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To the One I Love the Best

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by Ludwig Bemelmans
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This 1955 work by the beloved author of La Bonne Table and Hotel Splendide is less obviously concerned with the world of grand hotels and restaurants in which those books were set. But it is very much concerned with hospitality and larger than life figures.

At the heart of the story is Bemelman’s friendship with Elsie de Wolfe, an actress turned interior designer and social arbiter who befriended him upon his arrival in 1940s Los Angeles to write a script: “She weighed about ninety pounds without her jewels and she was about ninety years old.” She commands every room.

The Elsie de Wolfe of Bemelman’s conjuration is captivating, almost literally, for she bids him move into her California Spanish mansion where she sweeps him into a dazzling world of movie stars and expatriate royalty. 

Louis B. Mayer, William Randolph Hearst, Olivia di Havilland, and Mary Pickford and many others all have walk-on parts, but it is de Wolfe and her opinions on everything from friendship, music and fabric to champagne and airplanes that drive drive the book’s narrative.

Perhaps not the first Bemelmans book we would recommend (see La Bonne Table) but very satisfying for those who have come to relish his writing.


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