OK, fellow “Downtown Abbey” addicts, I managed to find a connection between the TV series and the subject of my biography in progress, the 19th-century American travel writer Eliza Scidmore. The line runs through Cora Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), the American-born mistress of Downton Abbey.
Julian Fellowes, the show’s writer, has said Cora was meant to represent the many rich American heiresses of the late 19th century who married into the British aristocracy. The press dubbed them “dollar princesses.”
The most famous of them was Mary Leiter, who led a glamorous life as Lady Curzon. Her father was a wealthy dry goods merchant from Chicago who made a fortune in partnership with the department store mogul Marshall Field.
Fellowes stressed that he didn’t model Cora specifically on Mary Leiter. But there are many parallels in their lives. Eliza Scidmore knew Mary Leiter as a young debutante in Washington.