NEVER judge a book by its modest cover.
Today's tale concerns a newly published work simply called Enid, by Robert Wainwright. It's about an extraordinarily wealthy woman, dogged by wicked rumours.
The Enid of the book's title is the tall and exotic Enid Lindeman, the grand-daughter of Hunter Valley wine pioneer Dr Henry Lindeman.
Initially, I obtained a copy with the hope of learning a little more about Henry Lindeman who, by the time he died in 1881, had put Australia on the world stage in terms of wine quality. He's buried at East Gresford, and his sons then built the family company into the country's biggest wine producer and most successful exporter.
The Lindeman empire later even moved its operation into Sydney's Queen Victoria Building, in George Street, where the sandstone basement was transformed into one giant wine cellar.
Henry Lindeman's five sons kept control of the family's growing wine business, while their sisters were expected instead to marry. Therefore, one sister dutifully married a doctor, another a politician and a third, a lawyer. Two other sisters, though, married the sons of rival vineyard owners, thus cementing greater links with the nation's wine industry.
But it was a grand-daughter, the beautiful and independent Enid Lindeman, who has outshone them all, according to Wainwright's new biography, a crisply told and elegantly written tale.
The determined Enid Lindeman was never going to be a spinster. Eventually marrying four times, Enid was a fun-loving Australian socialite who managed various fortunes across three continents and lived most of her life abroad. She fascinated the world until her death in January 1973, aged almost 81.
Where do you start to tell her tale? The sport-mad girl from Strathfield conquered all. She was a statuesque six foot tall and had flashing turquoise eyes. Her nickname at school was Diana, a reference to the divine Roman goddess of the hunt.
She loved the company of men, not only because they adored her, but they shared an earthy, irreverent camaraderie. She was also an incorrigible flirt.
In Wainwright's words, Enid Lindeman left school with one aim - to marry well, as they said in those days.
"It was not necessarily a shortcoming on her part, a lack of imagination or laziness, but merely the expectation for women in the first years of the 20th century."
Instead of being demure and obedient, Enid waltzed through life to her own tune, marrying and outliving her four husbands - two shipping magnates, a war hero and a larger-than-life Irish earl.
In the process she spent two great fortunes and, as Lady Kenmore, she was unfairly tagged by famous novelist Somerset Maugham - her neighbour and bridge partner - as 'Lady Killmore'.
Enid travelled in lavish style from Sydney to New York, London to Paris and Cairo to Kenya. She also stopped traffic in Manhattan, silenced gamblers in Monte Carlo with her grace and poise "and dared walk a pet cheetah on a diamond collar through Hyde Park in London".
Almost every page has a fresh revelation about the lives of the rich and famous. We learn, for example, that Enid and her young son were among the first to enter the newly discovered tomb of the Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamun in 1922. We're also told that 'Duke' Marmaduke Furness, Enid's third husband, was a tyrant who demanded freshly ironed shoelaces every day.
From Wainwright's extensive research, we learn Enid drove an ambulance in WWI and hid escaping Allied airmen behind enemy lines in WWII. She later entertained Hollywood royalty in the world's most expensive home (allegedly won in a poker game) on the French Riviera. Called La Fiorentina, the villa was marketed in 2014 reportedly selling for $US525million. At the height of Enid's ownership and extravagant lifestyle in the 1950s and 1960s, the villa's chef once complained he was serving 3000 meals a week.
The visitor's book kept over 20 years was a mind-boggling record of comings and goings. Among the eclectic list of guests, from prominent artists, composers, writers, architects, old money aristocrats plus the Duke of Windsor and his wife Wallis Simpson, there were movie stars aplenty.
Summer guests adorning the poolside were people such as Greta Garbo (who refused to put her face in the water), Fred Astaire and his screen dance partner Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, Claudette Colbert and David Niven.
Cary Grant came for lunch, while Marlene Dietrich and Frank Sinatra came for dinner. US senator and future president John F. Kennedy was also a dinner guest one summer, while wartime British prime minister Winston Churchill and his wife, Clementine, came on more than one occasion, especially during his time as opposition leader in the late 1940s.
Screen legend David Niven brought a new batch of famous faces to La Fiorentina, including Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier. When the actress married the prince in 1956, Enid attended the wedding and "was applauded while leaving the church, the crowd under the impression that she was a member of the royal family".
Reading all this, however, during the current COVID-19 pandemic, at a time of huge unemployment and world-wide hardship, Enid's tale appears incredibly profligate. But it seems that all of the celebrities eager to visit Enid's Riviera palace were just a distraction to her. As a friend of her son once astutely observed: "What made her (Enid's) life and ruined it at the same time was her beauty . . . (and) I think Enid was miscast in the grand life of a chatelaine and hostess of the Riviera. She would rather be on a farm surrounded by animals".
And so that's how this widowed queen of the original 'jet set' ended up in South Africa in later life, owning and successfully training racehorses with her daughter Pat. By then a racing celebrity, Enid would accept race trophies with a pet meerkat on her shoulder.
Perhaps her love of the country had begun on hubby Marmaduke Furness's infamous Kenya safaris, which involved a dozen Rolls-Royces and "hillsides littered with empty champagne bottles".
But African life wasn't all beer and skittles. A son, Caryll, lived in a remote part of Kenya in the 1950s at the start of the bloody, eight-year Mau-Mau Uprising when rebels accused the white establishment of stealing their land. Caryll sat at his dinner table each evening with a sub-machine gun in his lap, fearful of a sudden raid on his family farm. For six years, he slept with a box of hand grenades under his bed.
Before abandoning the Riviera for Africa in her twilight years, Enid became acutely aware that her money tree was shedding leaves.
She'd been always too generous, giving cash to strangers without counting it, stashing diamond necklaces in tissue boxes and buying farms, houses, boats and planes for her children.
At life's end, the former Enid Lindeman was planning to build a vineyard in Africa. It seems very odd considering she never touched alcohol.
Enid by Robert Wainwright, Allen & Unwin, $32.99
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