Many years ago when I was living in the Midwest and working as a TV director I had the occasion to meet a fine actor. His first name was Jim. He was cast in a dramatic play for TV which I directed and we became good friends.
He and his wife were a lot of fun socially and one evening after a couple glasses of wine he told me about a friend in Detroit who was the daughter of one of the automobile families. Her last name was the name of a make of car the world has known and respected for almost 100 years. I shall not name it here and you will understand later why.
Jim told me that he had received a phone call from this woman a couple days earlier saying that she was going to throw a big social party for the elite of the Detroit area at her home and asked Jim if he could act the character of some royal figure from Europe. She told him that the hoax would be revealed at the end of the party.
Jim said he thought about her request and had decided that he would make up the name of a small principality somewhere around the Switzerland area. He called it Leictenburg. Of course there is no such place, but it sounds like Liechtenstein and a couple other little principalities and thought the party guests would buy the Leictenburg story. He decided he would be the Prince of Leictenburg and therefore the head of state. His wife would be his princess.
The lady who was to host the party thought it was a great idea and gave Jim the go-ahead to make plans for the great event.
Jim asked me if I would like to go with them to Detroit for the big bash and act as the State Department’s liaison accompanying the Royal Prince. I thought for awhile before I agreed to participate in the joke.
These plans were made several weeks before the actual party. The Detroit hostess sent out engraved invitations to a rather large contingent of those on the social register.
Jim and his wife had costumes made for the event. His was a black coat with a rather royal style especially tailored for him, a vest, and dark gray pants.
He had a royal blue strip of silk to be worn across his right shoulder and draped across is chest from one side to the other with some medals hung from his collar that looked quite royal. He also had made a black cape lined with red silk. He could have also played Dracula in the costume. And, he also wore a monocle.
His wife had a very lovely party dress made for the occasion and looked just like a princess.
I arrived in a dark business suit and London Fog raincoat.
Jim practiced his German dialect and sounded quite authentic. The Princess was supposedly from America and it was not necessary for her to speak with an accent.
A week or so before we were to go to Detroit the hostess phoned Jim to say that they were sending the family’s private railroad car with cook and butler to our city that would take us to Detroit.
The day before we were to depart, Jim and his wife asked me to come over to their home and see the final costumes and I was to judge if they looked the part of prince and princess. Well, Jim had several items added that I was not aware of. He had applets made with some gold fringe hanging from the shoulders and the whole ensemble looked to me like he was playing a prince character in the operetta Naughty Marietta. All that was missing was Nelson Eddy and Janette MacDonald to make it work. I told him that his costume was quite overdone and I would not go with them to Detroit if he was going to wear the costume I saw that night. Jim was disappointed in my reaction and opened a bottle of red wine for us to consume while we further discussed what I thought should be removed from his costume to make him look like a legitimate prince. In fact, we drank a little too much wine that evening but, Jim did agree to remove some of the junk from his costume.
We lived about 500 miles away from Detroit, which made a nice trip in the private rail car to enjoy before our arrival.
On board the train we rehearsed pretty much what we would say and what we should not say at the event. I was to be the U.S. aid de camp representative to the prince while he was visiting America and assisting him with arrangements as well as the princess’ needs. I was also a kind of security for the two.
Our rail car was attached to a regularly scheduled train and was the last car on the train. About an hour out of Detroit we decided it was time to change into our appropriate clothes to meet the hostess of the party and some of her guests that were to part of the greeters at the rail station. When the train stopped in the station the greeting party walked to our car at which time the butler rolled out a red carpet for the royalty to emerge from the train and onto the platform.
During the last hour before arrival Jim began drinking hard liquor to calm his nerves. I was aware that Jim perhaps had a drinking problem and cautioned him to be careful with the booze. I warned him that if he got drunk during the party I would disappear. He said, OK, he would watch his liquor intake.
It was now time to step off the train and onto the red carpet. The greeting party consisted of our hostess and perhaps 15 others dressed formally. With smiles on their faces everyone seemed pleased to be meeting a real life prince and princess. Our hostess gave Jim a nice kiss as well as to his wife and then proceeded to introduce us to the greeting party. Onlookers stood around staring at the event at the train tracks and finally we were led to waiting limousines in front of the station. There were even police on motorcycles to guard the party to the hostess’ home.
It took almost 40 minutes to arrive at the party estate. As we pulled up to the entrance there was another greeting line that included all the party invitees.
As we left the limousine our hostess introduced the royal party to each and every guest as they passed by the line. Most of the ladies even curtsied as the royalty passed by.
By this time I was getting a little nervous.
Some of the invited guests were very prominent in and around Detroit and the invitees included the mayor, a congressman and the leadership of the auto industry.
After all the guests had met the prince and princess, we settled into the living room which was so crowded we could only stand. Every time I looked at Jim he had a glass of whiskey in hand and swallowed frequently. He was a rather large man and I noticed that he was sweating. He was also losing his German accent at times. I told him quietly that I needed to see him privately in the kitchen. I needed to deliver an urgent message. After a couple minutes he excused himself from the guests and met me as directed. I told him that he was not looking well, in fact drunk, and to be careful with his accent and stop drinking hard liquor. He said thanks and wandered back into the party.
About a half hour later I observed Jim again and he was really drunk and was using very little accent. Some of the guests were asking questions of me, about my position with the State Department and duties. This also made me nervous. These guests had not just fallen off the grapefruit truck. They were wise people and I was becoming concerned that they would smell a rat.
Later, I saw Jim again and he looked terrible. Drunk as he could be with his costume ruffled and was beginning to look like a character from a Groucho Marx film.
I pulled him aside and told him we must depart immediately. He agreed as did his wife and I made excuses for the prince. Everyone could see he was pie-eyed. One of the limos took us to a hotel where we took our rooms and slept off the party.
The next day our hostess came to the hotel and treated us to a late breakfast. We discussed the events at the party and had a big laugh. She felt all had gone well and later told the guests of the gag. They said they had enjoyed it all.
We flew home and later Jim received invitations from other party members wanting him to appear as the prince at their party. He never did it again!