The Loveliest Woman in America: A Tragic Actress, Her Lost Diaries, and Her Granddaughter's Search for Home

Overview

Her name was Rosamond Pinchot: hailed as "The Loveliest Woman in America," she was a niece of Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot; cousin to Edie Sedgwick; half sister of Mary Pinchot Meyer, JFK's lover; friend to Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Arden. At nineteen she was discovered aboard a cruise ship, at twenty-three she married the playboy scion of a political Boston family, but by thirty-three she was dead by her own hand.

Seventy years later, her granddaughter, a noted ...

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The Loveliest Woman in America

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Overview

Her name was Rosamond Pinchot: hailed as "The Loveliest Woman in America," she was a niece of Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot; cousin to Edie Sedgwick; half sister of Mary Pinchot Meyer, JFK's lover; friend to Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Arden. At nineteen she was discovered aboard a cruise ship, at twenty-three she married the playboy scion of a political Boston family, but by thirty-three she was dead by her own hand.

Seventy years later, her granddaughter, a noted landscape architect, received Rosamond's diaries and embarked on a search to discover the real Rosamond Pinchot.

Unearthing what appeared to be a glamorous fairy-tale existence, Bibi Gaston discovers the roots of the ties that bind and break a family, and uncovers the legacy of two great American dynasties torn apart by her grandmother's untimely death. This is a tale of three lives and five generations, mothers and grandmothers, longing, holding on and letting go, men, beauty, diets, and letting beauty slip. This is the story of how we make the most of our brief, beautiful lives.

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Editorial Reviews

Tappan Wilder
Bibi Gaston’s hard-to-put down narrative mixes a Harvard Business School Case Study of American upper-class family dysfunction and tragedy, with entertainment history, with the most significant ingredient of all — the healing of the scars on her own heart. The whole business is a miracle.
Sara Cedar Miller
A story for all women who strive and struggle to lead meaningful and purposeful lives.... the author weaves her grandmother Rosamond Pinchot’s connection to nature... through the generations of a family whose legacy of service to the environment are the DNA of today’s conservation efforts.”
Ron McLarty
...a fascinating memoir of an American family from a famous actress and beauty in the early 20th century to her granddaughter....a captivating story of 2 women and the man they share-son to one and father to the other. Bibi’s voyage of discovery will enlighten and uplift you
John Guare
One of the more intriguing footnotes in American theatrical lore has always been the mysterious suicide ... of Rosamond Pinchot during the tryout of Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’....Who was she? What were the circumstances of her death? ....A beautifully written saga worthy of Edith Wharton’s ‘House of Mirth.’
Susan Shreve
...a granddaughter’s search through familial silence for the grandmother, a beautiful and troubled actress, who committed suicide... leaving two young sons and a powerful mystery....wonderfully structured... a compelling story with characters of such life and particularity, they jump off the page. . . .A real page turner
Bangor Daily News
…a fascinating memoir... Her writing is deft and sure. …. poetic, wry, humorous and, above all, spoken with the voice of truth and compassion. With “The Loveliest Woman in America,” she gives readers the topography of the heart of a family, and in it we find pieces of ourselves.”
Washington Post
“…a Dreiserian treatise on the corrosive use uses of money and class in America and how self-destructive patterns of behavior are often handed down in families…Bibi Gaston does a remarkable job piecing together this dramatic family history….”
Carolyn See
People write memoirs for so many different reasons! Bibi Gaston, a well-known landscape architect, seems to have written this one to honor the memory of her grandmother, Rosamond Pinchot, and to leach the mystery and disgrace from Rosamond's suicide, which happened years before Bibi was born. But The Loveliest Woman in the World also turns out to be a kind of Dreiserian treatise on the corrosive uses of money and class in America and how self-destructive patterns of behavior are often handed down in families…Gaston does a remarkable job piecing together this dramatic family history
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

The life of Rosamond Pinchot Gaston has the makings of a great story. In 1926, the 20-year-old debutante was headed home from France when a Broadway producer on the ship discovered her and launched her acting career. But the same year, Rosamond also fled fame and wealth to toil at a cannery in California. "She planned to force herself to survive without her family, her name, her past, or her bank account." By 1927 she had returned to the stage, though her continued stardom didn't bring happiness: Rosamond committed suicide in 1938. Bibi Gaston, Rosamond's granddaughter, learned about the star only when she received a box containing Rosamond's diaries and scrapbooks. But the author fails to draw us into Rosamond's story. Gaston writes in summary rather than scenes and gives an incomplete sense of Rosamond's character: Rosamond's diaries don't always explain her motivations, such as why she took her "hiatus" in California. Gaston also writes about her own life and how learning about her grandmother's dramatic life affected her, but the memoir aspect of the book is a distraction from the juicy part of the story. 50 b&w photos. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Gaston, a landscape architect, has spent her life searching for her family and a sense of home. In the author's note, she states that her book is the "story of three people over three generations who barely knew one another." Gaston knew only that her grandmother was beautiful and died tragically young; Gaston's father was an enigma, having deserted the family when Gaston was a child. In midlife, Gaston was given a box that contained old diaries belonging to her grandmother, Rosamond Pinchot, a famous actress and legendary beauty of the 1920s and 1930s who committed suicide at 33. Pinchot's diaries reveal the story of a young socialite from an illustrious family who suddenly became a Broadway celebrity, a wife, and a mother and, just as quickly, disappeared from spoken memory. The discovery of her grandmother's diaries has taken Gaston on a journey not only of family and home but also of celebrity, politics, death, betrayal, and, eventually, understanding and hope. Highly recommended for public and larger academic libraries.
—Teri Shiel

Kirkus Reviews
Landscape architect Gaston traces the life of her grandmother, a Jazz Age "It girl" gone wrong. The author uncovers a family history long obscured by secrets and lies. Rosamond Pinchot was a New York socialite plucked from not-quite-obscurity by famed producer/director Max Reinhardt, who in 1923 discovered the tall, striking 19-year-old aboard a cruise ship and quickly established her as a Broadway star. She became a nationally known figure, appearing in advertisements and tracked by pundits. Gaston paints a dynamic portrait of her grandmother, making liberal use of Pinchot's youthful diaries to reveal a privileged, conflicted girl chronically struggling with what she called "the Cinderella feeling," a euphemism for the depression that would eventually lead to her suicide and subsequent near-disappearance from family lore. In lapidary though occasionally overheated prose, the author deftly juggles multiple chronologies and personal reminiscences to limn Pinchot and her bounder of a husband, "Big Bill" Gaston, their well-bred milieu and the various celebrities of the period that she knew. The effort and execution are admirable, but Pinchot was not a significant artist, or even, based on the evidence here, a particularly interesting person; it's questionable whether general readers will much care about this story. It functions well as a window into a largely vanished social and cultural structure, but readers may have the nagging feeling of sitting through a protracted examination of a stranger's family album. Heartfelt and accomplished, but not a page-turner. Agent: Linda Lowenthal/David Black Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060857714
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/16/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 783,663
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Bibi Gaston, a practicing landscape architect, has kept a diary since the age of eight.

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Table of Contents

1 The Miracle 3

2 The Landscape of Memory 52

3 A Chronology of Chaos 75

4 A Synonym for Love 99

5 The King of Jeeps 148

6 Paradise 177

7 Our Town 199

8 The Topography of the Brain 249

9 Beauty Sessions 300

Afterword 313

Acknowledgments 325

Notes 331

Bibliography 337

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 13, 2009

    Don't bother!!!

    The first page is a real grabber and then...down hill from there. If I had found my grandmother's "lost diaries" I too would think it a real treasure. However, taking something that was interesting to me and thinking it would be even mildly interesting to someone else is the mark of a true narcissist.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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