CONTRARY TO MOVIE LEGEND, TONY CURTIS never said, “Yon-dah lies the castle of my foddah.” But the next time he’s in Saling, Essex, to the northeast of London, he can, if he wants to, say, “Yonder lies the barony of my son-in-law,” since director Christopher Guest, husband of Tony’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, just inherited the title of Lord Haden-Guest.
Guest, 48, succeeds his father, Peter Haden-Guest, who died April 8 at age 82. The title isn’t exactly venerable, dating back only to 1950 when it was bestowed on Guest’s grandfather Leslie Haden-Guest, a pioneering physician in child health care and a Labour MP who represented working-class London districts. (Peter’s maternal grandmother was rumored to have been one of the many mistresses of King Edward VII.) After passing to Leslie’s two eldest sons, who died without heirs, the title went to their half brother Peter, who, after a brief career as a ballet dancer, became a high-ranking editor in the publications department of the United Nations in New York City, where Christopher was born and raised.
A one-season-only Saturday Night Live writer, Christopher, whose mother, Jean Hindes, is a former vice president of CBS, went on to direct Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman and The Big Picture, but he is best known for his role as Nigel Tufnel, the dim-witted English guitarist in 1984’s This Is Spinal Tap. Also in ’84 he married Jamie Lee, 37, who now can insist on being addressed as Lady Haden-Guest—but probably won’t. Because he is adopted, their son Thomas, 6 weeks, is not eligible to inherit the title; daughter Annie, 9, also adopted, is disqualified because she is female.
Bypassed, too, is Guest’s half brother Anthony Haden-Guest, 59, who has written for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Peter’s son by a previous marriage, Anthony was born before his parents wed and, under England’s Peerage Act, may not succeed. “It’s a title,” he says. “There are lots of titles in the world. I’m a writer. I don’t mind at all.” Not so his formidable mother, Elisabeth Furse, 86, who was divorced from Peter in 1945. “In Scotland,” she says, “children born out of wedlock can inherit a title.”
Still in mourning, Christopher and Jamie Lee offer no comment—perhaps out of modesty. The title of baron is at the low end of the English aristocratic food chain, and theirs doesn’t even come with a big house in the country.