11/10/03 - CZ Guest passed away
at the age of 83 on Saturday after a long
bout with cancer which she characteristically treated as
nothing more than annoying. When she lost her hair from
chemotherapy a few years back, this lifelong member of
the Best Dressed List simply put on a scarf and went back
out into the world, chic as ever. When her hair began to
grow back, she sported a new crewcut, which she kept thereafter,
and even had the wit to pose for a Nike (or was it Adidas?)
ad wearing a sneaker on her new coiff as if to suggest
She was one of the most photographed women of the American 20th century.
She was chic and elegant with an aristocrat’s irreverence — the
quintessential personification of the term “the Beautiful People.” She
enjoyed publicity which she treated as a kind of soft notoriety. Although,
as much as she was willing to be interviewed and to pose for the camera,
she claimed it never occurred to her to have “saved” any
of the articles or the pictures.
Mrs. Guest married a Phipps heir, Winston F.C.
Guest when she was 27 and bore him two children, Alexander
and Cornelia. Very early into the marriage, she had a acquired
a certain fame that remained with her throughout her life. As a young
adult she was known as a socialite horsewomen (and was photographed for
the cover of Time). As she got older she became known for her
gardening and turned it into a career selling books, garden tools and
implements and writing a gardening column for 350 newspapers. She had
a press agent’s genius for promotion and never tired of selling
She liked people and befriended a variety of personalities from
the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to movie stars to Andy
Warhol to gangster’s molls to all kinds of 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 estate (which recently served as background in a Ralph Lauren
advertising campaign — in which she makes a brief appearance).
can be said fairly that she lived her life to the fullest.
There was the famous nude Diego Rivera did
of her before she was married, to hang, however briefly,
over the bar in the Hotel Reforma in Mexico City. Most
women of the society of that time (the 1940s) would have
been scandalized by the painter’s request, not
to mention its subsequent public unveiling. Not so for
the former Lucy Cochrane, a girl from
the Brahmin side of Boston, Mass. Like everything else
she participated in, she thought it was fun.
As irreverent and free-thinking as she could appear to be, she had little
patience for those who did not follow the rules that maintained the status
quo. For years, she and Mr. Guest kept a place in town in the penthouse
at One Sutton Place South. 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
On a Monday night, three weeks ago, at the
Autumn Dinner of The Frick Collection, I was wandering around having
a look and taking pictures when I saw her looking camera ready, casually
yet elegantly sitting on a bench in the atrium with her friend. 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 (with the Digital), didn’t like the result
and asked if she minded if I take another. Not a problem. I took another,
which appears above.
The moment reminded me of an incident that had occurred a few months
ago when she was being photographed for a magazine layout. She 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.
“ 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
The young woman heeded the advice and CZ got on with it, which was her
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.
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
The designer is a curly-headed, round-faced, wire-rim bespectacled man
with a jolly countenance and a perpetual smile. He is enormously creative
and enormously successful and, on meeting, Mrs. Guest took him up with
the same devotion with which she graced Mr. Capote. No doubt his talents
intrigued and amused her in much the same way as did Mr. Capote’s.
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.
for the Memorial Service for CZ Guest
• Mr. Alexander M.D.C. Guest
• Master Gregory Churchill Guest
• Master Winston Alexander Guest
• Mr. Frederick E. Guest II
• Mr. Alexander Lynde Cochrane III
• Prince Rupert Lowenstein
• Mr. Robert Burke
• Mr. Richard Dupont
• Mr. Robert Dupont
• Mr. David Greenough
• Dr. Bruce Horton
• Mr. William Ivey Long
• Mr. Elvin McDonald
• Mr. Kurt Rosenthal
• Mr. Robert Tartarini
• Dr. Scott Wells
• Mr. Paul Wilmot
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.