“Aunt Esther” to Queen Victoria: Three Degrees of Celebrity Separation!

La Wanda “Aunt Esther” Page to Frank Sinatra

to Richard Nixon

to the Duke of Windsor to Queen Victoria

It’s only a mere four degrees of separation from a Queen of Comedy, actress La Wanda Page to a Queen of England, the one and only Victoria.

La Wanda Page – before she was the popular character of Aunt Esther on Sanford & Son.

LaWanda Page was born in Cleveland but grew up in St. Louis where she had been a friend to the later-comedienne Redd Foxx.

After an early career in nightclub acts, including one as the “The Bronze Goddess of Fire,” in which she ate and extinguished a small rod of fire, she made several salty comedy records in Los Angeles, one of which went gold.

When Redd Foxx was offered a sitcom which he helped develop into what became Sanford & Son, about a widowed LA. junk-shop owner Fred Sanford and his son Lamont, he insisted that LaWanda be hired as his foil on the show, the Bible-thumping, wicked-witted “Aunt Esther,” a character intended to be the sister of Sanford’s dead wife. Page made it her own, and Aunt Esther became an enduring 70s television icon. Her sparring

Well into her 70s, LaWanda Page enjoyed a late-blooming fame, and was cast in a variety of roles after that, including work with RuPaul, Steve Martin, and Martin Lawrence.

As the famously shrewish Bible-thumping Aunt Esther with her friend Redd Fox on his popular 70s sitcom, Sanford & Son.

For a show that aired on February 7, 1978, LaWanda Page joined in a Dean Martin televised “roast” of legendary performer Frank Sinatra, taped in the Ziegfeld Room in Las Vegas.

La Wanda Page performing at another Dean Martin Celebrity Roast.

Page  joined a roster of older, established comediennes and actors George Burns R, Jimmy Stewart,  Gene Kelly, Dom DeLuise, Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, Flip Wilson,Redd Foxx Peter Falk, Charlie Callas Ernest Borgnine, Telly Savalas, Jack Klugman, Orson Welles, Red Buttons, Rich Little, Don Rickles,  and future President, and then-former California Governor Ronald Reagan. Here is a clip of her performance:

The Prime Minister of Italy and his wife, Sinatra and the Nixons.

Five years earlier, on August 27, 1972, Frank Sinatra was among a number of Hollywood actors, performers and celebrities invited to the private San Clemente, California estate of President Richard Nixon, in support of his re-election bid that year.

Sinatra welcomed by President Nixon to San Clemente.

Eight months later,  on April 17, 1973, Nixon invited Sinatra to perform after a White House state dinner honoring Italy’s Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti of Italy. “This house is honored to have a man whose parents were born in Italy but yet from humble beginnings went to the very top in entertainment,” said the President in his introduction of Sinatra, who sang a number of standards including,“You Make Me Feel So Young,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Old Man River,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”  Although he had been a previous White House guest of Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, the honor of performing moved him to tears, and he remarked:

You’ve been very kind to me. As a kid, I thought it would be a great boost if I could get a glimpse of the mayor in a parade. Tonight, here with my President, the Italian Prime Minister and their guests, it is quite a boost to me. I’m honored and privilege to be here. Today after the rehearsal I looked at the paintings of President and Mrs. Washington and thought about the modest dignity of the presidency, up through the years to now and our President. It makes me very proud of my country. Thank you Mr. President for inviting me here.

Nixons welcome Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Three years earlier, on April 4, 1970, President Nixon hosted a non-state formal dinner in honor of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

The Duke, known to his family members in the royal family as David, but to the public as Prince Edward, famously abdicated his role as King of England, following the death of his father King George VI, and his subsequent announcement that he was in love with and intended to marry the twice-divorced American widow, Wallis Simpson.

Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

October 23, 1937: The Duke and Duchess meet Hitler.

Considered persona non grata in England for both his marriage and abdication, he and the Duchess lived outside of Paris for the rest of their lives. During World War II, they proved to harbor sympathies with German dictator and leader of the Axis forces, Adolph Hitler, who intended to make David the puppet King of England if the Axis managed to invade and take Great Britain. Here is a brief excerpt of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor being interviewed about their meeting and first meetings:

The Duke of Windsor with his father, grandfather and great-grandmother Queen Victoria at his 1894 christening.

Born on June 23 1894, as the eldest son of Prince George and Princess Mary, he was shortly thereafter as Edward Albert Patrick David .

His great-grandmother Queen Victoria was then nearing the end of her sixty-year reign, but she lived for another seven years after he was born. Learning  about his birth, then-75 year old Victoria made a special trip from Windsor Castle to see him and he would become adored by the powerful monarch.

She also attended his christening, posing with her son, the future, King Edward VII and grandson, the future King George VI.

Queen Victoria with the future Duke of Windsor at about two years old, in 1896.

When George was asked how he intended to raise David, he replied, “My father [Edward] was frightened of his mother [Victoria]: I was frightened of my father, and I am damned will going to see to it that my children are frightened of me.”

Here is a brief glimpse of the elderly Queen in a rare few seconds of footage:

Categories: Celebrity Degrees of Separation, Facebook of the Famous, History

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2 replies »

  1. Carl, What first got my attention here is that I used to know LaWanda Page back when I worked for NBC. She was hoot and lots of fun. She used to tell people she lived in Beverly Watts. (I believe it was Central and 95th streets) One night I went to dinner at her house which was all in shades of purple and blue. She said she liked “royal colors.” I loved how to tied all these people together. Very clever.

    • WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!! That is a great story Jefferson – seriously. What a wonderfully random tale. But it sure does give her another touch of humanity – one detects her great warmth and humour during asides through her performances. And the connection to Queen Victoria is very valid because, at the end of the day, just as Victoria enjoyed relaxing and having fun and even learning about the Indian culture and language – everyone is just a human, regardless of the labels of fame, wealth, race, age, status, etc. that we place on them to define and make sense of their purposes and value for us. Thank you so much for your recollection.

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