Monday, July 15, 2013

Two exploited women: Maria Callas and the Duchess of Windsor

I remember watching a TV programme about the final years of the Duchess of Windsor in Paris. This reminded me of something I had read about the later life of Maria Callas.

Maria Callas’s death
Maria Callas was an American-born Greek soprano and one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century. She died at her home in Paris on September 16th 1977, after living in loneliness and isolation for many years.

A heart attack was given as the official cause of her death, but the following disturbing extracts from two articles I found online suggest a very different story:

Opera legend Maria Callas was murdered for her $9 million (GBP5 million) fortune, according to film director Franco Zeffirelli.
Zeffirelli, who has made a film of the soprano's last days called Callas Forever, is convinced the singer was poisoned in 1977 at the age of 53 by pianist Vasso Devetzi.

Zeffirelli explains, "In her last years, Maria was totally under the control of a woman named Vasso Devetzi. Little by little, she cleared everyone away.

"I have been told Maria left a will giving everything to her maid, her driver and a musicians' retirement home. But after she died, there was no sign of this will and Devetzi got most of what Maria had.
"Devetzi was giving Maria sleeping pills and amphetamines the whole time. It is legitimate to think that Devetzi killed Maria and then stole everything she had."

He adds that Devetzi, who is now dead, ordered for Callas's body to be "cremated immediately after the funeral service" and "there was never an autopsy" as it was widely suspected Callas died of a heart attack.”  28/11/2004

Read the full article here

According to biographer Stelios Galatopoulos, Devetzi insinuated herself into Callas's trust and acted virtually as her agent. This claim is corroborated by Iakinthy (Jackie) Callas in her book Sisters, wherein she asserts that Devetzi conned Maria out of control of half of her estate, while promising to establish the Maria Callas Foundation to provide scholarships for young singers. After hundreds of thousands of dollars had allegedly vanished, Devetzi finally did establish the foundation.

I'm also surprised by Callas' sister's behavior; she seems to have trusted Devetzi too much. It sounds like Devetzi pretended she was her friend and then cheated her out of a fortune.

Exactly, but Iakinthy seems to have been uncommonly naive. She turns up for the funeral and finds that the official next-of-kin is someone she never met before. Devetzi says "leave it all to me" and Iakinthy says "sure". Devetzi divides up Maria's possessions to be split between Meneghini and Iakinthy then tells Iakinthy that Meneghini stole most of her (Iakinthy's) share. Devetzi persuades Iakinthy to leave all affairs regarding the Callas Foundation in her (Devetzi's) hands, and Iakinthy says "fine, don't bother me with the details". Iakinthy signs over hundreds of thousands of dollars to Devetzi without bothering to check what she's doing with the money. Eventually, when Devetzi dies under unusual circumstances, we find, according to Galatopoulos, that the money (apparently between one and two million dollars) has been squandered.

Of course, Callas might have taken the precaution of leaving her will with her lawyer rather than in her apartment where it could be stolen by Devetzi. But she probably wasn't expecting to die suddenly and so was lax in this respect.”

Read the full article here

The Duchess of Windsor’s death
Wallis, Duchess of Windsor (previously Wallis Simpson) 19 June 1896 – 24 April 1986 was an American socialite whose third husband, Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom,  abdicated his throne to marry her.

I found some disturbing information online about her too:

“The Duchess of Windsor was permanently confined to her powder blue bedroom overlooking the lawns of her house in Paris. It was September 1977, five years after the death of her husband, the man who had been briefly, and scandalously, King Edward VIII, and she was in poor health. Her lapses of memory were worsening, a weakness that her French lawyer Suzanne Blum used to her great advantage.

With no family to advise her, the Duchess relied heavily on Blum. She was also terrified of the lawyer.”

Read more:

“The self-appointed spokesman for the ailing figure upstairs, Blum took over the Duchess’s house, reinterpreted her wishes, quaffed her champagne, ate from her china, and spoke on her “behalf”. She complained that Wallis, who did not watch television, was upset by the series Edward and Mrs Simpson, and claimed that it was the Duchess’s wish that the profit from the sale of her possessions should go to Aids research, an illness Wallis is unlikely to have heard of.

She prevented the Duchess from leaving her room and barred her friends from visiting, lest it be noticed that the royal treasures were disappearing. Some of these Blum pocketed, others she gave away. Most she sold for preposterously low prices, while manuscripts Wallis wanted destroyed – such as the “love letters” between herself and the Duke – Blum kept for future publication.

The relationship between Blum and Wallis was “one of the most sinister… ever formed between lawyer and client”.”

Read more here.

The two exploited women
There are some similarities in these chilling stories that may or may not be significant.

Both women were socialites who lived the high life, prominent celebrities who were part of the international jet set. Designer clothes and expensive jewellery were important to them. Both became isolated and fell into the power and under the evil spell of an exploiter. Both lived then died in Paris.

Perhaps the two exploiters represented the inner selves or the shadow side of their victims’ personalities. Perhaps this is what happens to worldly people who concentrate on image and externals and have false values. Perhaps this is what happens to unprotected, vulnerable, wealthy people who accumulate possessions and do not put their resources to good use.

Perhaps the two victims sold their souls for fame, fortune and status, and living in hell, being tormented and persecuted in their final years, was the price they had to pay for the earlier worldly success.