Magazine article The Spectator

High Life

Magazine article The Spectator

High Life

Article excerpt

Lanza is a noble Sicilian name which I believe appears in Il Gattopardo, Lampedusa's immortal tale of changing times in Sicily during the 1850s. Prince Raimondo Lanza was one of Gianni Agnelli's best friends, until he threw himself off a Roman balcony while suffering a cocaine overdose. I knew him slightly. His brother Galvano, whom I knew better, lived a long life, some might say a quite useless one, remaining in his family's ancient and run-down Sicilian property reading books on Napoleon non-stop. One might say it was a life straight out of Bertolucci's brilliant film 1900. I liked the Lanza brothers because I had never before met such cynical but stylish people. Cynicism and decadence are not talents to be found in elite American prep schools, but rather in Roman palazzos and drafty English country mansions.

I thought of the princes Lanza because of the infamy brought on their name by the nerdy killer of 20 children and six teachers as well as his mother and himself, Adam Lanza, no relation. There was also Mario Lanza, the great tenor who died in his thirties from over-eating and then over-dieting.

Well, the noble Lanzas shouldn't worry.

Edwin Booth's brother, John Wilkes Booth, murdered Abraham Lincoln, and Edwin went on to be a major theatrical star in America and in Britain. A Whitman killed 16 people from a Texas bell tower in 1966 - he was among the first mass murderers of innocent people for absolutely no good reason - and a Whitman with a Texas connection was elected governor of New Jersey not long ago. I know a very nice man called Oswald, again no relation, who lives in Delray, Florida, who has never been discriminated against because of his surname. (Well, I'm not sure Caroline Kennedy would have married him even if she loved him, but the two have never met. ) Could a man by the name of Hitler run for office in Germany? I don't see why not, but others I am sure would mind, and very much at that. Romano Mussolini, the Duce's youngest son, had a successful career as a jazz pianist in post-war Italy, as did Sophia Loren's niece, his daughter, who has repeatedly been voted a deputy using the Mussolini name.

Stalin's daughter refused to use her papa's name when she defected to the US of A, but reverted to it once she returned to mother Russia, only to leave again. The Bin Laden name, of course, is everywhere, especially in Gstaad, where one of his nephews with wife and children gives discreet cocktail parties for rich folk, as George W. Bush would call them. …

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