Before you watch Hollywood’s Academy Awards on Sunday night, consider the riveting relationship between the critically acclaimed film The King’s Speech and the City of Coronado.
In the character-driven The King’s Speech, King Edward VIII abdicates the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, a two-time divorcee. His brother Albert (later named King George VI) must overcome a tragic speech impediment and rise to power. With the help of an innovative speech trainer, the new king finds faith in his voice and guides England into the brink of World War II.
Wallis Simpson, a former Coronado housewife once married to the first commander of Naval Air Station North Island, propels the riveting story in motion. Simpson once lived at 1115 Flora Ave. in what is now known as Windsor Cottage. Her circa 1905 California beach bungalow-style home was eventually donated to the Coronado Historical Association and later moved from its original location to the Hotel Del grounds. Coronado’s design and construction firm The Jackman Group won San Diego’s Design Excellence Award following the cottage’s renovation in 1993. Today, the bungalow rests on resort property near the shoreline of the sparkling Pacific.
While it is clear that Simpson lived in Coronado, The King’s Speech does not chronicle precisely how and when Edward met Wallis Simpson. Is it possible they met in Crown City?
The Hotel Del offers that while the date of their first introduction is unknown, “Many have wondered if the Prince of Wales [who would later become King Edward VIII and then the Duke of Windsor] may have first seen Wallis Spencer Simpson during his visit to the Hotel del Coronado in 1920,” adding that “Mrs. Spencer’s social standing would have merited an invitation to the hotel’s gala,” which was held in honor of the prince.
However, Simpson’s distant relatives in Coronado believe otherwise. Resident relative Thomas Mustin maintains that while Simpson lived in Coronado at the time of the prince’s visit, the two did not meet until much later. He references Wallis Simpson’s memoir, The Heart Has Its Reasons, written by Simpson in 1956, to support his belief. “I’m very confident she did not go to that dinner,” Mustin said, referring to the gala. “If she did, she didn’t meet him because she would have written it in her memoirs. She has a different account of when they met.”
Mustin’s sister Doug St. Denis, also a Coronado resident, has custody of Simpson’s memoir. St. Denis graciously provided an excerpt in which Wallis chronicles meeting Edward in the fall of 1930 at a weekend hunting party in England. In it, Wallis Simpson writes:
“What attracted me at once about the two brothers, and especially the Prince of Wales, was their utter naturalness. The thought was afterward to occur to me that it was decidedly unimaginative of me to expect them to be anything else….the Prince of Wales in particular expressed his admirations for Americans and the American outlook. It was done with such an easy grace that I momentarily forgot about my cold and my dread vanished.”
St. Denis met Simpson at a family gathering in 1958. “She was outgoing and warm and very interested in all of us,” St. Denis said. “She left a lasting impression on me. My grandmother and she were cousins and fast friends all their lives.”
Will the legacy of Coronado’s former resident Wallis Simpson and the Hotel Del’s treasured Windsor Cottage bask in Oscar gold? Watch the Academy Awards live on ABC Sun., Feb. 27 at 5 p.m. PST to find out if The King’s Speech nabs Hollywood’s highest honor. It just might leave you … speechless.
Carrie Keyes is a local resident who writes for several publications around town and in San Diego. To read more of her work, visit www.carriekeyes.com.