|Looking towards the towns of Minori and Maiori from the top of the Palazzo Sasso in Ravello off the Amalfi Coast. 3:20 PM. Photo: JH.|
|Thursday, August 25, 2011. Yesterday may have been the most beautiful day of the summer in New York. Bright, sunny, 79 degrees, low to no humidity and a soft steady breeze.
In our ongoing retrospective during these last days leading up to the end of summer, we had intended to run today’s piece on yesterday but was pre-empted by the news of Casey Ribicoff’s passing.
|L. to r.: CZ on the cover of TIME created a sensation; Her portrait by Salvador Dali; The last official portrait of her taken six months before she died.|
|Coincidentally, today’s, almost yesterday’s, Diary entry was also about the final departure of another fashionable figure, CZ Guest, who died in November 2003.
Sleek, chic, swank, blonde on blonde; she was one of Truman Capote’s “Swans,” and lo, the longest surviving one. Born Lucy Douglas Cochrane, daughter of a Boston banker, a Proper Bostonian. When she was in her early 20s, the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera painted a long horizontal nude of her which he was said to have hung upon a wall over a bar in Mexico City.
When she was 24, the lithesome and horsey girl from Back Bay got herself a job as a showgirl in a revival of the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. Probably because she was as beautiful as a movie star, 20th Century-Fox signed her to a contract. But the movies weren’t big enough: the world was to be her stage.
|Anne McDonnell (Mrs. Henry) Ford and CZ.||Mr. and Mrs. Winston F. C. Guest at the Everglades Club, Palm Beach, 1956.|
|Watching her husband play polo in Palm Beach with Milton "Doc" Holden.|
|In 1947 she married the dashing New Yorker Winston Frederick Churchill Guest, an heir to the fabulous Phipps fortune and one of the century’s premier American polo players (an indoor ten-goaler). Soon after, the young Mrs. Guest emerged as one of the most photographed members of New York Society. And so it was for the next half century
In 1962, she was on the cover of Time, in her equestrienne duds standing before the family’s stately Long Island mansion, the picture of cool American aristocracy. The camera always loved her and the utter simplicity of her natural elegance. Making the cover of Time in those days was a very big deal for anyone – world leaders, movie stars, best-selling authors, scientists, power brokers were the fodder of this always most-talked about and prestigious incident. It was extremely rare for a society woman to be gracing the nation’s most widely read newsmagazine.
|As photographed by George Platt Lynes in 1947, the year she married Winston Guest.||CZ with one of her pets photographed in her Sutton Place penthouse.|
|Mrs. Guest was then and would always be unfazed by such matters. She may have been the most photographed American socialite in the history of the 20th century but she was also a woman who kept no scrapbooks and saved no clippings of her publicity. (I think the Time cover may have been the sole exception to this non-habit of hers).
An accomplished horsewoman and gardener (with a column that ran in newspapers across the country), she was a longtime Best Dressed Hall of Famer, and for 14 years the muse of the classic American couturier, Mainbocher. After Main, as he was called, closed up shop, a number of designers including Bill Blass did the favors. But the glamorous clothes, the stunning and precious accessories, was secondary to Mrs. Guest. For it was she whom you noticed when she entered a room, not her clothes.
|Passing on an amusing thought to her friend Chris Dunphy at the Polo Ball in Palm Beach in 1954.|
|Unlike the dreamy coolness of her image, she was a charmer – ebullient, curious and game, a yakker at cocktails or dinner, and always ready for laughter. Her sort of down-home Brahmin accent with its broad “a’s” and purring “r’s” were enhanced by the almost startling, girlish joie de vivre that was characteristic of several of the great beauties of her age. She claimed that she was once quite shy but if so, she got over that one quickly enough. Tell her about a great party she was ready, always alluring.
From the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Capote and Andy Warhol at Studio 54, CZ moved with the times. When, in her mid-70s, she lost her hair from chemotherapy, she simply put on a scarf and went back out into the world. When Capote was ostracized by almost all of his “swans” after writing the controversial “Cote Basque 1965” chapter” from his never quite completed “Answered Prayers,” CZ and Gloria Vanderbilt were the only two of that category who stuck by him.
|The Duke of Windsor, looking less than enthusiastic sitting next to CZ and Babe Paley (on his left) at the April in Paris Ball at the Waldorf.||At a dinner talking with Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, the former Duchess of Marlborough.|
|Out on the town with her friend Truman Capote.||Camping it up with her pal the Tiny Terror after his great fall from grace with his "swans."|
|CZ loved social life. She never tired of the galas, the dinners, the openings, the parties of which she gave more than a fair amount herself. She struck up friendships with all kinds of people, often amused or fascinated by their differences -- from the Windsors to Warhol, from movie stars to to gangster’s molls, to people unknown to the world but nevertheless fun and full of beans.
She also loved dogs and always rescued lots of them, keeping them living well on her Long Island property. A weekend houseguest at her house in Westbury was once told to bring his dinner jacket for a party they’d be attending. He was shocked to discover their dinner hostess was an over-the-top, aging courtesan dripping in pretense (and jewels). When he protested to CZ that this was a “bore,” she told him to relax and enjoy the scene.
|Clockwise from above: Poolside with her son Alexander at the house of her mother Amy Phipps Guest in Palm Beach; with her debutante daughter Cornelia; Back in circulation after her chemo treatments with daughter Cornelia.|
|As irreverent and free-thinking as she could appear to be, CZ had no patience for those who did not follow the rules that maintained the status quo. For years, she and her husband kept a place in town in the penthouse at One Sutton Place South (which was built by the Phipps family).
One day she ran into a new resident of the building, a woman about her age, also an aristocrat with a famous name, carrying some groceries through the lobby to the elevator. “Groceries are delivered only through the service entrance,” she reprimanded; “rules are rules.”
Naturally I asked if I could take her picture and naturally she agreed, pointing out how beautiful the atrium garden we were in looked on this night. I took one picture, didn’t like the result and asked if she minded if I take another. Not a problem. I took another, which appears in this copy.
The moment reminded me of an incident that had occurred a few months before when she was being photographed for a magazine layout.
She had arrived on time, which was her habit, only to find that they weren’t ready for her. A young woman who was being photographed before her was holding up the process (and everybody else) because she didn’t like her hair and makeup.
When Mrs. Guest realized vanity was the problem, she stepped right in.
|Attending the Met Costume Gala with her close pal Robert Tartarini in 2003, a few months before she died. Mr. Tartarini was the friend who took her to the hospital emergency room on that night because she was having breathing problems. "I think it's time for me to join Winston," she said to him, referring to her late husband.||The photograph taken of her at the Frick Collection's annual Autumn Dinner in October 2003.|
|“Look,” she said to the young woman in her soft, flat, but authoritative mid-Atlantic accent, “I’m a lot older than you and I’ve been doing this all my life. It’s very simple. Get in front of the camera and let them take your picture. Then get out of here so the rest of us can get on with it.”
The young woman heeded the advice and CZ got on with it, which was her wont.
First published on November 17, 2003: On Saturday, a cold-ish, silvery day I went with a friend out to Old Westbury on Long Island to a memorial service for CZ Guest who died on that day a week before, and was laid to rest beside her husband last Wednesday.
The service was held at the small, very modest, modern, gabled stone Church of the Advent. There were more than 200 attending (see list), crowded to the point that about a dozen latecomers had to stand. The simple ceremony was conducted by Father Beardsley. I am assuming it was an Episcopal church because Mrs. Guest was by birth White Anglo-Saxon Protestant from Boston, and in that part of the world, the very social WASPs were very often Episcopalian, if not Congregationalists.
The program read: “The Burial of the Dead: Rite One. Lucy C. Guest” There was a singing of Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” There was a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures. Then Thomas Laine sang “The Lord’s Prayer” followed by the congregation reading (or reciting) the 23rd Psalm (“the Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want ....”).
Then a reading of the Gospel According to John. Then another hymn which I (brought up a Congregationalist) did not (however) recognize from the years of church-going in my youth. Then Father Beardsley delivered the Homily (which I promptly forgot).
Then William Ivey Long, the Tony Award winning Broadway costume designer, read a profile of Mrs. Guest that was written by her friend Truman Capote as an introduction to her first garden book, published in 1975 (the book was written by Elvin McDonald).
Mr. Long’s reading was the highlight of the otherwise austere religious service because it was warm and witty, and confirmed once again what a great and wonderfully engaging writer Truman Capote was. There was also the element of wistfulness in the context of his piece being read at this moment before those assembled.
Capote’s “introduction” was written around the time he had published his then notorious Cote Basque 1965, which unmasked the gossipy and slanderous doin’s of the New York socialites of that day. He was roundly ostracized and treated thereafter like a pariah by many of them, especially those whose activities he set down in his semi-fictional stories. He never recovered from that and died seven years later.
Now of course, that “notoriety” and social exclusion is all just part of the writer’s literary history. Most of the people he was hoisting up to ridicule or spotlighting in acidic portrayal are dead and mainly forgotten, succeeded, as they always are, in this fasttrack “society” of New York, and mainly not by issue or descendants bearing family names. They have been succeeded by a new generation of themselves: ambitious strivers who bury their pasts in advance, as fast as they can or as well as they are able.
What separated Mrs. Guest from many of her world of high society and international celebrity, besides her own genealogy, was that she wasn’t a girl who felt she had anything to hide — behavior, heritage or otherwise. She was also one of the few Capote friends in that particular social orbit who never did exclude him after his piece was published in Esquire. He was often a weekend houseguest at her rambling brick house in Old Westbury.
So William Ivey Long’s reading not only entertained and amused, but served to remind the congregated (at least a few of whom could use a little reminding) what Friendship was all about.
After Mr. Long’s reading, there was the reading of “The Apostles Creed” and the saying in unison of the Lord’s Prayer, and then the Dismissal (“Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord: And let light perpetual shine upon her. May her soul and all the souls of the departed, Through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”). Then everyone sang all four verses of “America The Beautiful” and the service was over.
Mrs. Guest’s beautiful daughter Cornelia was the most bereft. After the service she held a buffet lunch for everyone at her mother’s house which is now her house: baked ham, macaroni and cheese, haricots vert, Brie and Stilton and crackers.
It was a large and talkative crowd back at the house, and they were enjoying themselves being in CZ’s elegant but very country, very long-lived in surroundings. Those who were frequent guests over the years were especially full of cheerful nostalgia about the departed friend and hostess.
There was the story told with amusement about the summertime visits of Capote when his hostess was trying to help him stop drinking. She’d try to keep an eye on him by taking her with him when she was with her horses on in her garden. But he’d beg off, saying he preferred resting in the sun by the pool, where, after CZ was out of sight, he’d have the staff bring him a mineral water bottle filled with vodka.
Comments? Contact DPC here.