A rapturous biography of heiress and celebrated landscape gardener Rachel "Bunny" Mellon (1910-2014).
Vanity Fair contributor Gordon (The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark, 2014, etc.) vividly details how Mellon, whose paternal grandfather developed Listerine, was raised in an ultrawealthy milieu of fox hunting, posh boarding schools, and debutante balls. She was groomed to become a lady of excellent deportment; as adoringly described by the author, she was a "fresh blossom from a prominent family" who later married Paul Mellon (Mellon Bank), "the inheritor of a robber baron fortune." Gordon’s journalistic skill (she teaches at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute) is evident in her meticulous description of Mellon's lineage and long life, a portrait constructed through research into dozens of biographies, journals, and letters going back nearly a century. Readers of Gordon’s other books will certainly enjoy her portrayals of the amusements, travels, and exploits of Mellon's peers; as demonstrated by both Mrs. Astor Regrets and The Phantom of Fifth Avenue, the author has shown great facility in recounting upper-class lives, especially those of women. Though Mellon was an acclaimed landscaper and gardener and was regarded as a woman with "an extraordinary eye and curiosity,” she was hesitant when President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jackie implored her to redesign the White House Rose Garden. (Jackie lauded Mellon as "a visual genius.”) Gordon effectively details how Mellon transformed the "forlorn and outdated" garden into a courtyard showpiece by adding magnolia and an assortment of other trees, but her admiring descriptions are occasionally overwrought. Ultimately, Gordon heeded Mellon's directive that, above all, she produce a “friendly, non-gossipy" memoir and "be kind."
A reverential biographical portrait and a window into 20th-century American aristocracy.