11 Feb 2011
avatar Author: Colette Van Den Thillart
Creative Director

I’m pleased I didn’t heed my friend Robin Muir who gave me a proper elbow to the ribs when I posted about Beverley Nichols.  It didn’t deter me from pulling ‘All I Could Never Be’ off Nicky’s bookshelf last time I was at the Hunting Lodge, in whose pages I discovered a positive GEM that has led Nicky and I on the most pleasant of chases.  If you will all open your books to page 105 we can begin. 

The Chateau de l’Horizon was built by American actress Maxine Elliott, who reined supreme over the Riviera through the 20′s and 30′s until her death in 1940.  It stood sandwiched on a rocky thin strip of land between the Golfe Juan and the noisy/sooty coastal railway.  ‘Some people described the Chateau d’Horizon as a triumph of mind over matter others as an example of sheer feminine cussedness, while there were some who shrugged their shoulders and said that it was proof of the power of unlimited money.’

Elliott was a great American beauty… wealthy, successful business woman, an actress/divorcee…and the once rumored lover of J.P. Morgan.  She retired from acting in 1920 ‘as she wished to grow middle-aged gracefully’

Elliott was both sumptuous AND savy, but credit for the brilliance of l’Horizon surely belongs largely to American architect, Barry Dierks and his British business partner, Eric Sawyer.  (on an aside…Nicky has already placed a call to his tailor regarding this supremely chic suit). Dierks and Sawyer were both business partners and long term lovers.  They would go on the build over 100 villas on the Cote d’Azur including their own Le Trident in 1926 where Pablo Picasso, Somerset Maugham, Beverley Nichols and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor would gather.  In fact Villa Mauresque on Cap Ferrat was also designed by them for Somerset Maugham…but, we musn’t get too sidetracked, there is SO much to talk about at l’Horizon alone.

Dierks and Sawyer’s on the roof of their own home…Villa le Trident. According to Nichols, Chateau l’Horizon was their first large commission.  Nichols writes of visits to Elliott…. 

 ”I used to clamber over the rocks with Maxine, discussing terraces and swimming pools.  It all seemed somewhat too academic, because I did not see how it would be possible to build a wall high enough to shut off the railway, nor a terrace broad enough to sit on without falling into the sea.  I kept my doubts to myself; others were not so tactful.  Among these were Lady Mendl…”

MAXINE  Well, Elsie dear, I always told you that this was the choicest spot on the whole coast.

LADY MENDL  Yes, dear, you always did

MAXINE Why you never snapped it up yourself I can’t imagine

LADY MENDL Not quite quiet enough for me, Maxine dear.

MAXINE (snorting) Not quite quiet enough? What are you talking about? (Noticing Lady Mendl glancing over her shoulder to the railway) Oh – I see – the railway! Well, what’s wrong with the railway?

LADY MENDL Nothing dear, Just a little close.

MAXINE Close? Nonsense! It’s ridiculous, all this talk about the railway!

(At this point, a gleam comes into Lady Mendl’s eye, for she has heard in the distance the ominous roar of an approaching express)

LADY MENDL What did you say, darling

MAXINE (hastily, to beat the express) Ridiculous this railway talk

LADY MENDL I can’t hear dear. (the express hurtles by) All these trains!

MAXINE  Only once a day.

LADY MENDL  Only once what?

MAXINE  (muttering sotto voice) She ought to use a trumpet. (At the top of her voice) Only once a day! The Riviera Express!

LADY MENDL Really? (a large flake of soot floats on to her plate) Really? (she pushes aside the soot, very ostentatiously, with the edge of her rusk) Really!


Dierks and Sawyer built gigantic walls on the very edge of the embankment, they designed immense windows filled with diamonds of sound-proof glass, and they coaxed every last inch out of the narrow rock.  The fact that is was ‘gall and wormwood to many of Maxines dearest friends, who had prophesied disaster‘, didn’t deter all of European and Hollywood Royalty from making l’Horizon a favoured playground.  And yes YES that IS a chute into the sea!!

Now when I showed this to Nicky to see what he could conjure he went immediately to the shelves and pulled out some ‘further reading’!  ‘yes, yes…Churchill…Duchess of Windsor, Beaton…’!! Nicky’s pulling books by the minute.   ‘Aly‘ by Leonard Slater proved especially fruitful, for he not only bought l’Horizon in the late 40′s, but married Rita Hayworth there May 1949.  

From this book I quote:

Pg 127 – Aly had kept in mind the house he and Tommy Burke had visited, ignoring barbed wire and mine fields, after the invasion of Southern France.  The Chateau de l’Horizon, designed by the American architect Barry Dierks, for the American actress Maxine Elliott was unprepossessing from the highway, but  intimate and charming on its sea side.  Big windows gulped in the view; a broad terrace, with gardens at either end, stretched across the beige rocks; below that was another terrace supporting a giant swimming pool, and below the pool, as below a ship, lapped the sea. 

Aly bought it from Miss Elliotts heirs for only $87,000.00 bidding for it anonymously.

It was not the grandest estate on the Riviera; it was of another sort entirely from the stately villas of La Belle Epoque with their mirrored Louis XVI décor and formal gardens.  It was modern, informal, and spectacular.  It caught the sun like a tilted mirror and Aly loved to lunch on its terrace, stripped to the waist to enjoy the winter sun.   And he loved l’Horizon’s size.  With ten bedrooms and seven baths, it was possible to have a houseful of guests without their bumping into one another in the halls.  

Actress Rita Hayworth and her husband Aly Khan sharing a table at their reception at Chateau de l’Horizon with Aga Khan and his fourth wife.

Pg 152 – to impress Rita, Aly ordered a quick Potemkin-village transformation of the haphazardly run Chateau.  He hired a new chef, brought down his best china and silver from his country house outside Paris, and bought new table linens.

The luncheon at the Chateau….Jules, the bar manager of the Carlton, was to be in charge of the bars at the Chateau.   He promptly created a new cocktail, the Ritaly; two-thirds Canadian Club, one third Italian vermouth, two drops of bitters, and a cherry.  

Pg 171 - At the Chateau, everything was ready; thousands of fresh flowers had been wired into the ivy to embellish the garden; two hundred gallons of eau de cologne had been poured into the swimming pool, in which floated two giant floral wreaths in the shape of an A (for Aly) and an M for Margarita. ( Nicky informs me…Rita’s real name was Marguerite Cansino).

As soon as Rita and Aly arrived, Jules offered each of them a Ritaly cocktail.  “They each took a sip,”he recalls. “I made over four hundred of my drink, the Ritaly, that day.  The guests didn’t drink much but the journalists, especially the Indian journalists, oh the Indian journalists,; they drank, some of them seven or eight of my Ritalys.

Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

29 May 1949, Cannes, France — The wedding reception of Prince Aly Khan and Rita Hayworth was held at the Chateau De L’Horizon.  Here they pose for photo.

Of course it wasn’t a perfect happily ever after…

His whole life was so different” Rita explained, “it was too difficult for me. I wasn’t prepared for it and , who knows, he probably wasn’t prepared for me”.

She was baffled and discomfited by the international set. The gossip was about people and places she didn’t know, and often in French. Although Aly hired a tutor to teach her the language, she found it slow going.  Often she realised with a pang that guests at the Chateau knew the house better than she, and felt more at home there.  And so many of them were women, sophisticated women, the kind that always made her fell ill at ease.’

Strangely…alluringly….just this weekend the Chateau l’Horizon was mentioned in the Telegraph’s Princess de Polignac obit.  She stayed at l’Horizon in 1947 with her hostess Rosita Winston.  Great gossipy tales abound  in Life Magazine Nov 10 1947 issue and yours for the googling….because alas…we have written too much already!! (for today…)

10 Responses to “GEARING UP FOR VALENTINES DAY…AND HAVE WE GOT A PRESENT FOR YOU! The Chateau de l’Horizon…part one of…oh at least two i should think!”

  1. avatar susie says:

    This is like a beautiful short story. I love the idea of modern, informal, and spectacular. I try to aim for lavish and informal when we have people round but M.I and S. is much more stylish.
    Am very inspired by this and so, you’ll be glad to hear, is the cow…
    Susie xx

  2. avatar p gaye tapp says:

    Always the coming together of these personalities must have been a happening. I love the modern- informal- spectacular ideal too. It resonates- especially when I think of modern in the framework of Chateau l’Horizon. (about as modern as I get). HOW ELSIE MUST HAVE HATED sitting across from the gorgeous Maxine! however what she lacked in good looks she have had in spades with wickedness and wit!
    I just stumbled over the interiors from the ‘I AM LOVE’ movi-e Villa Campiglio on an Italian blog (did a short post on it with the link) that is of the same ilk . Maybe THIS is my era. Love x 3 this POST. You out did yourself- teacher. pgt

  3. Fascinating…umm I wish it had been my era with of course the funds!

  4. avatar Brillante says:

    What a great post, full of images, stories, famous people. Really enjoyed every word and looking forward to read more.

  5. avatar Karena says:

    The lives, the times, the homes, such fascinating personalities! Excited to hear more & more!

    Art by Karena

  6. avatar colette says:

    Susie – a happy cow = a happy blogger and PGT yes, LOVE to conjure Elsie huffing!! Thank you all – we will post more indeed. xx happy valentines day

  7. avatar Susan says:

    Wonderful post! I am about to sit down to a home-cooked meal in Colonial Africa (not prepared by myself, I’ll admit!) in preparation for our wedding in the Namibian desert on Saturday. Thank you for a delightful short story. xxx

  8. Hello,

    I have been a fan of your firm for a while. Our friends from London rave about your work! Would love to use a few pics in my blog if I may?
    Slavica (your Seductively French friend)

  9. avatar denled says:

    Someone necessarily help to make seriously posts I’d state. That is the very first time I frequented your web page and thus far? I amazed with the analysis you made to make this particular publish incredible. Fantastic job!

  10. Very happy to see this posting as I’m working on the biography of Barry Dierks, his houses and, most of all, those fascinating people who lived in them in the first part of the last century. A Riviera time capsule.
    Maureen Emerson

Leave a Reply