Friday, 15 April 2011

Pamela - Part Three

If you recall from yesterday, we left 'poor' Pamela newly widowed, about 51 years of age, and just getting back in touch with her old friend Averell Harriman, who was by then 79 years old and also recently widowed.  He met up with Pamela at Duchin’s place and they apparently picked up right where they left off.  Duchin reported flipping on his front porch light and finding the two making out in the dark, half undressed.  How embarrassing…how undignified.  I’m still aghast…could it really have been that easy to seduce a 79 year old multi-millionaire?  [Where did I go wrong?]  Then again, they did have a shared history from WWII and London-town.  They were married soon after.

This had impacts upon other people, large and small.  For one, Harriman’s financial manager queried whether he should continue sending the now Mrs. Harriman that monthly check – the one she’d been getting for 30 years?  The impression given was that Harriman himself had forgotten all about it.  Part of me thinks that someone so careless with their money deserves to lose it.  

Duchin reported getting some nominal present that first Christmas, something along the lines of a tie.  Pamela’s son, Winston, got an airplane.  A real one.  Alida Morgan (beautiful, striking woman with white hair, shown in a very red room; must find out more about her), Harriman’s grand-daughter (actually, step-grand-daughter; her maternal grandfather was apparently Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney) dropped by to see him one day and was turned away.  "Leave a card, make an appointment," she was told.  She was never alone with her grandfather again, not even on the telephone, without Pamela’s interfering presence preventing any real personal contact or complaints about the increasing distance between them.  Part of me thinks that anyone so careless about their personal relationships deserves to lose them.  

I’m still working on figuring out what was so wonderful about Pamela.  Whatever it was, her new 79-year-old husband got a ‘new lease on life’.  The programme reminded viewers how important a man Harriman had been in his lifetime, the 48th governor of New York, two time presidential candidate.  Strangely enough I’d only ever heard of Averell Harriman because he’d married Pamela Harriman, who had something to do with Churchill.  I felt a bit better after reading his Wikipedia entry that most of his political career happened before I was born.  Nevertheless, in 1971 he was apparently still a big player on the Washington scene and he had a home in Georgetown.  Pamela’s political career began with her salons. 
salon -- n
1. a room in a large house in which guests are received
2. an assembly of guests in a fashionable household, esp a gathering of major literary, artistic, and political figures from the 17th to the early 20th centuries
Word Origin and History: 
1699, "large room or apartment in a palace or great house," from Fr. salon  "reception room," from It. salone  "large hall,"  Sense of "reception room of a Parisian lady" is from 1810; meaning "gathering of fashionable people" first recorded 1888 (the woman who hosts one is a salonnière ). Meaning "establishment forhairdressing and beauty care" is from 1913.  From www.dictionary.com


One of her biographers describes her working at her on parties like a professional cowboy on a seasoned cutting horse:  she’d choose her man and cut him out of the crowd.  The lassoed politician would be taken to the couch where they would chat a few minutes; she’d ask what she wanted to know, give what information she had.  Then she’d return the heifer back to the herd and select the next one, continuing throughout the evening.   Apparently this all required infinite charm and finesse and she was a master at work.  I don’t quite follow what is so hard about this, but obviously this isn’t my social area.

With Pamela’s interest and Harriman’s money, cash once again flowed into the Democratic campaign chest.  (Mind, I’m not saying I’m against that at all; but I do try not to be political here.  This is about interesting people, not politics.)  A short clip is shown of Pamela being interviewed on a TV talk show.  [Interviewer:  What would you say was Reagan’s weak spot?  Pamela:  When Reagan went into office the US deficit was $59 billion; it is now $200 billion.]  She comes across as cool and competent.  She’s also discovered a cause (the word protégé comes to mind, but I’m not sure it’s apt):  Bill Clinton.  The programme pretty much says that it was Pamela Harriman’s backing that propelled Bill Clinton into the top office. 

I was alive and voting, if not very politically aware, at that time and I don’t remember any association between Clinton and Pamela.  I would have said I had only heard of Pamela since living in England and being interesting in all things British.  Perhaps I had heard the name before, but didn’t catch on.  I was busy around that time with husband #2, 20-month old step-son, finishing a master’s degree, dealing with the deaths of both my parents, moving to SLC to a new job.  You know, life?  Anyhow...

Two weeks after the Presidential victory, Clinton asked Pamela what she wanted; a politician has to pay his debts, of course.  In 1993 she traveled again to Paris, this time as US Ambassador to France.  I’m not saying she wouldn’t be good at that job, in fact, it sounds as though it was what she’d been training for all her life, according to Sir Henry Wotton:  
"An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country." 
Apparently she and President Chirac got on like a house on fire and she got a lot of his time, more than most other ambassadors.  Life in Paris was good for Pamela.

However, February 1976 found her in Kent for the christening of one of her great-grandchildren.  Always an avid horsewoman, at age 76 she enjoyed a brisk five-mile horse ride.  The next day she returned to Paris and was taking exercise at the Paris Ritz.  In her 20th lap of the pool she suffered a stroke, from which she died a few days later.  I confess to being impressed that she had such an active life style all the way to her death; I take it as an explanation of how she kept her looks for so long.  (That and a bit of surgery.)

As Shirac had once promised, ‘before she left French soil’ she was awarded the Grand Cross.  Her son Winston reported that she’d not been gone 3 minutes (as in removed from life support) when Clinton was on the phone to him.  Upon learning that she’d been awarded the Grand Cross, Clinton declared “We’re not going to be out-done by that.”  Winston (who died in March 2010) said it was “as though the Atlantic became a large poker table”, with Presidents of the two countries vying for Pamela’s posthumous favours, so to speak.   Clinton sent AirForce One to bring Pamela home to the US (she’d become an American citizen in 1971) and she was given military honours and a State Funeral, something no other ambassador has received.

The programme on the whole did a great job, I thought.  They laud Pamela’s achievements, give glimpses into the history, life and lifestyle of many rich and famous people.  They also document the trail of tears and bitterness that was her wake.  She was attractive (Bill thinks rather beautiful, even), confident, obviously charming and she certainly knew what she wanted.  


Though she had no formal education she was must have been fairly clever.  I’m certain she was a hard worker.  It must take work to spend that much money!  I don’t think ‘good in bed’ covers it, but I confess that I don’t really understand what courtesans actually do.  I read somewhere that women who marry for money end up earning every penny and I believe there is some truth in that.  I think I would prefer to pay my own way in the world than to pander to some rich man, but had life offered me a millionaire, or three, I might have thought differently.  Whilst the programme leaves you with the impression of ‘rags to riches’, she started off pretty well up and I can’t help think this was part of her English charm to rich American men, being the daughter and sister of a Baron.

I, too, applaud her for living a full and interesting life.  I'm not much bothered that she was a courtesan or whatever, but I do feel for the family members she pushed aside.  According to Wikipedia, the Harriman estate is still under dispute.  

I did find one good thing she did:  according to that article, she left her estate not only to her son, but also to his first wife, the mother of her four grand-children.  Putting aside whether it was her money to give, I’ll give her brownie points for that.

2 comments:

Terri said...

She sounds to me like SHE was the consummate politician and early on that a way to power was likely to be the confidante of powerful people. She learned to deal in secrets and likely used them judiciously.

Boywilli said...

I was fascinated by both the Ritz in Paris and the Carlyle in New York. They both waxed lyrical about luxury and service but neither mentioned money. I suppose if you have yo ask the price, you cant afford it