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He wanted only what every journalist of the time did: an exclusive interview with the Duke of Windsor. What he got was an astonishing proposition that sent him on an urgent top-secret visit to the White House and a once-in-a-lifetime story that was too hot to print—until now.
December 1991 | Volume 42, Issue 8
Originally, a request for an interview for me had been made by Harry Gray [a newspaper editor] through a man named Thompson Rich [a freelance writer and poet], a friend of Nanine Joseph [a literary agent who represented both Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR]. Rich had represented himself as a good friend of the Duke and had offered us an interview. He countered [sic] by suggesting that perhaps he could arrange an interview for me. This he tried to do but it did not materialize. Then I wrote a letter to Marguerite LeHand, personal secretary to the President, asking if the President could arrange this interview for me as he had done for me with Mussolini. She replied that she would try and suggested that I write a letter to the British Embassy. This I did. I received a letter saying that the matter would be taken up. The next thing I heard was a letter from Missy [Marguerite LeHand’s nickname] enclosing a letter to her from the British Embassy in which they said the Duke had decided not to give any more interviews. This seemed to dispose of the matter. If the Duke would not see me at the request of the President of the United States, the matter seemed hopeless.
It was only a few days later that Rich reappeared on the scene with the statement that he could arrange for me to see the Duke. I was thoroughly incredulous but told him to see what he could do. He showed me subsequently an original letter signed by Captain Vyvyan Drury, the Duke’s aide-de-camp, stating that the Duke would be glad to see me at any time. By cable I specified any time between the 17th and the 22nd of December and a cable came back saying that any of these dates would be agreeable to His Royal Highness. Now, obviously there was something mysterious about all this. However, I decided to go through with it.
Now, beholding Taussig, an old acquaintance, knowing Taussig’s relation to the President, I began to wonder if the White House itself indicated—for what reason I could not guess—that such an interview was undesirable and that on finding out that I had, nevertheless, arranged for an interview through another source, the administration, for whatever reasons it might have, was sending Taussig over as an agent to prevent the interview at the last minute. Obviously Taussig as a presidential representative—he was literally the President’s personal representative—would out-rank me in protocol. The Duke, by protocol would be expected to receive Taussig before he saw me. His presence on the plane was, therefore, disquieting, good friends though we had always been.
When we arrived in Nassau and were going through the Customs barrier, McGrath spoke to me. He explained that the Duke and Duchess had not yet returned to Nassau and that the Acting Governor representing the Duke in absentia was the Colonial Secretary, and he suggested that on our way to the hotel we stop at the office of the Colonial Secretary and be welcomed by him. We agreed. This conversation was held before McGrath could talk with any of his assistants. Once through the Customs, we went outside and posed for photographs for the Nassau Guardian, the world’s worst newspaper. While this was being done, McGrath talked with one of his assistants. Now he came back and suggested that we not call on the Colonial Secretary.
We drove to the hotel—the British Colonial—in our own taxi and found McGrath waiting for us. He introduced us to Manager O’Brien and Taussig introduced us to Mr. Die [John Dye], the American Consul. Then we went to our rooms with the expectation that we would hear from Mr. McGrath about the Colonial Secretary soon thereafter. We did not hear from him at all and soon we gave up waiting for him, had our lunch, and went sight-seeing with Sammy, the singing taxi driver. What we did not know was that the Colonial Secretary had, for reasons of his own, declined to welcome us, that he was giving a large cocktail party for the Taussigs and did not invite us. This we did not know until later. Had we known it then, we would not have guessed the real truth. In fact, now that I do know it, I find myself feeling as if I had lived through a fairy tale.
The next morning we were awakened by the sound of a ship’s siren. From the balcony overlooking Hatchet Bay, we watched the Southern Cross come over the bar and put into the inner harbor, where it anchored. By the time we had breakfast and had gone downstairs the barge was coming ashore to dock at the yachtclub landing on the grounds of the hotel. We stood and watched as the Duke, the Duchess, and Captain Drury came ashore.…A large Buick and a station wagon were waiting at the dock and they drove off.
Half an hour later I received a call from McGrath. He said that I was expected at Government House at 11 o’clock. I met him at his office and we walked up the hill to Government House, past the sentries and up to the front of the building. We climbed up the wooden stairs to a great ballroom with a platform covered with cranberry red carpet at the further end and beside that a desk. The rest of the room was barren except for all sorts of luggage ranged along the side of the walls, the stuff the Duke and Duchess had brought from Europe. There was a full length portrait of King Edward the Seventh on the wall.