Uncommon Lives: David & Gertrude! Emily! Charles! Gertie! George & LaLa!
Palm Beach’s seasonal social cha-cha-cha may be drawing to a close but apparently islanders will still need to adjust their calendar and logistics for the comings-and-goings of POTUS45, especially those living within the perimeter termed “the zone.” Late last fall when an oceanfront spec house at Six Ocean Lane (next door to Stephen and Kara Ross) sold for a recorded price of $36 million there were reports media czar Roger Ailes, by way of a City National Bank of Florida Trust numbered account, was the latest castaway seeking shelter on Palm Beach’s platinum sandbar. Not to be counted among those who expressed uncertainty were said Roger and Elizabeth Ailes who have waved adios to New York-New Jersey, filing the requisite Declaration of Domicile forms to affirm Florida residency at their 13,000+ square-foot seaside foxhole.
Whatever impressions of sameness and conformity instilled by the repetitive images of well-meaning partygoers garbed in black-ties and ball gowns or regimented in blue blazers and cocktail dresses, Palm Beach does offer a good number who break ranks from the social mold. Known to have harbored many more capricious eccentrics than it does today, resort life once attracted those who just came to be themselves or expressly turned up to lounge in bathing suits, fish, have lunch with their bookie, and never worry about being arrested.
Emily Bingham’s Irrepressible at Palm Beach Dixon Education Building – The Society of The Four Arts 23 March 2017
By Augustus Mayhew
During her introduction historian-author Emily Bingham made the audience instantly comfortable by eliciting laughter when she began her candid presentation about her Great-Aunt Henrietta Bingham’s decadent pleasures and sexual preferences by thanking the audience for welcoming the first Louisville Bingham to visit Palm Beach in 100 years.
Coming from a family that has been the subject of bestselling tell-alls, Bingham’s untold story about her great-aunt succeeds as an enlightened compassionate understanding of complex family dynamics rather than an exposé. And certainly, Palm Beachers have not forgotten the scandal surrounding Emily Bingham’s great-grandfather Robert Worth Bingham’s unproven role in the untimely 1917 death of his bride of eight months Mary Lily Kenan Flagler, known then as the richest widow in America.
While her book touches on Henrietta’s relationship with her stepmother Mary Lily, and I have previously discussed these various scenarios at Fatal Fortunes: The Flagler-Kenan-Bingham Triangle, Bingham’s lecture focused on her family’s predicament coming to terms with Henrietta’s legacy, especially her intimate relationships with Mina Kirsten, actress Hope Williams and tennis great Helen Hull Jacobs.
When her unconventional lifestyle, embraced as laissez-faire in London and New York during 1920s-1930s, was censured and condemned in the post-WWII era’s uniformed conformity, Henrietta responded with alcohol and drugs that led to her unfortunate death. Emily Bingham and her husband lawyer Stephen Reily along with their children live in Louisville. How to transform Henrietta’s memory from that of a social pariah to keeping her a part of the Bingham family? In 1998 Bingham and her husband named their daughter Henrietta Bingham Reily. Emily Bingham’s lecture was a reminder of the resolve that comes when family members accept each other’s imperfections, no matter their social expectations.
Sunday Supper at Seven: Five-Star Home Cooking at Palm Beach
Palm Beach’s history of gourmet markets and fine-dining venues reaches back more than a century when nearly every other Midtown block housed a family-operated grocery store featuring domestic and international imports. With as many as ten trains arriving daily from the North an d Midwest, Palm Beach shelves contained an array of hard-to-find condiments from Calcutta, sauces from Shanghai. These days for the most part, the specialty markets have vanished but a gathering of restaurateurs, such as Chez Jean-Pierre, Café Boulud and Buccan, have found niches that carry on the resort’s culinary standards.
Of course, distant from the world of commercial chefs who cook for the as many as possible, is the orbit of private chefs who must satisfy only one family’s discerning palates. Although they do not engage in cook-offs or promote sautè pans on HSN, private chefs achieve a high level of regard by displaying self-confident aplomb and everyday consistency. Here are scenes from the kitchen with one of them, Charles Davidson, who has served one household for the past five years.
Gertrude Sanford Legendre Papers College of Charleston Addlestone Library Special Collections 205 Calhoun Street – 3rd floor, Charleston, SC 843-953-8016
Several years ago the College of Charleston received a priceless gift. Gertrude Sanford Legendre’s descendants donated not only her letters, photographs, diaries, and Medway Plantation records but also those of other Sanford family members and New Orleans’ Legendre family. “Everyone who knew Gertie Legendre felt they were in the presence of a remarkable woman – big game hunter, socialite, world traveler, and spy. She was larger than life, and now that Addlestone Library’s Special Collections is making her materials available, her circle of admirers is growing larger still,” remarked Harlan Greene, the Addlestone Library’s Head of Special Collections. “Gertie is still casting her spell — now on movie makers, biographers, historians, and admirers all over the world.”
The college offers a sampling of the collection’s extent online. New York Social Diary readers may recall that Gertrude and Ellen Glendinning Frazer Ordway were lifelong friends. Ellen’s photograph collection included many images of Gertrude, her family and Medway Plantation. I spent several hours reading the fascinating correspondence among Legendre-Sanford family members during World War II available at the college’s Lowcountry Digital Library Processing the collection was made possible by a donation from the Medway Charitable Trust. ” The Medway Trust’s financial support has allowed us to arrange and describe and make available to researchers 171 linear feet (!) of materials spanning the years from 1800 to 2005. She came from a remarkable family – tycoons, polo players, race horse breeders, politicians, friends of Presidents, literati and the like, but she made her own way,” added Greene.
George & Lala Phillips & the Silver Wedding houseboat
Palm Beach was pure escape during the 1930s as the economic depression engulfed much of the nation. When Prohibition was lifted in 1933, the resort publicly resumed its dusk to dawn pleasures. And while New York and Philadelphia families continued to dominate Palm Beach’s social circles, Boston’s North Shore swells, the Amorys, Boardmans and the Phillips’, among others, had already became part of the seasonal establishment.
“My father always said George and Lala (Loretta) Phillips were among the first that drove their own carto Palm Beach. What a trip that must have been in 1919. And when they arrived, it was in an exotic Rolls-Royce with an animal-skin interior and everything imaginable,” recalled lifetime Palm Beach resident David Reese whose father Claude Dimick Reese was the longtime mayor of the town. While the Phillips’ aristocratic Boston lineage would have ensured them a prominent position in Palm Beach’s social history, I was fascinated one day at lunch when Dave began describing George and Lala’s Silver Wedding, a complete elegant house built during the summer of 1937 on top of a construction barge. Powerless, after all, it was a real house with doors and windows, that was towed around the lakefront. George and Lala lived on the boat while their stately house was being built, designed by architect John Volk at the northeast corner of Eden Road and North Lake Way. The Silver Wedding, named to commemorate their 25th wedding anniversary, was built as a house for them to live rather than a mere pleasure craft. “It may have been the most unusual boathouse or houseboat ever at Palm Beach,” Reese added with a smile.
On April 23 the Historical Society of Palm Beach County’s 2017 Sunset History Cruise will present “Believe It or Not: Palm Beach Legends and Myths,” a discussion moderated by historian and author Augustus Mayhew aboard the 1926 classic 122-foot motor yacht Mariner III. The event benefits educational programs for local school children. For further information contact the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, here.