When I walk past the Savoy hotel in London, I could think of people of note who stayed there—Presidents Reagan, Truman, Eisenhower, and Harding, plus de Gaulle of France, and Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher, just to scratch the surface of dignitaries. Instead, I tend to think of the occupant of rooms 318 and 319: the last of the hotel’s founding family, Bridget D’Oyly Carte.

Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe attend a press conference for The Prince and the Showgirl at the Savoy, 1956.

Divorced after a brief marriage to her cousin at 18, D’Oyly Carte moved into her father’s old hotel suite in 1948, where she lived alone, working every day downstairs in her father’s old office by the kitchens. She was the sole heiress to the hotel as well as to its adjoining Savoy Theatre; its sister hotel, Claridge’s; and the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, with its exclusive performance rights to the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. (D’Oyly Carte’s great-grandfather Richard had built the hotel in 1889 to accommodate visitors to his Savoy Theatre.)