A note from history: royals, omens, business

27 07 2013

This post is something of an oddity in that it is a recent article referring to events from several decades ago. It popped up at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin a week or so ago, and is a comment on events during a visit to the United States by the Thai royal family in 1960. This was a visit where the king addressed a joint session of the United States Congress and met the other king, Elvis Presley.

It begins by remembering:

Exactly 53 years earlier [19 June], the king and queen of Thailand flew into Ontario [California] … [and] the Thai royal family settled in for a weeklong stay [nine days]…. Using a home in La Verne [a small, affluent community in Los Angeles County] as their base, the royal couple and their four children saw the sights in Southern California. Much of their expansive retinue [numbering more than 35], meanwhile, lodged in Upland [a town in San Bernardino County, California].

And adds: “The main question: Why did the king and queen of Thailand stay in La Verne? Did they hear it was nice there this time of year?”

It seems the royal family visited at the invitation of Henry Kearns, who “owned a 60-acre property in the La Verne foothills.” Henry Kearns (1911-85) was an American international finance and business consultant. A Republican, he was Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Affairs from 1957 to 1961 and President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States from 1969 to 1973. He also headed Kearns International, an investment and consulting firm. PPT will return to Kearns in a moment.

The report makes this point:

This wasn’t unprecedented: Unusual as it may seem, the [then] King of Siam, which later became Thailand, may have visited La Verne in 1926, and the prince, princess and son definitely visited in 1931. Both instances involved a local man named Ralph Lewis, who had connections in both Hollywood and the Orient.

The king and queen “were greeted by Mayor Dan Mikesell, State Department officials and Thai citizens, who bowed low to their ruler.” They were joined by their four young children.

On the queen, it is observed that she “was a fashion plate who never wore the same dress twice; she arrived with 200 outfits, valued at $40,000 and tended to by three ladies-in-waiting.”

During their stay,

the family would visit Paramount and Desilu studios, Disneyland, Santa Barbara and Vandenburg Air Force Base. They toured the Mobil oil refinery in Torrance and the Douglas Aircraft plant in Santa Monica.

At Paramount Studios, they met Elvis Presley, as seen in the picture, which is still sometimes seen in tacky royal calendars.the_king_Elvis_with_king_thailand At Disneyland, the family was shown around by Walt Disney, and all was good until “the family’s public relations man, 42, collapsed of a heart attack and died.”

When the king and queen finished their holiday, the royal “children stayed behind at the Kearns ranch during their parents’ tour of the United States until the entourage departed for Switzerland and a 13-country royal tour.

But why Kearns? The answer seems to be that Kearns and the king were business partners, linked in the murky dealings of Siam Kraft, a paper manufacturing firm in Thailand and still a part of the Crown Property Bureau-controlled Siam Cement Group.

The insider trading that took place in the early 1970s landed Kearns in court, together with Donald Bostwick, formerly the executive vice president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States when Kearns was president and when both had been associated with Siam Kraft, which had received funds from the bank. Both sold their Siam Kraft shares to Mitsui, making a very large gain. Another Nixon cabinet member, Maurice Stans also got into some trouble over Siam Kraft.


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