Friday, July 5, 2019

Remembering Claus von Bülow

From Damian Thompson at The Spectator:
Claus was my friend for nearly 20 years. During that time it never once seriously occurred to me that he was guilty. But his problem was that he made such a plausible Columbo villain. His charm was overpowering; the occasional thunderclaps of his rage made you jump out of your skin. You only had to hear one to imagine the rumpled lieutenant slapping his forehead and turning on his heel. ‘I nearly forgot – just one last question, Mr von Bulow.’ 
I’m recounting this from memory, so the wording won’t be exactly right, but towards the end of the trials there was an American pocket cartoon showing a socialite couple. ‘Darling, we can’t invite Claus von Bulow. It turns out he didn’t do it.’ 
His notoriety was glamorous. That must have appalled Sunny’s children by his first marriage, who were convinced of his guilt, but there it is. When I first glimpsed Claus at a Spectator party the scandal was fresh and thrill of seeing him undeniable. I hadn’t yet read much about the alleged crime and thought – as many people still do – that whether he did it or not was anyone’s guess. That’s the impression left by the film Reversal of Fortune, for which Jeremy Irons inexplicably won an Oscar: he looked a bit like the real man, but the voice and manner could have been captured better by Danny De Vito. Or Meryl Streep. 
I’m just going to say he was innocent and leave it there. At the height of our friendship – in the decade before he became too ill to see visitors – I’d basically forgotten about his ‘troubles’, as he called them. The name Claus von Bulow meant something quite different. You couldn’t call us close friends, but we weren’t far off. Hundreds of people knew him better than me, but the man had the gift of friendship, and he extended it to me with a generosity that took me by surprise. 
In the mid 1990s I was books editor of the Catholic Herald. Having seen him at so many parties, and knowing that he was a convert to Catholicism, I timidly went up to him and asked if he’d ever consider writing for us. He made the sign of the cross and said he would consider it his religious duty. 
Within a couple of years he was the Herald’s drama critic – and, boy, he was good. Claus had many affairs during his life, but none was more obsessive than his love of the theatre. He’d often take me along; no venue was too small if the subject matter intrigued him. And sometimes, despite what I said earlier, the surreality of it struck home. I’m in a room above pub in Hammersmith watching a left-wing play which my friend thinks is really brilliant. That friend is the right-wing Claus von Bulow, portrayed in an Oscar-winning performance, and no one here has a clue. (Read more.)

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