Babe Paley : biography

July 5, 1915 - July 6, 1978

Her personal, unconventional style was enormously influential. A photograph of Paley with a scarf tied to her handbag, for example, created a trendy tidal wave that millions of women emulated. She often mixed extravagant jewelry by Fulco di Verdura and Jean Schlumberger (jewelry designer) with cheap costume pieces, and embraced letting her hair go gray instead of camouflaging it with dye. In a stroke of modernism, she made pantsuits chic. Her image and status reportedly created a strain on her marriage to William S. Paley, who insisted that his wife be wrapped in sable and completely bejeweled at all times.


In 1938, Paley began working as a fashion editor for Vogue in New York City. Her position at Vogue gave her access to designer clothes, often given in exchange for Babe's high profile and glamorous image. In 1941, Time magazine vote her the world's second best dressed woman after Wallis Simpson and before Aimée de Heeren. She was also named to the best-dressed list in 1945 and 1946.

Upon her second marriage in 1947, Paley left her job at Vogue.


Long after her death, Babe Paley remains an icon in the world of fashion and style. "Babe Paley had only one fault," commented her one-time friend Truman Capote. "She was perfect. Otherwise, she was perfect."

Many fashion designers and interior decorators continue to reference Babe Paley's style in their own creations. Paley and her "swans", much like Jacqueline Kennedy during the 1960s, exemplified a young, attractive and affluent class that many Americans aspired to join.

Final years and death

A heavy smoker, Paley was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1974. She planned her own funeral, right down to the food and wine selections that would be served at the funeral luncheon. She carefully allocated her jewelry collection and personal belongings to friends and family, wrapped them in colorful paper, and created a complete file system with directions as to how they would be distributed after her death.

Paley finally succumbed to lung cancer on July 6, 1978, the day after her 63rd birthday. She was interred in the Memorial Cemetery of St. John's Church, Cold Spring Harbor, New York. On his death in 1990, Bill Paley was interred next to her.

Fictional portrayals

Babe Paley was portrayed in the films Life of the Party: The Pamela Harriman Story (1998) by Joan Severance, Capote (2005) by Michelle Harrison and in Infamous (2006) by Sigourney Weaver.

In Jacqueline Susann's 1969 novel, The Love Machine, the characters of socialite Judith Austin and her husband Gregory Austin, CEO of a television network, were said to be based on Babe and William Paley. Dyan Cannon portrayed Judith in the 1971 film version.

In the book Fifth Avenue, 5am, which is written about the novel and film Breakfast at Tiffany's, Paley is referred to as the muse of Truman Capote with whom she was a close friend in real life.

Early life

Born Barbara Cushing in Boston, Massachusetts, she was the daughter of world-renowned brain surgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing, who was professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Yale universities, and Katharine Stone Crowell Cushing. Her older sisters both married into money and prestige: Minnie Cushing was the second wife of Vincent Astor, and Betsey Cushing married James Roosevelt, the son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and then later John Hay Whitney.

A student at the Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut, she was presented as a debutante in October 1934 in Boston, with Roosevelt's sons in attendance.New York Times, October 24, 1934 Her debut drew great attention during the Great Depression, and marked the beginning of her social career. She graduated from Winsor School in Boston in 1934.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine