Marcel Proust and Walter Berry became friends in 1916, when Berry sent Proust a fine eighteenth-century volume stamped with the arms and coronet of Prondre de Guermantes. A descendant of an old and wealthy New York family, Walter Berry was born in Paris where he spent his early years. He came back to the United States with his parents, attended Harvard, and decided to pursue a career in international law and diplomacy. Prior to returning to France, Berry had served as a judge at the International Tribunal of Egypt from 1908 to 1911. When Proust met him, Berry was fifty-seven, handsome and tall—six feet three—with blue-eyes that sparkled mischievously. An avid tennis player who was remarkably fit for his age, Berry often rose early in the morning to play matches in the Bois de Boulogne.
Berry, who spoke fluent, eloquent French, was, after the American ambassador, the most influential American in Paris and the most revered. Berry's importance to American business interests was demonstrated when he was elected President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris. Berry was a close friend of two famous American expatriates, Henry James and Edith Wharton. Wharton, who lived most of her adult life in France, called Berry the love of her life.