A fascinating biography from the Kennedy era

American Lady: The Life of Susan Mary Alsop by Caroline de Margerie, Introduction by Frances FitzGerald is a fascinating biography of a woman born into privilege, who through her own charm and intelligence managed to move in the highest social and diplomatic circles for more than seven decades.
 
Susan Mary Alsop was no ordinary socialite. She was a descendant of one of America’s first families. As the wife of powerful influential political columnist Joe Alsop she was one the most popular and powerful hostesses in Washington during the Kennedy and Nixon administrations. President Kennedy frequently dined at the Alsop home, even stopping in on the night of his Inauguration.
 
Jacqueline Kennedy, notoriously fussy about her women friends, invited Susan Mary to participate in her renovation of the White House.
 
Susan Mary had known and admired Joe all her life. She accepted his proposal after she was widowed from her first husband, knowing Joe was a (closeted) homosexual. Eventually, they divorced because of his violent temper, but they remained friends and she continued to act as his hostess until he died. He was very good to her and her children all of his life.
 
After divorcing Joe, Susan Mary retained her position of influence in Washington. Foreign leaders, artists, and celebrities sought her out. She reinvented herself as a historian with her first book, a well-received biography of Lady Sackville. Other books followed as did a career as a writer for the prestigious Architectural Digest. Her entree to fine homes and celebrity made her ideally-suited to the job. She remained trim and chic as she worked in to her seventies.
 
The influential life she led was also fitting. As a young woman in Paris she engineered the career of her first husband, Bill Patten, by entertaining important people. She wore couture with style, spoke French, and befriended French aristocrats. Soon she was the toast of Paris and a well-known hostess in post-war Europe.
 
Susan Mary’s personal life was complicated. Her love match to Bill Patten became passionless early in their marriage due to his illnesses and lack of ambition. She never considered divorce as Bill was an excellent father and she felt she owed him her loyalty. While in Paris, Susan Mary fell in love with and subsequently engaged in a long love affair with magnetic British Ambassador to France Duff Cooper. Duff Cooper was also the husband of her good friend Lady Diana Cooper. Amazingly, Diana and Susan Mary remained friends all of their lives.
 
American Lady: The Life of Susan Mary Alsop is a fascinating and inspiring read. It tells the compelling story of how shy and often insecure woman managed to place herself at the very epicenter of power. I loved this book full of secrets and bold type names from the romantic Kennedy era.
 
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