In terms of international media coverage, shock value to so-called Western civilization, and lack of distinguished true passion, I’d have to nominate the romance between the American-born Wallis Warfield Simpson and King Edward VIII of England.
He became the Duke of Windsor, and she the Duchess as a result. It wasn’t particularly what either of them had wanted. For Time magazine last year I listed theirs as one of the five great love affairs of the twentieth century along with those of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. The word great in this instance referred to public perception and press coverage.
The reality for the Windsors was less passion and romance than obsession and misadventure. He became obsessed with her, and she went along for the ride, which made her world-famous and supremely disliked. He had been a golden boy of the Western world, she more or less a grasping schemer whose social aspirations frequently exceeded her reach, Then fate placed what seemed to be the world in her hands.
He was a not-too-bright, spoiled little boy blue who never grew up. She became the all-maternal She. Many, including Winston Churchill, observed that theirs was more a union of mother and son than of wife and husband.
Abdication, marriage, demotion to dukehood, and semi-disgrace turned them into peripatetic world revelers. They became the clots of crème de la crème atop international Café Society’s curdled last gasp. They never again did a good deed in a naughty world. But they showed up for plane and ocean-liner tickets, hotel suites, and lavish black-tie dinners as freeloading VIPs, albeit world-weary and demoted VIPs.
She scolded him. He sulked. He smoked himself to death and she lingered on into a pathetic senility. But in spite of all the intertwined hearts embroidered on pillows, the mutual adoration for their pug dogs, the leftover Royal Standards and trappings of Empire, and the early babytalk love letters, theirs was still a babymommy obsession. It wasn’t a grown-up passion worth passing up a throne and undermining the British royal family for.
That of Harry S. and Bess Truman. Catapulted into the White House by FDR’s death, Truman went on to become a great President. But his heroic work in the White House had nothing to do with Bess, who disliked being a First Lady and often fled to their roots in Missouri. During these times his love letters to her marked an unpretentious conventional man whose heart had remained on fire for the young girl he had married. Because Harry and Bess were your normal, not physically stunning, middleaged, unfashionable perfect Americans, many have overlooked the depth of their love and devotion. I think they represented the best of middle-class America in their public lives as well as in their private lives, where neither of them gave up on their first Valentine to each other. Theirs was a true Enchanted Cottage romance where each had only romanticized and loving eyes for the other.