Popping in on Pamela

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Glancing at the skyline from the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. 12:00 PM. Photo: JH.

Monday, July 31, 2023. Yesterday was a beautiful day in New York, all sunshine and great masses of cumulus clouds surrounding the city; the boats speeding along the river, and warm, but a breezy warm. Perfect.

We had a lot of interest in last week’s Diary about birthdays. It led to thinking more about Pamela Harriman after writing about the incident with her on the diving board of her husband-to-be Leland Hayward’s swimming pool one warm summer afternoon, entirely shorn of costume, brightly unabashed, sporting her red tresses for any and all who might have popped in on the couple.

Pamela Digby Harriman, age 19, on the cover of Tatler Magazine, June 1938.

In the world of what used to be called Society, long before she became a magazine cover girl, Mrs. Harriman was famous to the world because she was a British baron’s daughter who during the Second World War at age 19 married Winston Churchill’s only son, Randolph. During the War, she lived with her father-in-law and mother-in-law putting her at the center of the international history of that time.

After the War, now 25, she divorced Randolph Churchill who was famously difficult, likely a product of the Famous Father syndrome. During those days living with her in-laws, she’d come to know many men including Americans like Averell Harriman and Jock Whitney and William Paley. Edward R. Murrow working for CBS radio on war coverage fell in love with her and was going to divorce his wife after the war. 

She left them all happy to have met her, some showering her with gifts and “trust funds.” She was looked after financially from the earliest days of the War when Americans were in London “serving.” She was a good looking young woman in her early 20s; But smart, sophisticated and interested in what was going on. 

If she had not been born a baron’s daughter, her romantic career might not have been as fruitful. Although she had that secret ingredient: charm. If you have enough of that and are clear thinking, it can be profitable; and she lived like a woman of means, as you might expect of a baron’s daughter.

Now freed from her marriage, there were serious liaisons with a major French Rothschild, and an occasional close friend of several very prominent (often rich) men on the international stage.  Throughout her liaisons, she was not just some divorcee. She was widely accepted; and invited in the world of Power and Finance and Society, as well as by the Wives of those men who counted.  

Pamela Harriman with her second husband, Leland Hayward.

She liked jewels/jewelry. Among her souvenirs, she was given — having asked specifically for — a diamond and emerald bracelet, a gift of a famous French duc. It was her design and took a while to complete. Upon receiving it, she debuted it by wearing it for the man in her life. Having shown, she then took it back to the jeweler asking for it to be copied (in costume). They did. She then sold the original off to someone interested, and made a few hundred thousand dollars.

She’d lived well and elegantly in Paris, London, New York. However her affairs could run on forever before they’d leave their wives. Arriving at age 40 in 1960, she was still unmarried, and turned the page. She married an American — Leland Hayward — an enormously successful talent agent, film producer and Broadway producer (two  of his hit shows that opened the same year: Gypsy and South Pacific). Their “courtship” was referred to in Friday’s Diary. The marriage lasted until Hayward’s death eleven years later when Pamela was 51.

Postcript. It has been reported that the Hayward marriage was still extant because Leland was very sick. On the day he died, Pamela called her old friend from the days of the War, Averell Harriman. Shortly thereafter, she married him.

Margaret Sullavan (seen in the background) with her daughters Brooke Hayward and blonde-haired Bridget Hayward.

It was during the Hayward marriage that Leland’s daughter Bridget Hayward committed suicide. This was a second incident in the family, the first being her mother Margaret Sullavan who took her own life 10 months earlier in 1960.

Brooke and her sister were close. Bridget lived in an apartment in the East 60s. She had a safe where Brooke kept a pearl necklace that her mother had left her. The pearls had been collected over the years by her mother, were very valuable and always intended to be Brooke’s. It needed to be stored highly secured, and Bridget had persuaded Brooke to keep it in her safe.

A couple of days after Bridget’s death, Pamela, then still married to Leland, called Brooke about Bridget’s safe and did she have the combination to unlock it. The two women met the next day as Brooke also had a key to Bridget’s apartment.

Upon opening the safe, Pamela could not help notice the rope of pearls. In their perfect lustrous condition. Pamela was impressed. Immediately, she persuaded Brooke that the pearls should be locked up in her safe with her own collection of jewels, which were several special drawers under lock and key. And so it was.

Brooke Hayward photographed by Dennis Hopper. I don’t know if these pearls are the pearls that Brooke had inherited from her mother and which were kept in Pamela Hayward’s vault in her Fifth Avenue apartment which, after the death of Leland Hayward, disappeared. Pamela claimed she knew nothing, but they were gone forever.

When Brooke later asked for the pearls back Pamela knew nothing about them; didn’t have them. They weren’t there and never  were “discovered.”0 That was the last Brooke ever had to do with her former stepmother.

How one story leads to another in the development of the life. Well-born, same with first marriage, but no money yet a fortune’s worth of “connections” at the very top. She also had a special allure, meaning attractiveness on several levels.  As she grew older, she had a reputation for “seducing” men with her charm.

She also lived high, wide and handsome, especially after marrying Averell Harriman.

Recalling the stories which have come to me years after Brooke’s loss, in the early 90s, I was working on a project about the Cushing sisters — Babe Paley, Betsey Whitney and Minnie Astor. Living in Los Angeles at the time, I’d come to New York to interview Kitty Carlisle Hart on a snowy January Saturday in New York. 

My appointment was in the late morning. Mrs. Hart who lived in a large co-op on 64th Street and Madison Avenue, led me into her “library.” We were just about to sit down when a woman, dark-haired, older, bright-faced, wearing a brown tweed sports jacket, green turtleneck sweater and a dark skirt, and black stockings and shoes. At first she looked familiar, but in seconds I realized it was Mrs. Harriman. I learned she had come up from Washington the day before to attend an opera at the Met. 

Pamela Harriman around the time we “met.” Credit: Mark Reinstein/MediaPunch

I’d never seen her in the flesh but only in photos. She was smaller in real life probably no more than 5’6″. After expressing her thanks to her hostess, she had to use the phone which was there in the room.

We stood and waited; a couple of minutes only. Finished, she came up to us again, thanked Kitty again, shook my hand again, and then turned and walked to the archway out. We stood watching, and just as she was about to disappear she threw her head back with a smile/glance directed at me. The smiling eyes. 

I was surprised but flattered, very flattered (which I translated in my head as: “You’re interesting”). And I could only think: “I’d follow her.”

At that same moment Kitty turned to me and said, “Now that’s a woman that all the wives are afraid of …” And I thought to myself she didn’t even see it. That one smiling glance from an almost stranger was the secret — or “the method.”

I didn’t doubt for a moment that was what took her through an amazing and creative life.

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