Gordon (Mrs. Astor Regrets) illuminates the virtues and contradictions of socialite Bunny Mellon (1910–2014) in this entertaining tell-all chronicle. Making use of newly available private papers, Gordon paints her subject as an entitled woman with a green thumb and a complex patriotic streak. Over the course of the book, the Listerine-fortune heiress, born Rachel Loew Lambert, evolves from shy schoolmate of interior designer Sister Parish at Foxcroft preparatory school to staunch Democrat and “first friend” during Camelot’s heyday to a centenarian planning her own funeral, with a role for Bette Midler singing “The Rose.” (When the time came, Midler complied.) Mellon’s most celebrated attribute—her aptitude for landscaping—resulted in a request from Pres. John F. Kennedy to design the White House Rose Garden. She had many contradictions. While she flaunted her friendship with Hubert de Givenchy, an overtly gay fashion designer, it took decades for her to accept her daughter’s sexual orientation. Despite her generosity to such public figures as John Edwards—she donated millions to his 2008 presidential bid—she wrote a parsimonious will that disappointed her heirs. Gordon peppers the book with interviews with intimates of Mellon’s such as her goddaughter Caroline Kennedy, who recalls that Mellon “and Mummy were best of friends... with their own special language.” The result is a juicy behind-the-scenes tale of American aristocracy. Photos. (Oct.)
From her birth into the Lambert pharmaceutical family through her second marriage to billionaire Paul Mellon, Bunny Mellon's life was one of privilege. Her friends and associates comprised a who's who of politicians, dignitaries, financiers, and socialites, while Mellon herself drew recognition as an art collector, philanthropist, style innovator, and, particularly, landscape designer (one of her renowned accomplishments was designing the White House Rose Garden at the request of close friend and former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy). Gordon (Mrs. Astor Regrets; The Phantom of Fifth Avenue) captures the multiple components of this memorable woman's life, skillfully setting the stage with absorbing details about the family, cultural, and historical elements that helped shape Mellon's world, engagingly sharing the many facets of her 103 years and event-filled journey. The essence of Mellon's personality—independent and deeply enigmatic—shines throughout. The exhaustive and original research, drawn from journals, letters, personal interviews, and previous conversations with Mellon, is smoothly integrated into this admirable work. More than a biography, this title also reflects the people, places, trends, and events of the 20th century and beyond. VERDICT This well-written work transcends one woman's story to present keen insights into the complex fabric of American culture and history. It should appeal to a broad audience.—Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ
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.
"Jacqueline Kennedy looked up to her socially. President Kennedy counted on her good taste to design the Rose Garden. Rachel 'Bunny' Mellon lived in a world ardently protected by discreet guards, long driveways, and noble family retainers. Thanks to Meryl Gordon we get past them."
Chris Matthews, anchor, MSNBC's Hardball, and author of Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero
"With an eye for telling detail balanced by nuanced understanding, Meryl Gordon explores Bunny Mellon's impeccably designed homes and gardens as well as the marital deceptions, family tragedies, intense friendships, and political intrigues. A tale of surprising creativity and resilience."
Sally Bedell Smith, author of Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life
"Meryl Gordon's heroic reporting and shrewd insights have given us a fully drawn portrait of one of the twentieth century's most compelling figures, by turns warmhearted and cold-blooded, coping with an emptiness no treasure chests of jewels and art could fill."Jeff Greenfield, author of If Kennedy Lived
"Who better than the wry, insightful Meryl Gordon to chronicle the life and legacy of such a colorful woman? Gordon is a master at delighting her readers with equal parts history and dish."
Julia Glass, award-winning author of Three Junes and A House Among the Trees
"As stylish and fascinating as its subject, this book is a biographical tour de force."
Linda Fairstein, New York Times bestselling author
"Meryl Gordon's enchanting story takes us deep inside a lost world of taste and class-a world, as Caroline Kennedy said of Bunny Mellon's life, that was 'beautiful, well-built, and infinitely interesting.'"
Jonathan Alter, author of The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies
"Journalist Gordon...again fascinatingly chronicles the remarkable life of an elite twentieth-century American woman....Readers interested in gardening, art, and interior design will drool over Bunny's fine tastes, and her ease at fulfilling every one of them, but all lovers of biographies will marvel at Gordon's portrayal of Bunny's long life, and the significant figures who buzzed in and out of it."Booklist (Starred Review)
"Gordon illuminates the virtues and contradictions of socialite Bunny Mellon (1910-2014) in this entertaining tell-all chronicle... The result is a juicy behind-the-scenes tale of American aristocracy."Publisher's Weekly
"A rapturous biography.... and a window into 20th century American aristocracy."Kirkus
"A gossipy read."Wall Street Journal