The word “socialite” is thrown around too loosely, just like the term “genius.” I have a slight obsession with socialites – the classic ones. I don’t favor the nouveaux riche girls – gold-digging, ostentatious and all too willing to use a sex tape to bolster them to very temporary tabloid fame.
At least socialites back in the day had a tougher time breaking into a man’s world. And those glass ceilings gave a lot of them gumption; one of the reasons why so many gay men adore them.
Take Millicent Rogers. An heiress to the Standard Oil fortune, she’s regarded as a fashion icon and art collector. All of these things are true. But she was also a pioneer. With art, she didn’t collect just the standard European classics. She was an early champion of Southwestern-style art and jewelry. In fact, she’s credited for bringing international attention to this style.
Most New Yorkers retreated to Palm Beach or Italy to get away from the city, but Millicent retired to Taos, New Mexico. Back in the 1940’s, Taos was but a small artist colony. It wasn’t yet the spiritual stomping ground for Julia Roberts and Dennis Hopper. She was ahead of her time. So ahead of her time, that she was one of the first celebrity activists for Native American civil rights.
But the thing I am most impressed by, is that she wasn’t a whiner. Her heart was bigger than the average heart. I’m not talking about kindness. At her autopsy, her heart was discovered to be four times the size of a regular human heart. She had rheumatic fever as a child, and doctors said she wouldn’t live past ten. While they were wrong, she suffered poor health the rest of her life. This included heart attacks, bouts of double pneumonia and by the time she was 40, she was mostly crippled in her left arm. She died following surgery for an aneurism.
That didn’t stop her from marrying three times, and having romantic trysts with the likes of Clark Gable and the Prince of Wales. She raised three children. She lobbied for civil rights in Washington. She was a hot item on the New York social scene and photographs of her were often featured in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
She never dwelled on her ill heath, failed marriages and she certainly never tried blending in with the pack. Every time she veered off the reservation, she did something great she was remembered for.