I see from a couple of stories in the Daily Mail and on various blogs that I follow, stories and comment regarding Julian Fellows’ new series, The Gilded Age. It has finally come to fruition, after I noted it almost a decade ago, and predicted … well, not very much hope for the project. Well, good luck to the guy – he was about the consistently most amusing of all the reoccurring characters on the series Monarch of the Glen.

I might actually watch The Gilded Age, always remembering the massive thud made by the Beacon Hill series made in the mid-1970s, when another TV producer sought to duplicate the enormous success of Upstairs, Downstairs with something of the same privileged-family upstairs and hardworking staff below stairs, and same era in an American setting. It didn’t fly back then; didn’t even last a season. I guess with the success of Downton Abbey, Mr. Fellows is certain that his luck has changed and for the better.

Alas, the problem in translating English upper-class to American upper-class remains; it’s not ever an exact translation. Julian Fellows may have better luck in spotting his pseudo-aristocratic follies in New York, when Mrs. Astor and Ward McAllister held social sway over the fabled 400. But the fortunes and foibles of the very, very rich in 1880s America were otherwise widely spread, across the entire continent and in too many specific industries. New York high society might be the closest equivalent to English society of the same era, where the ton gathered in London, and around the fabled ‘Season’ of society events, festivals, customs, and social practices. Otherwise, the American richer class were too widely dispersed, with their own ‘seasons’ events and practices, differing favored schools for the education of their young, churches for the binding in marriage of their scions, and neighborhoods for the construction of their monumental mansions. There was no single one cynosure for ‘society’ as Americans knew it, save for a limited slice of it in New York, once upon a day. Every notable region and city had their nobs and nobility – some of them, like the widow of inventor and industrialist Samuel Colt (who might have been the single wealthiest woman in America from mid-19th century on) didn’t even bother to play the New York high society game at all.  Drawing them all together into one narrative for the purpose of dramatic story-telling … glad it’s not my job, and I do wish Mr. Fellows the best of luck in his endeavors in this regard. I have occasionally amused myself by mentally putting together a series which would draw in all the various strands of wealth during the gilded age … maybe something set in a posh resort hotel, like the one on Mackinac Island, or at Saratoga Springs or a health spa like the Kellogg establishment.


  1. I can see it now: “Week(end)s at Saratoga Springs” . Hard to have consistent upstairs characters in that setting. Setting it at a modern expensive hotel in LA, New York, or San Francisco might work the same way. You could show the “downstairs” folk as the hotel staff, restaurant workers, etc, dealing with the rich, “entitled” celebrity and other visitors.

    • Well, it could work in a Gilded Age era setting – a posh hotel or resort location, with guests who come for the summer, and whose lives intertwine somehow.