Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dinner at Eight - Murder at...

On October 30, 1955, Edith Baker gave a party for the Duchess of Windsor which was attended by Billy Woodward and his wife Ann, who would murder him later that night. Edith's late son Grenville was Billy's best friend, and she always invited Billy to her parties. Grenville had been killed six years earlier by a sniper surmised to be the husband of one of his girlfriends. That murder, almost a precursor of the one about to involve his best friend on this evening, was ruled "accidental." As this one would be. 

As they filed in, everyone curtsied to the Duchess as though she were royalty herself. She did nothing to dissaude the formality. She and the Duke were world-class freeloaders, living off the Baker's largesse at Viking Cove every year. They expected to be wined and dined during their stay and this particular party became synonymous with the end of the good life in Oyster Bay, though the parties went on. 

In fact, the Duchess threw a well-attended party the day after the murder, more like witness prep, where she explained that when they were all questioned by the police, as they soon would be, they were to say "Bill and Ann Woodward were an ideally-suited couple." This curt sentence hides but does not obscure the truth - Billy and Ann had a volcanic relationship characterized by beatings and the occasional public spectacle on both sides. "They seemed to spur each other on," said one of their friends. 

Ann Woodward was not charged in the murder and, like the movie "Madam X" with Lana Turner, she was stripped of her children by her rich mother-in-law who paid her off to go away. 
Mrs. Woodward eventually commits suicide in Switzerland because of something Truman Capote wrote in his controversial 1975 Esquire piece titled "La Cote Basque."

Dominick Dunne took this real-life tale and turned it into a delicious novel "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles." The other result was this fabulous 1987 TV movie, based on Dunne's book, starring Claudette Colbert and Ann-Margret.  A year later, one of her sons also committed suicide by jumping from a window. In 1999, her other son met the same fate, thereby wiping out an entire branch of the Woodward family. 

The Woodward's arriving for dinner. From the serialize version of Dominic Dunn's book THE TWO MRS. GRENVILLES

That night at their home "The Playhouse" Billy confronted Ann with the information from her past - she had been married before and NEVER properly divorced. Later, she mistakes hubby for a prowler, shoots him dead. 

Watch final scenes below -

Click HERE to read a preview from the book including dinner conversation at the Bleeker's(Baker's of "Vikings Cove" Glen Cove, L. I.).

Click HERE to read a extensive true-life article on the Woodward's and the scandal.


  1. Isn't amazing how they made the Baker house a palace. It was grand, but the one in the movie is almost Blenheim.

  2. I meant to add questions to this post regarding the settings - does anyone recognize the city house of THE Mrs. Woodward or the two estates used in the series?

  3. Mrs Bakers country home is actually a british mansion, now a hotel,
    called Suton hoo in bedfordshire. Much of this film was shot in England.