It’s the summer of 1932 and William K. Vanderbilt II has just circumnavigated the globe in his new 264-foot yacht, Alva. He’s purchased a mummy in Cairo and brought it back to display in his museum — coinciding with the opening of Boris Karloff’s latest horror movie, The Mummy. The famous fashion designer Coco Chanel is coming to New York to open a show of her first jewelry designs, and is a guest of the Vanderbilts at their Eagle’s Nest estate on the Long Island Gold Coast. Also on the guest list is Elsa Maxwell, the notorious gossip columnist, an intimate friend of the Vanderbilt women.
For more than a decade, Living History tours of the Vanderbilt Mansion have given summer visitors a kind of time-machine trip to the 1930s. Museum staff member-actors, in costume and in character as household servants and famous guests, take visitors through the sprawling 24-room, Spanish-Revival waterfront mansion and regale them with stories about the family, its guests and its adventures.
Stephanie Gress, the Vanderbilt Museum’s director of curatorial affairs, said the stories told on the tours are based upon the experiences of local people who worked on the Vanderbilt household staff. “Some who began working in the mansion when they were teenagers are now in their 80s,” she said. “Some still live nearby and have given us their true stories of the privileged Gold Coast life at Eagle’s Nest.”
The stories are also taken from materials in the Vanderbilt Museum archives, including Mr. Vanderbilt’s extensive personal journals and letters, the privately-published books of his world travels and extensive sea journeys, as well as the visual record produced by his photographer and cinematographer.
Cast members for the summer of 1932 include Carmen Collins, who will play Coco Chanel. In her guest room will be displayed a bouquet of flowers with a card from producer Samuel Goldwyn, who is trying to woo Chanel to Hollywood to design costumes for Metro Goldwyn Mayer movies.
Jim Ryan will portray Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, Willie Vanderbilt’s brother. Peter Reganato will be Pietro, the Italian chef. Ellen Mason will play Ellin Berlin, the wife of Irving Berlin. Rick Outcault will portray the artist William Belanske, who was Mr. Vanderbilt’s curator and lived on the estate. He’ll talk about purchasing the mummy in Cairo and bringing it back to Eagle’s Nest.
Florence Lucker plays Agnes Lancaster, mother of Rosamund, Vanderbilt’s second wife, and Charlie Russell and Tom Franklin will portray valet Herbert Stringer. Elsa Maxwell will be played by Susan Bowe and Beverly Pokorny. One of the Vanderbilts’ favorite dishes is Coq Au Vin. But the country is still in the midst of Prohibition, and cook Delia O’Rourke , played by Mary McKell, wonders how she will make Coq au Vin without the “Vin.”