Speaking of the unequal treatment of men and women who are involved in scandals as we were…
In 1962 Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were the talk of the scandal sheets and movie mags when they famously met on the set of Cleopatra and ditched their respective spouses to begin a torrid affair that would ultimately result in two marriages and two divorces, well, four divorces if we count the ones from their current spouses.
But while the affair was running its course, that is, before they were able to divorce their current spouses, they became familiarly known as Liz and Dick and had settled in England (or that’s how I remember it), presumably to avoid the worst scandal-mongers of Hollywood. They were the subject of frequent barbs from comedians of all stripes, none less so than Red Skelton, who seemingly could not let a single show go by without inserting at least one Liz and Dick joke into a sketch.
We always tuned in to the Red Skelton Hour on Tuesday nights during that period, and I remember one evening during a sketch there was an exchange that went something like this:
That Week’s Guest Star: “We’re gonna have to find a woman of loose morals. Where can we find someone like that?”
Red Skelton (possibly dressed as Clem Kadiddlehopper): [putting his hat to his heart and looking into the air] “There’ll always be an England!”
As I was laughing, my mother turned to me and asked if I knew whom he was referring to. And I replied, “Why Liz Taylor, of course.”
“No, Christine Keeler,” said my mom.
Christine Keeler? I had heard the name somewhere. I didn’t follow the news in Britain but I had heard of the Profumo Affair, though I didn’t know all the details. Some bigwig in Harold Macmillan’s (I did at least know the name of the Prime Minister) government had to resign over an affair. With Christine Keeler? That’s probably where I had heard the name.
Many years later in the mid 90s I frequented a tech oriented forum that had a large contingent of Brits. One of them remembered the Profumo Affair quite vividly and told the tale of one of the other young women, Mandy Rice-Davies, who had been caught up in it.
During a trial of one of the few unfortunates that the government decided to prosecute in the tangled web (John Profumo was never charged with anything), Miss Rice-Davies testified that she had slept with Lord Astor.
The prosecutor then asked, “You know that Lord Astor has denied that intercourse took place?”
To which Miss Rice-Davies uttered the immortal words, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”
Not only did that generate much laughter in the courtroom, but it made headlines the next day.
Well, the phrase “he would, wouldn’t he?” was so apt in describing the self-serving half truths that many tech executives were spouting (particularly Microsoft employees), that it became something of a catchphrase on that forum, so much so that it eventually was abbreviated to MRD for Mandy Rice-Davies’s initials.
And that was pretty much all that I knew about the Profumo Affair—up until I watched the TV drama series The Trial of Christine Keeler which recently aired in Britain. It’s a good show and it goes into great detail to show just how complex the whole affair (or affairs) was (or were), and how many people were involved, with Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, teenagers when it all began, mostly puppets being manipulated by others. They certainly made their share of foolish mistakes, but they were just unsophisticated young girls at the time.
The series hasn’t yet made its way across the Atlantic, but watch for it when it does. It’s well worth the six episodes.