Nancy Mitford, The Blessing
“The fact is women must choose in life what sort of a man it is that they do want—whether what is called a good husband, faithful to his wife but seldom seeing her, going off to the club and so on for relaxation, or one that really loves women, loves his wife, probably, best and longest, but who also and inevitably feels the need for other relationships with other women.”
Nancy Mitford, The Blessing
Image Credit: The Mitfords, Letters Between Six Sisters
“Last week the mother of my children and I decided to have an amicable divorce. The breakthrough came early in the week, when my own attorneys informed me that adultery applies to men also.”
Taki, High Life
Image Credit: Taki, Set of 3
“You fall in love with someone, and part of what you love about him are the differences between you; and then you get married and the differences start to drive you crazy.”
--Nora Ephron, Heartburn
When she published Heartburn, Nora Ephron upended the old adage that the best revenge is living well. That is too subtle. Worse, simply living well does not generate publishing royalties or motion picture-licensing fees. Consider Ephron’s casus belli against Carl Bernstein—the famed Washington Post reporter who broke the Watergate story that brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon. Bernstein swept Ephron off her feet and convinced her to leave her beloved New York for the then-cultural backwater of Washington, D.C. They married and had one son. She was seven months pregnant with a second son when he left her for the woman with whom he had been carrying on a torrid affair.
Ephron returned to New York, happily remarried, and, as the adage goes, lived well. Yet, she had her own maxim: “Everything is copy.” In 1983, she published Heartburn, a barely disguised account of the breakup of her marriage. There are many fascinating aspects to the novel. It is an accidental time capsule of an era when Manhattan was the only acceptable American city for a foodie like Ephron. It also portrays the trivial side of the revered journalist that broke the Watergate story (alas, it behooves even the most hallowed of public images to be taken down a notch on occasion). Yet, in retrospect, what is most fascinating is that Ephron divulged her ex-husband’s greatest secret, but in an oblique manner that made no sense until 2005, over twenty years after Heartburn went to press.
Even though Heartburn was clearly the story of her own marriage, it was ostensibly a novel, and thus, the names were fictionalized. Ephron called the Carl Bernstein character Mark Feldman. In 1983, that meant nothing to the reading public. Yet, it was a poison arrow to her ex-husband. Ephron was evidently privy to one of the great mysteries of the 20th Century: the identity of Deep Throat, the confidential source that brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon. As Vanity Fair revealed in 2005, Deep Throat was Mark Felt, a Nixon administration insider. For Bernstein, his name was worryingly close to Mark Feldman, the name Ephron conjured up for the Bernstein character in Heartburn.
Ephron’s poison arrow seems to have snagged its intended target. When Heartburn was adapted into a film starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, the name of the Mark Feldman character had been changed to Mark Forman. Might Bernstein had something to do with this? Most likely, yes. According to the New Yorker, “it took more than five years for Ephron and Bernstein to negotiate the terms of their divorce, and for about half the time the central issue was Bernstein’s demand for script approval” for the film adaptation of Heartburn.
Heartburn (the novel) received mix-reviews when it was released. Some questioned the wisdom of airing one’s dirty laundry in public, particularly with children involved. Yet, the book has aged well. It is a time capsule into the post-Sexual Revolution, pre-Internet era. Yet, its essence remains contemporary. Ephron’s sparkling wit and chatty, conversational style resonate well in the 21st Century. And, despite its ostensibly serious subject matter, the book is hilarious. Nick Harvill Libraries recommends the audio edition. Meryl Streep, who played Ephron in Heartburn (the film), narrates, and her comic timing is flawless. A word of caution, however, Ephron’s words and Streep’s delivery make for a potent combination: it is laugh out loud funny.
Further Reading: "Jacob Bernstein on Memorializing His Mom, Nora Ephron, in Everything Is Copy," Vogue, March 2016 and The Last of the President's Men by Bob Woodward.
“I played Jimmy Stewart's wife so often that Dick Powell once rose at a banquet and introduced him as 'My wife's husband.'”
June Allyson [Mrs. Dick Powell], Jimmy Stewart, A Biography
“Barbara Hutton hates being married, but she adores honeymoons.”
--Philip Van Rensselaer, via Beaton in the Sixties, The Cecil Beaton Diaries as He Wrote Them, 1965-1969
Image Credit: Horst Portraits: Paris, London, New York
"Somehow I have always found husbands much more satisfactory after marriage than during.”
--Peggy Guggenheim, via Doers & Dowagers
Image Credit: Out of This Century, Confessions of an Art Addict
“I was never much good at picking husbands, much better with my butlers.”
--Nancy Tree Lancaster, Nancy Lancaster, English Country House Style
In the era between the World Wars, Ronald Tree (a grandson of Marshall Field) and his first wife Nancy (a Langhorne granddaughter and niece of Nancy Astor) famously purchased and refurbished Ditchley Park, a grand Oxfordshire estate. When they divorced, Ronald Tree moved in his young American wife Marietta (a granddaughter of Groton's legendary headmaster Reverend Endicott Peabody).
According to Lady Diana Cooper, the staff remained loyal to the first Mrs. Tree. In a January 1948 letter to her son John Julius, Diana referenced Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca to describe the awkward predicament of the second Mrs. Tree:
“Ditchley is as beautiful as ever and almost as comfortable (no, nothing like. Electric fires in the bedrooms instead of blazing logs and bells not answered and rooms of course shut up), but with the most disconcerting Rebeccaism about it. Every object, picture, colour of flower, arrangement, design bought, placed and grown by the first Mrs. Tree is untouched and the poor second fears to give an order to the servants, and Mr. Collins the butler who loved Nancy and shared her interests of garden and furniture, textiles and porcelain, keeps his eyes forever fixed on her uncertain ways.”
Image Credit: Nancy Lancaster, English Country House Style
"A month [after the dissolution of their marriage] Charlotte [Ford] and Stavros [Niarchos] were back together at El Morocco, causing most of us to observe that if the marriage didn't work, the divorce was a success."
--Doris Lilly, Those Fabulous Greeks
Image Credit: Those Fabulous Greeks
“American husbands are the best in the world; no other husbands are so generous to their wives, or can be so easily divorced.”
--Elinor Glyn, via Von Sternberg
Check out our selection of books on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor here.
“Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.”
--Marlene Dietrich, Marlene Dietrich’s ABC
Disclaimer: In the 21st Century, Dietrich's advice is applicable to either gender.
Image Credit: The Photographs of Ron Galella, 1965 to 1989