COVID-19 effect, let’s look back at an easier time

Today would have been one of the highlights of our social and lecture season: René’s latest presentation All That Glitters Is Not Gold at the Kravis Center for Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, with the amazing Lee Bell and Keena Gumbinner. Of course the lecture has been cancelled with the current state of emergency, and we hope it can be rescheduled for the fall. We are all “sheltering in place” as much as possible, so we all get through this situation healthy, and we can see our audiences again next season.

Before this all started, we had a full lecture schedule over the Winter. Let’s take a look back, and give credit where credit is due.

Fellowship Glitters

“Skip” Randolph introducing René

We started in early December with the official première of our then-new presentation Glitters, which chronicles the lives of 6 uber-wealthy women, who all had tragic lives, including Barbara Hutton and Christina Onassis, whom René knew personally. We were honored to start the season off for the Palm Beach Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and the gracious Enid Pollak actually helped us identify this new topic. Of course “Skip” Randolph, our host, opened the afternoon with some eloquent and helpful comments about the international rise in anti-Semitism.

Boca Raton Resort

René at the Boca Raton Resort and Club

A few days later we reprised the same presentation at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, which is always a pleasure. Barbara Chase, our host in Boca, could not be more engaging and glamorous!

Valencia Falls

René at Valencia Falls

The following Monday, René was the speaker to open the season for the women’s club at Valencia Falls, where he delivered Noblesse Oblige, the Duchess of Windsor as I knew her. The lecture was followed by an authentic British high tea. Both Susan Stein and Judy Silver are the kindest women you could ever meet. They have already booked us again for next season!

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René at Oceanreef, Key Largo

Then 2020 started with a bang for us. Our 4threturn to Oceanreef, Key Largo, Florida where three Women’s Quester Groups hosted a luncheon, while René took them on a trip through The history of North Atlantic Ocean Liner travel – from necessity to glamour to recreation. Ruth Perfido and her friends, including Barbara Wolf, hosted us at their table for a gourmet lunch. They have also booked us again for next season!

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René at Valencia Reserve

On to another Valencia, this time Valencia Reserve, with the fabulous Ellen Schiffman and her women’s group, who enjoyed The History of Mar-a-Lago, from cereal heiress to Winter White House. Again, they have asked René to return next season!

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René in Thomasville, Georgia

Then it was time to get on the road for our 3rdtrip to Thomasville, Georgia. A jewel of a place, including our hosts Theresa and Joe Brown. The Browns are perfect examples of southern gentility and always spoil us beyond description. They went through a lot of trouble to have their landmarks preservation committee host Noblesse Oblige. A distinguished audience attended the lecture at Thomas University in their new, high-tech auditorium. Guests were treated to Champagne and cake prior to the presentation.

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René at the Gulfstream Little Club

Back in Palm Beach, we were asked by a childhood friend of René, Henrik Vanderlip and his lovely wife Louise, to present the Mar-a-Lago lecture at the Gulfstream Little Club in Gulfstream, Florida. It was a packed house in the club’s beautiful restaurant overlooking a manicured golf course. The presentation was followed by an epicurean dinner.

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René at the Polo Club of Boca Raton

We then had the pleasure of speaking for the 3rdyear in a row at the Polo Club of Boca Raton. This year their selection committee chose the new Glitterslecture. As always, they had a huge turnout, definitely due to the organizational skills of the talented and efficient Christina Doucette.

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René speaking at the Royal Palm Yacht Club, Boca Raton

Diane Ricca asked us to be involved in a charity event for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, held at the elegant Royal Palm Yacht Club in Boca Raton. Close to René’s heart, since he is a long-time lymphoma survivor, he presented some details of his own struggles with the disease, before captivating a luncheon audience with the story about the Duchess of Windsor.

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René at OLLI of FAU Jupiter

Time to get back to Florida Atlantic University with duo performances of Glitters at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes of Jupiter and Boca Raton. As usual the audiences were graceful and welcoming. Both premier continuing education programs are led by extremely qualified and charismatic women: Kimberley Bowman in Jupiter and Judith Scara in Boca Raton. We have submitted multiple proposals for next season, at both programs.

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René at OLLI Boca Raton

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René at Renato’s with the Circumnavigators Club

Then things started to change as the current Covid-19 virus’s threat became a stark reality. We had three lectures scheduled the week the world started to talk about the virus. As the news-filled days passed, we wondered if the events would or should take place. As it turned out, the events were held just before the concept of “social distancing” emerged. The first event was a Disasters at Sea presentation, specially created for the Circumnavigators Club of Palm Beach, headed by our good friends Paulette and Paul Noble. The lecture was followed by a stunning dinner at famed Renato’s restaurant in charming Via Mizner, Palm Beach, which was excellent thanks to owner/manager Jose Luis Duran, who provided excellent service and delicious food.

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René at the Old Palm Golf Club

The next day we were at the Old Palm Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens. Our friends Herb and Joanna Roemelle, who had just moved into a magnificent home at the club, brought several close friends to attend our Mar-a-Lagolecture, which heart warmingly welcomed us! We hope to return and work with Darlene Impellitiere again.

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René at the Palm Beach Yacht Club

We had no idea that our next presentation, two days later, would be our last of the season. Hand washing and elbow bumps were the talk of the moment as we put on a Mar-a-Lago presentation at the Palm Beach Yacht Club. The ultra-chic club produces a much-talked about Lunch & Learn series every winter. Carey Reed organized an immaculate luncheon in a charming room, designed to look and feel like the dining room of an enormous yacht or small cruise ship. We hope to return next season. Also, a great thank you to Jeremy Johnson, President of the  Historical Society of Palm Beach County, for making the introduction, as well as for inviting us back to his venerable organization next year.

And then…everything shut down…which brings us to today. We hope everyone is staying home as much as possible, so we can all get through this period healthy, and help “flatten the curve,” as we have all come to say (see CDC guidelines here). René and I are diligently adhering to the rules. We are using the opportunity to work on our next project: Are Diamonds a Girl’s Best Friend? – All the glitters is not gold, Part 2.

It will continue our theme of wealthy tragic women, including Princess Margaret (whom René knew personally,) Marilyn Monroe, Whitney Houston, and several others.

We hope, when next season comes around, life will be back to some sense of normalcy, and we will have the pleasure of seeing the lovely audiences we are honored to know, for what we hope is an entertaining foray into an hour when your very real problems can be forgotten.

Warm regards and stay safe,

Robert Versteeg, Silvin Books & Productions

END OF SUMMER: looking back and looking ahead

It looks like South Florida has avoided getting hit by Dorian. Our hearts go out to those in the Bahamas, and we will keep a close eye on the storm as it moves up the coast. Fingers crossed it’ll stay mostly off shore.

Summer is almost over. Time to look at what we did while in Cape Cod, and looking at what is ahead for us when we return to Florida.

We started the summer with a second return to the Berkshires. We presented the tragic story about theSS Normandie. Because of the audience’s enthusiastic reception, Tom Hayes, director of Ventfort Hall’s lecture series, has invited us back for next summer to present our newest lecture.

566C0DB2-0A72-4C0C-B2BF-0967241E52B9René being introduced at Ventfort Hall

Producing this new lecture is the main product of our summer: All That Glitters Is Not Gold – The Perils of Being Too Rich. In it, René tells the life stories of 6 women who were tremendously wealthy, but never found happiness. He starts off with the story of Ann Woodward, who killed her husband Bill in 1955, heir to the fortune of the Hanover National Bank and famed Belair Farm. René knew her well, as she spent much of the ensuing two decades hunting, mostly in Europe with René’s father.

EA3B9110-C523-4B75-84D6-691DB06544E8Barbara Hutton striking a pose

He transitions from Woodward to Christina Onassis, whom he knew well and whose brother, Alexander, attended school with René in Switzerland. After Christina’s brother, mother and father, Aristotle Onassis, all died within a few years, Christina was never able to find love and died at only 38 years old. The next subject of the presentation is  Barbara Hutton, the “poor little rich girl” who never found purpose in life. After 7 failed marriages and the death of her only son, Lance Reventlow, she died almost penniless. Leona Helmsley, Sunny von Bülow and Gigi Jordan are also presented.

9534C05B-0457-4F3B-A73A-095A08D8B744René being introduced by Cheryl at her and Bob’s home in North Truro

Over the summer we first presented a sneak peak of this new presentation at a fund raiser for Alzheimer’s at the home of the fabulous Cheryl and Bob Whitman-Bergen. We then did the entire presentation at our favorite venue here in Provincetown: The Residences of Seashore Point. It was René’s 7thappearance there, and he drew a packed house. A big thanks to Mark Boucher.

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For more information about, and details of where to see All That Glitters Is Not Goldthis coming winter season, check out the designated page here.

Another highlight this past summer was our first visit to Harbor Springs in Michigan. René was invited to present Noblesse Oblige-The Duchess of Windsor As I Knew Her at the Harbor Springs Little Club. We were hosted by the amazingly generous Chris and Lisa Imbs. Both the club and its membership gave René a warm welcome, as well as a magnificent dinner after the presentation. We hope for a return to Harbor Springs next summer.

F483B5A9-567E-4427-9D31-B23E78F9E4C0René presenting at the Harbor Springs Little Club in Michigan

Another project that has taken up much of our time this summer is the impending release of the 2ndedition of René’s book from 2008: Walking the Rainbow. We have reworked the text, but keeping the important story intact, which chronicles the history of AIDS seen through the eyes of René, who lost two partners during the 80s and 90s. It will now be illustrated with many relevant pictures, and René has added an epilogue to bring readers up to date to what has happened to many of the important players in the story since the book was published twelve years ago. The book will be available on Amazon soon, so stay tuned on a publication date.

79383C2F-8C1E-483C-B67D-C5ADB5193D2BThe cover of the second edition of “Walking the Rainbow-all that glitters is not gold”

Silvin Books, also published two books for other authors, of which one is a children’s book by author Kevin Drury called “Bienvenido, the bird-watching cat” which will be released this October.

We currently have 13 events planned for the coming season, including a return to Ocean Reef, Florida and Thomasville, Georgia, as well as some of our favorite venues around Palm Beach County. The Palm Beach Fellowship of Christians and Jews will kick of our season on December 8, and we return to the Kravis Center in March. Check out our entire list of events here. We hope to see you at any of the venues, and here is to a healthy successful fall and winter for everyone!

Written by Robert Versteeg, Silvin Books & Productions