Truman Capote, Empress of Fashion, A Life of Diana Vreeland
“She’s a genius but she’s the kind of genius that very few people will ever recognize because you have to have genius yourself to recognize it. Otherwise you just think she’s a rather foolish woman.”
Truman Capote, Empress of Fashion, A Life of Diana Vreeland
Image Credit: Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style
"He’s got the shortest attention span of anyone I know in the business. That’s what makes him so right for fashion."
Patrick McCarthy, on Karl Lagerfeld, The Beautiful Fall, Lagerfeld, Saint Laurent, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris
“The first time we ever met, me in awe, I said to her, ‘The other night I saw one of your [early] movies in which your face was more beautiful than anyone’s I’ve ever seen other than Garbo’s.’ ‘Alice Adams,’ she said, and she was right.”
Robert Gottlieb, Avid Reader: A Life
Brought together by their mutual friend Irene Mayer Selznick, Knopf editor-in-chief Robert Gottlieb edited Katharine Hepburn's memoir, The Making of the African Queen. An excerpt from Avid Reader in which Gottlieb recalls about his experiences with not only Hepburn but also Irene Selznick and Lauren Bacall is available at Vanity Fair.
A copy of The Making of the African Queen signed by Katharine Hepburn is available via the Nick Harvill Libraries kiosk at the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood.
“The crowd outside the church screamed … ‘Andy!’ There was the biggest mob I’ve ever seen around a church. We went in and they had folding chairs near the door. Oprah Winfrey gave a speech. … And at the car rental we’d seen all these glamorous names like ‘Clint Eastwood’ and ‘Barbara Walters’ .... And watching this storybook wedding, you just wonder about what it’ll be like when the divorce comes.”
Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries, April 26, 1986, Hyannis, Massachusetts, Wedding of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver
Maria Shriver was the second generation of the Kennedy family to marry a professional actor. Her aunt Patricia Kennedy famously wed Peter Lawford (he was JFK's link to Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack). Her daughter Katherine became the third such generation earlier this summer when she wed Chris Pratt.
The Schwarzenegger/Shriver marriage produced four children and proved more enduring than Andy Warhol himself. He died within a year. Over thirty years later, Arnold and Maria have separated but remain legally married. How fascinated Warhol would have been by the tabloid scandal that prompted their separation. For that matter, Andy Warhol would love so much about 21st Century popular culture. His prediction that in the future everyone would be famous (infamous?) for fifteen minutes has come to pass.
Image Credit: Andy Warhol's Exposures
“Conscience isn’t like a liver, you can get on without it.”
Tallulah Bankhead, Performing This Marriage by Eliot C. Williams
Tallulah Bankhead was reciting a line from a play in which she was performing when she joked that a person could get by without a conscience. Given her outlandish lifestyle (which put stress on her own liver), the quip might have been something she came up with all on her own. In a less-talented actress, the scandalous behavior would have outshone the career (and eventually it did).
From her heyday in the twenties through her death in the late sixties, Bankhead's hijinks practically kept the tabloids in business. Yet, no Real Housewife was she. Instead, Tallulah could channel the wit and deadpan delivery of Oscar Wilde. Consider the time she walked into a restaurant and discovered her then-lover, Lord "Naps" Alington, dining with his wife, and he pretended not to know her. Without missing a beat, she walked over to his table and inquired, "What’s the matter dahling, don’t you recognize with my clothes on?”
Image Credit: People on Parade
“Since we live in an age of corruption, almost like the declining days of ancient Rome, with the ‘interests’ digging in deeper all the time, I ought not to be surprised at a campaign to build another Las Vegas right in the heart of our community. The plan was to incorporate a separate little city made up of the Sunset Strip, with its night clubs like Dino’s and Jerry Lewis’ new place, and stretching from Santa Monica Boulevard up into the hills. Like Beverly Hills, which is a town unto itself, and an extremely well-conducted one, this new Sunset City, or whatever it was to be christened, would have written its own rules and controlled its own life.”
Hedda Hopper, The Whole Truth and Nothing But
Hedda Hopper waged an all-out war against proposed cityhood for a densely populated, unincorporated region of Los Angeles now known as West Hollywood (home of Nick Harvill Libraries). During her lifetime, she won. It was not until Los Angeles County abolished rent control in 1984, early twenty years following Hopper's death, that the disparate groups of renters in the city—mostly gays (then reeling from an out-of-control AIDS epidemic) and (then) gay-unfriendly Russian immigrants—set aside their differences and formally incorporated, enabling the new city to pass a municipal rent control law.
“I’ll never forget lunching at a popular restaurant with Ria [Langham]. A writer rushed up to the table and gushed, ‘I just saw you in Possessed. Joan, you were wonderful, inspired, the way you look at Clark [Gable], anyone can tell you’re crazy about him.’ I blanched, turned quickly to the writer and said, “May I present my good friend, Mrs. Clark Gable?”
Joan Crawford, The Films of Clark Gable
Joan Crawford had good reason to be embarrassed. The writer had guessed correctly. Crawford later confessed to biographers that she was indeed having a torrid affair with Gable during the filming of Possessed. Said Crawford, “[W]e had a scene in which he came up behind me and undid a string of pearls I was wearing. The string of pearls dropped to the floor. Fade to black and use your imagination.”
The Mrs. Clark Gable to whom Joan Crawford referred was the second Mrs. Gable, a.k.a. Ria Langham, a wealthy Texas socialite. She was nearly two decades older than her husband. It was her guidance (aided by the MGM glamour machine) that transformed Gable from a roughhewn young man into a major movie star. Consider the photographs below. To the right is Clark Gable in 1925. To the left shows him in the early 1930s, still sans the mustache that became his trademark but clearly on his way to becoming a top box office star.
Crawford later acknowledged that the sexual attraction she and Gable shared was too hot not to cool down. They considered marriage but wisely decided against it—as devoted as she was to Gable, the love of Crawford’s life would always be not a real person but an image of one--her own, Joan Crawford, the movie star. Clark Gable remained married to Ria Langham until 1939, by which time he was besotted with Carole Lombard. She became the third Mrs. Gable later that year. It was one of Hollywood's great love matches, but she died tragically in a 1942 airplane crash.
Image Credit: The Films of Clark Gable
“Mistresses here in Washington simply aren’t as politically influential as they once were. I wish they were. It would be a lot more fun.”
Susan Mary Alsop, American Lady, The Life of Susan Mary Alsop
New York City seemed to have the zeitgeist in its grip for much of the 20th Century, but there were periods when the right place at the right time did take up residence elsewhere. Susan Mary Jay Patten Alsop found herself in two such places—first in post-World War II Paris, and second, in Kennedy-era Washington, D.C. It could have been of little consequence. After all, it is one thing to bump into the zeitgeist. It is quite another to live and breathe it, as Susan Mary Alsop did. Commented Susan Mary's goddaughter Frances Fitzgerald in the introduction to American Lady, The Life of Susan Mary Alsop, “[S]he often had a front seat to the making of history of her own time.”
It was not pre-ordained. It helped that she was a descendant of John Jay, a founding father and a Supreme Court chief justice, but when she arrived in a recently liberated (and still jubilant) Paris in 1945, she was simply Mrs. William Patten, the wife of an economic attaché posted to the U.S. embassy. Such a position does not usually transform one into Cinderella at the ball, most particularly in Paris, that most sophisticated of cities. In this case, however, it did. Only, it was Christian Dior rather than a fairy godmother comping her wardrobe.
Of course, there were elements of Paris society in which the barriers were fairly low. The Elsa Maxwell set, for example, was open to those with a knack for self-promotion or a willingness to open up a checkbook. And though Susan Mary spent time among the idle rich, her triumph was that she was accepted into real Paris society, the kind in which noble lineage was a plus but cultivated tastes in art and literature were mandatory. This rarefied set included Henri and Marie-Laure Noailles, whom Susan Mary met early on, and they became her champions.
Susan Mary's fifteen years in France come alive in her own inimitable, observant voice through her collected letters, To Marietta, from Paris, 1945-1960 (a signed copy of which is available via the Nick Harvill Libraries store). There is more to the story. As is so often the case, matters that could not be made public in 1975’s To Marietta from Paris came to light three decades later with her son’s 2008 memoir, My Three Fathers: And the Elegant Deceptions of My Mother, Susan Mary Alsop and 2012's American Lady, The Life of Susan Mary Alsop.
The years in Paris built a sturdy foundation, but they were just first act for Susan Mary. By the early sixties, the place to be had shifted to the unlikeliest of cities, the once sleepy and surprisingly provincial Washington, D.C., which had long been overshadowed by the more vibrant and infinitely more glamorous New York City. That changed on January 20, 1961 when the handsome and charismatic John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president. Susan Mary had not yet moved to town, but she was on her way. Her diplomat husband had died the previous year, and the still-beautiful widow was engaged to Washington-based Joseph Alsop, a powerful newspaper columnist whose mother was a niece of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Joe Alsop was close to President Kennedy from day one. He hosted the only private inaugural party attended by the new president, and he was also one of ten guests at the first intimate dinner party given by the Kennedys at the White House. Likewise, when Susan Mary arrived in Washington shortly thereafter, Joe wasted no time in introducing her to the first couple. With the Francophile first lady, Susan Mary had her Paris years as a topic of conversation, and she soon found herself on the first lady’s committee to restore the White House.
Susan Mary was also friendly (but just that) with President Kennedy. Her knowledge of the latest international gossip both entertained and informed the president, who (contrary to popular wisdom) appreciated witty, articulate women. It was through Susan Mary that the president learned of the extramarital affair of Lady Dorothy Cavendish, the wife of JFK’s counterpart in Great Britain, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. This was of interest to him more than just politically. Lady Dorothy was the aunt-by-marriage of his sister Lady Hartington (Kick Kennedy), who died tragically young in a 1948 plane crash. See: A Quiz: When JFK Cried Uncle.
Joe and Susan Mary were regular guests at the Kennedy White House, and at dinners, Susan Mary often found herself sitting to President Kennedy’s right. This proximity made her a leading hostess of the Camelot era, and she remained so for decades to come. Nor was her clout reliant upon her husband Joe, whom she amicably divorced in the early 1970s. One example of her power was a dinner party she hosted in 1991 that was the only such event Colin Powell attended “during the whole of the Gulf War.” Maybe he considered it good luck? At the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy left the White House to attend a dinner at Joe and Susan Mary Alsop’s.
Image Credit: To Marietta from Paris
"After I die, they will place my actions on a scale - on one side, evil; on the other, good. I hope the good will outweigh the bad."
Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev, The Man and His Era
Russian sculptor Ernst Neizvestny considered Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev “the most uncultured man” he ever met. Yet, if understanding oneself and one’s place in the world is an element of cultural awareness, then perhaps Neizvestny was mistaken. Near the end of his life, when Khrushchev was contemplating the sum total of his deeds, the good subtracted from the evil, he understood the paradox of his legacy. This self-awareness suggests Khrushchev was not entirely lacking in refinement.
It is impossible to put a positive spin on the bad. Khrushchev was a faithful henchman to brutal Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. It explains his improbable rise from peasant stock to Politburo heavyweight. Working under Stalin was akin to playing Russian Roulette in that it was a game of chance that could easily result in death. Had morality gotten in Khrushchev’s way, it would have ended his career and probably his life. Yet, Khrushchev was not simply following orders to survive. Richard Pipes, writing for the New York Times, concluded, “While most of his minions feared and detested Stalin, Khrushchev actually came to admire him. Having become in the 1930's Stalin's pet, he enthusiastically participated in his slaughters.”
Furthermore, Khrushchev’s ruthlessness did not end with Stalin’s death in 1953. In his defense, it couldn’t. There was no definitive line of succession built into the Soviet political structure, and only by manipulation did Khrushchev become leader. His actions were not exactly as they were portrayed in the recent black comedy The Death of Stalin, but nor could they be categorized as nonviolent.
It was after Khrushchev firmly established his hold on power (circa 1956) that he took Kremlin watchers by surprise by publicly denouncing Stalin and reversing the worst atrocities of his regime. Fearing annihilation in an unwinnable nuclear war, Khrushchev also initiated détente with the West. It turned out that he did have a conscience (or somehow acquired one). From the hindsight of the 21st Century, we now understand that Khrushchev's historical significance is more as a precursor to Mikhail Gorbachev than as barbaric protégé to Joseph Stalin.
As part of his détente initiative, Premier Khrushchev embarked on a state visit to the United Kingdom. He was not a worldly man. Knowing only the barbarousness of home, he could be naive as to the non-violent nature of a Western-style democracy. When Khrushchev’s interpreter fell ill, a mistake in translation illustrated that point quite brilliantly.
The hastily acquired substitute interpreter, whose ruddy complexion suggested he had been drinking, was not up to the task. When avid outdoorsman Lord Tony Lambton was introduced to Khrushchev as being the best shot in England, the interpreter clumsily translated it into Russian as, “Lord Lambton is to be shot tomorrow.” This was absurd. Execution without trial does not happen in a Western democracy (at least not openly). Yet, Khrushchev, accustomed to life in the Soviet Union, did not understand that. He took it to mean that Lord Lambton "was under sentence of death, and shortly to be executed." Per Lady Diana Mosley (who heard the story directly from Lord Lambton), "Khrushchev thought it quite normal but patted him on the shoulder kindly."
The woman in the above photograph had long ago retired to a remote ranch in Central America when she posed for Lord Snowdon in the above photograph. In her twilight years, she was content but struggled to make ends meet. At her lowest point, she lacked even a telephone. It was a far cry from her heyday, when she was a dazzling international star, a household name in a profession that does not produce so many. Who was she?
HINT: It might be said that this woman, born Peggy Hookham, left a garden to live on a ranch.
The answer is after the JUMP.