Barbara ‘Babe’ Paley, the Ultimate Trophy Wife

22 Nov
Erwin Blumenfeld, Portrait of Barbara "Babe" Paley, 1947Ph. Erwin Blumenfeld, 1947
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Barbara Cushing in Boston (July 5th, 1015), she was the daughter of world-renowned brain surgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing, who was professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Yale universities, and Katharine Stone Crowell Cushing. 

A student at the Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut, she was presented as a debutante in October 1934 in Boston, with Roosevelt’s sons in attendance. Her debut drew great attention during the Great Depression, and marked the beginning of her social career. 

In 1934, she was disfigured in a serious car accident and underwent re-constructive surgery that turned her into a beautiful woman.
1939 horst p horst Babe Paley is wearing a be-winged marten hat and jabot revers on a natural marten hat by John FredericsPh. Horst P. Horst, 1939
John Rawlings ca. 1941John Rawlings ca. 1941
Vogue 1939 babe paleyVogue, 1939
photographed by Erwin Blumenfeld for Vogue, 1946.Ph. Erwin Blumenfeld for Vogue, 1946.
Babe Paley for Vogue, February 1941Vogue, February 1941 Horst P. Horst (Babe Paley on the right)Ph. by Horst P. Horst (Babe Paley on the right)

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Babe met and married oil heir Stanley Grafton Mortimer, Jr., in 1940. Though her mother preferred that she marry a powerful man with a title, she generally approved of the union. She and Mortimer had two children: Amanda Jay Mortimer  and Stanley Grafton Mortimer III. Their marriage ended by 1946. Several retrospectives have claimed that Babe neglected her children while in pursuit of social status and depended upon the wealth of her husbands to support her lavish lifestyle. Her daughter Amanda has admitted that their relationship was “virtually nonexistent” and that the distance “was her choice, not mine”.

Wedding Gown by Mabel McIlvain Downs.Babe in her wedding dress when she married Stanley Mortimer.Ph. Horst P.Horst,1940

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In 1938, Babe began working as a fashion editor for Vogue in New York City. Her position at Vogue gave her access to designer clothes, often given in exchange for Babe’s high profile and glamorous image. In 1941, Time magazine voted her the world’s second best dressed woman after Wallis Simpson. In 1945 and 1946 Babe appeared on the best-dressed-list again. Upon her second marriage in 1947 to William S. Paley , she left her job at Vogue.

Apartment at the St. Regis

Babe Paley
Babe Paley
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Babe set about to cultivate and create a picture-perfect social world. The couple took an elegant apartment at the St. Regis and hired noted interior designer Billy Baldwin to decorate. She and Paley lived there during the week, while weekends were spent at Kiluna Farm, on 80 acres (320,000 m2) in Manhasset, Long Island, where a succession of landscape architects and garden designers beautified the grounds.

In addition to lavish entertaining, Babe maintained her position on the best-dressed list fourteen times before being inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame in 1958. She regularly bought entire haute couture collections from major fashion houses like Givenchy and Valentino SpA. Her personal style was inspirational to thousands of women who tried to copy her, but as Bill Blass once observed, “I never saw her not grab anyone’s attention, the hair, the makeup, the crispness. You were never conscious of what she was wearing; you noticed Babe and nothing else.”

Babe Paley John Rawlings for Vogue February 1946Ph.John Rawlings, Vogue February 1946
Babe Paley shot by Clifford Coffin for British Vogue December 1946Ph. Clifford Coffin for British Vogue December 19469.-babe-paley-by-lord-snowdon-300x300Ph. Lord Snowdon

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Her personal, unconventional style was enormously influential. A photograph of Babe with a scarf tied to her handbag, for example, created a trendy tidal wave that millions of women emulated. She often mixed extravagant jewelry by Fulco di Verdura and Jean Schlumberger (jewelry designer) with cheap costume pieces, and embraced letting her hair go gray instead of camouflaging it with dye. In a stroke of modernism, she made pantsuits chic. Her image and status reportedly created a strain on her marriage to William S. Paley, who insisted that his wife be wrapped in sable and completely bejeweled at all times.

By many biographers’ accounts, Babe was lonely and frustrated as William Paley carried on a chain of extramarital affairs. This psychological battering took its toll on her and her family. She was constantly under the scrutiny of society and the media, who pressed her to maintain the unrealistic image of a social and fashion goddess. These external pressures, as well as a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, finally affected her health.

Babe Paley & Truman CapoteBabe Paley & Truman Capote


Babe Paley had only one fault, she was perfect. Otherwise, she was perfect. 

Truman Capote.
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Truman Capote was Babe Paley’s close friend and confidant until he did the unforgivable: In “Answered Prayers” he depicted a character apparently based on her husband in an extramarital tryst with someone said to be modeled on Happy Rockefeller, which ended up in a big mess. Literally. When she read the excerpt from the book, Babe dropped him and never spoke to him again.

(Babe Paley) wearing a Creation of Traina-Norell, photographed by Horst P. Horst from American Vogue in 1946.Ph. Horst P. Horst
photo by Norman ParkinsonPh. Norman Parkinson
Babe Paley
photographed by Alexander Liberman, 1942.Ph. Alexander Liberman, 1942
Babe Paley

A heavy smoker, Babe was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1974. She planned her own funeral, right down to the food and wine selections that would be served at the funeral luncheon. She carefully allocated her jewelry collection and personal belongings to friends and family, wrapped them in colorful paper, and created a complete file system with directions as to how they would be distributed after her death, which happened on July 6, 1978.

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JOHN RAWLINGSPh. John Rawlings

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Info:  Wikpedia &

http://video.vanityfair.com/watch/the-best-dressed-women-of-all-time–babe-paley

5 Responses to “Barbara ‘Babe’ Paley, the Ultimate Trophy Wife”

  1. Gerry 16 April 2017 at 01:56 #

    A Magnificent beautiful woman .Thanks I enjoyed this.

  2. Martha C. 10 September 2017 at 16:50 #

    Soooo… you cut-and-paste from Wikipedia and add some photos. Lame. Learn to blog properly!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] Barbara ‘Babe’ Paley, the Ultimate Trophy Wife – Ph. Erwin Blumenfeld, 1947 . Barbara Cushing in Boston (July 5th, 1015), she was the daughter of world-renowned brain surgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing, who was professor of … […]

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    […] and social arbiters of everything that was right about high society. It was the 1950s and they were Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Gloria Guinness, Pamela Churchill, and Marella Agnelli and they were The Swans of […]

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