Born in 1891, Audrey Munson was blessed with a classically beautiful body and the courage to bare it—or, as she put it, to “brazen it out”—in the service of art. In the new book The Curse of Beauty, James Bone argues that Munson was America’s first supermodel, and also Hollywood’s first flameout story. In Gilded Age New York, her figure inspired a generation of American artists, but by the time she got mixed up in the nascent movie business, her life began to unravel. On her 40th birthday, she would be committed to an insane asylum in Ogdensburg, New York, where she far outlived her glamorous legacy, dying unknown in 1996, at the age of 104.

The fascinating story of ‘America’s first supermodel’

June 25, 1906: Architect Stanford White, age 52, is shot dead on the roof theater of his own creation, Madison Square Garden; the murderer, Harry K. Thaw, is a jealous husband.

Madison Square Garden exterior of tower, with Diana statue on top. New-York Historical Society, McKim, Mead & White Architectural Record # 59117
'Downton Abbey' Creator: 'People Pray for My Characters'

I think we are trying to create a world in itself, a kind of universe. We want people to become involved with that world, and they do it in their relationships with these fictional characters. And sometimes their relationship can be surprisingly powe…

This interview with Julian Fellowes took place at the Berkeley Hotel in London.


How did you build your many characters, and did you build them with the actors?

When you are writing a series, it’s not like a film, because you write for the performances. You can see that this actor is funny or this one is moving, and you deliberately concoct situations to play to their strengths. If an actor says to me, “Could I have more of this, or less of that?” – it’s always worth listening, as they are inside the character.

Do you love all your characters?

I think what we got right is that we don’t give either side any more weight than the other – no more moral weight or intelligence. The love affair between Anna and Mr. Bates has the same dramatic weight as the love affair between Mary and Matthew.

How do you manage to create all these characters?

I think you know all sorts of people and you just do it. Sometimes, when you read it over, you see a false note and say, “Oh, she wouldn’t have said that or used those words.” And then my wife reads it over and she says, “I don’t think Mrs. Patmore the cook would have said that.” And she’s usually right. And then after that it goes to the producers and it’s only then that anyone else sees it.

Which are the most popular figures?

Everyone likes Maggie Smith as the dowager, but they all have their following.

As an actor, once you are a Lord or a butler you can be typecast. Don’t they get typecast?

Not Maggie Smith, she is already famous for herself. Hugh Bonneville is also pretty famous in England, and so is Elizabeth McGovern.

 So you make them very human, and there are ambiguous characters like Thomas the gay footman and Bates the valet of Lord Grantham?

Yes. Thomas is, in one sense, the least generous, but on the other hand, being homosexual at that time was very tough. They were still prosecuting homosexuals into my teens. Some people thought it was wrong; my parents thought it was wrong. I grew up in the atmosphere that this was the wrong thing to be doing, so I am sympathetic to their plight.

And Bates?

He never reveals his feelings. He doesn’t need a mass of friends, he doesn’t need reassurance, he doesn’t need to tell everyone his troubles. I am fascinated by those people. He doesn’t need forgiveness. He needs his wife Anna to love him, and as long as she loves him, then that’s enough.

And what about Anna?

His wife is a kind of enabler – generous, kind, perfectly social, easy to get on with. But she knows her husband is none of those things so she has to be the bridge between him and the rest. She normalizes her husband for you, even though her husband is not normal.

And Carson the butler?

He is more of a believer in the old order than any of the family. He believes much more passionately in the class system than either of the Granthams. He just feels that when the boat starts to rock, it will all fall apart, so every last detail must be maintained for as long as it can be.

And Mrs. Hughes the housekeeper?

She represents the majority of people in domestic service. For her, it’s a job. She’s not unhappy. When the system comes to an end she won’t be particularly bothered and will use her skills in some other way and move on.

Even Mrs. Patmore the cook?

She has a marketable skill. She became a very important character, and a lot of that was to do with Lesley Nicol, who plays her, because she’s very funny.


Are the acting company like a family, and do they get on together?

They all get on very well and look forward to coming back to work each year. They are not together between August and February, and they all do other things. And then they come back to go on with the series. It’s a nice atmosphere on the set. I was there the other day.


Are you friendly with them all? Your great friend is Maggie Smith?

I am pretty friendly with most of them, and know some better than others. And I have worked with Hugh and Maggie and Allen Leech before. They are a nice group.

They are very different from the characters they play?

Yes. Some more different than others.