Andrew Birkin Q&A #8


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Andrew Birkin Q&A #8

Unread postby Liz » Wed Sep 22, 2004 3:03 am

As you read Mr. Birkin’s responses to our questions, please keep in mind that his answers are intended solely for the purpose of our readers. Please do not use his replies or take any quotes from them for any other purpose or post them on any other boards or websites. That was his only caveat when he agreed to participate. I know you all will honor his request!

In reading about JMB’s Last Will and Testament in the appendix to Janet Dunbar’s 1970 book, J.M. Barrie: The Man Behind the Image, I was surprised that Jack, Peter, and Nico Llewelyn-Davies received a relatively small inheritance while the bulk of his estate was left to his secretary, Cynthia Asquith. Do you know what the reason was for this? Did JMB have much contact with the three surviving boys in later years? What was the nature of his relationship with them in the later years?

AB: Cynthia Asquith fell outside my remit, but Dunbar gives a fairly detailed account of Cynthia’s insinuation into Barrie’s life. Nico wrote to me in 1976:

“I think I'll tell you now the "truth about" Cynthia Asquith, though I realise it may be unwise to write it all down.

A. Michael and I didn't take her very seriously when she first came on the scene [in 1917]. Rather fun, but "let's go out" sort of thing.

B. When Michael was drowned, she was wonderful and I vividly remember writing her a long letter of gratitude and deep affection saying that if there were EVER a moment when I could help her in ANY way etc she had only to let me know.

C. In 1922 or 3 or 4 I was at some large weekend party (life and soul of the younger batch, of course!) and was sitting next to Lady Astor (whom I liked very much) and she started slanging Cynthia, saying how she was ruining JMB, turning him into a snob etc, and that she would get all his money, taking it from my brothers and me. Which I violently pooh-poohed and said some pretty offensive things — which she enjoyed ... she always liked being answered back. (She was dead right!)

D. After I left the flat to marry Mary in June 1926, I moved naturally to another world, but used to look in quite frequently. As often as not I'd ring the bell: Frank would open the door: "How's Uncle Jim?" "Well... Lady Cynthia's been in." I knew what this meant. I'd open the door to his wonderful study — overlooking 7 bridges across the Thames — and find Uncle Jim lying prostrate on the settee. I was the only person who could get him out of these states of despair. Silence for half an hour, while I sat at his desk either reading a paper or writing, then I'd say "I see Woolley made a marvellous 75 yesterday." There would be a stir on the settee ... and soon we'd be talking cricket, and soon again all would be well. What Cynthia had been doing was crying her woes: talking of her oldest (dotty) son and her affect poverty etc etc etc, sucking all his sympathy from him — and JMB was a fantastic mass of sympathy, people came from miles away for his comfort. He reached the point of drafting a new will, but never signed it — wouldn't, in my belief, as in the cold light of remorseless reason he thought it would be wrong.

E. When Uncle Jim got really ill, and was not expected to last the night, Peter made the Greatest Mistake of his Life and telephoned her down in Devon or Cornwall. She hired a car and motored through the night. Meanwhile Peter, I and General Freyberg went on watch — 8 to 12, 12 to 4, 4 to 8 am — each of us expecting to see JMB die. Cynthia arrived towards the end of Bernard Freyberg's watch ... still alive ... got hold of surgeon Horder and solicitor Poole with the will ... Horder gave an injection, and sufficient energy was pumped into Uncle Jim so that he could put his name to the will that Poole laid before him.

F. When Peter and I heard what had happened, and that we were cut out from the will, we talked and thought and eventually went to consult a leading solicitor, Theodore Goddard. What did he advise? If, he said, we would get 1. Freyberg to state in court how unconscious JMB was etc etc, and 2. Frank Thurston to agree with the repeated manoeuvres of Cynthia (which I mentioned in D above) then we couldn't fail — in his opinion — to win the case.

G. We did get Bernard and Frank to say they would back us up; but then we each thought how horrid the whole thing was going to be, and we decided not to sue.

H. I told the above one day to Janet Dunbar (when she was writing J M Barrie: The Man Behind the Image), who listened politely but told me later she hadn't believed me. Later she called on Simon Asquith and his wife. Simon apparently fairly sozzled and sprawling, his wife extra charming and delightful. Suddenly Simon lurched to his feet, went out of the room and returned with wads of written material which he more or less flung on Janet's lap — "Here you are, take it away." This was Cynthia's diary or diaries (her first such book was published after her death — a great mistake so far as any admirer of hers (myself included!) is concerned as Cynthia would have edited 75% out) — which could never be published as they were so full of libel etc. Janet took it away and THERE was all my story word for word EXCEPT that Cynthia added that I was in the room when Horder injected JMB — presumably thereby implying that I approved. I made/asked Janet to remove this line from her book (that I was there) and she did. The unattractive Simon had apparently turned against his mother: but he doesn't turn away from all the royalties!

Believe it or not, much as I would have relished the money, the two things that broke my heart were firstly that I had no say in the reproduction of his plays — how I would have loved to be consulted in the casting and management of this play and that, all of which I knew so well and had watched so closely as JMB told the various actors what was in his mind etc etc: secondly that the relatively small amounts that were going to my daughter and others of her generation were removed. All very sad.

I've told you all this at such appalling length to save time when we meet. You had to know, and will have plenty of other things to talk about or look at. Of course one can understand Cynthia's motives and more or less sympathise with them: a mother and her children, etc. But it was a sad end to "Arthur & Sylvia Llewellyn Davies and their boys — My Boys". Never mind: I've recently been reading Cynthia's Haply I Remember and found it very delightful. Enough! Too much! But keep on asking if something occurs to you and your eyesight hasn't gone ...”

There’s a good deal more about Cynthia in Nico’s letters on the website – also listen to Elisabeth Bergner on Cynthia in the audio section.
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Unread postby Charlene » Wed Sep 22, 2004 7:54 am

I think this is very sad, yet is played out over and over. Just in the last 2 weeks the Haft fortune has been in the papers (Dart Drug, numerous bookstores, etc). The same old issue - sick old man marries younger woman on his deathbed (Mr. Haft's daughter had actually filed papers to have her dad examined to prove his incompetence and while appt was being arranged, he married and then died!). Remember Anna Nicole - another family battle.

Who knows what she meant to him in his later years, but old people put so much store into who visits them regularly (just read Dear Abby). I do think, if he was in his right mind, he would not have cut them out. If he was ill, he could have just signed what was put before him, without reading it cover to cover.

I see for myself (having elderly parents and father-in-law in Retirement Homes), how the elderly without partners, quickly pair up with one another and next thing you know, they are getting married. Can you imagine what the families are thinking, as in most 70 and 80 year olds (in love) aren't quite up on prenuptials, especially in the heat of new love.

It really is heartbreaking, especially when he mentions that the little bit of money that had been going to his daughter was cut out. I cannot believe that Barrie would have wanted this.

I have so enjoyed this Liz. You and DITHOT are awesome.

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Sep 22, 2004 8:28 am

It is sad the way he was manipulated at the end, even though he was quite a manipulator himself. I can't say that I blame to boys for not going to court over the will. Imagine what they would have endured! It is sad though that they were unable to benefit from what became the inspiration for such a beloved story. I can't believe Barrie wanted it that way either. There is much more on the Barrie website on this topic as well.
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Unread postby Veronica » Wed Sep 22, 2004 9:58 am

I have told people in my life about AB answering questions for us & no one seems to get how exciting that is. I cant wait everyday to open up this page & see what is printed today. How sad that they didnt get what they deserved. after all if JMB hadnt met them he wouldnt have had the inspiration for Peter Pan.
Everything is always okay in the end,
if it's not, then it's not the end.

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Unread postby lumineuse » Wed Sep 22, 2004 10:07 am

One thing certainly leads to another, doesn't it? - Now I'm going to have to read more about Cynthia Asquith. I had no idea she was such an insidious character. It does make a sad ending to the tale of JM barrie and "his boys". I am glad that they didn't sue, however. It would have made the whole situation more tawdry than it already was. Although I feel certain that Barrie probably did not want thing to turn out that way....
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Unread postby suec » Sat Sep 25, 2004 4:32 pm

That poor man. What an ending. These answers really changing my attitude towards him.

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