‘Elsa was best known for her parties.’

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SAM STAGGS has a new book out. Inventing Elsa Maxwell: How an Irrepressible Nobody Conquered High Society, Hollywood, the Press, and the World is an entertaining romp through 20th-century culture and celebrity. Amazingly, this is the first biography written about this inveterate partygiver who hosted the rich and royal, and was a staple of newspapers, radio, and TV for decades. Oh, and she was also a closeted lesbian.

Inventing Elsa Maxwell is a departure for Staggs—sort of. Best known for his “The Making of…” movie books—fun, juicy, well-researched behind-the-scenes looks at film classics All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Imitation of Life—with Inventing Elsa he goes further behind the movie set to explore the world of glamour, fame, and scandal of the celebrities’ social lives.

I connected with Sam by phone—he lives in Texas, i in California—for a conversation about his latest book. we wound up in a wide-ranging conversation, touching on everything from Maria Callas and the duchess of windsor to proust’s teacup and prague’s architecture. The following is an abbreviated transcript of our talk.

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