Why Wallis hated Marilyn and how the Duke of Windsor was a 'sad, small, pathetic figure': Memoirs of literary agent who mixed with politicians, royalty and some of the 20th Century's major authors
14:31 GMT, 12 March 2012
As the woman who lured the future King of England away from the throne, Wallis Simpson was used to being splashed across the front pages.
But 'that woman' hadn't bargained for Marilyn Monroe, who swooped in and 'pushed her off' the top spot overnight.
Now the Duchess of Windsor's fears are laid bare in the late literary agent Charles Pick's memoirs, alongside other encounters with 20th century icons, including the Duke of Windsor and the Queen, that he racked up over the course of his career.
The memoirs, Pick's diaries, letters and
photographs are available to view for the first time at the
University of East Anglia, after the agent's son Martin donated them.
Rivalry: Charles Pick's memoirs reveal how Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson, left, was furious when Marilyn Monroe, right, started to appear on newspaper front pages in place of her
Pick, who died in 2000 aged 82, had a star-studded client list; John Steinbeck, JB Priestley, Roald Dahl,
John Le Carr and Catherine Cookson were just a smattering of authors he represented.
He had been summoned to Paris by Mrs Simpson to discuss her 1956 autobiography The Heart Has Its Reasons.
of greeting Pick, Mrs Simpson's first remark as she rose from her
chaise longue, 'a large, round box of Charbonnel et Walker chocolates'
placed within arms reach, was about Monroe.
'Can you please tell me who Marilyn Monroe's publicity agent is,' she asked.
THE DUKE OF WINDSOR
After his run in with Wallis Simpson, left, over Monroe, Charles Pick watched a 'pathetic' looking Duke of Windsor, right, making his way from the Queen Mary at Cherbourg with a bag
full of dirty washing. 'He looked such a sad, small figure,' Pick recalled, 'and I thought
how pathetic, that this once King of England should be taking his own
laundry off the Queen Mary.'
A year before his retirement in 1984, Pick met the Queen
at a dinner and told her he had published John Galsworthy,
Somerset Maugham and JB Priestley.
she said, “I enjoyed all those authors, they gave me and still give me
great pleasure. But I couldn’t get my children to read them.”'
Pick said he had to confess he had no idea and asked why she wanted to know.
'Look,’ Mrs Simpson said, 'I have all the newspapers each day and I was
generally on the front page. But now I see that Marilyn Monroe is on the
front page. Well, somebody has pushed me off!’
could see I was in for a difficult time,' Pick writes, 'but I explained that I wasn’t
in any way able to help her in displacing Marilyn Monroe in her
The memoir offers a unique insight into a different age. Pick mentions the time Out of Africa author Karen Blixen checked in for her Pan Am flight with a bottle of Moet et Chandon and a dozen oysters, so appalled was she by the airline's 'plastic' food.
Pick met Roald Dahl during a trip aboard the Queen Mary. The author had been travelling with his wife, Patricia Neal, left, and their two children. Pick recalled how Dahl had insisted on a tourist class berth.
wrote: 'Inside, his two children were being sick, the nursemaid having
been sick lay prostrate on a bunk, Patricia Neal was looking for a
2,000 diamond which she had lost and Roald Dahl was pacing up and down
saying, “I hope you don’t find it, I never did like it’.”'
The Out of Africa author had complained to Pick about the 'plastic' airline food on her journey from New York to London in 1958. For her return flight she requested something more extravagant. Blixen asked Pick if he could 'please find me a bottle of champagne and some
oysters' It wasn't easy but Pick managed to get hold of a bottle of Moet et Chandon and a dozen oysters
from the Connaught hotel. He then had to tell the Pan Am desk at
Heathrow his distinguished client would need her oysters shucked on board.
Winston Churchill's son Randolph, pictured left with his father and sister Diana, right, was furious when Pick had to tell him the early chapters of his father's biography were disappointing.
Pick wrote: 'I
received a letter from Randolph (that said) “I work hard, I spent two
years preparing this book, I started to write it and with great
enthusiasm send you the first pages and all you reply is stinking fish”.'
The letter became famous at Heinemann, where Pick eventually became chairman, and was known as the
'Stinking Fish Letter.'
Pick loved Catherine Cookson not least because she treated him
to 'double helpings of steak and kidney pie' when he visited. He also discovered that she replied to every single fan letter and started her Christmas cards in February. Pick wrote: 'Once when ill in bed in Hastings her husband came into the
bedroom saying that a coachload of people had arrived wanting to see
her. No arrangements had been made. “Then I’ll get up,” said Catherine.
She got up from bed, where the doctor had ordered her to stay, gave them
all tea and chatted to the visitors.'
Agent to the stars: Charles Pick in 1970. The agent died in 2000 aged 82
He also recalls accompanying The
Grapes of Wrath author John Steinbeck, to his Nobel Prize dinner and
noted he had 'given up hard liquor and was just drinking beer' that
He drank vermouths with Graham Greene in Antibes and was fed seconds of steak and kidney pie by author Catherine Cookson.
Pick started his career as an office boy for Victor Gallancz in 1933 before moving into sales.
years later he went to a Hampstead bookshop and tried to sell copies of
a 'marvellous new book' called Burmese Days by a young lad named George
An Eric Blair was behind the counter that day and said he knew Orwell very well – of course, it was Orwell himself working as a part-time assistant using his real name.
After stints at Gallancz and Michael Joseph, Pick moved to Heinemann where he eventually became chairman. After his retirement in 1984 he remained a literary consultant to Wilbur Smith, one of many authors he discovered.
He had close friendships with his writers, but feared the loyalty he had enjoyed was becoming a thing of the past as authors would 'go off to cheque book publishers and be snapped up if they were successful.'
He was proved right of course, but what he would make of today's burgeoning self publishing industry we'll never know.