The Foresight and Fashion of Dorothy

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A portrait of Dorothy seen in Still of the Night (1981) at Willow Pond in Glen Cove, a house that she had for more than thirty years.

Thursday, February 29, 2024. Wet out there yesterday, and warmer, but returning to the mid-30s by the early morning hours. Soon the buds on the trees will make themselves known.

Yesterday’s Diary about Dorothy Hirshon evoked some sweet memories besides those who had never been aware of her. I first learned of her years ago when she was still very much with us, in an excellent biography that Sally Bedell Smith wrote about William Paley — for years the head of CBS originally known as a radio network with the name the Columbia Broadcasting System. He came into radio just as it was about to change the world (or begin to, considering everything that’s come since).

William Paley, the father of modern broadcasting.

Mr. Paley, whose family was in the cigar business in Philadelphia, had a sister named Blanche who married the man who was also in the cigar business with his brother. The two brothers/investors already had the foresight to invest in the first radio station in Philadelphia – WCAU; and after that had the vision to acquire some other local radio stations which were springing up all over the country in the 1920s.

By that time the brothers had what today we’d call a small network of stations competing with the major of the moment, NBC (the National Broadcasting Company). This was the beginning of the Modern Age for many. Bill Paley had an eye out for the future;  anxious to move up in the world. He was naturally ambitious, and New York was his objective.

Working for his brother-in-law, he took over the running of the expanding business and made his own investment in a group of stations operating under the name of Columbia Phonographic Broadcasting System/eventually Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). That was the beginning.

At the time he met Dorothy, the flight into his ultimate success had just begun. It so happened that it was the same year that he met Dorothy who was 23 and much married to John Randolph Hearst who was the third son of William Randolph Hearst.

Dorothy in Vogue, circa 1940, the first year of the Best Dressed List of which she was among the ten.

Yesterday I was reminded of much of this by an email from Sally Bedell Smith.

Sally’s message reminded me of how Irene SelznickLouis B. Mayer’s daughter — described her when she was still Dorothy Hart, all of 19 years old and:

Dorothy strolling on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach in 1939.

“She was one of the most beautiful girls in Southern California,” Irene Selznick recalled. “She could stop traffic. Every Friday night at the Coconut Grove, all eyes were on her.”

Her first marriage to a Hearst son also brought the beautiful young woman to the presence of  W.R. who was charmed by his beautiful daughter-in-law’s company as well as her natural curiosity which was enhanced greatly by his sharing his choices in acquiring Art and Antiques.

Nevertheless by the time she was in her mid- to late-20s, she was on a new adventure in New York with Mr. Paley. Their marriage lasted about fifteen years or until he became involved with Barbara “Babe” Cushing Mortimer, sister-in-law of John Hay Whitney and Vincent Astor.

I came to know Dorothy in 1990 when I interviewed her for a book project about the Cushing Sisters. She was one of the few who would talk to me about the Sisters. I don’t recall the gist of the interview because Dorothy had such a compelling and intelligent and articulate personality that I was rapt with attention. It was a matter of charm, but highly intelligent and dynamic. All of the projects she undertook philanthropically had her devoted attention, and she was attracted to the challenges to overcome.

As a wife to Paley, I was told that she never kowtowed to his great success. Although she always admired him for it. But she always maintained her independence of thinking and self-expression. But he was her wild card.  I mention it in considering her life because of that one irony. She moved on but they were mountains she had to move. That photo (below) of Mr. Eberle expresses it, all of it.

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