THE SISTERS by David Grafton


Babe Mortimer Paley, Betsey Roosevelt Whitney, Minnie Astor Fosburgh: The Life and Times of the Fabulous Cushing Sisters
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 The story of the glittering trio who exemplified glamour (and shrewd matchmaking) to a captivated public gets a curiously lifeless treatment from biographer Grafton (Red, Hot, and Rich, 1987). Daughters of renowned brain-surgery pioneer Harvey Cushing, Mary (``Minnie''), Betsey, and Barbara (``Babe''), apt pupils of a strong-willed mother for whom ``marriage was a business,'' lived a saga that would put most romance novelists to shame. Betsey, favorite daughter-in-law of FDR while wife of his son James, traded up to equally well-bred (and much wealthier) John Hay ``Jock'' Whitney. Babe went from socialite Stanley Mortimer, Jr., to CBS founder William S. Paley, a demanding philanderer but rich enough to secure her position as the ``ultimate fashion and social icon of New York's dazzling scene.'' Minnie endured a miserable union with sullen multimillionaire Vincent Astor before establishing a lively artistic salon with a second husband--the impeccably patrician (and openly homosexual) painter James Fosburgh. Only Betsey managed to find marital happiness along with wealth, but none of the sisters blamed adored mother Gogsie. Featuring an unusually varied cast of society, political, and artistic figures--from the British royal family to Truman Capote--what could have been a fun, frothy gossip- fest is instead a leaden recitation of guest lists, jewelry details, and clothing descriptions. Not that Grafton doesn't drop a juicy tidbit or two--the stylish Babe had all her teeth knocked out in a teenage auto accident; Eleanor Roosevelt didn't shave her underarms--but he hedges a lot: the Astors' marriage may not have been consummated, but, then again, Minnie may have been a lesbian; on the other hand, she was Vincent's mistress for years before the wedding. Subjects who deserve at least style, if not substance, get neither in this superficial chronicle. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-394-58416-3
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Villard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1991


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