Peter Bart: Pre-Woke Royals Reveled In Hollywood Naughtiness, But The William-And-Kate Show Ducks Family Rivalries
Having just arrived in Los Angeles, Prince Philip faced a covey of reporters with photographers snapping away. “You asked about my mission to America,” he said. “The Queen and I are dedicated to helping the underprivileged. Mind you, we realize that an underprivileged child in Los Angeles is one who doesn’t have his own swimming pool.”
This was a jaunty, relaxed Prince Philip, circa 1966, unworried about the social media (there weren’t any) as he made his rounds of Hollywood. Joining him for meals and visits to sets were Natalie Wood, Shirley MacLaine, Dick Van Dyke, Gregory Peck and Joey Bishop, who, observing the Prince’s chain of jokes, said, “He’s so funny, I may run for Prince.”
The tension-packed forays of William and Kate this week, with their dire media overtones, seemed in sharp contrast to the loose, pre-woke royal expeditions of the ‘60s. While there was ample coverage of the couple’s meetings with President Biden and with random Kennedys, the background buzz was about racial slurs in London and the leak of a Meghan-and-Harry TV teaser highlighting their upcoming special.
Netflix has a giant advance to recoup, so royal gossips asked, ‘Did the company leak the teaser’? Or was it a snarky Meghan-and-Harry ploy to distract coverage from the ‘main event’ in Boston? In the teaser, Meghan acknowledges ambiguously that there’s “a lot at stake” in her book, podcast, and Netflix ventures, given ‘The Crown’s’ tough position on the couple’s independent status.
In Boston, meanwhile, the future king and his wife were scrupulously polite, if somewhat stiff, in their week’s packed schedule, which, for media veterans, posed a startling contrast to the Philip-and-Elizabeth II visits a generation earlier.
Youthful and buoyant, Prince Philip then relished his invitations to tour studios and schmooze with stars, while his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, warily stayed behind.
Visiting the UCLA student union, Philip confessed, “I never went to college, so I collect my education by degrees –honorary degrees.” The university promptly accorded him a Doctor of Laws.
An admitted fan of westerns, Philip hovered for over an hour on the Stagecoach set at Fox, accepting Van Heflin’s presentation of a Winchester rifle, its gold trim honoring the weapon’s 100th anniversary. Heflin even plugged its manufacturer, Olin Mathieson.
At lunch with Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and others, he even watched a “fast draw” demonstration by an actor claiming to be “the world fastest draw.”
At his turn to speak, Philp expressed his devotion to entertainment, renouncing what he called “the Puritanical hangover suggesting that leisure was somehow immoral, illegal, or fattening.”
The Queen, stoic as always, joined her husband at a Variety Clubs dinner at which Dean Martin and Louis Armstrong sang some satiric versions of Broadway shows
In one-on-one interviews, Philip stressed that his mission was to raise money for appropiate causes. “In the good old days, when the right people had lots of money, I myself could have paid for all my own charitable interests,” he confided, adding, “At this moment of princely poverty, I am only concerned to lay my hands on as much as I decently can.”
The current royal generation, by contrast, is specific about their missions. William’s visit focused on the Earthshot Prize Awards, which he created. Meghan and Harry, of course, have their hundred million dollar media deals to fulfill.
No royals today have shown an interest in visiting western sets or admiring Winchester rifles.