Since I published the extract a few days ago there’s been quite a lot of speculation about “Madame X’s” character, motivations etc. Some have sympathized with her, others not so. It’s been suggested she was the love of Basil’s life or that she was immature, selfish, a gold digger and helped to wreck that life. It’s even been suggested she exaggerated or even made up the connection. Some think the letters he allegedly wrote her are not genuine.I think such diversities are inevitable and understandable and will probably always remain, but I also feel a little bad that these POVs are being arrived at on the basis of partial information. I feel as if the only way to be fair is to let the documents speak for themselves as much as possible, so I’ve decided to publish as much of X’s alleged transcribed interview as is compatible with not revealing her identity.
But first some background. The transcript we have been given is of an unpublished taped interview with Hollywood golden age actress “Madame X” given some time between the late 1970s and mid 1990s.
The transcript came with a collection of letters from BR to X, two of which are in autograph and the remainder in typed copies, evidently made by someone who was thinking of publishing them, but who was not well-acquainted with the background story.
Is this collection genuine? Well, I admit when I was first given it I had my doubts, and both Marcia and I did everything we could to try to verify its authenticity. I sent it to one well-respected authority on the Hollywood Golden Age, who not only told me he was sure it was the real deal but also was able to identify X on the basis of her speech patterns alone. We checked into dates and times and biographical details and they all seemed to match. We haven’t had the handwriting forensically examined at this point, but to a lay person, it does seem to very strongly resemble Rathbone’s known hand.
We also have to ask – why would anyone bother to fake them? The present owner isn’t intending to publish or sell them and doesn’t stand to gain financially from them in any way. He alleges he is a collector of Hollywood memorabilia who knew X personally and acquired the letters etc from her estate. Hey says he is following her wishes by keeping back her name during the lifetime of her daughter. He gave the copies to Marcia and me for no charge and is willing for us to publish what we wish provided the stipulations about her identity are respected.
So, while I understand people feeling skeptical, or even wanting to dismiss the whole thing out of hand, I think we have to accept the probability that this stuff is exactly what it says it is.
Who was X talking to in this interview and under what circumstances? I think the wording of the transcript makes it pretty clear she is talking informally to someone she knew and trusted. It doesn’t seem at all like a journalistic interview. X seems off guard and completely natural. When we checked into the background it seems as if a close friend of X’s had been planning a biography or “assisted autobiography” of X in the last decade or so of her life, so I think it’s quite possible this extended interview dates from around then.
Anyhow, over the next week or so I’ll post as much of the transcript as I can, and after that people will be free to make up their own minds. 🙂
The painting at the top of the page is “Portrait of Madame X” by John Singer Sargent , 1884