The duchess of Windsor, along with her clothes, her wit, her parties, not to mention her royal husband, has been away from the international scene for two years, a sad, lonely, bedridded figure. Recently, she entered the American hospital in suburban Neuilly-sur-Seine.
According to one close source, the duchess is in the hospital to assure her being near a good doctor should she need one. Though her heart is good and may enable her to live another three months, the source said, she is not expected to live much longer than that.The duchess will be 83 Tuesday.
For decades, she and the duke cut a social swath the like of which is not likely to be seen again. It would be hard to beat that most unlikely of glamorous combinations, a former king of England and an American socialite.
Besides the royal and romantic aura that surrounded the couple, the duchess very soon took over and established a style all her own. Although she once said, "I like houses better than clothes," she scored on both. On fashion, she developed her own Windsor style, terribly well-groomed and often in white gloves and black patent leather pumps. A certain shade of blue, matching both her eyes and her sapphires, came to be known as Wallis blue.
As a hostess, she is remembered as one of the best to have hit Paris and one who set the rules for many chic dinner parties to come.
According to Ghislaine de Polignac, who for 20 years saw the royal couple at least once a week ("either at their place or around Paris dinner parties") the duchess (the former Wallis Simpson) combined British tradition with American efficiency. She would bring out all their gifts, dinner sets and souvenirs of royal family, including lots of gold boxes. The footmen were impeccable."
On the other hand, the duchess was first to introduce monogrammed matches to the colors of her salon, put disposable cigarette holders in silver goblets and the first to put cigarettes on the table - until then, totally taboo, De Polignac added.
In their mill at Gif-sur-Yvette, she also established new standards in entertaining: "She thought about everything - the latest best seller, cable forms, a sleeping mask. Quite a change from French houses where one was lucky to find a Kleenex and a bottle of water," De Polignac said.
"The duke and duchess were very much at the center of Parisian life," de Polignac added. "She had a great sense of luxury and definitely rated as a big spender, which sometimes frightened the duke. When the time of fashion collections came around, the duke, who, as any man, kept the books, would sigh a bit. But in truth, he admired her enormously.
"She was very punctual. Dinner was called for 8:45 and never a second later. When Jacqueline de Ribes once arrived at 9:15 and apologized, the duchess icily answered: "I am not angry, but my chief will be."
All that is gone now and little news emanates from the silent house that the French government gave the Windsors at the edge of the Bois de Boulogne.
Hence, rumors abound. Those who rely on guesswork fabricate strange hypotheses. All personal possessions are to go to a dog's hospital; the French government is to expel the duchess for unexplained reasons; the house is being pilfered.
The wildest one is that the duchess' lawyer and executor of the duke's will would inherit everything. "Not impossible," a French lawyer speculated." Especially if the duchess had no heirs."
Interviewed about the others rumors, Suzanne Blum, the duchess' lawyer, denied that any was true: "The duchess is neither cloistered nor sequestered," she said. "The decision to keep visitors away was strictly on doctors' orders. Now, the duchess is unfortunately not in a position to see anybody, but up to a year ago, when friends came, they talked too much, often about parties, and that sent the duchess' blood pressure up. So the doctors decided to cut visitors out.
"Actually, the duchess never recovered from her husband's death, and after that, from the massive hemorrhage she suffered two years ago. Right now, she is in a pretty sad state and even I try not to bother her. It's a matter of decency. Knowing the duchess, I'm sure she wouldn't like to be seen in the state she's in."
Asked about the duchess' financial resources, Blum said: "It's no secret that the duke left her everything. Period. What will happen after her [death] is another matter; which I am not in a position to discuss. No, I don't think the duke had any property left in England."
(Close friends of the royal couple recall that the duke spent long hours shortly before his death with his lawyers. He would come out of it, saying: I'm very tired. I spent all day with my British attorneys." The assumption was that he was working on his will. A very meticulous man, friends say he would have wanted to leave everything in order and save the duchess any trouble she could have after his death.)
Among the royal properties was the mill outside Paris, which was sold, and the duchess' famous jewels, many of which once belonged to the crown of England. A friend particularly recalled the row of huge pearls the duke inherited from Queen Mary. Many assume that those pearls, besides huge emeralds and diamonds will go back to the crown of England.
"He always said very gallantly that he never regretted anything, but the fact is that he was deeply attached to his country and sad to have left it," a friend said. As for the duchess, it seems she often said to women friends: 'I'd like to leave you all some of my jewels as souvenirs, but my British attorneys tell me it's impossible."
Besides the royal jewels, the duchess also had lots of newer and fashionable jewelry the duke bought her through the years. At that point, it's hard to see where all that will go, friends say, as she had no family, just an old aunt, Aunt Betsy, about whom she talked from time to time.
That some Windsor possessions might be on the market, offered here and there by antique dealers, is not new nor is it surprising, Blum said.
"It's no secret that the duke and duchess, as many collectors do, sold a lot, bought a lot and traded a lot. Do you know that in the course of his life, the duke had 72 auction sales conducted by Sotheby's? It's very British. The duke's sister, Princess Mary, also sold her silver."
A lot of the staff has been dismissed, including the butler Sydney Johnson, who came with the Windsors from the Bahamas and remained with the duke for almost 30 years, and Joanna Schultz, the social secretary for seven years. (The latter is said to be looking for a job and asking for a royal salary.)
"For one solid year, we kept the household intact, hoping she would recover," Blum said. "But when she didn't, we had to dismiss a few people. It wasn't easy, but you'll understand that it would have been nonsense to keep a huge staff that included a chef, a sous-chef and two butlers for a bedridden woman. But I can assure you that the duchess is still surrounded with loving people-first of all, George, who has been with her 30 years, his wife, two chambermaids who help three round-the-clock nurses-and you know what that costs-and the chauffeur who runs errands."
A source close to the duchess said that one of the people selected to accompany the duchess to England when she dies is Aileen de Romanones, an American married to the duke of Romanones and Quintanilla who stayed with the duchess a few years ago.
Living standards of the duchess have slipped since a notary (legal administrator) named Olivieri was hired about a year and a half ago and given the duchess' proxy, the source said. He reportedly cut the duchess' food allowance to 1,000 francs ( $200) a month, cut the private nurse's wages from 400 to 250 a night and eliminated the free dinner nurses used to get. Now it's just a 10-franc meal allowance.
The expensive toiletries from Estee Lauder and Roge & Gallet are now being ordered from ordinary drug-stores, and the flowers have been cut out. Olivieri's answer to complaints reportedly is: "But what would I do if the duchess lasts another 10 years?"
Friends from the Bahamas days say the Windsor didn't have unlimited funds and in fact lived on credit much of the time.
Other economies included the sale of three big cars and the duchess' beloved orchid plants, whole greenhouses full of them.
There was another rumor at one point (under President Georges Pompidou) that the Windsors were going to leave a number of objects and paintings to the Louvre as a thank-you gesture to the French government that provided them with a haven, on condition, however, that everything would be grouped in a so-called Windsor room. The Louvre directors reportedly did not buy the idea and would have spread the objects throughout the museum-at which point the Windsor reportedly dropped the whole thing.
Asked about it, Blum said: "I never heard of it. I doubt that there is any truth in it. (Another friend, however, recalls that a French official was later dispatched to the Windsors and had dinner with them in order to recapture the gift-but to no avail.)
Claud Roland, an escort of the duchess in her later years and a usually reliable source of society news, says he understands that the duchess has willed the bulk of her estate to the prince of Wales, who had been a special friend of her late husband.
Apparently the duke of Windsor always treasured the memory of his years as prince of Wales, Roland reported, for in 1971, when the Windsors entertained the emperor of Japan in their Paris apartment, they displayed on their piano the gifts-enormous gems and other rarities-that the Japanese had given Windsor years before during his visit to Japan as prince of Wales.
So it would be appropriate, Roland said, for the effects to go to the present prince of Wales.
Despite seeming indifference from former close friends, Blum added, the duchess has been receiving sympathy messages, quite a few from England. "The time before last, when she went to the American hospital, she received 388 letters in the first week.
So, although it is a sad story, there is no Agatha Christie mystery behind it all, Blum said, adding that when the duchess dies, she will be buried in England, next to her husband, as had been planned by the duke. CAPTION: Picture 1, The duke and duchess of Windsor in 1972; Picture 2, The duchess in 1936, prior to her marriage; AP