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A Coronado Connection to ‘The King’s Speech’?

To judge by legend, Colin Firth might have added Coronado to his list of thank-yous at the Academy Awards last night.

He, of course, played an English prince who couldn't speak properly and faced a frightening future thanks to a brother, King Edward VIII, who couldn't (at least by the standards of the time) love properly.

The official story is that the Edward, the future king, met Wallis Warfield Spencer, his future non-queen, in 1931. But there's long been an alternative version: that the two locked gazes, and who knows what else, 11 years earlier when they supposedly were both in Coronado.

Their love -- and a path that led to Edward's abdication in 1936 and an Oscar-winning film in the 21st century -- may have been kindled in a luxurious local hotel.

"Many have speculated that they may have first met at The Del," says the Hotel Del Coronado's website.

Here's how the rumor goes, according to articles in The Journal of San Diego History by historian Benjamin Sacks.

In 1920, Edward was 26 and not yet a king. He was the Prince of Wales and dropped by San Diego and Coronado for a visit while on the way to New Zealand and Australia.

The future Duchess of Windsor was Mrs. Earl Winfield Spencer, Jr., aged 24. She lived in Coronado with her husband, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, and was said to be a delightful girl, unlike her future reputation.

There was a ball and a reception at the Hotel Del Coronado to honor the prince. And then… what? Did he meet the "extremely good hostess"?

In two journal articles, from 1987 and 1988, Sacks devotes more than 11,000 words to examining the question of whether the prince met Mrs. Spencer. His verdict: Nope.

There is one certain fact: The prince was definitely in San Diego in 1920. It was a huge event for our still-small city, especially to beat out Los Angeles and San Francisco for the honor of playing host to royalty.

But, as Sacks discovered, Wallis Spencer was not here. She was staying at a lodge near Pebble Beach, visiting a friend from San Francisco and playing polo.

The San Diego Union society pages -- this was before the days of Burl Stiff, if you can believe it -- chronicled her coming and going. And the San Francisco Chronicle offers more confirmation: it noted her presence not once but twice, while the San Francisco Call-Post also mentioned her attendance at a Sunday evening dinner. (In typical society page fashion, the Call-Post item noted her presence with a long list of who-was-who -- "the Heckschers, Major and Mrs. Miller Mundy, Mr. and Mrs. Francis McComas, Mr. and Mrs. Alvah Kaime, Mr. and Mrs. Felton Elkins," and on and on.)

The prince and once-divorced-but-again-married Wallis, now Mrs. Simpson, would go on to meet in England in 1931. He became king in 1936 but abdicated amid a mess of controversy, making way for his brother, the stammerer profiled in "The King's Speech."

As for historian Sacks, he finished his legend-debunking articles when he was in his 80s. He lived for another two decades -- the U-T profiled him shortly before his death -- and died in 2007 at the age of 104.

"I've tried to live a moral but exciting life," Sacks told the U-T. One thing's certain: he brought a little more truth (and perhaps a bit less romance) to history.

-- RANDY DOTINGA

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