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5 real-life stars from the 1920s who should appear on Downton Abbey
Virginia Woolf will appear in Season 4 of the popular British melodrama. Which other personalities might make a cameo?
Swinging for the fences — of Downton.
Swinging for the fences — of Downton. (General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)
W

hen Downton Abbey returns to PBS early next year, its cast of characters will include a celebrity name among the familiar landed gentry and serving staff. Lord Julian Fellowes, the show's creator, has revealed that the modernist author Virginia Woolf will enjoy a brief cameo in a scene with Edith Crawley, the romantically unfortunate middle daughter of Lord Grantham.

Woolf isn't the first real-life person to feature in Downton Abbey, but only the most studious historians will have noted the real-life provenance of Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of York, who appeared briefly in Season 3. And Woolf isn't even the only real-life character planned for Season 4 — opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will play 1920s diva Nellie Melba in an upcoming episode.

Given that the worlds of fact and fiction are beginning to intertwine in Downton — and that the show's writers are apparently running low on ideas — here are some other 1920s stars who could appear on the show:

1. Sigmund Freud
The founding father of psychoanalysis pays a visit to Downton Abbey to treat Lord Grantham, who is suffering from a traumatic bout of neurosis after accidentally passing a bottle of port the wrong way during an evening meal. After a weekend of examination, the Austrian doctor proposes that the downstairs staff represents Downton Abbey's id, or its childish, impulsive side; that the Grantham family represents its central ego; and that Lord Grantham himself is the super-ego imposing an impractical moralism on the house. Before Freud can move onto castration anxiety and the Oedipal complex, a cutting remark from the Dowager Countess sends the meddling doctor and his theories on his way.

2. Babe Ruth
With Matthew Crawley now sadly departed, the village cricket team is missing a key batsman — and who better to fill in, than a long-lost American cousin who just happens to be passing through the village between seasons playing for the Yankees. Carson the butler is originally skeptical that the portly "Cousin George" is fit to play the game of cricket, not to mention his insistence on wearing pajamas during the daytime, and holding the bat in the air and not defending the wicket. But during the climactic moments of the game, George seals the team a victory with "the shot heard around the village." However, a cutting remark from the Dowager Countess infuriates the rotund ball-player into leaving the village in a huff.

3. Harry Houdini
When a traveling gypsy convinces Lady Grantham she can communicate with her dead daughter and son-in-law from beyond the grave, grieving daughter Mary has an idea — why not call Harry Houdini, who has lately made it his mission to expose such fraudsters? The legendary escape artist and magician turns up at the house only to be accidentally locked into the pantry by Mrs. Patmore. With the gypsy preparing to take yet more money from Lady Grantham, Thomas must pose as the master illusionist and send the fraudulent gypsy packing. Houdini finally escapes from the pantry, only to slink out in disgrace after overhearing a cutting remark from the Dowager Countess about his failure to appear.

4. John Logie Baird, inventor of the television
When Downton's telephone line breaks down, Scottish housekeeper Mrs. Hughes calls her distant cousin John, whom she knows is an engineer. The diminutive inventor brings with him his latest invention — a machine for "seeing by the wireless." Though the household staff scoff at his latest hare-brained scheme, the curious Daisy plugs it into the electric mains only to panic at the strange voices and lights it produces. Lady Grantham overhears it and becomes convinced all over again that she can communicate with her deceased children. In an emotional scene, former chauffeur Branson pretends to be Matthew to give Cora the peace of mind she needs to move on from her grief. Baird finally has the proof that his device will work — but a cutting remark from the Dowager Countess convinces him it doesn't have a future.

5. Salvador Dali
Edith Crawley has a new lover, a handsome painter from Spain, with a flamboyant mustache and a pet ocelot that goes everywhere with him. But Mr. Dali's behavior soon rubs everyone the wrong way — from Lord Grantham, who cannot understand why Dali insists on replacing the telephone receiver with a dead lobster, to Mrs. Patmore, who can't conceive why Dali would order his eggs served draped over a candelabra. Edith breaks off her engagement after she discovers a painting by Dali of her sister Mary in the nude, riding a giant one-eyed grasshopper and being consumed by a tortoise with the head of a cat. He is forced to leave, but not before delivering so cutting a remark to the Dowager Countess that she dies in shock — leaving all of Downton's fans as angry at the show as they were at the end of Season 3.

Dan Stewart is a senior editor at The Week magazine. Originally from the U.K., he has been living in the United States since 2009.

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