Famous meetings are always fascinating, even though many of them don't end well. When Nancy Astor met an intoxicated Winston Churchill at a 1912 dinner party, for example, the future Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton couldn't hide her disappointment. "Winston, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your coffee," she proclaimed. Churchill, in response, showed his talent for devastating comebacks by replying, "Nancy, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."
Today, we revisit five other famous meetings that didn't go well.
1. Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen
Dickens and Andersen were at the height of their careers when they first met. They met in England, at a party arranged by the Countess of Blessington. Andersen was delighted by the encounter. Dickens was likewise happy to meet Andersen. Because they had the same interests, both men immediately struck a friendship.
Their friendship continued through the years, so naturally Andersen visited Dickens when he returned to England. ("I shall not inconvenience you too much," Andersen promised before his arrival. He said he only took the trip to see Dickens.) Dickens, for his part, received Andersen graciously.
Some historians insist only good manners compelled Dickens to invite Andersen into his home. Dickens supposedly didn't care much for Andersen or their "friendship." Nonetheless, Dickens was a genial host.
The visit, complicated by Dickens' marital woes, soon turned into a hopeless mess when Andersen decided to extend his stay. What was supposed to be a brief visit became a prolonged vacation full of monologues, dull episodes, and awkward moments. Andersen just wouldn't leave, even after Dickens hinted, politely and repeatedly, that he should go. Dickens was understandably annoyed.
The ordeal went on for five weeks. Andersen then packed his bags and returned to Denmark. "Dickens himself drove me to Maidstone," Andersen recalled. "My heart was so full. I didn't speak much, and at parting I said almost nothing. Tears choked my voice." He left knowing he had overstayed his welcome.
Andersen wrote to Dickens several times after his stay in England. Dickens, for his part, only replied after Andersen's second letter. "I have been away from here--at Manchester--which is the cause of this slow and late reply to your two welcome letters." He was either really friendly or entirely condescending. "All the house send you their kind regard. Baby says you shall not be put out of window when you come back." After that letter, Dickens never sent Andersen anything ever again.
Andersen didn't want their friendship to end, so he begged for forgiveness. "None of your friends can be more closely attached to you than I. The visit to England, the stay with you, is a bright point in my life; that is why I stayed so long, that is why it was hard for me to say good-bye." According to one of Dickens' daughters, Andersen never truly understood why her father gave him the cold shoulder.
Quick Quotes: Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks--which seemed to the family AGES! (Charles Dickens).
2. Nancy Reagan and Andy Warhol
Warhol had a magazine, and Nancy Reagan was to appear in it. Because Reagan's daughter-in-law works for Warhol, Warhol expected Reagan to get on board with enthusiasm.
Reagan's actions were less than enthusiastic, however, when she finally faced Warhol. She met Warhol and his staff in a reception room at the White House, where she had them served a glass of water each. Warhol, looking forward to a less humbling treatment, immediately took offense.
The conversation was even worse. The interview was in turns boring, awkward, and confrontational. Warhol felt insulted and unwanted. He was expecting a better encounter, especially since Reagan's daughter-in-law was with him. Reagan, who seemed uninterested in the interview, ended the meeting by telling her daughter-in-law to bring home a plastic food container and some socks for her son.
Quick Quotes: It was Brigid asking me what kind of tea Mrs. Reagan served us, and then I started thinking and I got madder. I mean, she could have put on the dog--she could have done it in a good room, she could have used the good china! I mean, this was for her daughter-in-law, she could have done something really great for this interview but she didn't. I got madder and madder thinking about it (Andy Warhol).
3. Nikita Khrushchev and Marilyn Monroe
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev went to the U.S. in 1959. During his visit, the Americans tried to sell him on capitalism. They showed him farms bursting with food, avenues teeming with cars, and skyscrapers overlooking the land. They surrounded him with men who had made it big in America. They also showed him Marilyn Monroe, for good measure.
Khrushchev met Monroe at a lunch banquet in Hollywood. The event included countless of other stars, but it was Monroe, above everyone, who caught the Russian leader's fancy.
The two were introduced to each other by Spyros Skouras, the president of 20th Century Fox. Monroe knew the moment would come, so she greeted Khrushchev in Russian. "We the workers of 20th Century Fox rejoice that you have come to visit our studio and country." Khrushchev beamed at the actress' effort, and made no bones about eyeballing her other assets. "You're a very lovely young lady," Khrushchev said.
Later on, Monroe told everyone how important the event was. "This is about the biggest day in the history of the movie business." She had no kind words for Khrushchev, however, when all was said and done. "He was fat and ugly and had warts on his face and he growled," she said. "He squeezed my hand so long and so hard that I thought he would break it. I guess it was better than having to kiss him." To Monroe, Khrushchev was just another bald, overweight man who stared at her "the way a man looks on a woman."
Quick Quotes: I guess there's not much sex in Russia (Marilyn Monroe).
4. Clare Boothe Luce and Dorothy Parker
These women may have exchanged nothing more than a few barbed phrases, but when Parker and Luce crossed paths sparks flew nonetheless in the form of sharp, sparkling wit.
They weren't friends to begin with, although Luce denied ever having any ill feelings toward Parker. Parker, for her part, liked Luce well enough. When Parker heard that Luce was kind to her inferiors she asked, "And where does she find them?"
Luce supposedly ran into Parker in the Algonquin. It was one of those serendipitous moments that seem to happen only in movies. Parker was going one way, and Luce was going the other. The bell was rang, so to speak, by the fact that there was only one doorway.
Either of them could have given way to the other without a comment, but the two chose to slug it out right there and then. Luce reportedly threw the first punch by stepping aside, extending a hand in mock welcome, and saying, "Age before beauty."
The jab was brilliantly thrown, but Parker was made of steel. Without missing a beat she smiled, stepped through the doorway, and in parting replied, "Pearls before swine."
This story appears throughout history in various forms (mostly supported by conflicting firsthand accounts). As it is, no verifiable evidence exists to support any of the details reported here. Luce, in an interview, has denied bumping into Parker in the Algonquin, so some historians suspect a more flippant origin (a joke, perhaps perpetrated by Parker herself.) Nonetheless, Parker's supposed meeting with Luce remains ingrained in popular lore.
Quick Quotes: I'm a feminist, and God knows I'm loyal to my sex, and you must remember that from my very early days, when this city was scarcely safe from buffaloes, I was in the struggle for equal rights for women. But when we paraded through the catcalls of men and when we chained ourselves to lampposts to try to get our equality--dear child, we didn't foresee those female writers. Or Clare Boothe Luce, or Perle Mesta, or Oveta Culp Hobby (Dorothy Parker).
5. Elvis Presley and The Beatles
The Beatles wanted to be friends with Presley. Presley, unfortunately, didn't like The Beatles. Some historians blame it on jealousy and insecurity. With the emergence of The Beatles, Presley was no longer the hottest act in town.
After trying many times to set up a meeting with Presley, The Beatles at last got their invite in the summer of 1965. "We met Elvis Presley at the end of our stay in LA," Paul McCartney recalled. "We'd tried for years to, but we could never get to him. We used to think we were a bit of a threat to him and Colonel Tom Parker (Presley's manager), which ultimately we were. So although we tried many times, Colonel Tom would just show up with a few souvenirs and that would have to do us for a while. We didn't feel brushed off; we felt we deserved to be brushed off. After all, he was Elvis, and who were we to dare to want to meet him? But we finally received an invitation to go round and see him when he was making a film in Hollywood."
The Beatles met Presley in his home in Bel Air, California. The band was really excited, but the meeting started off awkwardly. "At first we couldn't make him out," John Lennon recalled. "The boys and Elvis swapped tour stories, but it hadn't got going," Tony Barrow, The Beatles' press officer at that time, remembered. "Apart from anything else, I think it was just that each was in awe of the other." The meeting got so hopelessly dull that Presley eventually said, "If you damn guys are gonna sit here and stare at me all night I'm gonna go to bed."
According to Barrow, the meeting was saved by music. Guitars were handed out, "and a piano was hauled into view." Presley and The Beatles then sang a few songs. "Up to that point, the party really had been a bit lifeless and unexciting," Barrow recalled. "But as soon as Presley and The Beatles began to play together, the atmosphere livened up."
The meeting ended a few hours after midnight. Colonel Parker handed out gifts, and The Beatles and their entourage left.
The encounter ended well, but Presley and The Beatles didn't become friends. Presley continued to dislike The Beatles. The Beatles, on the other hand, revealed that meeting the King was a downer.
Quick Quotes: It was a load of rubbish. It was like meeting Engelbert Humperdinck (John Lennon).
I've seen those famous Nixon transcripts where Elvis actually starts to try to shop us--The Beatles! He's in the transcript saying--to Richard Nixon, of all people--"Well, sir, these Beatles: they're very un-American and they take drugs." I felt a bit betrayed by that, I must say. The great joke is that we were taking drugs, and look what happened to him. He was caught on the toilet full of them! (Paul McCartney).
The saddest part is that, years and years later, we found out that he tried to have us banished from America, because he was very big with the FBI. That's very sad to me, that he felt so threatened that he thought, like a lot of people, that we were bad for American youth. This is Mr. Hips, the man, and he felt we were a danger. I think that the danger was mainly to him and his career (Ringo Starr).
Meeting Elvis was one of the highlights of the tour. It was funny, because by the time we got near his house we'd forgotten where we were going. We were in a Cadillac limousine, going round and round along Mulholland, and we'd had a couple of "cups of tea" in the back of the car. It didn't really matter where we were going: it's like the comedian Lord Buckley says, "We go into a native village and take a couple of peyote buds; we might not find out where we is, but we'll sure find out who we is."
Anyway, we were just having fun, we were all in hysterics. (We laughed a lot. That's one thing we forgot about for a few years--laughing. When we went through all the lawsuits, it looked as if everything was bleak; but when I think back to before that, I remember we used to laugh all the time.) We pulled up to some big gates and someone said, "Oh yeah, we're going to see Elvis," and we all fell out of the car laughing, trying to pretend we weren't silly: just like a Beatles cartoon (George Harrison).