I was reminded by my very alert secretary nicknamed Amazon, that on 24 July last year I wrote a piece about Melissa Sadoff’s book, Woman As Chameleon, under the heading ‘A More Innocent Time?’ Reading the piece again when sexual harassment is the topic of the moment, I think it is worth a peak for those who missed my blog at the time. It is now obvious things have changed dramatically since then. Women are taking the reins everywhere – they can’t do worse than men – and men are deservedly relegated.
Here what I wrote on this occasion regarding her book, which Quartet published in 1987.
The recent brouhaha about the sexual antics on various TV programmes reminded me of a time, not that long ago, when a suggestion that wives sucked their husbands’ toes was ridiculed as if we had faced the end of civilization.
The book’s publication provoked a response that was never intended (though that ancient adage about no publicity is ever that bad does apply in the publishing trade). The hilarity arose partly because of its subject and partly because of the identity of its author, who happened to be married to David Stevens, then the press baron of Express Newspapers who had been created a life peer as Lord Stevens of Ludgate. Melissa Sadoff, as she called herself, possessed an inherited family title from central Europe and was, formally speaking, Melissa, Countess Andrassy. The book she had written was Woman as Chameleon: or How To Be the Ideal Woman. It was the very antithesis of feminist doctrine, aiming to teach women ways to keep their marriage exciting by pampering their man and acceding to his every wish and whim. Melissa was flamboyant in her views and Lord Stevens gave the impression of taking his wife’s attentions in his stride. She described the treatment she gave him in rather embarrassing detail, which opened up an opportunity for the critics to have a field-day in leg-pulling. ‘Grovel’ of Private Eye immediately dubbed Melissa ‘Countess Undressy’ and claimed to have suggested the book after hearing her speak about her husband’s ‘Ugandan preferences’. He was able to quote her verbatim for his own purposes.
‘There is nothing,’ she says, ‘that can be called perverse between husband and wife so long as it relates to the husband’s need and the wife’s willingness to do it.’ I have advised her to put it all on paper with a view to publication in book form. I tell her that my friend the seedy Lebanese parfumier Mr AttullahDisgusting could well be interested, as he is currently obsessed by all aspects of the Ugandan situation.
Two weeks later ‘Grovel’ followed through with the latest development:
As I suggested, the Countess Undressy . . . is to write a book of Ugandan hints, which will shortly be published by the swarthy Lebanese sex-fiend Naim Attullah-Disgusting. The ‘Countess’ will not mince words when she describes how she sees the duties of a wife. ‘Always kiss your husband’s body, starting from his toes,’ she writes. ‘After kissing his toes and sucking them, proceed to kiss every inch of his legs . . . ‘She should then perform the oral act. Many women feel an aversion towards this form of sex . . . Women who feel this way need to be asked what they would prefer – to have their husband go to a prostitute for such a service?’ (What’s the oral act? © Norman Fowler ’87) (That’s enough filth. Ed.)
The launch for Woman as Chameleon was held on 10 February, with ‘Londoner’s Diary’ of the Evening Standard citing the toe-kissing routine before asking ‘a pale, nervous and uncomfortable’ David Stevens, ‘Well, does she always?’ He had to confess that he hadn’t yet read the book, and didn’t intend to do so till he’d sifted through the reviews. ‘Otherwise I might be embarrassed.’
The nearest the party came to being risqué was when Jubby Ingrams’s (the daughter of Richard Ingrams, and who worked at Quartet) shoe was removed from her foot by an admirer with a view to kissing her from the toes upwards. Ms Sadoff rushed over to intervene. ‘No,’ she cried with a Transylvanian lilt. ‘It must be the other way round.’
Henry Porter in the Sunday Times ‘Notebook’ judged David Stevens to be ‘rather more reticent about his home life’ than was his wife.
I would estimate that this book . . . is going to cause considerable embarrassment to Mr Stevens . . . None the less, he has taken steps to purchase the serial rights if only to keep it out of the hands of the Daily Mail group, which naturally was keen to enhance his discomfort by publishing extracts like this: ‘Become your husband’s own prostitute . . . if your husband is in his study, workroom or garage in the wintertime put on a sexy slip, wrap yourself in a coat, slip on suspenders, black stockings and surprise him wherever he may be.’
Unfortunately the fun and games of the press diverted attention from the rest of the book, which threw many a light on relationships, friendships, motherhood and divorce, with sound philosophical reflections. Melissa was of Hungarian origin, a talented concert pianist and an accomplished hostess. She was perhaps a shade over the top in her enthusiasm, but being an eternal optimist her heart was in the right place. In retrospect, I believe she deserved more praise for the book than she ever received. Throughout the merciless lampooning from Private Eye and the barrage of snide sarcasm aimed by the rest of the press against the book, which inevitably earned the displeasure of the feminist lobby, she remained in control and outwardly unaffected by it all.
Her husband, despite the newspapers’ determination to embarrass him, was extremely supportive. He did not seem to be in any way phased by the teasing of friends over the rumpus caused by some of the book’s intimate passages. Sadly, only two years later, Melissa died when she got up in the middle of the night to eat a peach and choked on the stone. I was in Los Angeles at the time and was woken to hear the dreadful news. It left me feeling very emotional. I had grown to like Melissa immensely. Her colourful personality and boundless zest for life were her enduring strengths and ensured she could not be easily forgotten.
Melissa was always entertaining, with something of interest to say. I interviewed her in 1987 two years before she died and here is the substance of what she told me.
THE EARLY INFLUENCES
Melissa Sadoff: My grandmother and mother probably showed me what the feminine woman is. They delighted in being lovely women and emphasized making a man’s life very pleasant and charming.
I thought carefully about what I wanted even as a very young girl, and would simply ask for things and get them. Our family was a male-dominated family, but I had an equal voice. I was single-minded and determined, very. I always knew I was going to be a writer, and started reading when I was five. I was writing little pieces of prose when I was nine or ten, and always wrote my own cards at Christmas and birthdays, and particularly for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and when I was thirteen I had already started writing philosophical essays. I always wanted to be famous, not for the sake of being famous, but for the sake of leaving something to humanity after I died. If I had been a man, I probably would have been some kind of crazy general ore war leader, even though war is not in my heart at all. But I think I would have been quite a determined man.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Melissa Sadoff: The more I’ve read history, the more I’ve read literature, the more I’ve felt that a determined woman, in all cultures, through all history, could achieve what she wanted. Even in Roman history, you had women leaders, women queens. There were quite well-known priestesses in Greek society. We know that Egypt had queens, Cleopatra and Nefertiti. It’s not just the social position they were born in, but a woman who was determined could always achieve what she wanted – for example, Joan of Arc. Which woman, even today, would lead an army dressed as a man, and there she was, she did it, she was a friend of kings. So I never felt that a woman as an individual was restricted, although I would say the that the rules, regulations and laws in certain cultures didn’t allow the mass of women their freedom.
In some societies, maybe many societies, women are still discriminated against en masse, but that is changing. It has been changing for a long while. It is a slow evolution, but it is getting up speed and it’s getting more and more straightened out. I personally have not suffered discrimination, but not because I had any advantages. When I was about five years old, we were thrown out of one home, in Hungary. When I was seven years old, we were thrown out of Yugoslavia. We did not have a chance to take even the little dolls – at that time probably the most important thing to me. When you couldn’t take sentimental possessions, never mind material possessions, that should create a tremendous complex in a human being. When you are seven years old and you see a dead body hanging off a tree, with all the insides out, that is not an advantage, that should create a tremendous disadvantage. When I realized at about thirteen or fourteen that, due to different political philosophies, people mistreat each other very badly, I was shaken into reality from my romantic, idealistic world. It should have left me cynical, it should have left me bitter, and quite insecure. I had the same ability or inability to cope with my problems as all of us do. The difference is that many of us do not think about our lives. We do not realize how long we live, we don’t ask ourselves what we want to achieve in that life, we don’t ask ourselves how we can cope with our own problems without going to psychiatrists, without asking for all sorts of help, without becoming alcoholics or drug addicts. We don’t ask ourselves whether we can solve our own problems. And very often we can.
I still say that, as long as a woman is very feminine and knows what she wants, and tells it honestly, she is going to get everything she wants, whether it is a career or children or whatever.
Women may have problems with their cycles, things like that, but even though there are times and reasons and physical causes for a woman to react that way, it annoys me when you hear women saying, oh dear, I can’t get up in the morning too early, and if I do I have to have a cup of coffee immediately, and my cigarette, and I can’t talk to anybody before noon. I could say the same thing. But I wouldn’t, it’s a waste of time. I would say that is a negative approach. If I have to get up very early in the morning, I do. I am going to be pleasant, and I’m going to speak to people before noon. Why not? We are sophisticated human beings. We are no longer animals, to react in such natural ways and say we cannot cope with this, that or the other. We have a brain in our head and we should use it.
Melissa Sadoff: We’re prompted to believe that, to have exciting sex, you have to make love all the time. First of all, much as we would want it, or our imagination would want it, you can’t do it physically, simply because there are other things to do. By the time any man comes home at night, he is half-exhausted if not completely exhausted, he is not in a very good mood to perform. And if a woman has an ordinary or average life, she is not ready to hop into bed either. So if a woman is clever and creates romantic situations, such as a weekend away or visiting her husband in the office, if she can seduce her husband in different circumstances and situations, she can keep that going and really kindle his imagination.
Most men do not equate sex with love. Women do. But even a man can be a victim in a strong, clever woman’s hands. Let us say it starts with a flirtation, then leads to an affair, then the woman, the other woman thinks, this could really become something of a much more permanent nature and she likes the whole idea. She can trap him without difficulty. I don’t care who the man is, he will think this is the greatest love he ever had in his life. So it is possible for a clever woman to change men’s minds and therefore, what was in the beginning just a flirtation, an affair, can become a love.
It is not the speed and quantity of sex that matters, it is the quality. Making love every ten days is much better than making love every day and not knowing what this is all about.
Melissa Sadoff: Rearing a child is probably the most important for a woman, but I would rather give that love to a man. I chose my vocation. I would be much more interested in making a man happy than a little child. Having said that, I have had happiness in children as well, but I did it because I love them, not because I really chose them.
Melissa Sadoff: I prefer men if the women are not educated. I don’t mean educated in the sense of university degrees, but educated in life. I have met many wise old women who were not educated at university, but they were utterly, utterly interesting to talk to. They had been through the university of life, they were wise, they were very intelligent – maybe not academic, but intelligent – and I like interesting women. If a woman speaks to me only about washing machines and the price of butter and where the children go to school, I don’t enjoy that type of woman at all.
I love a man who, no matter how much he loves to work, knows the seductive side of life and can combine the pleasures of life with work. I also like a man who treats a woman like a woman.
Melissa Sadoff: I think men and women are completely different, not just visually, not just biologically, but our brain is different. We have the same type of nerve centre and so forth, but our reflexes, our emotions will be different. If a man is confronted by a prowler, his natural instinct would be to stand up and fight. A woman’s natural instinct would be more or less to run away and scream. It is just a natural reaction. We’re not sophisticated enough yet to say we have a brain in our head and we are going to use it. We allow the brain to use us and tell us what to do.
A man needs several women, many women, not only for a short span of time, but throughout his lifetime. I come back again to how different we are, mentally and biologically. Women need a romance and need one man, maybe. They would probably never change that one man if there is no good reason to do so. A man, no matter how loyal and how much he loves his wife, in my opinion – particularly an intelligent man who is well travelled, who knows life such as life is, full of exciting projects and exciting adventures – that man would need a different woman every year, every six months, who is to say, maybe every month. I cannot find anything immoral or amoral about it.
Our sexual needs are different, totally. A man needs to be stimulated all the time, so does the woman. However, unless she is a nymphomaniac, she would be very happy to be stimulated only by one man. As long as she is in love with him, and she can be in love with him for ever and ever, as long as she has that romantic image of the man, she will be faithful to him as long as she lives. However, no matter what she does, unless she really is superb, she is not enough, she is going to start ageing eventually. It is so silly of us women to think that a man doesn’t enjoy beauty, doesn’t enjoy excitement, doesn’t enjoy youth. There are all sorts of women. Some are much sexier than others. If a man is a real man, he will fall under the charms of this other woman. We would have to be all-round women, or what I call women for all seasons, to please a man forever, and even that would be very difficult.