Ritzy tale of Europe’s first celebrity hote­lier

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Greg Cal­laghan

IN early 1898, when Ce­sar Ritz was about to open his most lav­ish ho­tel to date on the Place Ven­dome in Paris — the same ul­tra- swanky pile from which, 99 years later, Princess Diana would make her fi­nal fa­tal jour­ney to the Pont de l’Alma tun­nel — the 48- year- old hote­lier drew up a guest list for what would be the party of the decade.

The list in­cluded Cor­nelius Van­der­bilt ( who would sail in from the US); Ed­ward, Prince of Wales, heir to the throne of Eng­land; and lit­er­ary leg­end Mar­cel Proust.

Cul­ti­vat­ing a wealthy, in­flu­en­tial clien­tele, in an age be­fore the mass pro­duc­tion of celebrity, had long been Ritz’s trade­mark, and his name had al­ready be­come syn­ony­mous with re­fined lux­ury, as in ritzy and ‘‘ putting on the Ritz’’.

The open­ing of the ho­tel, once the pala­tial home of a prince, was quite a mo­ment for the poor farmer’s boy from Nieder­wald in Switzer­land.

The youngest of 13 chil­dren, he was told by his first em­ployer: ‘‘ You will never be­come a hote­lier; it needs a spe­cial tal­ent and flair, both ( of which) you don’t have!’’

From wait­ing ta­bles and emp­ty­ing slops in Paris restau­rants when he was 16, Ritz rose to be­come man­ager of the Grand Ho­tel in Monte Carlo, then an emerg­ing hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion for well- heeled Bri­tish and French trav­ellers. Ritz was the first hote­lier to fit each room with its own toi­let and bath­room, a revo­lu­tion in an era when most houses didn’t even have run­ning wa­ter.

Af­ter a cholera epi­demic in the Riviera in 1877, Ritz en­forced the strictest ho­tel hy­giene con­trols in Europe.

He also had the fore­sight to re­cruit an ob­scure young chef, Au­gust Es­coffier, who went on to be­come the fa­ther of mod­ern French cui­sine.

Ritz was an in­trigu­ing in­di­vid­ual, his love of beauty, fash­ion and the good life ac­com­pa­nied by a bun­dle of in­se­cu­ri­ties about his looks and hum­ble ori­gins.

He mar­ried a beauty 20 years younger than him­self, had two sons, but de­voted lit­tle time to them as he presided, tsar- like, over ho­tels in Paris, Lucerne, Madrid and Lon­don.

It was the un­re­lent­ing grind of this, year af­ter year, that led to his spec­tac­u­lar melt­down in 1901 while he was pre­par­ing the fes­tiv­i­ties for the coro­na­tion of Prince Ed­ward.

He went on to suf­fer men­tal ill­ness for 17 long years be­fore dy­ing within days of the Ar­mistice be­ing de­clared in Europe.

This ab­sorb­ing doc­u­men­tary will make you want to stay at the Paris Ritz, if only for the his­tor­i­cal in­ter­est. As Ernest Hem­ing­way once said: ‘‘ The only rea­son for not stay­ing at the Ritz is if you can’t af­ford it.’’

In­trigu­ing in­di­vid­ual: Ce­sar Ritz’s name was syn­ony­mous with lux­ury

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.