MARIA CALLAS AND ARISTOTLE ONASSIS
The career of Maria Callas had already begun its downward slide when she was introduced to Aristotle Onassis. It was 1957 and she was 35 years old. She had been married to the elderly, short, squat Giovanni Battista Meneghini for ten years.
Maria found some comfort for her diminishing artistic success in high society. Elsa Maxwell gave an elegant party for Maria in Venice. Before she knew it, Aristotle Onassis had managed to inveigle the seat next to hers at the dinner table. For the next seven days, wherever she was he appeared next to her as if by magic. She EarnWithSocial.ca found it flattering and pleasant, but for the time being, nothing more.
Then the morning before a gala charity concert for a Legion d’Honneur in 1958, Maria received a huge bunch of red roses, with good wishes in Greek, signed Aristotle Onassis. Another huge bunch of red roses arrived at lunch, also with good wishes in Greek, signed Aristotle. And just as she was about to leave for the opera house came another bunch of roses, also with good wishes in Greek. This time there was no signature on it. Maria knew who had sent it…
On June 17, after a performance of MEDEA at Covent Garden, Maria and her husband attended a reception at the Dorchester where they met Aristotle Onassis again. This time Maria was ready….
Next he organized a party for her which literally left her gasping. The Meneghinis were millionaires, but compared to Onassis, they felt like a poor relatives. He invited forty people to come as his guests to the opera and then one hundred and sixty to a party at the Dorchester. It was more lavish than any ever given for Maria before, even by Elsa Maxwell. The ballroom was decorated entirely in orchid pink and overflowing with matching roses. She had often heard the expression, “Your wish is my command,” but this was the first time in her life she had seen it in action. Aristotle never left her side and no request of hers was too small for him to grant. When she casually mentioned she liked tangos, he rushed up to the bandleader with fifty pounds in his hand. After that nothing but tangos were played all evening. They didn’t leave the Dorchester until after 3 o’clock in the morning. In the foyer, the Meneghinis and Onassis were photographed in a hug, Aristotle on one side of Maria and Meneghini on the other. The shot turned out to be prophetic.
Ari kept inviting her all evening to come and cruise with him and Tina on the Christina. He was hard to resist and poor Meneghini didn’t offer much competition. For a little girl from a lower middle class neighborhood in Washington Heights, it was a fairy tale, a dream come true. In spite of Meneghini’s impassioned protests, they were going cruising on the Christina.
Maria went shopping in Milan, where she spent millions of lire on bathing suits, vacation outfits, and lingerie. A sophisticated friend later told Maria that a woman always buys new lingerie when she is about to have an affair. She was right, but Maria didn’t know it yet; she told herself she just wanted to look nice on the trip.
On board the three million dollar sea palace as large as a football field were Winston Churchill and his wife and daughter, Gianni Agnelli and his wife, and many other well known Greek, American, and English personalities. Maria ran about the ship like a school girl, exclaiming at each new discovery, now the solid gold fixtures shaped like dolphins in each bathroom, now her enormous, beautifully decorated cabin and marble bathroom with adjoining boudoir and limitless closet space for all her beautiful new clothes (a suite, incidentally, which she never used later unless Ari and she had a fight), now the real El Greco in Ari’s study, the fabulous jeweled Buddha, the swimming pool decorated with a mosaic reproduction of a fresco from the Palace of Knossos, the huge oak paneled lounge with a majestic grand piano at one end and a lapis lazuli fireplace at the other, and Ari’s private bathroom that looked like a temple, and the bath, inlaid with flying fish and dolphins, which was an exact copy of the one in King Minos’s lost Palace of Knossos in Crete. Ari, who had fussed like a housewife over every detail, was in raptures over each of Maria’s enthusiastic outbursts. The ship boasted a crew of sixty, including two chefs, one French, one Greek. The guests were given a choice of menus, but Maria, who had lost a great deal of weight, was still eating mostly raw meat and salads. But since she had a habit of sneaking bits of food from everyone else’s plates, she got at least a sampling of the fine cuisine.
The trip was literally an eye opener for her, a staid Italian matron who believed in fidelity and monogamy. She was shocked to see many of the guests sunbathing without any clothes on, and some of them openly playing around with other people’s mates on deck. Aristotle was one of those walking around naked. He was very hairy, like a gorilla, Battista said. Maria’s reaction to his nudity was the second sign that she was becoming another person. She had always been a bit of a prude. She wouldn’t sing the Dance of the Seven Veils in Richard Strauss’s SALOME because she had to take off her clothes. But when she saw Ari walking around like that, she giggled like a school girl. She had never seen a nude man besides Battista.
For Maria, it was a magnificent three week voyage. Their plans were to stop first at Portofino, a toy port on the coast of Italy, and then go on to Capri for sight-seeing. Then they would sail from the Mediterranean through the Aegean Sea to the Gulf of Corinth. From there they planned a sight seeing trip of Delphi, sailing on to Izmir, the Turkish name for Ari’s boyhood home, and then on up to the Dardanelles to Istanbul and home again.