8 NOVEMBER 2003, Page 84

Missed opportunity


New York

Had I known that Sandra Howard would turn into such a star, I would have given her Tender Is the Night 40 years ago. It was 1963, and Edmond de Rothschild decided it was time for a 100hour party to launch Megeve, the ski

resort he owned in the French Alps. Three bad boys and very good friends drove to Megeve from Gstaad: Philippe Washer, the great Belgian tennis player and Romeo; Gunter Sachs, the German zillionaire and playboy sans pareil; and poor little me. We stopped over at the Villa Diodati, owned by the Washer family, on the banks of Lake Geneva. It was at the Villa Diodati where Mary Shelley, her hubby and Lord Byron spent the summer of 1816, I believe, and where she wrote Frankenstein. Old Monsieur Washer was still alive and opened some good wine for us. In no time we were all dead drunk, but after a sumptuous dinner headed for Megeve, despite the pleas of Madame Washer to leave in the morning.

We were right to do it. Upon arrival, we checked into the Hotel Mont Arbois, Edmund's little toy and by far the grandest inn in the vicinity, and watched in amazement as pussy galore poured through the gates. Girls like Catherine Deneuve, her sister Francoise Dorleac, a German model Gunter had invited who put the two sisters to shame, and tens of other beauties. The prettiest, however, at least as far as I was concerned, was a shy English girl with a stutter, who swanned in on the arm of Evelyn de Rothschild, back then a bachelor. The statute of limitations on discretion is 40 years, ergo the revelation.

Evelyn was easy to dislike. He was taller, better-looking and a hell of a lot richer than me, plus he had Sandra DouglasHome on his arm. Mind you, I am joking. Unlike some members of the British Fourth Estate, I do not suffer from envy, and Evelyn was nice to a Greek nobody, and went so far as to introduce her to me. Had I known that Michael Howard eventually got her by giving her Tender Is the Night — my bible long before he ever heard of it — things might have turned out differently. Howard might have married fellow lawyer Cherie Booth, or something like that.

Oh well, I wish the Howards luck, and they'll need it. All I know is that it was a hell of a party. It lasted four days and four nights, or 100 hours, and by the time it was over all sorts of musical-beds records had been set, and, although it's been 40 years, I'll bet the farm none of them has ever been broken.

And now, for a change of pace, to a beauty of today, Ashley Judd, who has just opened as Maggie the Cat in Tennessee Williams's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof I have not as yet seen it because I know myself. Watching the woman who — through unrequited love and adoration — caused me to grow a tumour in my head, might trigger a relapse. Especially if I'm up in the front rows. I've done plenty of foolish things in my life, some of them even very dangerous, but this is really asking for it.

Ironically, I was offered an intro to her by a friend, Billy Norwich, of the New York Times. I went for a drink with Lee Radziwill and Billy was there. He had read the Speccie and smilingly informed me that he was Ashley's friend. He graciously invited me to the premiere. That's when I got cold feet.

Now I ask you, dear readers, what kind of man refuses the invitation of a lifetime? I'll tell you. A dirty little coward, that's who. But I can no longer take this desperate, sensuous pain which makes me cry out at midnight, 'Ashley, Ashley,' while the vibrating, stricken nerves of my great devotion yearn for the balm of some sign from her. This is the curse upon those who follow the Supreme Beauty — that is to say, the Beauty that belongs, not to ideas and ideals, but to living forms. So, I am driven

by the gross pressure of circumstance to forsake her, to leave her, to turn aside and eat husks with the swine.

But enough of this purple prose, which incidentally is quite fun to play with, Ashley is married to a racing driver who is a bit younger than me. When and if I ever meet her, my opening line will be, 'Now that you've tasted youth, it's time to try vintage.' In the meantime I am working on my tan, training hard in Karate and Judo, and hoping to get my courage up to head for Broadway.