The Sisters: Babe Mortimer Paley, Betsey Roosevelt Whitney, Minnie Astor Fosburgh: The Lives of and Times of the Fabulous Cushing Sisters Summary

David Grafton

The Sisters

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This triple biography of Mary (Minnie), Betsey, and Barbara (Babe), Cushing is a testament to a mother for whom marriage was a business; their mother, Katherine Crowell (Gogsie) Cushing reared and organized them to acquire rich and socially prominent husbands, thus providing long-term security and social eclat. Any nonsense about love had no place in the arrangements; love fades, but trust funds endure.

Despite occasional misgivings by their mother, each daughter succeeded twice. The eldest, Minnie, married first Vincent Astor, real estate tycoon, and, after a divorce settlement of several million, wed James Fosburgh, an avowed homosexual and second-rate artist. Betsey married first James Roosevelt, son of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; after a divorce she married John Hay (Jock) Whitney. Babe first married a Standard Oil heir, Stanley Mortimer, then switched to William S. Paley, president of CBS. With the probable exception of that of Babe and Jock Whitney, all the marriages were more or less failures, caused, variously, by a lack of ready cash, womanizing, drink, or simple neglect. This however seems not to have bothered the daughters, who spent the cash and continued to preside over arty salons, decorate the pages of VOGUE, and host splendid parties and receptions.

The author is highly uncritical, taking these people at their own valuation. One may doubt his frequent assertions that millions of American women looked to the Cushing sisters for charm, fashion, and values. The sisters themselves do not seem to have been very interesting people. In fact, the most interesting character in the whole book is the backbiting Truman Capote.

The book is at best pedestrian, reeking of the society page and bland with cliches of thought and expression. Lists of parties, guests, decorating schemes, and jewels abound, all rendered in an over-adjectived style. There is little attempt to present the sisters or their mother as real people. Maybe they were not real and, when not on display, simply ceased to exist.