It may be hard to describe what I’m talking about, but…
When Oscar Wilde toured America in 1882, a man derided for his velvet suits and wearing a sunflower in his lapel and for what we’d today consider flaming gay mannerisms, he said that the American he’d most like to meet was Jefferson Davis.
His uncle, one of the richest men in Louisiana (story there) had been a friend of Davis’s relatives and the Davis’s had actually accepted an invitation from Wilde’s mother when they were in England after the war (as Jefferson failed at one endeavor after another) but they canceled due to one of their children being sick. (Very possibly a convenient excuse: the Davises had a rather miserable marriage by this time and he had physical ailments [particularly his eye] so it was more likely they just didn’t feel like it.)
A few years later however Varina (Mrs. Davis) extended an offer to visit them at Beauvoir when he was on the southeastern leg of his tour. (I’d love to have witnessed his lectures; the same critics who called him every kind of fop and dandy for his lectures on aestheticism and interior decoration often gave a review afterwards similar to the Blue Man Group: “I can’t tell you why it was brilliant and enjoyable, but it was.”
So on June 24, 1882, Wilde arrived at Beauvoir. (It was their daughter Winnie’s 18th birthday, though strangely I’ve never read mention of this in any of the descriptions of the encounter.) Evidently Oscar thoroughly charmed Varina and Winnie but Jefferson- not so much. (When asked the next day why he hadn’t been a better host to their guest the 74 year old said bluntly “I didn’t like him”.) It is known that Varina drew a sketch of him and that he did some readings from his poems and lectures and went swimming with Winnie. He left autographed photos of himself for the family (destroyed by Katrina sadly) and in one of his next lectures praised Davis’s history of the Confederacy as “a literary and historical masterpiece”, but later said of Davis himself “He is fascinating, as are all failures”.
I always thought this would make an interesting play. His reason for mentioning Davis as the person he’d like to visit was because of his interest in Ireland’s bid for independence at the time, but there’s no record this was referred to during the evening. It’s known that he raved over the aesthetics of Beauvoir- one wonders if the fact it was decorated by its previous owner, who was likely Davis’s mistress and was thoroughly despised by Varina (who separated from him due to his relationship with her) was broached.
On a tour of India and other nations ca. 1928 (she mentions it in her memoirs but doesn’t give the date) Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst met Gandhi. This had to have been fascinating; Hearst was not only the most powerful media lord on the planet but was probably the biggest conspicuous consumer, certainly of those not of royal birth. The man owned castles in Wales, Germany, and of course California, a medieval monastery still packed in crates in his warehouse (it’s in Floridatoday- the only medieval building in the state) as well as vast estates in Mexico and Italy (briefly- had to sell that one fairly soon after buying it) and mansions in Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Washington D.C., “The Shack” in Santa Monica (a 110 room beach house that’s now a country club), a 5 story penthouse in NYC (lived in by his estranged wife) and another luxury apartment there for himself, a 30 building Bavarian village called Wyntoon (Marian called it Spittoon) on 70,000 acres in northern California where not a tree could be touched even though he only spent a few days per year there (after the sons took over the timber rights brought in several hundred thousand dollars per year; Patty Hearst tells great stories of her time there as a girl when it was abandoned and was like a Bavarian ghost town), and of course the world’s largest collection of fine art, antiques, and bric a brac. Gandhi had a diaper and an un airconditioned ashram.
Marion gives little real insight into the meeting other than the Mahatma was very charming to them and laughed at her jokes. She bought a dachshund puppy later on the trip and named him Gandhi and was inseparable from him til his death.
Abraham Lincoln had several encounters with the Booths during his life, though none seemingly of any length. He attended plays of John Wilkes, Edwin, and Brutus Jr. during his presidency, and as a young man in New Orleans had paid an amount his father thought absurd (about $1) to see the old man, Junius, perform Richard III. Edwin famously saved the life of Robert Lincoln when he fell onto a train track before the assassination. Years after the assassination- in what may be apocryphal but certainly wouldn’t be out of character- Sarah Bernhardt claimed to have saved Mary Todd’s life on a ship to America (Sarah for one of her tours and Mary returning with the ailing Tad from her years abroad). Per La Belle Bernhardt Mary was extremely gracious until learning who she was, when she said something to the effect of “I detest theatre people” and walked away.
Walt Whitman said one of his earliest memories was of being picked up and kissed by the Marquis de LaFayette when he was 6 years old. For anyone familiar with the Marquis’s 1825 visit he probably met and shook hands with hundreds of thousands of people; the old man was exhausted because almost every evening was a banquet or ball in his honor in places that ranged from New York City and Philadelphia to Claiborne, Alabama (a town with one building at the time) and Creek villages in Georgia (where his carriage was literally borne on the shoulders of the braves to get it over a swollen stream).
An odd twosome: Ted Danson (Cheers, Becker) mentioned an old man he befriended in the cafeteria and the benches around campus when he was a student at Stanford in the 60s. He said the old guy spoke with what he thought was a Jewish/Yiddish accent and fed pigeons and loved to talk about the space race and the rudeness of the hippies but would not talk about his past. He didn’t learn until later the old man was Alexander Kerensky, prime minister of the Russian Provisional Government- the man who deposed the Tsar and was deposed by Lenin (and occasional visiting professor and researcher at Stanford- he later died in NYC).
Anyway, you needn’t go into great detail if you’d rather not, but what are some intriguing meetings or relationships between famous people you don’t usually think of together?