High life

Pamela Harriman and the grandes horizontales

I knew these women – I don’t think ‘Brute’ Anderson ever met them

8 April 2017

9:00 AM

8 April 2017

9:00 AM

New York

 
I’d gladly exchange waistlines with him if he’d teach me to cut a phrase the way he does, in print that is. I’m talking about none other than our own ‘Brute’ Anderson, whose style of writing I particularly admire but find impossible to emulate. But I have an excuse; English was my third language, acquired age 12, after Greek and German. Never mind. A couple of weeks ago the ‘Brute’ mentioned Pamela Harriman in his column, a woman I know quite a lot about. He referred to her as the ‘naughtiest girl of the 20th century’, and one few husbands could resist. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first let me list the only thing he called her that I agree with: yes, she was a grand horizontale, but certainly not anywhere near the grandest of the grandes horizontales. (That was Nina Dyer and a couple of ladies still with us who I cannot name.)

The trouble with the Brute’s depiction of Pam is that I assume he never met her. He read stuff about her after white trash like the Clintons — who took her seriously — sent her as US ambassador to Paris. Pamela Harriman was an awful bore, not very pretty, but a clinger like no other. Born to aristocracy in Dorset, she got lucky when a drunk named Randolph Churchill fell for her and married her. She cuckolded him with the rich but incredibly pompous Averell Harriman almost immediately, while Randolph was in Cairo during the war, and also with all sorts of American generals stationed in London in order to have access to good food and drink.


In Paris after the war she hooked up with Elie de Rothschild, a man I knew very well through polo. Elie was a bully par excellence, and that suited me perfectly as one type I know how to handle is a bully. Pamela bet the whole kit and caboodle on Elie, moved in with him in Paris, announced her engagement, but there was never anything to it as far as Elie was concerned. He had a very homely but extremely nice wife, Liliane, and was not about to marry an English adventurer. She tried Gianni Agnelli, who used her as a housekeeper, a task she excelled in.

Pam’s tricks were not of the bedchamber. She knew how to please a man by keeping his house in perfect order; in fact she was rather apathetic in the sack. And she had a bourgeois mentality, as in the case of a great buddy of mine, Peter Zervudachi, who would always take a hooker to bed while she was away, preferably a black one. (This was in the Agnelli house in the south of France. Afterwards he would tell her and she would have a breakdown.)

I once witnessed Randolph Churchill at the Grand Hotel in Rome make a futile lunge at Agnelli while drunk. ‘You ruined my wife and now you’re trying to ruin my son,’ spat Randolph. Gianni had given a small motorboat to young Winston and Randolph took umbrage. The 8th wonder of the world was young Winston, whose courageous stance on the Rhodesian sellout cost him his ministerial career, and all this with parents like Randolph and Pamela.

I remember driving down Fifth Avenue with Agnelli and watching Pamela Hayward, as she then was, trying to hail a cab. Gianni ducked and I kept driving. By the time she landed Harriman for good, he wasn’t compos mentis. And although she took very good care of him, she tried to break all sorts of trusts and relieve the Harriman daughter, Mrs Mortimer, of what was hers. She had the whore mentality all right, but not the heart of one, which more often than not is soft and sweet. Her genius lay in her ability to guess a man’s fortune within $100,000, give or take a few thousand. At a lunch with Gianni Agnelli, the Duke of Beaufort and yours truly, David Beaufort told her while I was out of the room that I had just inherited $500 million. ‘No, he didn’t,’ was her answer, and right she was. Incidentally, I was not her favourite person.

This was all so long ago, and it’s never fun to badmouth a woman, but Pam did get away with as much as one can without landing in the pokey. Only last week there was a brouhaha over here because the letters of David Harlech were being auctioned off. The one the media concentrated on was his cri de coeur to Jackie Kennedy once she had informed him that she was going to marry Onassis. Will these men never learn? Did he really expect someone of Jackie’s mould to prefer him and his leaking roof over the yacht, the island and the private jet?

Back in 1953, in Rome, the most intelligent American woman ever, the beautiful playwright, editor, writer, Congresswoman and ambassador to Rome, Clare Boothe Luce, analysed the Trieste problem between Tito and the Italian government in a manner that left the chauvinistic Italians, as well as Eisenhower and Dulles, open-mouthed with admiration. She then had too much to drink at the reception and blurted out: ‘I could have said all this in a few words rather than the 480-page analysis I have just presented you with. All men are idiots. After all, women are not interested in sex. All they want is babies and security from men. Men are just too stupid to know it.’ Eat your heart out feminism.

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