Babe Paley, an influential and glamorous figure of the 20th century, adorned the roles of a magazine editor, socialite, and trendsetting style icon. Revered as one of Truman Capote’s “swans,” she left an indelible mark on the world of fashion and beauty.
Tragically, she succumbed to lung cancer on July 6, 1978, at the age of 63. This blog post delves into her extraordinary life, accomplishments, and lasting legacy.
The Early Years: Debutante to Vogue
Born as Barbara Cushing on July 5, 1915, in Boston, Massachusetts, Babe Paley emerged as the youngest daughter of the renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing and socialite Katharine Crowell Cushing. The Cushing sisters, Babe, Mary, and Betsey, gained fame as “The Fabulous Cushing Sisters” within high society.
Debuting in Boston as a debutante in 1934, Babe transitioned to New York City to pursue a writing career. Joining Vogue as a fashion editor in 1938, she garnered admiration for her talent and impeccable taste. Time magazine recognized her as one of the world’s best-dressed women in 1941.
The Middle Years: Marriage to CBS
Babe embarked on two marriages to affluent and influential men. Her first husband, Stanley Grafton Mortimer Jr., a Standard Oil founder’s grandson, resulted in two children but ended in divorce in 1946.
Her second marriage, to CBS founder William S. Paley in 1947, proved to be a partnership of business and social prowess. As Paley’s wife, she added elegance and charm to the public image of the media mogul.
The Later Years: Capote to Cancer
Truman Capote, the famed author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, counted Babe Paley among his closest friends. Dubbing her his “favorite swan,” Capote dedicated works to her, including The Grass Harp and the short story “La Côte Basque 1965.” Their friendship fractured when Capote published excerpts from his unfinished novel Answered Prayers in Esquire magazine in 1975, exposing high society secrets.
Simultaneously, Babe faced a grim diagnosis of lung cancer in 1974, attributed to her heavy smoking. Despite undergoing various treatments and surgeries, her cancer proved incurable. She breathed her last on July 6, 1978, at her New York City residence, at the age of 63.
The Legacy: Influencing Fashion and Culture
Babe Paley’s legacy resonates through generations, shaping the realms of style and sophistication. Inducted into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1958, she received acclaim as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by People magazine in 1996. Countless artists, including Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, and Andy Warhol, found inspiration in capturing her image.
Babe Paley was a fashion icon, and her untimely departure marked the end of an era. She was a woman who lived and departed by her own rules, leaving an enduring impact that time will not erase. Babe Paley remains an unforgettable presence.