But, like Beebe and the rest of this set, Paul was a vital and integral part of a substantial much wider social world and network which included the very best of society that included all the great names such as the Astors and the Venderbilts. In fact, it was Paul who dubbed the redoubtable Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, seen below in her New York drawing room, as "Her Grace". She loved it! And if she feared his sometimes acerbic observations, it didn't keep her from once accosting him at a dinner they were both attending on which occasion she took his arm to lead her out as the party was winding down, saying "Don't let people think we've been scrapping"! This anedote was also reported in LIFE Magazine.
Other acquaintances that were part of the scene Paul covered as "Cholly Knickerbocker" and who constituted such personages as Mrs. Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte seen below. In fact, after WWII erupted in 1939, the horde of European titled nobility and royals that swarmed to the USA, obviously seeking safety, and congregated to New York. There they were clearly a welcome addition to the social scene of these years as the USA had yet to enter the conflict in Europe until late 1941. And Paul delighted in adding to his social network such personages which also included various members of the Rothschild tribe in addition to Archduke Otto von Hapsburg and a veritable tsunami of assorted Continental princes, dukes, counts and barons...
Paul was born into gentility and he lived life to the hilt! This photo below was published of him in the 1930's being served breakfast in bed by a rather fetching butler wearing a white jacket. Note the stylish leopard skin throw over the twin bed.
But Paul was no idler. He worked constantly and was a virtuoso of that rare art of working intensely while appearing to be having a good time and he was unfailingly immaculately dressed. Below this photo from the LIFE Magazine article of November 1941 shows a typical day in his office
His prose was bouncy, sometimes subtle, sometimes caustic, and unfailingly appeared effortless. Enviable! Among other catch phrases he invented that have remained with us were such terms as "Glamour Girl". While perhaps "Cupid's Graveyard" is another term that has admittedly - though lamentably - fallen out of use today... His style was innately pregnant with nuance and breezy. And it came from someone who knew his place in the world with no qualms. According to LIFE Magazine, "If it is not art, Paul's style is rich and distinctive. Paul's girls are not married, but "transformed into brides". Talk is 'chit chat', large numbers of people 'hordes', a lot of money 'oodles of ducats'. Lush with meaningful quotation marks, he will write '(So and so's) lovely 'ex' has been having what is called 'a time'. I'm so-o-o-o curious!"
Below is a photo of Paul with his assistant. It would seem he is already dressed to dine out and in his shirtsleeves rushing to get a column on the typewriter in his apartment's butlers' pantry to meet an obvious deadline before he has to leave for the evening's engagements. According again to the same article in LIFE Magazine "A hunt-& -peck typist, he feels that shirtsleeves make him kin to the working press" !
The article in LIFE Magazine that lured me into Paul's world was published in November of 1941. It was entitled Life Goes Calling on "Cholly Knickerbocker". Above all, the article was a visit to Paul's smart, luxurious and spacious New York apartment located at 163 East 64th Street where he lived with his mother, Eleanor Virginia Biddle Paul ( 1859 - 1956 ).
As an article offering a glimpse into the private residence of a personage of the day whose entire life was about observing and recording the activities of the New York social elite, it was not surprising to read and see in the illustrations that Paul's great style was all pervasive and infused every aspect of his unapologetically sybaritic life. Good for him! Life is short and his was especially short! And he lived it with joie de vivre!
Below is a Getty Images photo as it appeared in the LIFE Magazine article with a wide view of the drawing room. I was immediately drawn by it's effortless chic and unstudied elegance. A busy man like Paul may have instinctively sought to create a worthy decor around him. But I was provoked to offer this essay on this blog because this modest but revealing article about his apartment and domestic surroundings published on the eve of his unexpected death at the age of 52 raises more questions than it has answers about who was responsible for pulling this drawing room and the other rooms so successfully. One can't help but detect the plausible professional assistance of such decorators of stature of Paul's day like George Stacey or possibly William Pahlmann. Both men of talent surely were not unknown to Paul (and the two decorators obviously knew one another) and, as both were gay men who moved among the same circles it's perfectly possible one or the other had a hand in the decoration of Paul's handsome apartment.
Looking at a close up (seen below) that I scanned from the LIFE Magazine article I wanted to get a closer look at the mirrored vaguely Neoclassical coffee table with inset mirrored panels in a wood frame characterized by tapering square legs. Having seen another example of this prototype in the house of friends whose parents had been clients of William Pahlman, I'm inclined to suspect he may have been the decorator of this forgotten decorative ensemble on East 64th Street. Additionally, many other Pahlmann characteristics are present. There is a joyful (and you can be certain well thought out) assortment of fine antique combining a wide variety of periods and styles including and English mid Georgian secretary desk, a walnut Louis XVI fauteuil en cabriolet with fine needlepoint, a Louis XIII os de mouton armchair, a Neoclassical Atheniene, and an old master painting that (if you really strain to examine the photo) may be an 18th Century landscape with ruins that could be by Hubert Robert or Giovanni Paolo Pannini or, at least, one of their contemporaries. This photo depicts a drawing room that not only welcomes... It beckons and begs inquiry from decorative arts historians about who is responsible for this remarkable room in which the even the Regency inspired curtains surmounted by festive pelmets worthy of Brighton Pavilion are a celebration of the art of living well!
I lean more towards the William Pahlmann attribution due largely to the coffee table which is a visual anchor in the room above and is a Pahlman signature that he seems to have designed. A version of the same coffee table is espied in a well known documented Palmann interior the decorator created for Mrs. Walter Hoving in 1948 seen below. It also has the same cosmopolitan unpretentious combination of various antique period and style furniture and appointments including the dramatic Chinese lacquer paravent that always lends an element of theatre!
Another of William Pahlmann's more memorable interiors in which the same very easy sophisticated combination of widely diverse but invariably ravishing furniture and appointments is in evidence is seen below in this 1967 drawing room that Pahlmann decorated for Mrs. Carll Tucker's New York City Townhouse. Two alternate views are seen below. Again this landmark interior by Pahlmann has many of the same trademarks as that of Paul's apartment as photographed in LIFE Magazine in late 1941.
Did Paul engage one of the best emerging talents of his day to undertake the decoration of his New York apartment in the late 1930's? The answer may perhaps be found in the Winterthur Library in Delaware where the William Pahlmann papers comprising invoices, correspondence, blue prints, drawings, sample books, client records and photos are maintained. The Hagley Museum and Library in Delaware also has papers that seen to feature what the library website notes as Pahlmann's "Publicity Books that comprise a series of twenty-six bound scrap books documenting William Pahlmann's career as an interior and industrial designer".
Perusing the other photos depicting "a day in the life" of "Cholly Knickerbocker" in the same 1941 LIFE Magazine article, we see Paul beginning his day in bed already conducting business on the phone - probably gossiping about the prior evening's social event with someone who was also there?
The article cites the inevitable leopard skin throw over the twin bed that we saw in the earlier photo from the 1930's that indicates that photo we see earlier above was taken in a prior residence. Or was it taken in a Florida residence that Paul and his mother also apparently maintained? Many questions yet to be answered! The LIFE Magazine caption on this photo also notes the handsome portrait of Isabella Brant to be by the hand of no one less than the greatest master of 17th Century Flanders, Peter Paul Rubens! According to this same caption, it was an authentic portrait by Rubens of his wife and was acquired with the advise of no one less that William Randolph Hearst who knew a thing or two about collecting!
However, as I did some preliminary investigating online. I found that the only identical portrait of Isabell Brant accepted by the experts by the hand of Rubens is this version that is in the collection of The Mauritshuis, The Hague in the Netherlands. What happened to Paul's belongings after his surviving mother probably took them over? Another thing that would need to be investigated... What is very likely the case of what happened is that the portrait was subsequently concluded to be a good copy from the studio of the master. But again, the question of the portrait remains unanswered. The "original" in the Dutch museum is seen below.
Below is the photo of Paul taking breakfast "of fruit and tea" in his very Georgian inspired Hollywood Regency-ish dining room described in LIFE Magazine as "silver filled" and in which he is seated at the head of his table under what the caption assures the reader is a portrait described as "Sir Godfrey Kneller's Duke of York". A preliminary foray into Kneller's portraits of such an important personage who eventually reigned very briefly as the despised James II of England indicated this portrait was very likely "optimistically" identified as a Royal prince to fetch a better price at auction or in a gallery.
By his own admission, Paul declared to LIFE Magazine, "I always smell to the Heaven"! And the article included this rather surprising image of him toweling himself down after a shower in his bathroom to get prepared for another customary night on the town which was certainly all in a day's work for him!
And below are two additional photos from the same LIFE Magazine issue in which a typical evening out is shown with Paul's arrival by taxi....
And below he is awaiting the taxi to take him home after ending another evening out at El Morocco...
As stated earlier above, this article that encouraged me to write this blog essay provoked endless questions about the life, the activities and the style that Maury Henry Biddle Paul LIVED and LOVED. There is a story here! Additionally, from the primary focus I have maintained here, there is also much to be discovered about the decorator to which Paul entrusted the decoration of his elegant New York apartment. If William Pahlmann was the talent responsible for providing Paul with an appropriately suitable cadre de vie, he also deserves credit for this fine tour de force!
Not much but a few internet websites (that include obituaries) mention much about Maury Henry Biddle Paul. And amazingly, at a time that the subject of high society in mid 20th Century America and Europe are claiming increasing attention among social and decorative arts historians, a biography of this urbane and witty man is certainly needed. For now, all we have is this very dated biography (seen below) written shortly after his death in 1942 by his last assistant Eve Brown which has the fittingly festive title Champagne Cholly!