tonight @pyrrhiccomedy, @hellscabanaboy and I went to a special after hours tour of the Ukranian Institute: one of the oldest Gilded Age mansions in New York City, and, more importantly, the most goddamn haunted-looking place I’ve ever seen. 


30 Day Romanov Challenge || Favourite Grand Duchess or Princess [½]

Her Highness Princess Xenia Georgievna of Russia was born 22 August 1903 to Grand Duke George Mikhailovich of Russia, grandson of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, and Princess Maria Georgievna of Greece, daughter of King George I of Greece. Her elder sister was Princess Nina Georgievna. Though Xenia was “only” a princess of the imperial blood, she was closely tied by blood to the Imperial Family—her mother was a niece of Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, making Xenia a first cousin of Princess Irina Alexandrovna—the last tsar’s only niece and wife of prince Felix Yusupov—and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna the Younger, an intimate of Nicholas II and his family.

Xenia was born at the New Michael Palace in Saint Petersburg, but moved in 1905 to Harax, an English-style Palace in the Crimea that was a gift from George Mikhailovich to Maria Georgievna. She had brown hair, brown eyes and would eventually stand 5 feet, 5-½ inches tall, and was known for her temper tantrums. George and Maria spoke French to each other, and as it was the preferred language of society, so we can presume Xenia and Nina were raised with French as their primary language. In 1908, Geoge Mihkailovich gave his daughter Xenia a mohair bear for Christmas who she named Alfonzo. Her nanny made Xenia’s bear a Cossack outfit. Xenia and Alfonso were inseparable and inspired a story called ”The Alfonzo Story: The World’s Most Romanov Teddy Bear” by Ian Pout. Xenia and Nina threw dance parties when the Imperial Family was in residence at Livadia, and thus were the occassional playmates of Grand Duchesses Maria and Anastasia Nikolayevna. According to Xenia, Anastasia was “wild and rough” and  “cheated at games, kicked, scratched, pulled hair, and generally knew how to make herself obnoxious”. One of the last times Xenia and Anastasia played together was in the spring of 1914, when they played on  the Black Sea.

Maria and George were unhappy. In summer 1914, Xenia and Nina saw their father—and the imperial—for the last time. Maria Georgievna took Xenia and Nina to England on the pretext of their health; the truth was she wanted to escpae her marriage. Maria and her daughters spent the summer at Buckingham Palace. Because of the resulting WWI, Xenia and Nina were was unable to reunite with their father. They first stayed at Marlborough House in the wake of WWI but eventually lived in their own homes, in Chester Square London and Harrogate in Yorkshire. (cont reading below)

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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’
'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.
Downton Abbey WILL end this year as cast look for job offers in America

Writer Julian Fellowes is ditching the popular ITV show, which stars Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham, after its sixth series

This is not the news Downton Abbey fans will want to hear, but the period drama is coming to an end this year.

Writer Julian Fellowes is ditching the popular ITV show, which stars Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham, after its sixth series so he can work on a new project about 19th century New York.

Last week, agents were seeking work for some of the main stars while they were in Los Angeles at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

One source said: “It’s an open secret that Downton is ending this year.

“Some of the actors are keen to let it be known they will be available for work after the summer. Some are interested in the US, where Downton is as popular as it is in the UK.

Joanne Froggatt, Edith Carmichael and Allen Leech were in Los Angeles for the awards last week and there were several meetings about both TV and film roles.”

The stars collected the gong for outstanding performance by an ensemble cast for the second time.

Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary, has spoken in the past about working in America.

She said: “It feels as though there are more opportunities for us over there. “I love spending time there.”

Stars such as Dan Stevens and Jessica Brown Findlay have already left Downton after getting offers from Hollywood.

The sixth and final Downton is due to start filming in the spring and will finish in the summer before airing on ITV from September.

ITV declined to comment but drama chiefs are looking for a ­replacement show for autumn Sunday nights, which generates some of the highest ratings of the year.

A source said: “They want something long-running and ­ambitious.”

Independent production companies have been asked to pitch for the slot, which traditionally generates some of the highest ratings of the year.

One TV insider revealed: “They are looking for something which is long-running and ambitious and which could appeal to the mass audience in the way that Downton has done.”

Anticipation over the plots for the final run of Downton will now be immense.

Last month the Christmas special ended with the revelation that Mrs Hughes the housekeeper (Phyllis Logan) and Carson the butler (Jim Carter) are to be married.

But viewers will also want to see Lady Mary (Dockery) settled with a new husband after dallying with a string of suitors and also for Lady Edith (Carmichael) to find happiness after the death of her newspaper editor lover in strange circumstances in Germany.

Fans would also love to see Isobel Crawley marry Lord Merton despite his interfering sons and for Anna and Mr Bates to become parents.

Writer Fellowes confessed a year ago that he needed to get on with new NBC drama The Gilded Age, set in 19th century New York.

He told the Wall Street Journal: “It will happen when Downton finishes, because I just couldn’t do both at once.”

He added at the time, “Downton is not going to go on forever. It won’t be Perry Mason.”

Speaking at the National Television Awards last week, Fellowes confirmed he was looking forward to getting his teeth into The Golden Age.

“I am interested to do another series because Downton was the first series I’d ever written.

"Now I feel I know much more about the game. I suppose there is something interesting about the idea of going on and using it somewhere else.”