Two Twentieth-Century families have always fascinated me: the Grades of entertainment fame from England and, across the Atlantic, the publishing Annenbergs. Each family had roots in Eastern Europe. Each epitomized the immigrant experience, gaining fame and fortune in adopted countries. And each was headed by a powerful figure. So strong were the similarities, to me, at least, that I wondered if the families might somehow be related. As the idea for a novel began to form, a double roman à clef if you will, another notion surfaced. What if the two had been related—say a brother and sister who would each go on to head their own families—and just to make it more interesting, what if a tragic event early in their lives had separated them, leaving each to believe that the other was dead? And so was born By Blood Divided.
I never knew any members of the Grade family, but I did have a brief encounter with the late Walter Annenberg, one that left me with a lasting admiration for the man. In the early 1970s, I was editor of a London-based clothing-trade magazine called Tailor and Cutter. Every February, a tailoring charity called the Master Tailors Benevolent Association held a fundraising dinner at the Europa Hotel, and the chairman of appeals would invite one of his customers to be the evening’s guest speaker. The chairman in 1972 was a Savile Row tailor named Harry Helman, and the customer he invited was the then U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James, the honorable Walter Annenberg. (The previous year, another Savile Row tailor, Teddy Watson of Hawes and Curtis, had supplied a young Prince Charles as guest speaker.) A week or so before the dinner, I received a phone call from someone at the American embassy asking if I would supply some pertinent notes about the bespoke-tailoring industry that Ambassador Annenberg might use in his speech. I jotted down a few ideas and sent them off. A few days later, I received a piece of mail from the embassy. Inside the envelope was a handwritten postcard thanking me for my help and looking forward to meeting me at the dinner. It was signed by Walter Annenberg. To say I was stunned by the personal gesture would be an understatement. Being U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James was a busy job in those days. The Vietnam War was growing by the week, and the embassy, then in Grosvenor Square, was frequently the focal point of sometimes violent antiwar demonstrations. That the ambassador would put pen to paper to thank me for such a minor thing has left me a fan of his to this day.
I fictionalized that incident in By Blood Divided, and when the book was first published I sometimes wondered whether anyone had brought Walter Annenberg’s attention to it and if, on reading the book he, too, had remembered our brief encounter…
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