By Michael G. Ankerich
I admit to being glued to the tube several weeks ago during the Diamond Jubilee celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years on the throne. I fell in love with Her Royal Highness all over again. Someone offered to give me a copy of Kitty Kelley’s The Royals, but I wasn’t interested in reading a butchering of a real class act.
When I was a kid, I read nothing but celebrity biographies. By the time I reached puberty, I could tell you how many times Zsa Zsa had been down the aisle and could spit out all of the last names Elizabeth Taylor had acquired over the years. Thanks to one of my favorite childhood books, Flesh and Fantasy, I could even tell you how Zsa Zsa and Elizabeth were related by marriage.
Rona Barrett seemed like an old family friend.
You get the picture; I was infatuated with old Hollywood.
I was rusty about English history and it was only in my early teens that I realized Elizabeth II was the Head of State of the United Kingdom and 15 other Commonwealth realms. She was the real Queen.
From my earliest years, I had thought it was Barbara Cartland who ruled the kingdom. She fit my image of a queen. From photographs I’d seem of her, she appeared to live in a royal palace. This beauty never went out among her public unless she looked like a million bucks.
I put two-and-two together one summer when I saw the lovely Miss Cartland on the back of one of my Aunt Omie’s romance novels. My Aunt Omie was really my great aunt, and I only saw her a few weeks a year during the summer when she’d visit my grandparent’s farm.
I never knew this elegant blonde beauty was the author of the Harlequin romances and the most prolific romance writer of our time.
Barbara Cartland’s books were never laying around the house. My mother couldn’t be bothered with old-fashioned parlor romance. Are you kidding? She went in for the hardcore writers of sleaze — Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann come to mind as several of mom’s favorites.
As it turns out, one of my Aunt Omie’s books slipped behind the bed on one of her visits, and she left it behind. The photo on the back of that paperback was stunning. I found it hard to convince myself that Barbara Cartland was not THE queen.
Knowing my auntie would probably never miss the book, I carefully cut the photo from the back of the book and wrote to Miss Cartland at an address I found on the copyright page. I asked her politely to autograph the photo and to write a few words of wisdom on a piece of stationary I sent with it. (As a teenager, I kept the U.S. Postal Service in business by writing to celebrities and asking them what advice they would give to a young man just starting out in life).
Here’s what came in the mail one morning about a month later.
I looked at her letter for days.
I felt a tug at my heart when I saw her obituary in the paper many years later. She was quite a classy lady.
What became of Aunt Omie’s romance novel that was missing the back cover photo? I have no idea. I am ashamed to say I never read it. I was deep into Looking for Mr. Goodbar!