Lee Radziwill Dies at 85 The younger sister of Jackie Kennedy Onassis passed away on Friday in New York, Patient of Dr Feelgood
A slender, sloe-eyed and stylish brunette beauty, she was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ younger sister. She was born Caroline Lee Bouvier on March 3, 1933 to Janet Norton Lee and stockbroker John Vernou Bouvier III, known as “Black Jack.” Another of his nicknames, as Lee pointed out, was “the Black Orchid.” Lee had three careers — briefly, as an actress, promoted by her friend Truman Capote but reviled by the critics; later, and more successfully, a short stint as an interior designer, and then as a brand ambassador, public relations executive and special events coordinator for Giorgio Armani.
In the past, she suffered from age-related disease, while, according to sources close to her, over the past week, she was in good shape and still extremely present and elegant.
Radziwill was considered a true fashion icon thanks to an elegance and sophistication that she demonstrated not only with her personal style, but also through her work as an interior decorator. She also stood out in the international jet set with her sense of humour and her kindness.
Mathilde Favier, public relations director in charge of VIPs at Christian Dior, said Radziwill introduced her to Roberto Agostinelli, her first husband and the father of her two children, and was a witness at their wedding. Radziwill was also the godmother of Favier’s first daughter, who was named Héloïse Lee in her honor.
“She was the height of elegance, a true icon — an incredibly attractive woman who always adapted to whatever the circumstance. She was never overdressed or underdressed.” Favier said.
She noted that Radziwill’s identity was reduced to being the sister of a global icon, something that weighed on her all her life.
Favier said Radziwill would be remembered for her style and allure. “She was incredibly elegant and inspiring, and always ahead of her time because she was a fashion visionary. It’s very sad. It’s the end of an era,” she concluded.
In her personal style, Radziwill went for the streamlined, in looks from Givenchy and Courreges, Halston, Giorgio Armani and Marc Jacobs, a good friend. She also became a muse for Michael Kors. After being chubby as a child, she was always slender and elegant as an adult, her hair worn back from her forehead in a smooth, straight, above-the-shoulders or just-past-the-shoulders cut. She often chose simple separates for day and strapless column dresses for evening. She wore a spiral-seamed, sequined silver-and-white Mila Schon evening dress to Truman Capote’s famous Black and White Ball.
Radziwill’s career as a public relations executive for Armani was by far the most successful of her work endeavors, not least because she looked absolutely wonderful in his clean-lined clothes. She once said, “Taste is emotion,” but her career as a decorator, while it once seemed promising, never brought in much money.
WWD and its then-sister publication W covered her extensively, particularly during the Sixties and Seventies, when she was part of a small group of influential women whose fashion choices and purchases in New York and Paris the publications tracked and reported on. There was particular attention paid to items ordered at the Paris couture. It was Radziwill, after all, who sneaked Givenchy pieces into the White House when her sister was supposed to be wearing only American designers.
Radziwill was married three times, to publishing executive Michael Canfield, Polish aristocrat and real estate developer Stanislas Radziwill, known as Stas, and director Herb Ross. Her first marriage was annulled, while her second and third ended in divorce. She had two children with Radziwill, Anthony, who was diagnosed with cancer and predeceased her — dying shortly after John Kennedy Jr., his cousin and close friend, was lost in a plane crash — and a daughter, Anna Christina, called Tina. Lee was a fixture on the Best Dressed List, entering its Hall of Fame in 1996.
Lee’s father Black Jack — partly named for his perpetual dark tan and partly for being mad, bad and dangerous to know —was handsome and charismatic. On the street, he was often taken for Clark Gable. But he was also a heavy drinker who was frequently unfaithful. His stockbroking fortunes declined after the Crash of 1929. When the Bouvier girls were young, their parents divorced, and their mother married a second time, to Hughdie Auchincloss, who was the heir to a Standard Oil fortune, whom they called Uncle Hugh. They went to live at his luxurious Hammersmith Farm in Newport and his Merrywood estate in McLean, Va.
As Sarah Bradford recounts in her book, “America’s Queen: the Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis,” Lee later recalled of Hammersmith: “Our trip up there was always June 1st and somewhat of a voyage because it was eight hours on the train and you took absolutely everything you’d want all summer. And it being a big farm on the bay, there was so much to do — the first animals my stepfather got when he reopened Hammersmith were two Guernsey cows that were named after us, Jacqueline and Caroline!”
Both sisters attended the tony Miss Porter’s School. Lee went to Sarah Lawrence, where she spent only three semesters, while Jackie chose Vassar. Jackie was always much more academic than her sister and got better grades. They shared certain attitudes; both were devoted to their father and considered their stepfather and his formal social life with their mother very dull.
When they were young girls, Lee was regarded as “the pretty one,” while her sister Jackie was considered “the smart one.” Lee called her sister “Jack,” while Jackie’s nickname for her was “Pekes.” Lee — their mother’s maiden name — was also Jacqueline’s middle name. The sisters were close, but also competitive. They competed for men. Black Jack openly preferred Jackie, partly because she looked so much like him. Lee had married Canfield several months before Jackie married then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, which, since in those days, an older sister was expected to marry first, was rather provocative. Lee was also involved with Aristotle Onassis before he married Jackie.
Lee wrote in her book, “Happy Times”: “One always looks up to older siblings for guidance. One tries to emulate them and follow their achievements. That’s what I did with my sister. But as we were so different physically, Jackie being strong and athletic, I being soft and chubby, I never followed her when she rode horses, in spite of my father’s efforts. “
Later in the book she added: “With the wedding, Jackie’s destiny led to another life. As the wife of the President of the United States, she was extremely busy. She had to travel a lot, and liked to have me with her as we were very close. Apart from great mutual affection, I think our strongest bond was a shared sense of humor, which was endlessly enjoyable.”
As an example, Lee recounts an anecdote that took place when she and Jackie were touring Morocco. They found themselves marooned in the harems not only of the current king but also of his father and grandfather. Suddenly, Jackie announced that Lee would entertain the group with renditions of “In An Old Dutch Garden Where the Tulips Grow,” followed by “The White Cliffs of Dover.” Lee felt compelled to comply.
One of the first times the two sisters travelled together was when they went to Europe alone in 1951, which they recounted in a book “One Special Summer,” the only book ever to feature Jackie’s drawings. Later, they famously toured India and Pakistan when Jackie was First Lady, wearing colorful shift dresses, even riding a ceremonial camel, each wearing a dress in a shade of pink and mounting a richly caparisoned elephant, also together. They were an ensemble on Onassis’ yacht, all hanging out before Jackie annexed the tycoon. Radziwill’s niece, Caroline Kennedy, was named after her.
Lee later recalled of “That Special Summer,” which was picked up by a commercial publisher in 1974 and republished in 2005, “We were so young. It was the first time we felt really close, carefree together, high on the sheer joy of getting away from our mother, the deadly dinner parties of political bores, the Sunday lunches for the same people that lasted hours; Jackie and I were not allowed to say a word.” Lee later published “Happy Times,” pictures and text about her life in the Sixties, and an autobiography, “Lee.”
“That Special Summer” is enlivened by photos of the two women and Jackie’s drawings — including photos of them walking in the streets with Jackie in a short skirt and Lee in shorts, next to text saying in a letter home that they never go out without wearing clothes they could wear to church. There is a striking illustration of the two of them in plaid summer dresses, looking at the Eiffel Tower in the distance, featured on the cover. Jackie also wrote poems for the book, although most of the other text is Lee’s.
All of Lee’s underwear fell down when she was being introduced to an ambassador at a formal party. But she also met and spoke to one of her heroes, Bernard Berenson. She had been fascinated by him since she was very young, and she was delighted to have an opportunity to spend some time with him. They had been corresponding.
She wrote, “Anything you do, he could find a philosophy for. ‘Anything you want, you must make enemies and suffer for,’ and he would much rather make enemies than be loved by all.”
He also told her, “I was born to talk and not to write, and worse still, to converse rather than to talk and then only with stimulating interlocuters. Oddly enough, these are not necessarily friends. They may be total strangers or the merest acquaintances. I delight in the flowing sympathy of the audience, but I require it to participate and stimulate…This kind of audience will not be recruited among hard-boiled, too-grown-up adults. We shall find it rather among individuals of whatever age or sex who remain adolescent-minded to the end.”
Lee noted, “Life is much more casual now. I look at pictures of myself and my friends in the early Sixties and I think of how dowdy we looked in those boxy Givenchy coats. The whole thing was overly neat.” (Most people looking at those photos today, however, would not agree — and would say instead that they looked great.)
While still married to Canfield, Lee began an affair with Stas Radziwill, and they later married, which gave her the title of princess. He was 20 years her senior and had made a fortune in real estate. She said that she never learned so much from anyone else in her entire life.
Lee Radziwill was known as a good and stalwart friend, and some of her pals, such as Truman Capote and Rudolph Nureyev, each of whom she frequently went out on the town with, had a strong influence on her life. She described the dancer to WWD in 1978: “Nureyev, like all Slavs, can be tough to deal with, but he does have immense charm.” He helped fan her already strong enthusiasm for the arts. Capote, for his part, was highly instrumental in creating her acting career, and he relished his role as Svengali. He acted as a one-man publicity team during her ventures onstage and on television, but she was savaged. She did a four-week run in Chicago in June 1967 in the role of Tracy Lord in “The Philadelphia Story,” wearing Yves Saint Laurent. Radziwill later said that she felt that the critics had written their reviews before they even saw her performance.
Her next star turn was in the title role of “Laura,” which appeared on ABC TV in January 1968. Many seemed to feel that she had only been given these roles because she was Jackie’s sister. Others have noted that the critics’ vitriol may have in part been motivated by displaced animosity toward Jackie, who, in this pre-Onassis period, was still the untouchable embodiment of American widowhood. Capote also seems not to have realized that, in getting Lee —a neophyte who had only been studying acting for a year — to perform roles that had already been brilliantly realized on-screen by other actresses, he was unwittingly setting her up for failure. To his credit, her husband hadn’t wanted her to try acting.
Cecil Beaton and Leonard Bernstein were also close friends of Lee’s.
The prominent decorator Renzo Mongiardino designed a duplex penthouse on New York’s Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park, a London townhouse and an English country place in Buckinghamshire for Lee, called Turville Grange, and she learned a great deal about interior design from him, which she was to use when she established her own career in that métier. In that role, she once described doing a house for a wealthy couple who expected to use it only three days a year.
The original Mongiardino designs for her own properties were elaborate. Over the years, certain pieces —John Wooton’s painting of a monkey playing with a dog; the figure of a giraffe, and her Bessarabian rugs — recurred in other configurations. Another notable artwork was Francis Bacon’s painting “Man in a Cage,” which Stas Radziwill had received as a payment for paying the painter’s gambling debts. In her townhouse — on Buckingham Place, only four blocks from Buckingham Palace — there was an entrance room filled with Anglo-Indian botanical watercolors. One room the decorator did for her was an Orientalist fantasy, and she posed in it for photographs by Cecil Beaton wearing a caftan given her by Hassan II of Morocco. The room was swathed in many yards of Palempore, a kind of Indian handblocked cotton that was a forerunner of chintz. She also had a bedroom in various patterns in shades of pink and white.
Andy Warhol was also a friend, and Lee was very much a part of the Warhol set. When she left Stas Radziwill for artist Peter Beard, she rented Warhol’s Montauk property from him, a complex originally designed as a fishing camp by Stanford White, and she lived there with Beard and her children. Warhol often photographed her, and they frequently attended parties together. He helped to keep her au courant. She also joined the Rolling Stones North American tour in 1972, along with Beard, who took pictures, and Capote, who was writing about the tour for Rolling Stone magazine.
When asked in a story in Interview magazine if she had any regrets about her life, she mentioned that she wished that she had been raised to have a “métier.” One job she greatly enjoyed was working for Diana Vreeland at Harpers Bazaar as a young girl. Later, she worked in the Paris offices of Vogue. These positions would seem a perfect fit for her, but she never pursued these endeavors long enough to make magazines a career.
Lee and Jackie are still au courant. A new book: “Jackie, Janet and Lee: The Secret Lives of Janet Auchicloss and Her Daughters Jacqueline Kennedy Onasssis and Lee Radziwill,” by J. Randy Taraborrelli, was published in 2018 and immediately made a stay on the New York Times bestseller list. It received a glowing assessment in The New York Times book review, with its writer observing that the character of Janet is the real revelation in the book. The author of the book, Taraborrelli, had already written two others about the Kennedy family.
While she was out in Montauk, Radziwill got into contact with the documentarian Maysles brothers, asking them to do a film about her and Jackie’s early life in East Hampton. Lee wanted her cousin Edith Beale senior to narrate the film. Their introduction to the Beales led to the Maysles becoming fascinated by Big and Little Edie, and their unusual lifestyle as eccentric recluses at their Hamptons house. The Maysles dropped their film on Lee and went on to make a celebrated documentary about the Beales named “Grey Gardens” after their ramshackle, falling-down country house with holes in its roof, filled with the scent of 60 cats, cat poop and raccoons, surrounded by overgrown grounds. Their Bouvier relatives all disliked it. It later became a musical.
When the Beales were threatened with eviction, and it was publicized, both Jackie and Lee came to their rescue financially, helping them straighten out and repair the house and bring it up to code. Aristotle Onassis provided most of the funds. Years later, the house was sold to Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, who swore that cat odors could still be detected when it rained.
After her marriage to Ross fell apart, Radziwill kept company with attorney Peter Tufo and almost married real estate investor Newton Cope, who owned the tony Huntington Hotel in San Francisco and a Nob Hill real estate firm. The marriage plans reportedly dissolved because Jackie tried to force Cope to sign a prenuptial agreement in Lee’s favor that would have provided her with $15,000 a month. Cope felt as if he were being held up and cancelled everything on the very eve of the wedding. However, Lee apparently had reportedly received approximately $20 million from Ross, who was wealthy. And she and Cope went on their honeymoon trip together anyway, since it had already been paid for.
Lee, it seems, was perennially improvident financially, and, in fact, ended up selling her Fifth Avenue penthouse because she needed the money right before the real estate market took off like a bottle rocket.
However, by contrast, her Mongiardino-influenced interior designs had the antiquarian richness for which he was known. Later, her decorating style also became considerably more minimalist.
Kenneth Battelle, the star hairdresser who tended to both Bouvier sisters, said of them, “They are two women who managed to relate to the newest without ever looking tough. They both also share a great deal of femininity. Although they have the knack of always hitting the fashion, they never lose their femininity.”
Lee’s husband Stas Radiziwill once said of her, “The little girl is very, very small. It is fantastic how much she cost to dress.” She remembered herself, “I used to have a passion for shoes. When I think of all the shoes I had made at Roger Vivier, it’s too silly.”
Despite leaving a $150 million estate — before the blockbuster sale of her personal effects that Jackie had told her children to hold — her sister left her nothing in her will, not even a piece of furniture, suggesting in that document that the reason was that she had already helped Lee out financially during her lifetime. Jackie also reportedly resented the fact that at one point their mother Janet sold an apartment and gave the resulting money to Lee only, making the point that Jackie was very rich, whereas Lee had relatively little. Toward the end of Janet’s life, she could no longer afford to keep up Hammersmith Farm, but Jackie declined to buy it and keep it for her, even though she had recently bought some supermarkets as an investment for about what the estate would cost to keep