Politique Diabolique Nov 4 2009
CHRISTINE CONDITION
High heels in high places.

Above we have a well-worn On the Q.T. from November 1963, with Christine Keeler on the cover. Keeler, at upper right and below, was a London showgirl who had a brief relationship with Britain’s married Secretary of State for War, a man named John Profumo. The two met at a party in Buckinghamshire, in a mansion owned by Lord Astor, and though Keeler wasn’t a full-time prostitute, she occasionally made herself available to wealthy and powerful men and they sometimes gave her cash gifts.

She and Profumo were involved only a few weeks, but that was long enough for people to notice. When Profumo was paraded before the House of Commons and asked to answer to the rumors, he claimed there had been no impropriety between him and Keeler. It wasn’t just the lie that sank him—members of the government were alarmed because Keeler’s many acquaintances included Yevgeny Ivanov, a Russian attaché at the Soviet embassy in London. With the Cold War in full swing, officials feared Keeler was working Profumo for nuclear secrets on behalf of Ivanov and the Russkies.

The mess cost Profumo his job and reputation, and also may have brought down conservative Prime Minster Harold Macmillan, who resigned six months later for “health reasons.” It was the scandal of the century in Britain, and really, it still is. Never since have sex, politics, and state secrets been fused in such a way. There are many detailed retellings of the story, but for people interested in an inside account, Keeler published an autobiography in 2001 that sparked an outcry because she wrote that actress Maureen Swanson was one ofthe girls who attended private orgies arranged by Dr. Stephen Ward (in sunglasses on the magazine cover). Ward was an osteopath who dabbled in pimping, and his orgies were infamous. Open only to the rich and powerful, they featured not only beautiful girls, but the occult, sadomasochism, interracial sex shows, and so forth. Maureen Swanson later became the Countess of Dudley through marriage to Lord Ednam, so Keeler’s naming of her as a participant caused quite a bit of embarrassment to British nobility, for which she sued and won a settlement.

We could go on, but life is short and history’s intrigues are many. For cinematic types, the 1989 film Scandal, starring Joanne Whalley and Bridget Fonda, is an entertaining way to learn more about the event. We watched it, and, while Whalley is fine in the lead role and Fonda is good as always, only reading Keeler’s own words can convey the sense of ’60s liberation and breeziness that was such a large part of her personality, and which the British public reacted to with such revulsion. More than one writer of the period observed that when Britain crucified Keeler, they were really trying to destroy a part of themselves. Keeler said it herself: “I took on the sins of everybody, of a generation, really.”

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 23
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
October 22
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
October 21
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
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