Saturday, September 7, 2013


He would have been 91. In honor of the day, I have culled an excerpt from my book Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept The Secrets that describes the circumstances surrounding his birth (hint: there was a breath of scandal). I hope you enjoy!

Friday morning, September 7, 1923, dawned blustery in London, the first chill of autumn sweeping through after a warm late-summer rainstorm. Inside the gracious row house at 17 Artillery Mansions in Victoria Street, May Aylen, the wife of Ernest Vaughan Aylen, a major in the Royal Army Medical Corps, lay in her oak-paneled third-floor bedroom and waited to become a mother. When she felt the first of a series of sharp labor pains, she summoned Miss Hemming, the squat, earnest Royal Red Cross nurse she had retained to help her with the delivery.
The labor, excruciatingly painful, lasted for hours, complicated by Mays slim hips and the fact that this was the nearly forty-year-old womans first pregnancy. She bore the pain as long as she could, but when Miss Hemming left the room to summon the doctor, May reached under her pillow, pulled out her husbands service revolver, and put the cold steel barrel into her mouth. Just as she was about to press the trigger, Miss Hemming raced back into the room and snatched the gun away from her.
Such agony!May later said of the labor, but it was nothing compared to her suffering during the delivery itself, which didnt come until the late afternoon. The baby was large — nine and a half pounds — and in the breech position inside Mays womb. For nearly twenty minutes the doctor struggled to pull the infant — a boy — through Mays cervix, trying not to injure him, tugging at his feet as carefully as possible. When the childs head was finally freed the doctor saw that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and had almost choked him. The baby was listless, his left arm apparently paralyzed, his color poor. Out of earshot of Mrs. Aylen, the doctor told Miss Hemming, Hell be dead before midnight.
I wasnt going to let that baby die,Miss Hemming said years later. While his exhausted mother slept, the nurse labored over him most of the night, massaged his limp arm, rubbed and patted him, splashed him with brandy to get his circulation going. As dawn broke the next morning, the child revived, and he cried lustily as Miss Hemming handed him, bundled in a blue blanket, to his mother.
May Aylen was not overjoyed at the birth of her son. I cant stand babies!she
said years later. They run at both ends; they smell of sour milk and urine.For the sixteen
years of her marriage, she had refused Major Aylens pleas that she give him a child. 
When May finally did allow herself to conceive early in December 1922, it was not because she longed for the rewards of motherhood; nor was it so that she could make her husbands fondest wish come true. No, this baby had been planned with an altogether less altruistic goal in mind.
Ernest Aylen was not present when his wife gave birth, because he knew the baby was not his child. The boys father was Aylens fifty-seven-year-old commanding officer, Lieutenant General Sir Sydney Lawford. As May had hoped, the birth of her baby — she named him Peter — would eventually result in her marriage to Sir Sydney. At that point, May, an inveterate social climber, would realize a lifelong dream, a goal so important to her that she had allowed herself to become pregnant despite the dangers for a woman her age and her abhorrence of children. As Sydney Lawfords wife, she would be immediately elevated from merely Mrs. Ernest Aylen to Lady Lawford. And she would revel in what she called this handlefor the rest of her life.


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