You toss a pebble into a pond and you never know how far the ripples will spread
This happened when Nancy Smith, a writer based in Dallas contacted me and asked for help finding a publisher who will do justice to her new book, "Churchill on the Rivirea: Winston Churchill, Wendy Reves and the House Built by Coco Chanel." I recommended Biblio Publishing, the company that published my book.
The result is a handsome volume, thoroughly researched and written by a born story-teller.
According to the publisher's website, "Nancy Smith tells the story of how the Villa La Pausa on the Riviera tied a world leader, a fashion icon, and a world-renowned model together with many of the most famous people and events of the twentieth century."
The introduction to the book explains that the French couturier Coco Chanel and Texas-born model Wendy Reves had much in common: they both were born in poverty and rose to own the palatial villa La Pausa and its six acres overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
They both had close relationship with Winston Churchill. Coco Chanel met him when she was the mistress of Churchill's best friend, the Duke of Westminster, the richest man in Great Britain. The Duke, known as Bendar, gave La Pausa to Chanel as a gift. Churchill, on the other hand, saved Chanel from prosecution after World War II, after she was accused of collaborating with the Nazis during the occupation of France.
Wendy Russell, from Texas, became a New York model who dated Cary Grant, Errol Flynn and Howard Hughes. Then she met Emery Reves and they fall in love. Reves was the author of the "Anatomy of Peace," a seminal work that Albert Einstein called the "answer to the present political problems of the world, so dramatically precipitated by the release of atomic energy."
Reves was also a close collaborator of Churchill and his publisher. In 1953, the Reveses bought La Pausa and Churchill became a house guest for a third of each year in 1956-58. There he was pampered by Wendy Reves to the great annoyance of his wife Clementine Churchill.
Smith's book is chock-full of enticing details of the flamboyant life style of Coco Chanel and Wendy Reves. Smith is an expert in this field, having served as the Society Editor of the Dallas Morning News and later as Celebrity and Society columnist of the Dallas Times Herald. Nothing escapes her attention about the rich and famous.
What makes Churchill on the Riviera a special read is the artful meshing of the personal history of those two exceptional women with the record of their accomplishments.
Smith describes how Chanel created a unique brand and business empire and how Reves fulfilled her vow to her late husband, to make him one of the greatest art collectors of the 20th century.
Four years after her husband's death, the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection opened at the Dallas Museum of Art. The art treasures, paintings, sculptures and more than 1,300 decorative objects are valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
But according, to Smith, establishing the reputation of Emery Reves as a great art collector didn't satisfy Wendy Reves. She was determined to create a memorial that would reflect on his genius as an original thinker, and on his vision of world peace based on justice and universal law.
The book observes that Wendy Reves wrote me a letter asking for assistance. By coincidence, the same day the letter arrived, the College of William and Mary made public its decision to establish a world-class Center for International Studies. After careful consideration, Reves chose William and Mary as the recipient of her $3 million endowment. At the time, it was the largest donation in the college's history.
Over the span of a few years, Dr. James Bill, the founding director of the Reves Center, transformed it into an institution that has produced, in the words of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "the best undergraduate program in international studies in our country."
Shatz, a Williamsburg resident, is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop.