In the delirium of the 1920s, she became, for a little while, the most popular woman in the country
October 1994 | Volume 45, Issue 6
Born to Csar Alexander II’ss daughter and Victoria’s son, the Duchess of Saxe, Duchess Royal of Coburg-Gotha, Princess of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, Princess Royal of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen of Romania, when she arrived in America on October 18, 1926, was to come up at once against what the next day’s New York Times termed “probably the most relentless camera bombardment that anyone has ever been called on to face in the world’s history.” She wasn’t even off the boat yet.
What, the reporters asked, was to be done about her son, Crown Prince Carol, who had run away from his wife and son to live openly in Paris with his horrid mistress Elena (Magda) Lupescu? “He has sinned grievously,” Queen Marie said. “He has made a great mistake with his life and must take his punishment like anyone else, prince or no prince.” She was lovely still at fifty in her gold turban with fluted brown crepe and aigrette floating down one shoulder over her winecolored velour coat trimmed with kolinsky-fur collar, cuffs, and hem, with her brocaded bag and reptile-skin pumps and diamond and pearl earrings. “A very beautiful woman,” the Duchess of Marlborough, the former Consuelo Vanderbilt, had said of her when she was young. “Dazzlingly fair, with lovely features, the bluest of eyes and a luscious figure.” Queen Marie was not in disagreement. “I am said to be the most beautiful woman in Europe,” she once remarked. “About that, of course, I cannot judge because I cannot know. But the other queens, I know. I am the most beautiful queen in Europe.”
How wonderful, she said to the reporters, were the spouting fireboats throwing geysers in the air. She’d like one for her gardens. Did they think she’d be too late to see the fall colors of the trees? “I want to use everything American when I am in America,” she said—eat buckwheat cakes, apple pie, baked beans, corned-beef hash.
“I am glad to have seen you all,” she ended, and went ashore. “The preparations for her reception were the most elaborate in the history of this city,” said the next day’s New York World . Why, exactly, she had come was a mystery. Why anyone should care was also a mystery, but as all social-survey works point out, America in the 1920s was undergoing a personality craze; and so sirens screamed, whistles blew, Governors Island blasted off a twenty-one-gun salute, and more than six hundred policemen escorted her to City Hall, where Mayor Jimmy Walker waited to present her with the Gold Medal of the City of New York. From the skies poured a ticker-tape tribute. “I was not prepared for the custom of throwing papers . . . from the thousands of windows of the extraordinary buildings, whose tops I could hardly see,” she wrote for her syndicated Impressions of America, by Her Majesty The Queen of Romania , which appeared in the papers under the royal crest.
At City Hall Mayor Walker hesitated when called upon to pin the medal on her bodice. “Proceed, Your Honor,” the Queen said. “The risk is mine.”
“And such a beautiful risk it is, Your Majesty,” Walker returned. Sitting in an open car heading for Pennsylvania Station and a Washington train, they passed a building under construction. “Hey, Jimmy,” bawled down an iron-worker, “you made her yet?”
“Tell him yes,” Marie said. In Washington President Coolidge awaited her with dread. Someone who published a stream of passionately romantic, fantastical, mystical tales of magic and fairies, a royal whose varied castles, palaces, fortresses, and mountain-crag hideaways featured, as magazine articles told, great bearskin rugs, painted friezes, soaring vaulted ceilings over rooms jammed with elaborately gilded furniture, huge pots of flowers, tiled flooring, bronze and silver chandeliers, wooden ribbons and roses spilling down the walls, silk cushions, golden canopies, whose army officers routinely wore lipstick and rouge corsets—such a representative of Graustark, the visitor from Ruritania, was not his cup of tea. After her arrival at Union Station with passage through a double file of Marines and a trip to the Romanian legation near Sheridan Circle under clattering sabre-saluting cavalry escort, Coolidge gave her thirteen minutes at the White House before rising to indicate that the interview was over.