Obituary: Maitre Suzanne Blum
Wednesday 26 January 1994
FOR AS long as history is written, the story will be told of the King who gave up his throne for the woman he loved. The Abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 passed into history though the protagonists lived on. Every now and again in the 1960s there were photographs of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, arriving at a party, he a dapper if worn figure with sad, spaniel-like eyes, his wife increasingly elegant and brittle. The drama was relived with the publication of their memoirs, the emergence of his film, A King's Story, and then the moment of his death in May 1972, when the Duchess of Windsor joined his family for the funeral, before gradually descending into the long illness from which she was eventually released in her 90th year in 1986.
While the Duke lived, there was no mention of Maitre Suzanne Blum, the formidable lawyer who rose to public attention in the years following the Duke's death and became the guardian of the Duchess in her long decline. Her rise to power was a gradual though steady one. Originally she was the wife of their legal representative in Paris, but she became their 'Executeur Testamentaire', and in her words the 'defender of the moral rights and interests of the Duchess of Windsor'. She went further, claiming she was the Duchess's friend.
During the Duke's life he had arranged all their legal and business affairs. After his death, the Duchess, already suffering from arteriosclerosis, isolated from the royal family and with no close blood relations, was left relatively alone.
At first she had the services of the distinguished lawyer, Sir Godfrey Morley, of Allen & Overy. She had her private secretary, John Utter, a retired American diplomat of ambassadorial level, and she had a personal secretary, a multilingual Swiss girl, Johanna Schutz. There was also a considerable staff at her house in the Bois de Boulogne.
In November 1975 the Duchess fell gravely ill with haemorrhaging from a stomach ulcer. She was partly cured in the American Hospital but returned home in the summer of 1976 a virtual wreck. By 1978 she was a total invalid, unable to speak or move, spoon-fed by nurses. By 1981 a doctor was describing her as a vegetable.
Around the Duchess, meanwhile, a lot was happening. In 1973 the services of Allen & Overy were terminated and it was made clear that Blum, their Paris lawyer, would handle her legal affairs. John Utter was officially 'retired' in 1975, and in April 1978 Johanna Schutz was dismissed by Blum on the grounds that she was unstable and away a lot.
Only after the departure of the far from unstable Schutz did Blum assume complete control and begin to make her pronouncements to the world. In the autumn of 1978 she attacked the Thames Television series Edward & Mrs Simpson, and it was at this point that she first mentioned the existence of love letters between the Duke and Duchess. She even quoted one to the Evening Standard, in which Mrs Simpson wrote to the King: 'Give up this mad idea. It is impossible. It will be a disaster.' Blum announced that the Duke of Windsor had handed these letters to a 'friend and historian intending that they should be published after he and his wife had died'. She was speaking out then 'because of the image presented in the television series'. This outburst greatly increased interest in the television series and focused world attention on Blum as the Duchess's lawyer and 'close friend'.
In her new role as spokesman, Blum issued more and more extraordinary statements on behalf of her bedridden client, by then oblivious to all but the world of doctors and nurses. She unleashed her wrath on the authors of The Windsor Story, but failed to prevent publication. And she demanded omissions in the English version of Duchess by Stephen Birmingham in 1982.
In 1979 she engaged an English assistant, Michael Bloch, whom she met when he was researching a biography of Philip Guedalla. With her help he published The Duke of Windsor's War in 1982, and Operation Willi in 1984. Then, in an amazing volte-face, hardly had the Duchess died, than Blum released the so-called 'love letters', insisting that this was the wish of the Duchess. These and a subsequent book were best-sellers, though they served the Windsors ill. And Blum admitted that she profited from the royalties for her 'time and
She was frequently challenged to give evidence of the Duchess's wish and to show that she had a power of attorney to act for her. Blum published virtually everything except that authority. Thereafter it was Blum who organised the sale of the Duchess's jewels in Geneva in 1987 and the donation of most of the proceeds to the Louis Pasteur Institute, many millions of pounds, apparently again by the Duchess's wish.
In her role as historian, Blum issued so many contradictory statements about the Duchess that it is hard to know which to believe. In 1982 she said on BBC's Timewatch: 'Everyone knows that for seven years now she has been bedridden, being only able to be taken to an armchair in front of the windows to look at the trees and to hear the birds sing.' In 1986 she told the Sunday Times: 'She was lucid to the last moment, although she had to be fed intravenously because she could no longer swallow. Her brain was very slow but she was not in a coma as some people have said.' In 1987 she protested on French radio that the Duchess knew about research institutes, indeed that she was 'perfectly au courant with what was going on in this field'. She also gave her verdict on the Windsors' love:
The Duke was more taken at first. When he was nothing more than Prince of Wales, he wrote inflamed and very poetic letters to Wallis and she replied: 'You do not seem to have attained maturity in love.' For a long time he feared that Wallis would not go through with her divorce from Ernest Simpson. 'Finally it was I who won,' he wrote in his memoirs. She became very in love after the Abdication . . . He could not live without her. He showed himself nervous, agitated the moment she left. She was sometimes a little rude with him; everything in him showed much tenderness. They finally achieved the impossible.
Blum had the reputation of being one of France's toughest lawyers. Born in 1898, she began to practise in 1922. During her career she represented Warner Brothers against the composer Igor Stravinsky, converting his damages from dollars 1m to one franc. She represented Twentieth Century Fox, MGM, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney and Rita Hayworth (in her divorce from Aly Khan). The composer Virgil Thomson wrote of how she helped his friend Bernard Fay, a collaborator with a sentence of life imprisonment, seizure of property and national degradation, to be moved to a prison hospital in Le Mans from which he escaped to Spain. For a Jewish lawyer to represent a collaborator had obvious impact.
Blum was twice married, first to Paul Weill, the Duke of Windsor's Paris attorney, and later to General Georges Spillmann. She enjoyed a secondary career writing detective fiction as LS Karen. She presided in her office in the Rue de Varenne, a striking-looking woman, with the dignity of Queen Mary, her forceful personality veiled by an old-world French courtesy which soon disappeared when journalists telephoned.
Suzanne Blum did not attend the Duchess of Windsor's funeral at St George's Chapel, Windsor, though she 'received' the mourners at the memorial service in Paris. Already in her late eighties, and nearly blind, she retreated from the scene, while the Duchess was buried beside her Duke in an English grave.
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