many others. . . .”
One Monday I decided to find out who was in Monaco. Christina Onassis was in the Far East. Ringo was on a promotional tour. Bjorn Borg’s mother said that he was in South Carolina, but that he’d be home in two months. Schecter and Peterson were both racing. The prime minister of Monaco was in Paris. The mayor was on vacation. Prince Rainier was in Yugoslavia with Prince Albert, the heir to the throne. Princess Grace was in America and Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie were both in Paris. The PR lady who originally told me to pursue the angle was in Italy and didn’t return until Wednesday.
Rainier, I was informed, was in Yugoslavia to attend a scientific conference, but I was told at the party at the Hermitage—by “someone who should know”—that he was, in fact, hunting.
Whenever I would ask someone about the case of Doris Payne and Cartier’s, they would say, “Well, I don’t know much about that, but I do know that . . .” The stories were endless; those concerning property and building scandals were by far the most popular. There are, in fact, hundreds of new high-rise buildings, many of them with unmarked mail boxes filled with mail. In a principality the size of Central Park there are some 60 real estate agencies and over 180 building and construction firms.
The Finance Minister, a lifetime Monegasque civil servant named Pierre Notary, is said to be the brains behind the economic development of the principality. He is often referred to in the cafes as the “bag man,” and the cash cut the prince receives on new buildings is estimated at between 10% and 17-1/2%.
One of the big builders, the gossips are quick to point out, is John Kelly Jr., Princess Grace’s brother.
I was told by various people that the local hospital, Hospital Princess Grace, is known as Hospital Disgrace—and if anything happened to me I should get myself to Nice.
One woman insisted that I make it known that there were 1000 Communists secretly living in Monaco.
There are innumerable stories of beatings and robberies, and several different versions of an elevator murder last year.
I sat entranced as one man gave a highly detailed account of an evening during which one of Frank Sinatra’s bodyguards roughed up the wife of Luis Gomes del Campo Bacardi, the Cuban rum magnate. Bacardi went gunning for Sinatra, who rented a jet in a panic the following day to get out. Pan Am actually confirms the rental of the jet on short notice that day—I’ll be damned if I’ll take it much further than that.
As regards tourism, as soon as His Serene Highness Prince Rainier the III acceded to the throne, he decided to “act in order to make the country equal to the demands of modern times” and to “consent to heavy moral and material sacrifices allowing Monaco to enter into a new era of prosperity and wealth.” —Monaco press release
Andre Saint Mlieux stared at the quote: “Honestly,” he said, “I would wish to believe that it is a mistranslation.”
Saint Mlieux is the prime minister. He leads the four-man soviet that comprises the government of Monaco. He is a Frenchman, appointed by the president of France and approved by the prince. Saint Mlieux is considered to be a French spy man by many Monegasques.
He explained the intricacies of the constitution and the government that purport to bind the prince’s power. The voting population of Monaco is about 1400 people—about five percent of the population. They “vote” for a council that has no power. Saint Mlieux signs the building permits and the expulsion orders along with the prince. He had heard of Doris Payne, and assured me of her guilt.
One of the prince’s advisers is Wilfred Groote. His title is a long and meaningless nondescription. He is involved in “bringing foreign capital into the principality.” He is a naturalized American, a former employee of Intercontinental Hotels and a former director of SBM. He told me about the changes in Monaco.
“At first we wondered if we really wanted people with name tags running around here,” he said, “but exclusivity and wealth are not synonymous anymore. We don’t select companies—we invite anyone.” I think Groote was attempting to be frank with me. If so, he was the first one to do so.
“The economics have changed,” he sighed. “Service here used to be different. You used to be able to give a guy a uniform and three meals a day and he was happy living on his tips. Now they have unions—you have to fill the gap.
“You have to realize,” he said, “that two generations back these people were olive pickers—now, industry and development is here. The building boom has made it so that if there were no low-cost housing, a Monegasque would never have the opportunity of owning his own house. For only 12% of the population we will now build a new high school and low-cost housing.” I had been ushered in one door to Groote’s office. He ushered me out another.
Later that day, in the part of Monaco known in Monte Carlo as the “slums,” a Monegasque—a real one—stared down on one of the undeveloped landfills. “We don’t know about it,” he said, “we think that it will be for apartments for very rich people from other countries—we are told it is for industry. We don’t know.”
In the old days the original Monegasques weren’t even allowed in the Place du Casino in front of the Hotel de Paris.
In 1869, all Monegasques were freed from ever paying taxes or serving in the military. This was due to their threat to burn down the casino that François Blanc was using at the time, because of poor living conditions.
Almost all jobs in the principality are first offered to the prince’s subjects, but many of them end up going to Frenchmen and Italians who come in to work and disappear across the border at night.
The Grand Prix is one of the few times when “the people” are conspicuous in Monaco. This year, Italian workers arrived well over a day early to reserve their places—some of them in front of the Hotel de Paris. At one point some of them spotted one of their company directors going into the casino. That night a demonstration was organized in front of the Hotel de Paris. They chanted that the director was illegally spending their company’s money and that he was with his mistress and that his wonderful wife was home with his children. The police eventually had to clear a path for the man to get into the hotel.
It is now illegal for Italians to spend money outside Italy without approval from tax authorities. I was eventually told that this was why I was getting uneasy stares whenever I took out my notebook in the old casino. Apparently the Italian government has sent in spies in the past.
Much of the land where the new construction is occurring has been “reclaimed” from the sea. Since the development of the principality began, Monaco has increased its territorial area by 20%, thus making it the most expansionist nation of the decade.
One of Prince Rainier’s real passions is his desire to rid the Mediterranean of pollution. He has been on television criticizing the Italian power company for polluting the sea and has thrown himself into “Project Ramoge,” an international agreement to clean up the Riviera coastline.
The water in front of Monaco often foams like a washing machine. Large hunks of floating excrement are visible to the casual observer, and mothers are now reluctant to let their children swim in the sea. Divers along the coast told me that Monaco’s landfills have created pollution and have killed the undersea life.
Monaco’s redeeming feature is that it is the home base of Commandant Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the most famous oceanographer in the world.
I went down to Cousteau’s headquarters under the Oceanographic Museum near the prince’s palace to see Commandant Jean Alinat, Cousteau’s partner and diving companion for 30 years. He had just arrived from Greece, where Cousteau is diving.
In Cousteau’s huge office, where blow-ups of underwater photographs frame a huge porthole window that overlooks the waves, Alinat happily told me of recent adventures, but he knew what I was going to ask him: “Commandant, did the landfills hurt the sea life, and did the prince consult you and Cousteau before going ahead with his new development projects?”
He sat back and first explained that the research done there was independent.
“No,” he said, “there is no doubt that the landfills are pollution. There used to be biological activity in these waters, but the landfills produced mud and now the sea life is gone.
“We were not consulted. I suppose if we had been asked, we would have told them that there was danger, I’m not sure, though. We might not have said anything.”
He seemed sad.
He showed me the various current systems of the Mediterranean and showed me around the office. Alinat is one of those men whose physical appearance attests to the amount of time he’s spent diving. He was by far the most fascinating man I’d met during my stay in Monaco. He noted at the end of the interview that Rainier was really concerned with the pollution of the sea, but made no attempt to retract the only unequivocal statement I’d yet heard.
We have added a new dimension to Monaco. —Preston Robert Tisch, president of Loew’s Corporation
Every afternoon the lobby of the Loew’s fills up with golf hats. The management has made an effort to get the people out of the hotel during the day to see the sights. At night they all eventually file past the display window with Princess Caroline’s picture amid backgammon sets and jewelry, and then pass the big blue sign that says “Le Casino.”
Many of the New York gamblers were celebrating the Yankees’ pennant win by losing a bit more than usual one night. A guy in a windbreaker staggered up to a roulette table and put 200 francs on number nine. “That’s for the Yanks,” he said. He quickly slipped 300 more on 11: “And that’s for the Knicks.”
Barry Sinko is the PR man at the casino. His job is to make people happy. He’s very good at it. Before coming to Monte Carlo, he directed the girlie shows at the Loew’s in San Juan:
“I don’t miss the shows,” he said. “I’m so busy putting on my own show in the casino and taking care of people and entertaining that it’s a heavy show in itself.
“Besides, I always dreamed about coming to the Riviera and watching Harold Robbins stand at a table and gamble.”
The director of the Loew’s casino is Jerry Tassone, an all-seeing veteran with 20 years in Vegas under his belt. He’s managed the Thunderbird and then the Landmark casino for Howard Hughes.
Tassone and the other American experts run the casino—but the SBM, which is owned by the principality (which is run by the prince), controls 51% of it.
Christian Kruppert is one of the croupiers who was sent to be trained in Las Vegas. He used to work in a jewelry store.
“It was so extraordinary,” he said. “Las Vegas—it was beautiful; it was fabulous. We arrived in the middle of the night and there were lights and people everywhere.”
“Did you see any other parts of America?”
“Only one other thing,” he said, “Disneyland. It is impossible for me to describe the beauty of that place.”
At around 2:30 a.m., people get very friendly at the bar at the Loew’s casino. A guy who’d just arrived from Chicago was really proud of the fact that he was going to sneak out on his junket for two days and run down to Rome. “Katz,” he said (his name was O’Rourke), “a Jew wouldn’t understand this, but I am going to Rome to see the pope’s son. Now if you were a Catholic, like me, you’d understand that it’s quite sumpin’ to meet the pope’s son because the pope doesn’t get married. He isn’t s’posed ta have a son, ya see.”
By the time the guy accused me of really wanting to be a Catholic or “at least not a Jew,” I spotted Monty Hall signaling to me at the other end of the bar, where he was signing autographs. Monty Hall of Let’s Make a Deal at the new Loew’s Hotel Casino in the middle of Monte Carlo—perfect.
Hall was in Monte Carlo to negotiate the arrangements with Loew’s for a convention for one of his charitable activities.
I asked him what he thought of the place: “There’s too much money here,” he said. “That’s for sure, but come the revolution . . .” He smiled.
The curtain had been lifted and the gamblin’ wheel shut down. And anyone with any sense had already left town. —Bob Dylan, “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”
The Place Du Casino shimmers long into the night. Hunchbacks used to parade outside the doors of the old casino and get paid to have their humps patted for good luck.
Attached to the Hotel de Paris is Cartier’s. I had been stopped at the door earlier in the day in one of my many futile attempts to find any evidence indicating that Doris Payne had stolen that diamond.
Across from the Hotel de Paris is the Cafe de Paris, where crêpes suzette were invented. Rainier’s development program has turned it into an American-style drugstore with magazines and souvenirs. A big illuminated sign facing the hotel reads: Welcome New York State Wholesale Beer Distributors.
By three, the clubs start to fill up. A guide showed me the varied subtleties of late-night hangouts like Oscars, the X Club, Gregory’s and Jimmy’z, one of Princess Caroline’s favorites, where a beer is around ten bucks. At one of the clubs, my guide stopped and waved his hand out over the crowded tables.
“All right now, what do you want? It’s all right here,” he said. “What’ll it be? A boy, girl, man, woman–how about a nice goat? It’s okay,” he said. “Most of them are local kids.”
Later, I walked back through the deserted shopping area. Every shop, kiosk, restaurant and laundromat has a picture of the royal—ah, princely—family on the wall. More ubiquitous than Francisco Franco or Marshal Tito, Rainier’s family (or Rainier alone) gazes into most public rooms in Monaco. They say you can tell which list you are on by which picture you get. The color one of the whole family by Gianni Bozzachi means you’re on the number one list at the palace. New York photographer Howell Conant’s rendition is also highly respected.
Just before Christmas a few years back, a 24-year-old French teacher was dragged into a police station in Monaco on a traffic violation. He looked up at the inevitable photograph of Rainier and made a “gesture.”
He was eventually condemned to one year’s suspended sentence and a large fine, and was dismissed from his job in the Monocan public school system. The charge was “offense to Prince Rainier.” An ad hoc vigilante group held a meeting before the teacher’s trial to rally the people to defend the symbolic person of the prince of Monaco.
My search for Doris Payne, as well as my questions about land deals, expulsions and feudal political systems, was beginning to get on some people’s nerves. A State Department official who was stone-walling me on Doris Payne told me over the phone from Washington one night: “Look, we both know that they like to keep things very, very clean in Monaco. They don’t want any nonsense. I’m telling you that, and you can take it from there.”
I talked to the French diplomat who had walked away from me at the Hermitage party and asked him about legal relationships between France and Monaco.
“Are you expelled from Monaco?” he asked.
I tried to laugh it off. “No, not yet.”
“Well then I congratulate you,” he said.
People began recognizing me before I introduced myself.
Secretaries began saying that their bosses were simply “not available.” I was asked by an American who lived on the Riviera if I realized I was in a police state.
I began taking my notes with me wherever I went. At the insistence of a writer friend based on the Riviera, I began crumpling up a piece of paper and putting it on a certain spot on the floor behind my hotel-room door to see if anyone came into my room while I was gone. I didn’t like the looks my notebook was getting. I began thinking about High Noon, where Grace Kelly had helped Sheriff Kane to stand alone.
At the Loew’s, people began to ask me not to write things that they had told me days earlier. What would Lincoln Steffens do, or Walter Lippmann, or Lois Lane? I went into the big casino on the hill for one last look.
A Loew’s junketeer had wandered into the outer gaming room and was yelling at the top of his lungs, clinging to the one craps table that the old casino will tolerate.
“Heeeyyy, croup-, croup-, croupier,” he yelled. “Am I makin’ a little too much noise for ya? I’m gonna start makin’ the sign a’ da cross—I mean, dis place is a fuckin’ cathedral.”
He slapped himself with joy and elbowed his friend who was comatose and didn’t budge. The Europeans at the roulette table all looked over in horror and several of them made “sh”-ing noises at the man in the lime green leisure suit.
He took the dice and threw them six or seven feet over the far edge of the craps table. He steadied himself and said, “Whoopsy.”
His second toss not only landed on the table but came up seven. He won. He put his hand on the sweating croupier’s shoulder. “Pretty goddamned muy bien, eh croupier? Pretty fuckin’ muy bien if you ask me. Listen, croupier,” he slobbered, “I gotta find a crapper–be right back.”
He cashed in his chips and slowly traversed the 87 steps of the stone stairway to the Loew’s.
Come on, how would you run your fiefdom? —an American diplomat
The Alps were already covered with snow. It was the first time I’d seen them since arriving on the Côte d’Azur, so the trip to see the American consul in Nice wasn’t a total waste of time.
The consul said over the phone that he had never heard of Doris Payne, so I decided that he’d be interested in a short briefing. The American presence in Monaco is strange—almost insidious. Martin Dale, a former vice-consul at Nice, had helped start the Monaco Economic Development Corporation. Another ex-diplomat, formerly stationed in Marseilles, Phillip Chadbourne, is one of the PR officers of the SBM. Then there is Grace Kelly—the princess of Monaco, a dual citizen of Monaco and the United States.
As I hit the traffic in Nice, I remembered that the thing that used to keep manorial feudalism on an even keel in the old days was a sort of pluralism in which the king was the arbiter of disputes and problems. The vassals in Rainier’s princedom had no power, and it was obvious that no one—since de Gaulle died anyway—chose to intervene in Rainier’s affairs.
Monaco runs like a Victorian corporation. Yet for all its pretense of repressive efficiency, it really isn’t that profitable. One can only wonder what goes on amid the neat technocratic innards of the corporations that are profitable, leakproof and much, much bigger.
I asked the American consul, Peter Murphy, how many people he had helped to get home because they’d gambled all of their money away within the last year.
He said there were ten.
I asked about expulsions. He said that in the last year he’d dealt with four or five. The reasons given were usually nonpayment of debts or creating a public nuisance. He didn’t seem to find anything unusual about it.
Murphy was fidgeting and unhappy.
“Are you an American citizen?” he suddenly demanded.
“May I see your passport please?”
Murphy wasn’t interested in Doris Payne’s railroad one way or another. He said he wasn’t assigned to the Riviera at the time. He invoked the Privacy Act of December 1974 in refusing to tell me anything about the case.
“You know, Mr. Katz,” he intoned, “these people have laws of their own and we have to respect them. After all, there are hundreds of Americans in prison around the world–think of Mexico. . . .”
I couldn’t believe it. I’d heard this “these people have laws” line before—that was in Franco’s Spain. The foreign representatives of a historically interventionist government occasionally seem trained to make these kinds of fatuous statements.
“You know,” I said, “I’m not even sure at this point that Doris Payne’s lawyer spoke more than a few words of English. An American lawyer tried to help her, but only Monegasque lawyers are allowed in their courts. You know that American mercenaries in Angola had the right to American counsel. . . .
“We’re not talking about Argentina,” I continued, “we’re talking about an anachronistic little enclave that is ruled by the husband and father of dual citizens of the United States; a place loaded with Americans and American money. And to use Mexico as an example! Things aren’t changing in those jails because American dips told journalists to mind their own business! Women were raped in—”
“I don’t have time to talk about other countries,” he broke in.
In 1972, at the Red Cross Gala in Monaco, the stage show opened with a giant gold dollar sign swinging around the stage. Tony Bennett sang “If I Ruled the World.”
The little Renault handled the curves despite the speed. I resolved to search for Doris Payne for two more days before evacuating. I kept seeing Princess Caroline’s picture on the front of People magazine.
The frustration eventually yielded to utter disgust. Princess Caroline’s image was replaced by that of a philosopher named Jack Epstein who lives on the north side of Chicago: “If you don’t like the fish,” he was fond of saying, “don’t squeeze the belly.” It was time to cut out.
I drove quickly out of the “last outpost of elegance” and headed toward the lush hills of Venice and St. Paul at the base of the Maritime Alps foothills. You can look down from there.
Maybe the whys and wherefores of the frustration are precisely because there are no accessible winter palaces to storm.
It doesn’t really matter if any of the cafe stories are true or not. If the people who tell the stories really wanted to be part of the life, then they wouldn’t live in a place run by a guy who lets his functionaries market members of his own family.
Two weeks before Princess Caroline’s 20th birthday, the front pages of newspapers in London and New York reported that Rainier had filed civil and criminal charges in Brazil against a young man who had publicly impugned Caroline’s honor. A sybaritic Brazilian playboy named Francisco Scarpa (who, by all accounts, has never met Caroline) told an interviewer that he once had “amorous relations” with Princess Caroline.
“But she’s a virgin,” protested the interviewer.
“That is your opinion,” Scarpa replied.
This took place in October. It happened in Brazil. In January, Prince Rainier elevated an innocuous and forgotten comment into an international discussion of his daughter’s morals. When asked about the delay between the interview and the legal action three months later, a palace functionary explained that Rainier didn’t hear about Scarpa’s comments until January.
“Does Caroline want this?” I inquired. “I assume she was surprised at all the publicity.”
“This is not a matter she decides on—her father does. She’s still a minor.” (Princess Caroline is now 20. In Monaco you are legally an adult at 18.)
Thus Rainier’s desire to vindicate his daughter’s honor made the front page. In London, the Daily Mirror ran a picture of Caroline in a bikini. The headline was: “Playboy and the Virgin Princess.”
“. . . you’re so naive, my friend,” American author James Baldwin had told me in St. Paul the night before my departure. Baldwin has lived in southern France for a long time. “What you’ve told me, I’ve known for years. I wouldn’t set foot in Monaco as a matter of principle. It’s a small town, it’s boring and I loathe it.
“I’ll tell you another thing,” he said. “I bet you can’t get that published. Doing what you’ve been doing and spending two weeks in Monaco. You better get home. If you’ve been there two weeks, you’re lucky.”
Why did I care? A nonpuissance, the ultimus regnum of feudalism, was looming in the rearview mirror. It’s sort of a corporation, sort of the pinpoint where the good life and the Romanovs and Hollywood and now Las Vegas met and made a Disneyland out of a sovereign state.
Karl Marx once came to Monaco to get the sea air into his lungs. He hated it too.
Thelma Crayton-White, alias Doris Payne and a host of other appellations, an unemployed 45-year-old model from Monterey, California, became fed up with prison life in France. So after six months, she escaped.
It took two weeks to piece together the fate of the American who had run into law and order in Monte Carlo in 1973. Thelma (though I’ll always remember her as Doris) is still wanted on a jewel theft charge in Rome. She was arrested and tried in Zurich in April 1975, again for stealing jewelry. It is unclear how many times she traveled back to the States—specifically Cleveland, Ohio—since her escape. At least six crossings can be confirmed. She hit Harrods department store in London for a diamond solitaire in late 1975 and then returned to New York. She came back to London two weeks later to visit Garrards, the Queen’s jewelers, and left without paying for her new £56,000 (British sterling) emerald ring. Thelma is currently serving ten years in a women’s prison in the north of England. . . .
Judge Neil McKinnon, in sentencing Thelma/Doris in London, noted that she had successfully outwitted highly intelligent staff in stores of the highest repute. Doris had done this all over the world and was apparently quite good at her work. She was simply a bit too greedy.
Is it safe to assume that the Monegasque authorities were not outwitted by this master shoplifter; that no crime, no matter how near to perfection, will go unpunished in Prince Rainier’s riparian front yard? They didn’t have solid proof. The implications constituted Doris Payne’s guilt. Or is the moral of the story simply that you eventually are bound to lose when playing against the odds—especially in Monte Carlo?
And so, Doris Payne, a fine Dreyfus you turned out to be.