Love at First Sight: The King and Hattie
©2022 A work of fiction that should have been.
By Edmund J. Janas, II
In the background the voices of the theater projectionists started fading like the flitter of film clapping on a spool. King Edward heard them before the theater went dark, being audibly impertinent, but he did not care.
Projectionist 1: “Ah, he watches Gone with the Wind again! The fifth time this week alone, does King Edward have a crush on Vivien Leigh?”
The theater manager chimed, “He’s the King of England, we’ll show it to him a hundred times a week if he’s paying. Besides, I think it’s more than a crush, don’t you? He’s practically mesmerized by her!”
The young projectionist looked on in admiration at the screen popping with color, “No kidding! Look at those beautiful green eyes of Ms. Leigh!”
In the flicker of the theater at this showing King Edward sat alone, glassy eyed and mesmerized. It was her voice, her command, it was the fullness of her womanhood striking a deep chord in him that reverberated from within his soul and echoed down deep into his loins at every syllable she uttered.
It was around the 6th showing that the theater manager stepped back in stunned surprise, his face aghast. Perhaps it was his joyous laughter whenever Ms. McDaniel appeared on screen, or some soft sigh he let out unawares. But it was clear to the theater owner, though a simple-minded man, that the King of England had a crush on not Vivien Leigh, but on Hattie McDaniel. The theater manager, shocked and mouth-wide-open, exclaimed in French, “Mon Dieu! Le Roi a un coup de foudre!” (“My God! The King has a love at first sight!”) and the projectionist upon hearing this dropped several canisters of film. Moments later the manager would be in the theater lobby proudly spreading the rumor by phone like a gossipy crone and this would foreshadow two long dark years that would turn the monarchy upside down and inside out.
Wallis Warfield Simpson, the King’s lover had arranged the perfect setting for the meeting between Hattie and the King at his behest, never suspecting that the King had designs on Hattie. It never even occurred to her. The cabaret was full of red velvet drapery and a romantic ambience, complete with a stage for the Apache dancers. As the two watched the dancers, they both looked at each other with admiration and discussed how they thought the dance was downright abusive.
The King then suggested a plan: “What if we went back here every Saturday afternoon and tried it ourselves?”
Hattie smiled a girlish smile and said, “Your Highness, that would be highly illegal in this country and yours, I’m sure.”
The King responded with a twinkle in his eye, “Splendid, then let us meet with Monsieur Poulard, the most gifted choreographer in Paris, at 2 o’clock every Saturday. We shall then dine early and converse about…you. Let us keep this between ourselves.”
Hattie couldn’t help but blush at the romantic suggestion. She was taken aback by the King’s charm, but knew it was far too dangerous to pursue. Nevertheless, the two shared a moment of understanding and admiration before parting ways. They spoke on the phone and he sweet talked her into agreeing. Their dance lessons would start in May.
Choreographer: “Two left feet? No, no, no! You must trust yourself. Now, let me show you the Apache dance. You must move like the wind, Hattie! Like the wind! (He moves his hands and hips in a circular motion to imitate the wind.) King Edward, you must be strong and powerful like a bull! (He puts his arms out to imitate a bull’s horns.) Now, together, you must move in harmony like the stars in the night sky! You must move in perfect unison! (He puts his arms up to the sky to demonstrate.)
Assistant: (In broken English) “Monsieur, this is too complicated for these two criminals!”
Choreographer: (In broken English) “Oh, no, no, no! We must give them a chance. They can do it, I know they can!
Hattie: (Looks at King Edward) “Can we really do this?”
King Edward: (Pulls her close and whispers) “Trust yourself.”
Hattie: (Gives a sensual smile and nods) “I’m ready.”
Choreographer: (excited) “Good! Now, let the show begin!”
The music continues and Hattie McDaniel begins her sexy Apache dance. She moves her hips and arms in a seductive manner, twirling and spinning around the King with her hair and arms fanning out in a graceful motion. Hattie moves closer to the King and thrusts her hips towards him, winding around his body and holding onto his shoulders. As they move together, she places her hands on his chest and leans in with her eyes closed.
The King is caught up in the moment and raises his hand to her face and slaps it in a dramatic show of power. Hattie is thrown back but quickly recovers and strikes a pose, pulling a drag from her cigarette. The King moves closer and wraps his arms around her. He lifts her up and spins her around, then flings her across the dance floor.
Hattie lands gracefully on her feet and Hattie abruptly yells, “Stop!” She suddenly feels she is being abused or racially objectified, but she quickly recovers and yells, “Monsieur Poulard, I have a better idea….take it from the top!”
Hattie then rushes up to King Edward as the music rises, she yells, “Turnabout is Fair play!” She moves around the King, her hands never leaving his body. She moves her arms around his neck and then grabs a fist full of his hair, pulling his head down to her and plants a hot kiss on his lips. The choreographer and King are stunned.
Hattie then moves away from the King and strikes a sultry pose. She begins to spin around the King, her hair and arms fanning out in a graceful motion as she moves her hips and arms in a seductive manner. The King follows her every move, entranced by her beauty.
The music builds as Hattie moves closer to the King and thrusts her hips towards him, winding around his body and holding onto his shoulders. As the music reaches its crescendo, Hattie moves away from the King and strikes a sultry pose, her hair and arms fanning out in a graceful motion. The King follows her every move, entranced by her beauty.
The music ends and Hattie and King Edward take a bow to the audience. Monsieur Poulard and his assistant are stunned as they take their final bow and the lights dim.
Assistant: “Ooh, la…la!”
Monsieur Poulard: “We have a show.”
Hattie and Butterfly met at Café de la Paix, there were few patrons in the shop and Butterfly passed the waiter 10 Francs and the waifish waiter sauntered off happily.
Butterfly: “You didn’t!”
Hattie: “I sure did!”
Butterfly: “You know, this makes you and the king….both….criminals.”
Hattie: “So I’ve been told, but you know what they say: Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse!”
Butterfly: “You are positively glowing!”
Hattie: “I’m feeling free and alive today, Sistah! I guess the King’s pursuit introduced me to a new level of womanhood I didn’t know I had in me, Girl.”
Butterfly: “If you don’t….hold it down. That’s all good and fine, but if Wallis Simpson finds out, you’ll be in a world of trouble. This is not the life for you, Hattie.”
Hattie: “You worry too much, Butterfly. Besides, isn’t it a little hypocritical for you to be telling me to follow the rules? I mean, aren’t we breaking the law by coming here to have coffee?”
Butterfly: “Yes, but I’m sure we can find a way to get away with it if we are quick. Fame has its perks. Just make sure you’re careful, Hattie. That’s all I’m saying.”
Hattie: “I will, I promise. Now, let’s enjoy our coffee and this delightful cafe before we have to sneak back to our hotel.”
Butterfly: “Yeah, freedom. Do us well to remember we are under siege by an occupying force”
Hattie: “Then….tonight, come to the Cabaret for the show.”
Hattie: “Yes, the King and I are putting on a show and you have to come and watch. It will be the talk of the town.”
Butterfly looks on in disbelief as Hattie stirs her coffee and smiles knowingly.
Where are you staying. Hattie looks out the window as she sees Nazi soldiers on patrol. “We should be going, Kid.” Hattie and Butterfly start walking towards their black Rolls-Royce Phantom III, they hop in the back seat.
Butterfly: “What the…”
Hattie: “Not on my Salary, Kid. Driver: To 7 Avenue de New York!”
Butterfly: “Where’s that?”
Hattie: “Can’t stay at hotels under these Nazi bastard’s occupation, that’s Josephine Baker’s House…where we’ll be staying. We’ll be safe there.”
Hattie: “Yeah, she’s a friend of ours. I’ll tell you all about it as we drive.”
They start to drive away and the car is met with a throng of Nazi officials and press. They are all waiting outside Josephine Baker’s home for the mysterious couple that left behind a trail of rumors about their love affair.
Hattie: “Uh-oh…looks like we’re in trouble.”
Hattie: “Oh come on, let’s freshen up before the show at the Folies Bergère tonight.
Shortly after they arrive another Rolls-Royce pulls up to Josephine Baker’s home and the door opens. Out steps Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, both appear to be quite drunk with Clark being more so than Vivien.
Hattie and Butterfly do their best to hide their faces from the reporters as they stumble out of the car they are immediately surrounded by reporters and Nazi officials. They dodge the crowd and enter through the side entrance of the Baker residence.
Reporter: “Mr. Gable, is it true that you are here to support the King and Miss McDaniel?”
Clark: “Uh…Yeah, I guess so. What’s the big deal anyways? A lot of people don’t know this, but my…”
Vivien, barely able to keep aim her drunken finger onto his lips, goes: “Shhhh-hoooosh!”
Clark: “What I’m saying is…Love is Love!”
Vivien: “Wheee! We should PRINT THAT ON A SHIRT!”
Laughter erupts from the crowd.
Moments later King Edward and Hattie McDaniel emerge from the house and a hush falls over the crowd, and for what seemed like an eternity flashes popped and all you could hear is the sound of film cameras rolling. Hattie is wearing a white Christian Dior gown and King Edward fresh Tuxedo, Hattie looked at Edward with a deep loving stare, and Edward smiled. And the throng of people let out an audible gasp. They both proclaim their love for one another and then kiss in front of reporters. They embraced and the reporters snapped photos. Seconds later, the Nazi officials arrest both King Edward and Hattie McDaniel for breaking segregation laws. Butterfly and Vivien are moved to tears and Clark Gable comforts both women.
The news of the arrest quickly spread around the world, and photos of the two lovers are on the cover of every magazine. That iconic photo which now represents the universal power of love, and how it can conquer thrones.
The world is in shock, but Hattie and King Edward remain in love and undeterred by the situation. To spite the level best of the media, Edward and Hattie’s love and ensuing scandal did not end the rule of King Edward nor did it tarnish the crown, he would go on to reign another 40 years gaining favor among the Commonwealth of British nations that made the British empire wealthy and powerful.
The international scandal quieted soon after and Josephine Baker’s house was no longer the center of attention that it was during that Parisian Jazz Renaissance. But surprisingly, those in the UK accepted the union of King Edward and Hattie McDaniels and embraced her fully, giving her the title of Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of York. The King often commented on how proud he was that his country accepted Ms. Daniels as their own, putting aside their small differences, and how that stood in stark contrast to the closed mindedness Nazi occupying forces of Paris. The impact of their love story will forever remain ingrained in the hearts and minds of many, and in the end…showed that the British people were at heart a very loving and accepting people.
*All characters, events and locations are creations of the author’s imagination.