"There are, don't you know, women who are so incandescently, overwhelmingly charming that they need be nothing else in life. I couldn't pretend to set down the formula for the chemistry that produces such extraordinary charm. Certainly the ingredients include beauty, grace, glamor, sensuality, style, poise, presence, taste, intelligence, wit, a knowledge of the world, and an ability with conversation.
But there are a lot of women with those qualities who are otherwise absolute horrors-and in this I would include not a few of those glittery trophy wives to be found at Cafe Mortimer's, Le Cirque and Bice.
The rare breed I'm talking about brings a lot more to the formula:
friendliness, warmth, sympathy, loyalty, guts, genuineness, a spirit of adventure, a little mischief and the ability to get along with people of every social station. The kind of woman who can transfix men, endear herself to other women and, just by being there, as the late Chips Channon said of the Benzedrine with which he used to lace his guests' drinks, 'make a party go.' In my own life, I've only known a handful of such women. One was a fabulous New York fashion model and artist of the 1950s named Donna Lee Hawkins, who could make every commuter in Grand Central miss his train just by strolling through and dropping her glove. Another, I daresay, is my 5-foot-12 haute couture pal, the Dangerously Strawberry Blond Jan Strimple-an unaffectedly enchanting stunner who turns heads the way reapers fell wheat and can converse knowledgeably about Madonna's underwear, balloons, existentialism, pear trees and Delacroix all within 60 seconds.
But the champion charmer of our century is a woman who, sadly, I never knew and now can never know. She came into this world in 1918 as Nancy Gross, the daughter of a Monterey, Calif., cannery owner. She left it just a few weeks ago as Nancy, Lady Keith, better known to the legends of Southern California, Manhattan, London's West End and France's Cap Ferrat as 'Slim' Keith."
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