Documentary is all in the royal family

June 29, 1995|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,London Bureau of The Sun Sun staff writers Linell Smith and Fred Rasmussen contributed to this article.

London -- Prince Edward is in search of his roots. And the journey could take him to Baltimore.

Queen Elizabeth's youngest child is fronting an extraordinary, two-hour documentary to air next year, marking the 60th anniversary of the abdication of King Edward VIII. "Edward on Edward" will explore the post-abdication life and jet set exile of the fallen king and his wife, Wallis Warfield Simpson, a twice-divorced Baltimore native.

Though their story has been told many times, the royal participation in a television documentary is unprecedented.

As the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the pair reigned over high society in Europe and America. The producers have visited many of the couple's old haunts in Paris, and are trying to arrange a Baltimore meeting in July between the prince and any close surviving relatives of Simpson, who died childless in 1986.

"There are an awful lot of myths that have grown up around them," says Prince Edward, who goes by the name Edward Windsor in his role as television host and producer. "Hopefully, this is an opportunity to straighten a few of the stories out. The more people I can talk to who knew both the Duke of Windsor and the Duchess well will enable a much more accurate picture to emerge."

The producers originally approached the Maryland Historical Society to find descendants from the two main family lines of the duchess, the Warfields of Maryland and the Montagues of Virginia.

The researchers came up empty.

But there are several distant relatives still alive who caught glimpses of the elegant life lived by the duke and duchess, who made frequent trips to Maryland in the 1940s and 1950s.

As a child, the duchess lived on Biddle Street in Baltimore, made her society debut in 1914 at the Bachelors Cotillon at the Lyric Theatre and attended Oldfields in Glencoe. She married her first husband, Winfield Spencer, when she was 20.

Nicholas Bosley Merryman, 82, a distant Simpson relative who lives in Parkton, says he'd be more than happy to meet with Prince Edward.

"Well, how about that," Mr. Merryman said when told of the documentary.

"For us, there was no disgrace," Mr. Merryman says. "The only people who objected to the marriage were in the Royal Family. I guess they're supposed to marry kings and queens, not commoners."

Edwin Warfield, 71, who lives on his Oakdale family farm in Howard County, is another distant relative who recalls once dancing with the Duchess of Windsor at a Hunt Cup ball. He was just out of the service and remembers being more nervous dancing with his relative than fighting at Iwo Jima.

"When we were growing up, my dad shielded us from the whole thing because we were too small to know about this nasty divorce," he says.

Mr. Warfield says he understands why the duchess retained her Maryland connections.

"It's the same reason you go to your high school reunion," he says. "She never got so conceited or stuck up that she didn't remember her roots were in Baltimore."

Mr. Warfield isn't even surprised that a current member of the royal family would get involved in a television production on the duke and duchess.

"It's a merchandisable piece of information," he says. "Royalty has to keep busy."

Yet royal participation in a televised documentary on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor is unprecedented.

Prince Edward says the royal family has no objections to his search into the life of his great-uncle.

"It's difficult to claim ownership of this story," Prince Edward says. "It's such a public story."

The monarchy faced its gravest crisis of the 20th century when Edward VIII renounced the crown and fled into exile. The abdication saga of 1936 gripped world attention for months, but news of the love affair between the king and the socialite was blacked out in England.

The king insisted on marrying Simpson, despite the objections of the British Cabinet and the Archbishop of Canterbury. In December 1936, the king announced his abdication, saying he could not carry out his duties "without the help and support of the woman I love."

Edward VIII's younger brother was proclaimed King George VI, much to the dismay of his wife, Queen Elizabeth, now the queen mother, who is Prince Edward's grandmother.

"There is no doubt at all the queen mother does feel King Edward VIII pitched her husband into a job for which he was not trained," says Philip Ziegler, author of the official biography of Edward VIII. "By the end, they were more or less reconciled. I don't feel she would feel this film is likely to say anything or produce any new facts or distress. I'd be surprised if she was very disturbed."

Christine Carter, an associate producer for the Man Alive Group, which is filming the documentary with Prince Edward's Ardent company, says the show will tackle head-on allegations that the Duke of Windsor had pro-Nazi sympathies. It will also detail the sumptuous but ultimately empty and lonely years the Duke and Duchess of Windsor spent in exile.

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