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Churchill and Reves: A Breach in Friendship

By Frank Shatz

THE VIRGINA GAZETTE, November 2010 – “I didn’t realize the Reveses had a falling out with Churchill. What was the cause of that?” This was one of the many comments in response to my recent Gazette column, “Churchill & Reves.


In that column I noted that in spite of the heartbreak caused by the breach of friendship, Emery Reves didn’t hold Churchill responsible. He assigned the blame to Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping magnate. But in fact, the reason for the end to the longstanding and deep-rooted friendship between the Churchills and the Reveses, was more complicated.


During the years 1956, 1957 and 1958, Churchill spent about a third of each year at the Villa La Pausa, the Reveses palatial home on the French Riviera.


“We put an entire floor of La Pausa at the disposal of Sir Winston,” Wendy Reves told me. “He had a large bedroom there, Anthony Montague Browne, his private secretary, an office, Lady Churchill, her own suite, and there were numerous guest rooms. They were never empty while Churchill was at the villa. He could invite anybody, and he did.”


The dinner party’s at La Pausa were legendary. Among the guests were West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, the Duke of Windsor, Charles de Gaulle, Greta Garbo, Somerset Maugham, and many other notables. The one who longed to be invited, but wasn’t for a long time, was Aristotle Onassis.


“I never liked Onassis, and avoided to have anything to do with him,” Emery Reves once told me.

“It was my doing, my mistake to invite him for dinner,” Wendy confessed during one of her visits to Williamsburg. “I even suggested to Ari, he should invite Sir Winston for a cruise of his luxurious yacht, “Christina.”


First, there were one-day cruises on the Mediterranean, and the Reveses were routinely included in the guests list. Soon, Onassis extended his generous hospitality to Churchill, by offering free-of-charge stays at his world-class Hotel de Paris, in Monte Carlo.


Encouraged by Lady Churchill, Sir Winston accepted the offer, and instead of La Pausa, he spent his holidays at the Hotel de Paris. Then, in the spring of 1960, Onassis invited the Churchills for a month’s long cruise in the West Indies. The Reveses later learned that Onassis had been asked not to invite them on the cruise. They have also learned that the request was made on the behest of Lady Churchill.


“Lady Churchill was cold. His family, were afraid to touch him. I’d call him ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling.’ I could grab his head and hold it close to me when he was unhappy and say: ‘Don’t be sad, baby.” Wendy told an interviewer on the British TV network BBC-1, channel.


No wonder that Lady Churchill resented their relationship and welcomed Onassis’ effort to wean Sir Winston away from the Reveses. Yet, in the summer of 1960, Churchill sent a telegraph to them, indicating that he would like to return to Las Pausa, in September, for an extended stay.


The telegram elicited a long and sorrowful letter from Emery Reves. He recalled that in spite of repeated invitations, Churchill declined to come back to La Pausa, and went instead to the Hotel de Paris. “You cannot imagine how shocked we were when two years ago we suddenly realized that all kinds of intrigues started destroying this friendship…And that these forces had succeeded in destroying what was a happy and lovely companionship.”


Reves wrote, “It is not possible for me to describe the humiliation and sufferings we had to endure which left deep marks both in Wendy and me… I am fully aware that all this was not intended, and that you were a victim, perhaps even more than we were.”


Alas, in spite of several attempt by Churchill to restart the relationship with the Reveses, and a letter from Lady Churchill to Wendy Reves, assuring her that “as far as we are concerned there are no intrigues; and we are all deeply grateful for the hospitality we have enjoyed with you,” there was no real reconciliation between them.


“The worst Lady Churchill did to us was not allowing me and Emery to go to the funeral of Sir Winston. We were in London on the day Sir Winston was buried. We had to watch the funeral on TV at our hotel room,” Wendy recalled.


©The Virginia Gazette

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