Did Princess Margaret Really Go to America, As 'The Crown' Portrays?

She met with Lyndon B. Johnson, but got her share of bad press.

President Johnson Dances With Princess Margaret
(Image credit: Keystone-France)

Season three of Netflix's The Crown will feature Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon's 1965 U.S. tour in at least one episodeper The Hollywood Reporter and other outlets. The Crown casts Princess Margaret (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and husband Lord Snowdon's tour in a rosy glow, but the real-life tour was marred by bad press, "diva"-esque behavior, and, believe it or not, a reported temporary ban for Margaret from the United States. Let's dig in, shall we?

Margaret offended several American stars.

During the tour, Princess Margaret met a handful of high-profile American celebrities, and that...did not go well. Explained biographer Craig Brown in a piece for The Guardian: "After a succession of drinks...Her rudeness knew no bounds. It was almost as though, early in life, she had contracted a peculiarly royal strain of Tourette syndrome, causing the sufferer to be seized by the unstoppable urge to say the first thing that came into her head, just so long as it was sufficiently unpleasant."

Some tidbits, per Grazia:

  • Margaret said Elizabeth Taylor's engagement ring was "vulgar."
  • Margaret told Grace Kelly she "didn't look like a movie star."
  • Margaret upset Judy Garland by asking her to perform on the spot, which Garland wasn't comfortable doing.

Her meeting with Lyndon B. Johnson was...fine.

Though The Crown may suggest otherwise, Princess Margaret and husband Lord Snowdon's evening with President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady Lady Bird seems pretty unremarkable. The two danced and dined together at the White House, and Princess Margaret gave a nice toast about how welcomed she and her husband felt in the U.S., but that was...about it.

President Johnson Dances With Princess Margaret

Princess Margaret dancing with President Lyndon B. Johnson.

(Image credit: Mark Kauffman)

By comparison, the often poor press and hurt feelings Princess Margaret left in her trail on her U.S. tour was pretty remarkable, given that she was there representing the British Royal Family. It actually seems as though the White House evening was among the less publicized of her U.S. engagements.

Lyndon Johnson and Wife with Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon

Margaret, Lord Snowdon, Lady Bird, and the President.

(Image credit: Bettmann)

The U.S. tour was outrageously expensive.

Foremost among the controversies of Princess Margaret's U.S. tour? The expense, which was £30,000 at the time; today, that translates to about half a million dollars. A transcript of a hearing in the British Parliament about the expense of the tour features MP William Hamilton asking the President of the Board of Trade Douglas Jay: "Can he say what return we are going to get from [Margaret's tour], and will he say whether the Labour Government are going to stop conniving at this kind of extravagant nonsense by this very expensive young lady?"

This controversy, however, largely took place in U.K. papers ("Who pays?" read one headline) among those who were concerned about taxpayers picking up the expense for Margaret's trip.

Princess Margaret in New York City, 1965

Margaret in Manhattan in 1965.

(Image credit: Newsday LLC)

Margaret was reportedly banned from going back, at least for a while.

This is perhaps the most juicy of the details of Margaret's U.S. tour: According to a 2003 report in The Telegraph, Margaret was reportedly banned from making a return trip to the States in the '70s, thanks to the "raucous" behavior of her entourage during the '65 trip. Lees Mayall, Vice-Marshal of the Diplomat Service, wrote in a memo: "You will remember that Lord Cromer is not at all keen on having the Princess in the United States, possibly for some time to come. This is mainly due to the behaviour of some of HRH's friends, who tend to take such visits very lightly."

If you've watched The Crown, you'll know that such a proclamation is Brit-speak for "appalling behavior."

Royal Caltech Visit

Margaret in California in 1965

(Image credit: Smith Collection/Gado)

Commenting on the report in 2003, Lord Snowdon, who had been married to Margaret at the time and was present for the tour, noted: "I have no idea why there should have been any objection to what went on." (Margaret died in 2002.)

The Crown tells a...different story.

Some episodes of season three, like Charles' investiture and the Aberfan disaster, remain close to the source material. Not this one. In The Crown, Margaret is greeted by adoring crowds Stateside and earns front-page acclaim on every newspaper; meanwhile, back in the U.K., Lyndon B. Johnson is flat-out refusing to engage with the Queen in any way. (There's no evidence that this occurred—although Lyndon Johnson is the sole U.S. president the Queen never met with during his tenure, nobody really knows why.) LBJ turns down an invitation to the Palace, he turns down shooting at Balmoral...and then he hears about Princess Margaret, and decides he wouldn't mind meeting her instead. (Again, not quite true. LBJ had actually met Margaret before.)

The episode also shows Margaret talking LBJ into the bailout that Britain so desperately needs; her charm during their evening together earns the U.K. the bailout from Johnson, which Margaret then uses as ammunition to ask the Queen for royal duties. Unfortunately, the bailout discussions went on for years after Margaret's visit, so that's...not at all accurate. (It is, however, true-ish that Margaret wanted more royal duties.) And while photos of the evening show that everybody looks perfectly happy to be in one another's company, there's no evidence of the dirty joke-telling and raucous antics described in the episode.

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