Margaret, Duchess of Argyll
Powder Her Face is based on the true story of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, whose 1963 divorce trial scandalised and fascinated the public. Here are 10 interesting facts about the notorious duchess...
1. She was born Ethel Margaret Whigham in 1912 to a Scottish multi-millionaire.
2. She was “the society style icon of the 20th century,” according to Tatler, and was briefly engaged to the 7th Earl of Warwick.
3. She survived a 40-foot fall down a lift shaft in 1943.
4. Her first marriage was to American golfer Charles Sweeny, and she is referenced by her married name in the Cole Porter song “You’re the Top”: “You're Mussolini,/You're Mrs. Sweeny,/You’re Camembert."
5. She was the Duke of Argyll’s third wife, and he was her second husband. The Duke and future Duchess met on the Golden Arrow train from Paris and were married in 1951.
6. She loved dogs and had a succession of miniature French poodles, including one named “Louis XIV”.
7. By 1959, the Duke and Duchess’s lives were essentially separate, and the Duke had even gotten an injunction to bar the Duchess from his castle, though it had been renovated with her money. They each had love affairs with other people, and her lovers allegedly included Bob Hope and Maurice Chevalier.
8. The Duke stole photos the Duchess had taken with a lover and used them against her in their divorce trial. These infamous photos were taken with a new technology: the Polaroid camera. They were taken so the face of the man could not be seen, earning him the nickname the “Headless Man.” The man’s identity was likely the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr or former cabinet minister (and Winston Churchill’s son-in-law) Duncan Sandys. He may also have been airline executive Bill Lyons, who the late Duchess’s stepdaughter-in-law claims was the Duchess’s lover for six years.
9. During the divorce trial, the presiding judge read out his 160 page judgement condemning the Duchess’s behaviour. It took several hours.
10. As the Duchess aged and her fortune diminished, she moved into a hotel, and then into smaller and smaller rooms until she was evicted. She eventually moved into a nursing home and died in poverty.