1915 - 1978 (63 years)
Has 4 ancestors and 4 descendants in this family tree.
||Babe Cushing |
||31 Mar 2002 |
- "Babe Paley had only one flaw: she was perfect. Other than that, she was perfect", said Truman Capote about the woman he adored for almost 25 years. That quote seems to summarize everything that made people both worship and envy this remarkable individual.
Though not of society, from an early age her mother encouraged and groomed her 3 daughters to marry wealthy men - something all managed to accomplish. Her other sisters chose an Astor and a Rockefeller; Babe's first husband was .
After a brief marriage and subsequent divorce, she fell in love with William S. Paley, chairman of CBS television in America. Though his family background and religion - he was one of the few Jews in a gentile upper class society - made him less of a social catch than her first husband, Mr. Paley embodied all of the qualities Babe found wonderful in a man: he was rich and powerful; kind and gracious; and worshipped her absolutely.
For most of the 50s, 60s and 70s, Babe remained a fixture at the top of the Best Dressed List. The fashion decisions she made - wearing pantsuits and allowing the gray in her hair to show - were copied by women all over America, and continue to influence the way we dress today. She could make fashion headlines just by walking out her front door. One day, in a hurry to leave her house, she wrapped a scarf around the handle of her purse. Spotted by photographers, the image was used by the nation's fashion magazines, and started a trend that took years to abate. Her immaculate quality and immense serenity were easily discerned through photos and articles, and earned her the appropriate nickname, "the beautiful darling". It was Babe Paley that popularized the trend of wearing junk dime store jewelry with Haute Couture. Her good friend Slim Keith referred to her style as "perfection in an era of casual convenience". Vogue called it "effortless chic achieved at great effort".
Babe and her husband were avid art collectors, and their collection included many Picassos, Cezannes, and Jackson Pollocks. Valued at over $200 million, the Paleys were influential people in the international art world. Babe's influence with Mr. Paley, a member of the board of the New York Museum of Modern Art, ensured the success of many of the era's leading modern artists.
The traits most commonly ascribed to her were beauty, manners and kindness. She was considered so extraordinary because her inner beauty was equal to, or greater than, her physical charms. Many felt that she lived in a bubble of perfection: her multiple houses were decorated by Billy Baldwin, premier interior decorator to Society; her hair was never out of place, even when sailing on their yacht, and her clothes betrayed nary a wrinkle. One admirer was quoted as saying, "So great is her beauty that no matter how often I see her, it's the first time". She is still used today as a reference point for style, and the fashion coverage of the 1998 Oscar de la Renta summer collection praised its "Paley chic, that says, "I'm rich, but I don't have to flaunt it"".
However, like so many great women, that outer perfection masked a very shy interior. Babe suffered her entire life with a lack of self-confidence that she allowed few to see. One of those she let closest to her was Truman Capote, whom she sensed was also crippled by shyness and lack of self-esteem. Capote had the unique ability to listen closely, and make one think that they were all that mattered in the world. In him, she found both a sympathetic friend and companion for her many social obligations around the world. Truman became a regular visitor on the Paley's yacht, a frequent houseguest, and a mainstay of their many parties. Babe also began confiding in him the details of her marriage, in spite of Slim's repeated warnings. Babe felt he was so sympathetic and discreet that he could be trusted with the truth. Mr. Capote, however, had other plans.
Using Mrs. Paley as entrée to high society, Truman had listened raptly to all the stories his famous friends would tell, and jotted them down to be used as fodder for his work. In a moment of supreme miscalculation, designed to rescue a faltering career, he thinly disguised the identities of his friends, and published their stories in his book "Answered Prayers". The first extract appeared in the magazine Esquire in 1976.
The chapter, entitled "Le Côte Basque", recounts a drunken lunch at an exclusive Manhattan eatery, in which the participants regale each other with gossip about the other restaurant patrons. Among other faux pas, Mr. Capote included an anecdote about an indiscretion of Babe's husband, which he didn't do very much to disguise.
Mrs. Paley had once presciently observed that of all her friends, Capote was the only one who she had allowed close enough to really hurt her - more so than her own family. She was not mistaken. The magazine piece became the talk of the country, and caused a social earthquake from coast to coast. Mrs. Paley, along with most of the rest of the Social Register crowd, broke off all diplomatic relations with Capote - something he bitterly regretted, and was instrumental in his later death by chronic alcoholism.
Shortly after the release of "Le Côte Basque", Mrs. Paley became ill with lung cancer; a battle she lost in 1978. Capote tried to contact Babe when he learned of her illness, only to be told by Mr. Paley "you may not have heard, but my wife is seriously ill, and can't be bothered with trivial phone calls". Her tragic death left a void in the worlds of American society and fashion that still hasn't been filled. Though gone for more than 20 years now, one look at her photos can still evoke the magic she possessed and shared with a grateful world. Like the exotic orchids and diamonds she favored, Mrs. Paley didn't have to do anything in particular to achieve immortality - her mere existence was enough.