Palm Beach Social Diary: Uncommon Lives

Featured image
Palm Beach, 1966. Bokara Legendre, second from left, hosted a late-night weekly television interview show on WEAT-TV from the Royal Poinciana Playhouse's Celebrity Room interviewing the famous television and film personalities after their Monday opening night performance at the playhouse. Above, Bo spoke with actor Darryl Hickman, left, actress Monica Moran, and right, actor Kevin McCarthy. In a 2013 interview, Bo told me, "I had great people on the TV show like Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis, and people in politics and social life." Bo's family, her aunt and uncle were Mary and Laddie Sanford, had been coming to Palm Beach since the early 1920s. The photograph is from her mother's voluminous Gertrude Sanford Legendre Papers that the family donated to the College of Charleston's Special Collections. This extraordinary archive is an incomparable showcase of social history, including the noteworthy Sanford family's 19th and 20th century records, diaries, photographs, and correspondence but also the Legendre family of New Orleans. The college's collection is on par with Charleston's cuisine, culture and architecture — a stellar attraction. Photo College of Charleston, Addlestone Library Special Collections.

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.

Declaration of Domicile, 11 November 2016. Roger Ailes. Palm Beach County Court records.

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.

Irrepressible is available at the Classic Bookshop, Palm Beach, or Amazon.

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.

Emily Bingham and Ernest Pepples.
Bingham’s great-grandfather Robert Worth Bingham and his second wife Mary Lily Kenan Flagler stayed at Whitehall following their wedding. Several months later, Mary Lily was dead.
After Henrietta Bingham and Mina Kirsten left Smith College for London, they became friends with members of the bohemian Bloomsbury Group.
Dora Carrington was one of Henrietta’s liaisons.
Melcombe, the Louisville estate of Robert Worth Bingham.
Emily Bingham learned from her father that there was a trunk in the attic at Melcombe that might shed some light on her great-aunt Henrietta. Inside, she found Helen Hull Jacobs’ tennis shorts that she later donated to the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. In 1933 Jacobs broke with tradition wearing “man-tailored shorts” at Wimbledon.
Nine-time Grand Slam winner Helen Hull Jacobs. Jacobs and Henrietta stayed together while her father was US Ambassador to the Court of St. James, 1933-1937. “If they had lived in a future era, Jacobs and Henrietta would have probably married,” speculated Bingham.
Author Emily Bingham, second from left, with Cleveland friends, Joe and K. K. Sullivan and their grandchildren Lila and Claire.
A portrait of Edith Robb Dixon and her husband Fitz Eugene Dixon, longtime chairman of The Society of the Four Arts, graces the main lobby at the Dixon Education Building where the Campus on the Lake lectures are held. Portrait by artist Gavin Glakas.
Molly Charland, Campus on the Lake’s director of education.
More than 100 guests attended the afternoon lecture.
Jenn Saunders and Elizabeth Benson.
Emily Bingham, center, with longtime friends Sandy and Buddy Thompson.
Author Emily Bingham and David Miller, art advisor.
Taffy Beam, Cackie Austin, and Cathy Stopher.
US Ambassador Robert Worth Bingham, center, flanked by his niece Henrietta, right, and her amour Helen Hull Jacobs, left, with their friends. Kneeling front without a dog, Dada-Surreal artist Man Ray.
US Ambassador Robert Worth Bingham, center, flanked by his niece Henrietta, right, and her amour Helen Hull Jacobs, left, with their friends. Kneeling front without a dog, Dada-Surreal artist Man Ray.

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.

Charles Davidson, at the whisk. “American born, I spent most of my first fourteen years living in Europe and Asia. I attended art school until I put down my paintbrush and picked up a paring knife. While at art school, I worked for a classically-trained German chef who tutored me in an informal two-year apprenticeship. I attribute my fascination with food to Paris and London’s cheese shops and markets. Before I fell into being a private chef, I worked in and owned restaurants for fifteen years. A private chef for more than a decade, I have been in South Florida for the past five years.”
“Sunday supper menus come together organically with components of a course changing up to the last moment until it tastes right. I begin with some ideas but then at the market I see an ingredient that sparks another idea. Then, I grab five things and put two back before I take five more, and so forth.”
“Smaller dinner parties allow me to do more. I can have dishes with more components that need more attention. For larger parties even when I have help I need to keep ease of plating in mind to ensure service in a timely manner while still looking appealing. Very large parties I often have help and we have the extra time to try to come up with dishes I might not attempt without extra hands. Simplicity and taste are always key.”
“South Florida has such great seafood and produce that often I shop at five or more markets on a regular basis as well as have online regional specialty items shipped. Carmine’s Gourmet Market is terrific and I couldn’t live without it. When my wife and I dine out, we enjoy eating at a restaurant’s bar where you can always count on great service, especially at DaDa, Avocado Grill, and Pistache.”
“Working for one family has its challenges — a delicate balance of pleasing one palate while being continually creative. At a restaurant you repetitively cook from a set menu formulated for a broad audience. When you work for one, I am the sous chef, garde manger and pastry chef. Private work requires you to be everyone!”


Marinated avocado and grapefruit salad with Marcona almond, picked green heirloom tomato, shallots, ricotta salata, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Cured salmon tartare rounded atop toasted brioche with sunny-side-up quail egg, micro greens, creme fraiche, and Sevruga caviar served with a pickled radish and cucumber column, lemon aioli …
… and chive.
Sous-vide butter poached Chilean Sea bass with black truffle white polenta, roasted baby carrots, flat leaf parsley oil, and lemon nage.
Golden local tile fish with crispy potato gnocchi, young asparagus, sweet corn cream, agave-ancho chile purée, and pea shoots.
Final meltdown.
Sponge layer cake with espresso, Italian hazelnut praline buttercream, chocolate ganache, and crème fraiche topped with toasted hazelnut.
Almond Joy chocolate and almond feuilletine crunch, coconut nougat, Tahitian vanilla bean mousse, milk chocolate ganache, and coconut espuma.
Ready for the table.
Charles Davidson, private chef.

Gertrude Sanford Legendre Papers
College of Charleston Addlestone Library Special Collections
205 Calhoun Street – 3rd floor, Charleston, SC

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.

Sidney and Gertrude Legendre. Palm Beach, 11930. Courtesy Gertrude Sanford Legendre Papers, College of Charleston, Addlestone Library Special Collections.
The voluminous Gertrude Sanford Legendre archive was moved from Medway Plantation to the College of Charleston. Courtesy Gertrude Sanford Legendre Papers, College of Charleston, Addlestone Library Special Collections.

Moving day for the collection. Courtesy Gertrude Sanford Legendre Papers, College of Charleston, Addlestone Library Special Collections.
Palm Beach. Sidney Legendre, Lillian Bostwick McKim (later Phipps), Gertrude Sanford Legendre, and Robert “Bobby” McKim (Lilly Pulitzer’s father). Courtesy Gertrude Sanford Legendre Papers, College of Charleston, Addlestone Library Special Collections.
Gertrude Legendre and her daughter Bokara Legendre. Medway Plantation. New Year’s Eve, 1951. “We’ve digitized and made available some of the most interesting parts of the collection – her WWII “spy” scrapbooks and many others documenting her safaris, exotic trips and travels abroad,” said Harlan Greene, Head of Special Collections. Courtesy Gertrude Sanford Legendre Papers, College of Charleston, Addlestone Library Special Collections.
John Sanford house, Villa Marina, 1922. Grace Trail at Ocean Boulevard, Palm Beach. Built in 1918 for Charles Dillingham, a New York theatrical impresario affiliated with Irving Berlin and Flo Ziegfeld, Villa Marina was bought by Horace and Anna Dodge in 1920. Within a few months, Horace Dodge died. Then, Anna Dodge sold Villa Marina to John Sanford. It remained John Sanford’s Palm Beach oceanfront villa until 1930 when he paid $430,000 for Los Incas, an oceanfront estate north of El Mirasol. At that time, his daughter Gertrude and her husband Sidney moved into Villa Marina. Following Laddie’s marriage to Mary Sanford in the early 1930s, the newlyweds moved into Los Incas with John Sanford who lived there until his death in 1939. Courtesy Gertrude Sanford Legendre Collection, College of Charleston Special Collections.
Polo balls belonging to Stephen “Laddie Sanford.” Courtesy Gertrude Sanford Legendre Papers, College of Charleston Special Collections.

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.

Boston’s distinguished Phillips family were direct descendants of John Phillips, the first mayor of Boston, famous abolitionist Wendell Phillips, as well as the founders of Phillips Academy at Andover and Phillips Exeter Academy. Standing, left to right: Andrew James Peters, Hon. William Peters, Martha Phillips (Mrs. Andrew Peters), Anna Phillips (Mrs. Raynal Cawthorne Bolling), Dr. John C. Phillips, and George Wendell Phillips. Seated, left to right: Eleanor Hyde Phillips ( Mrs. John C. Phillips II), the family matriarch Anna Tucker (Mrs. John C. Phillips), Caroline Astor Drayton ( Mrs. William Phillips), and Loretta “Lala” Lorey (Mrs. George Wendell Phillips). George’s brother William served as Undersecretary of State for two presidents as well as US Ambassador to Italy and the Netherlands. Though having a medical degree, Dr. John Phillips became a famous environmentalist, publishing more than 160 papers on wildlife and becoming a renowned expert in comparative zoology. The Caroline Astor Drayton Phillips Papers are at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library History of American Women. During the 1920s-1930s, most of Phillips clan spent time at Palm Beach. Courtesy George Wendell Phillips III.
Lala Phillips with her son George Wendell Phillips Jr., Palm Beach. Courtesy George W. Phillips III.
The Silver Wedding, c. 1937-1939, moored “north of the Brazilian Avenue dock.” The only known photograph. No portholes, hatches or galleys but full-sized windows, doors and rooms. During the 1920s George and Lala Phillips lived in several Midtown villas. Built in 1937 at the Tropical Marine boatyard by Marchant Fowler for $25,000, the Silver Wedding featured a full-sized kitchen, large bedrooms and full-sized bathrooms. The interior design was by M. Brooks Rhode. Extending the length of the end of the boat, the living room was paneled with a pecky cypress ceiling. The master suite had two bedrooms and two baths. There were two additional guest bedrooms and baths. The sundeck was aft; the servant’s quarters were below the bedrooms. Although powerless, the Phillips’ had a full-time skipper Capt. T. P. Forbes. With the completion of their Eden Way house, George and Lala sold the Silver Wedding in 1940 to Thorne Donnelley. Living aboard the Silver Wedding, Thorne Donnelley announced plans in May 1940 to add two picturesque paddlewheels to the rear of the boat and two powerful interior engines allowing him to take the Silver Wedding to the Bahamas for fishing tournaments. Courtesy George W. Phillips III.
Phillips residence, 991 North Lake Way (formerly 281 Eden Road).1940. “Lala called the room upstairs above the front door the “Chiller,” because that’s where she kept all of her fur coats. She had so many full-length fur coats that when friends were going north, Lala insisted they take one of her coats,” said Reese whose parents became close friends with the family. Reese was best man at George Wendell Phillips III’s 1966 wedding. The $25,000 building permit was pulled in September 1940. Watt & Sinclair built the house while George and Lala lived aboard the Silver Wedding. In 1949 the Phillipses moved to Rainbow Ranch on North Military Trail north of West Palm Beach where they ran a nursery and “engaged in experiments in fruit raising” for many years. During summers, George and Lala were either in North Carolina, where George passed away in 1955, or in Italy where they had villas in Bordighera and on Lake Como. The North Lake Way house is currently listed with Sotheby’s for $5.495 million. Courtesy George W. Phillips III.

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.

Photography by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Palm Beach-A Greater Grandeur

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