Slim Keith - the Fashion Spot
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Slim Keith
Bio from Divas The Site:
Some women are born into their fortunes, others earn them the old fashioned way: they marry them. Lady Slim Keith fell into the latter category. Born Nancy Gross in Salinas, California, Slim was an unremarkable girl in a strict, unhappy home ruled by her bigoted father. Her difficult childhood was made more bearable by her mother, as well as the John Steinbecks, their neighbors and good friends.

When she was 16, Slim persuaded her mother to let her leave school, and spend several months at a resort in Death Valley. It was there that she made the acquaintance of William Powell, one of Hollywood's leading men at the time. Through Mr. Powell, she met William Randolph Hearst and his mistress Marion Davies. Soon she was a frequent guest at their estate at San Simeon, as well as travelling with them on their yacht.

There were many qualities that made Slim a fascination to those around her. They included intelligence, a great sense of humor, beauty and a terrific interest in men. From an early age she knew to dress well; and by the age of 22, had appeared on the cover of Harper's Bazaar, something she was to do many times throughout her life. She graced the Best Dressed list almost yearly, and was the first private citizen to receive the Nieman Marcus Fashion Award. This award was usually given to designers, and awarded to honor someone who has made an impact on fashion. She was also dubbed the original "California Girl", for her golden looks and athletic ability. Reputed to have a lovely singing voice, she considered a career in opera, before deciding it was too demanding.

After a vacation with the Hearsts, Slim returned to California and began to see Mr. Powell again. She very much enjoyed the Hollywood life, and was frequently seen at parties with her good friends Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. She was also pursued by the King of Hollywood himself, Clark Gable, as well as Ernest Hemingway. But it was in 1938 that she met the man who would be her first husband, Howard Hawks.

Hawks, a noted film director, was immediately smitten with the young Slim, and did everything he could to persuade her to marry him, despite his long-standing marriage to a woman with serious emotional problems. It took 3 years, but he finally got his wish, and they married in 1941. They hired the finest architect available to design their Bel Air mansion, and entertained Hollywood's upper crust both lavishly and frequently.

Involving herself in her husband's career, Slim discovered a fashion model and thought she would be perfect for his next film. That model was Lauren Bacall, and they became lifelong friends. In her film debut, Hawks' "To Have And Have Not", she played a character named Slim, modeled after Mrs. Hawks.

Though Hawks sincerely adored her, it was not a happy marriage as he was unable to remain faithful. Shortly after the birth of their baby, she called Hemingway in Havana, and asked if she could stay with him for a while. It was there that she met her second husband, Leland Hayward. Hayward, the famous Broadway producer of South Pacific, Call Me Madam, and The Sound Of Music, was immediately infatuated with her, and determined that they should marry, in spite of his marriage to Margaret Sullavan. After Slim and Leland divorced their respective spouses, they were together for 12 years, the happiest of her life.

If Slim thought she had lived a luxurious life in Hollywood, she was surprised to see that Broadway producers could be even more generous. Mr. Hayward showered her with gifts of the finest jewels, beautiful paintings and furs of sable. Slim had arrived.

It was at this time in her life that Slim met the two people that would be her most intimate friends, Babe Paley and Truman Capote. Babe, married to William S. Paley, the chairman of CBS television, was the perfect companion for someone as sophisticated as Slim. Their shared interest in fashion and mutual devotion to the same charities insured a lifelong friendship.

In Capote, Slim found a childlike warmth and humor that she found enchanting. She understood him better than almost anyone, though she never fully trusted him. They traveled frequently, and she accompanied him to Moscow, for a production of "Porgy and Bess" that he had worked on. Their relationship was so close that she was the first to read his masterpiece, "In Cold Blood". She even negotiated the film rights for him. It was not for nothing that he called her "Big Mama".

Being social people, the Haywards traveled frequently to Europe, and Slim often went alone or with friends when Leland was involved in a production. It was on one of these trips, a sailing vacation in the Mediterranean with David O. Selznick and Jennifer Jones, that the Hayward union finally unraveled.

While away, Leland had made the acquaintance of Pamela Churchill (much later to be known as Pamela Churchill Harriman, ambassador to France), who was determined to become the next Mrs. Hayward - something she managed in short measure.

Alone again and very much afraid, Slim was happy to meet Sir Kenneth Keith, a British millionaire businessman. Though she was not in love with him, nor he with her, they both recognized the advantage of the union. For Kenneth, it meant acquiring a beautiful, financially independent woman with social connections; for Slim, it meant being married again and acquiring a title. They both thought of it as more of a merger than a marriage.

With Sir Kenneth, the now Lady Slim was able to live in a style she had only ever dreamed of before. They had a home in London, and a large, 18th century country house named The Wicken. She worked tirelessly to help her husband's business, and made tremendous inroads into British society. She learned to shoot, and the hunting parties she organized were legendary.

However, a loveless union will not last long, and Sir Kenneth and Lady Keith finally divorced. For Slim, it was disappointing, but she could no longer live with a man who was so obsessed with money. Sir Keith had actually asked her for a secret Mexican divorce, so they could drop into a lower tax bracket with no one being the wiser. With that request, he finally drew the blinders from her eyes, and she returned to New York for a proper American divorce.

The 1970s were a difficult time of readjustment for Slim. She lost both her best friends, Babe and Truman. Babe, an inveterate smoker, died of lung cancer; Truman was banished from Slim's life after using her as the main character in his book "Answered Prayers". Though her name was disguised, anyone who knew her could see in an instant just who "Lady Ina Coolbirth" was. Though he tried several times to beg her forgiveness, Slim never spoke to Truman again.

The last years of her life were spent pursuing travel and quiet social activities in New York. Slim died in 1990, leaving behind a legacy that few can match. Her grace, charm, and good looks melded perfectly with the times, to create the first Social Goddess for a modern era. Looking at her photos evokes the spirit of "To Have And Have Not". One can picture a youthful Slim leaning sultrily against a wall and saying to Bogart, "You know how to whistle, don'tcha? Just put your lips together, and ... blow!"

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Credit to Rex, Getty, Corbis

With 1st hubby Howard Hawks on their wedding day

With Diana Vreeland and Vreeland's hubby, Reed

With the love of her life, 2nd hubby Leland Hayward

With Clark Gable

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