April 08, 2017

Pamela Harriman

Pamela Harriman

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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 The Spectator’s “Brute” Anderson, whose style of writing I particularly admire but find impossible to emulate. But I have an excuse: English is my third language, acquired at 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 point out the only thing he called her that I agree with: Yes, she was a grande horizontale, but certainly not even nearly the grandest of the grandes horizontales. (That was Nina Dyer and a couple of ladies who are still with us that 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 U.S. 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 with all sorts of American generals stationed in London in order to have access to good food and drink.

“Pam did get away with as much as one can without landing in the pokey.”

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 if there’s one thing I know how to handle, it’s bullies. Pamela bet the whole kit and caboodle on Elie, moved in with him in Paris, and 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 at.

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. Afterward 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 eighth 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 dollars, 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 favorite person.


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