A FRIEND ONCE ASKED ME: "Do you know the difference between the rich and - well, you and me? Vegetables." - From Truman Capote's introduction to C.Z. Guest's book, "First Garden"
C.Z. Guest is sick and tired. Sick and tired of having to apologize for, be ashamed of, be criticized for being - rich. And she's not afraid to say so.
"I'm not ashamed of the way I live," says Mrs. Winston F.C. Guest. "Look at the jobs I've given people. If you have money and servants then you're helping somebody. If rich people didn't spend money the country would be in much worse shape than it is today. If you have money then you give people pleasure. I wish I had more money. I'd spend more."
What got C.Z. Guest all riled up on the subject was a series of experiences she has had recently while publicizing her first book, "First Garden" a primer for beginners.
She recounts with horror her interview with "that dreadful" Stanly Siegel on what was then "AM New York."
There she was, all set to talk about gardening, sitting next to fighter Joe Frazier, also a guest, when Stanly Siegel turned to her. "He said to me," she recounts. "'Mrs. Guest, you're a WASP, what do you think about all the Negroes and Jews living in New York?' Well, my goodness," she says, "I mean what on earth would you answer in a situation like that? You know what I did, I looked at him and I said, 'I'm so delighted and pleased to be on this show and have the opportunity to meet such a charming man as Mr. Frazier.' But really. What a question."
But that wasn't all. She was in Atlanta promoting her book and an audacious young woman on a television interview asked her right off, "Are you rich?"
"Well, do you know what I did then? I said to her, 'Have you ever had an abortion?' Naturally she looked shocked so I said, 'My dear, you have just asked me the rudest question one human being can ask another. So I thought I would ask you the same kind of question.'"
This sort of thing was all new to C.Z. Guest and its started her thinking. Thinking about how things have changed in the last decade, how it used to be all right, even fashionable, to have money and spend it, and how, after the turmoil of the '60s, one had to be more or less: unobtrusive about one's money, downplay it, low-key it. Being rich simply was declasse. Or acting rich anyway.
So a few years after the Time magazine cover story in 1962 featuring Winston and C.Z. Guest on "Society" the Guests more or less went underground.
Then, as was the accepted thing to do in the '70s, C.Z. Guest put together her gardening book which got started by answering questions from friends, and then, of course, she had to promote it. That's when it finally hit her that she, after 10 years, was not going to be ashamed any more.
"I'm very intuitive, very sensitive to people," C.Z. Guest says. "I have good judgment and common sense. I know the difference between right and wrong. Being what I am has helped me. I think manners are the most important thing in life. How you treat each other. That's very important. To have respect, consideration. Goodness. I've been married to the same man for 30 years and manners have been very important in keeping us together."
Manners have to be taught, the same way right and wrong have to be taught and there lies the crux of C.Z. Guest's thesis.
"Perhaps," she says, "more is expected of those of use who are better educated and come from more affluent families. Because we have learned courage and learned what's right and what's wrong. Look at Nelson Rockefeller. He did the right thing at Attica. And he never would have been able to handle it so beautifully if he hadn't been brought up the way he was. It means so much. If there had been people of his background, people who had been brought up the way we were, in Nixon's cabinet, if Nixon had had the proper breeding, Watergate would never have happened. And who is the one person who came out all right? Elliot Richardson, of course. Because he was from Boston, he had been raised properly, he knew what to do, knew what was right and what was wrong."
"Oh," shesays, "I'm so glad you brought this up. No interviewer ever has and it's time somebody said these things."
Look at Doris Duke," she says warming to the subject, "I admire her so much. She has redone all of Newport. Look at the Rockefeller Foundation, all the good it's done.
"And what would Washington be without the Mellon Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution. Look what the Mellons have done for that city. The important thing about the rich is that one bothers to take the trouble and share the wealth and taste with everybody. Nobody knows that Howard Hughes had a factory in California simply for paraplegics. He was a friend of my husband's so I know. Look at the Frick Collection, look at the Ford Foundation, look at what the Kennedys have done."
She is getting very excited about the subject as she thinks of more and more examples of how and why the rich should not be denigrated.
"Poor Nelson." she says, "people are down on him because of Attica. But he did the right thing.
"Someone without his background would have done just the opposite. Look how he behaved before the Senate investigating committee, look how well he handled himself. That's because of the way he was brought up. The Rockefellers have changed the course of the world and I never hear anyone say one nice thing about the Rockefeller Foundation. Well, Nelson is proud to be a Rockefeller, He's got nothing to be ashamed of.
"Let's face it," says C.Z. Guest. "The richer you are the harder you have to work. The rich don't have to work but we like to work. We feel it is our duty. And look at the example these men have made.
"Let's fact it," she says. "I'm so happy we were brought up in these surroundings, being able to make these important decisions, to have the courage to do it. When people read this they're going to say, 'Gosh, why haven't I thought about this.'"
C.Z. Guest remembers a few years ago when Women's Wear Daily interviewed people on what they thought of the hippie look. "All those dirty, filthy people," she says. "I told them I was against it. None of those people wore underwear, no wrappers, no nightgowns. If you don't teach your children what's right they'll never do it. Even John Fairchild (WWD publisher) called and said 'Sweetie, thank God you had the courage to say it.'"
"Who," wrote Capote, "could have imagined that lurking inside this cool vanilla lady was a madcap, laughing tomboy? Well, I suppose anyone who knew her background: a trimly, tautly brought up Boston girl, the daughter of a Brahmin, she left society for stage, films and, finding no satisfaction there, went adventuring in Mexico, where Diego Rivera painted her, aged 22, as a honey-haired odalisque desnuda, a famous portrait that, according to legend, adorned a bar in Mexico City."
One can never underestimate the importance of breeding, upbringing, background, according to C.Z. Guest. She has probably got better credentials than anyone you could name - on both her own side and her husband's. Her father was Bostonian Lynde Cochrane, descended from the Fifth Earl of Douglas. Even her mother, Vivian Wessell, who was a New York voice coach and who spent five years in the theater singing in operettas, made her mark quickly once she came to Boston and when Cochrane died, Vivian Cochrane married another old-family Bostonian - Dudley L. Pickman Jr. An invitation to the Pickman house was among the most sought-after in Boston and Vivian Pickman become one of the most popular and respected figures in that city. Her daughter C.Z. (the nickname from her sister's mispronunciation of "sister") inherited her mother's sense of mischief, daring and survival and her father's blue blood which often leads her peers to explain that C.Z. has "somewhat of a split personality."
Once out of school, and after a successful coming out, she went out with Victor Mature, who was stationed in Boston during the war, appeared in a cabaret show, worked as a showgirl on Broadway, a job given her by Lee Shubert, and signed a seven-year contract with 20th Century-Fox.
When her Hollywood career lagged she whipped down to Mexico, met artist Diego Rivera and eventually posed for the now legendary nude painting which was hung over a bar in Mexico City.
As Capote says, all this was fun, but not really what she wanted. And once back in New york she lost no time in bagging Winston F.C. Guest, recently divorced from Woolworth heiress Helena McCann. He was the grandson of Henry Phipps, an early partner of Andrew Carnegie. Guest's father was British, a first cousin of Winston Churchill and Winston Guest himself was ranked one of the top polo players in the world.
After they were married C.Z. moved into the role of proper wife, mother and social leader and, according to the 1962 Time cover story, the elder Mrs. Phipps bought the Rivera portrait for $3,075. It is reportedly somewhere hidden in family storage.
C.Z. Guest is absolutely against criticizing people's children, she says, but she will say this. "I had a governess for my children. I think children are better brought up with a governess. Children need someone to discipline them. And after all, Winsto didn't marry me to be a maid. Besides, I couldn't go around with Winston, traveling, doing all the things he wanted me to do if I'd had to stay home and take care of the children. That doesn't mean I never saw them. Of course I saw them. I went fox hunting with them.
"At least," she says with a relieved sigh, "my children don't hate me."
But back to the subject of background. "I'm glad I was born in Boston, she says. I mean, would you rather be born in . . . West Virginia? If you've been brought up the way we have you have to be an example. It's a challenge. Look at the Kennedy children. I have the same mam'zelle in our house we've had for 15 years. We had our old nurse in Boston who died in our house. My daughter is 13 now. She can't go around by herself. I have a young French girl who goes with her."
The important thing, with money, according to C.Z. Guest, is using it. Not how or why, but just using it. "Look what all these men of wealth and wisdom have done with their money," she says. "All the people I know who have means or money, they use it. I'm thrilled when people come into my little shop in New York (she sells gardening things) who are rich and they bring their decorators. Think of the opportunities rich people give others. Look at Doris Duke's gardens in Newport or Mr. Dupont's gardens in Wilmington where anybody can go.
"Rich people have given most of their money away. And you know, you don't really start appreciating it until you're about 40. I never really began to appreciate it until then. I grew up with fabulous porcelains, but I was so used to it, I had been surrounded by it all my life, and I didn't really appreciate it."
How long does it take, in her opinion, before someone who has earned a lot of money, acquires the taste and style to know how to use it properly?
"Oh," comes the response, "I think about three generations."
Not only does C.Z. Guest have a rule about not criticizing other people's children, she has a rule about criticizing the way other people spend their money. That, she says, is none of anybody's business.
"I think it's awful to judge others," she says. "I work very hard to improve myself. But if somebody else wants to buy yachts and stay drunk all the time, well, that's their business. I might think they were boring and missing a lot of fun. But if they are buying yachts, they are spreading money around, circulating it and therefore helping others whether they know it or not."
But enough of all that. "I am proud I'm a Bostonian," says C.Z. Guest emphatically, "proud that I have a certain background and that I know right from wrong. All those qualities have come out in me and I appreciate that I was born like that."
Once named the best-dressed woman in the world, now elevated to the Fashion Hall of Fame, C.Z. Guest is dressed this sunny afternoon in a simple beige Ultrasuede skirt, a multicolor striped cotton shirt with the tiniest little embroidered initials c.z. on the front and low-heel shoes.
She has agreed to come to Washington to sign books in Kenneth Love's gift shop in Georgetown which carries her things. (She has a shop in New York which sells gardening furniture, clothes and chic supplies.) This is her second time around and Kenneth Love has outdone himself to make things nice for her. He prepares an elegant little lunch at his house near the shop, then has little cucumber sandwiches and iced tea with orange juice, (a C.Z. special) to serve the ladies as they browse ad talk gardening with the celebrity.
"Everybody's been terribly nice," she says. "They've taken me for what I am."
A pretty dark-haired young woman in a rather too carefully coordinated peach silk blouse, beige linen skirt and low-heel shoes comes into the shop and introduces herself to C.Z. Guest. "I would like you to sign this book for my husband for a Father's Day present," she says.
C.Z. obliges happily, signing the book and chatting away.
"My husband," says the woman, trying to make an impression, "simply adores gardening. My husband adores two things - his gardening . . . and his Bentley."
"How ma-a-arvelous," says C.Z. Guest, not batting an eye.
Truman Capote, in his introduction to her book, describes the first time he ever saw C.Z. Guest. It was at the opening of "My Fair Lady" in New York and she was being escorted by the play's costume designer, Cecil Beaton, who did the illustrations for her book, "First Garden."
Writes Capote: "As Raymond Chandler remarked of his femme fatale in 'The Long Goodbye': 'There are blondes, and then there are blondes.' Mrs. Guest, shimmering in the blue smoky light, was one of the latter. Her hair, parted in the middle and paler than Dom Perignon, was but a shade darker than the dress she was wearing, a Mainbocher column of white crepe de chine. No jewelry, not much makeup; just blanc de blanc perfection."
She is 57 now, and it is 21 years later and she is still an attractive woman, the thin aristocratic nose, the pale blue eyes, the light blonde hair - though somewhat weathered - still make their impression. The horses, the dogs, the sun, the gardening, have left their mark on what was once very delicate skin. She has a hearty look to her now, more a well-ripened white burgundy than champagne. Her once slim figure is now full.
Her voice, her accent are expected, the slightly British tones that reflect the proper Boston upbringing with the slightly clenched teeth, known in some quarters as "Long Island lockjaw," that reflect the Old Westbury residence.
She has a forthright, assured manner, the manner of someone who is used to dealing with servants all her life, used to being told she is attractive, used to being able to afford whatever she wants. She is opinionated, and used to having people agree with her. Or at least used to being around people who in fact do agree with her. She punctuates her sentences with "Don't you think" which is not so much question as cue to assent.
C.Z. Guest is to the manner born, and the first thing she notices is someone who is not. Not that you can't be friends, just that it must be established. Almost unconsciously.
She is a cheery, upbeat person, she likes to laugh. "I think you've got to be 'up,' stay very 'up,'" she says. "The Duchess of Windsor taught me that." There is a certain mechante quality about her.
Never mind. She mended her ways and married Winston F.C. Guest and went straight.
Writes Capote: "Oh, it must have been fun - but at heart she was too conservative, too countrified for all that - she needed a home and a husband and dogs and horses and children (in that order) and flower gardens and vegetable gardens; and when she met the right man, the very massive but very gentle Winsto F.C. Guest, she got them: houses, with gardens galore, in Old Westbury, Middleburg and Palm Beach."
Now that she is speaking out on behalf of the rich, (the rich never, never use the word wealthy), she has become the spokesperson for the new underdog in this country, the villified, castigated, discriminated against, unfashionable White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Rich.
"We shall overcome" has taken on a new meaning on Park Avenue, Beacon Hill, Newport, Old Westbury and Palm Beach. And Mrs. Winston F.C. Guest is, as usual, leading the pack.
"Being rich, being brought up the way I was makes me different," she says. "Why do people want to interview me? Because I've been to sophisticated houses, been around sophisticated people. I've learned a lot from these people, the Duchess of Windsor, Babe Paley, Diana Vreeland.It rubs off. Goodness. I've been in most of the beautiful houses and palaces in the world. I love beauty and style.My goodness. I wanted my houses to be always beautifully turned out and in style. It catches the eye. I'm very meticulous about my houses. I want to have the best wine, the best food, beautiful thoroughbred horses. My goodness. You have a trained eye for only the best. You breed the best for the best. There was never a better teacher for these things than the Duchess. What humor and wit and taste. My husband's father was one of the Duke's ADC's. And I've learnt so much from Diana Vreeland, from Consuelo Crespi. Diana simply made all the most successful people, you know. Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Yves St. Laurent, all those dressmakers. Diana told me to go out and do my book and be a success. If you gallop down to a 4-foot fence you have to jump it. Think positively, then go do it.
"We are what we are from our environment," she says. "I had the most fantastic environment. We were all brought up strictly. I went to Aiken to school, to Fermata (a now defunct very exclusive girls boarding school in Aiken, S.C.). I was tutored most of my life. You can have affairs, God knows I've had plenty. But you always marry somebody from your own environment"
She says that writing her book has brought her out of her environment somewhat, but at first it was hard. People always putting her down, making fun of her being rich, all that.
"I've gotten over this, people making fun," she says. "I was embarrassed at first, being best-dressed woman in the world. After all, I did compete in the horse shows at Madison Square Garden against all the best professionals. So I've gotten over all that. I can handle all that. Now I'm delighted to be who I am."
She remembers with a certain discomfort the night Henry and Ann Ford had the coming out party for Charlotte."There were reporters everywhere and when we walked in one of them yelled 'How much did your dress cost?' Well, they obviously didn't care about me at all, all they cared about was my dress. You get rather hurt, you know. They forget that we function the same way they do. We have feelings, too."
Capote writes: "A decade or so past. Time magazine published an extensive article on the upper-plateaus of American 'aristocracy' - or however you can choose to call it, and Mrs. Guest, as the magazine's top-selected exemplar, appeared on the cover in a very formal riding habit. Cold. Soignee. The Ice-Cream Lady. Maybe so, At horse shows. Or riding to hounds somewhere in Virginia. But usually, when observed galloping across the countryside, she is wearing cowboy chaps, and a man's shirt with rolled-up sleeves. She is certainly a finely-tuned sportswoman; and quite a sport, too."
And one would have a good sport to have gone through what C.Z. Guest has gone through, promoting her book in the past year, some of those terrible experiences like, she shudders, "that awful Stanly Siegel. Jesus, I thought, how do I get out of that one."
But there have been good things too, things that have made it all worthwhile.
"It's changed my life," she says. "For one thing I can give interviews now.
"Before, I would have been embarrased about the questions you would ask. I remember," she says, "being at the International Horse Show here in Washington and granting an interview and all the girl wanted to talk to me about was to compare Jackie and Mrs. Nixon. I didn't know how to do it. Before I wrote my book," she says, "people would ask me how many servants I had, about my clothes and my horses. How boring! Honestly. You can imagine how I felt being on the cover of Time magazine. Oh, it was too terrible. Really! But now," I can give interviews. Because now I'm a professional woman."
It all happened by accident, according to Mrs. Guest. She had cut her leg while riding and was sent to bed. While in bed her friends would call up and ask gardening advice and she began to make notes for them, then decided to put together a little primer. "I never thought I could do it," she says. Because I've never really sat down and thought about things. I had always been busy with my horses, playing tennis, running houses, having a family.
"I was never a professional," she says. "Never in any field. And people began asking me some really testing questions, things I'd never thought of before. I learned a lot of composure. Now I've talked to gardening clubs, gone on television shows, things I'd never thought I could do."
She says the first time she was asked to go to Atlanta to speak and promote the book, she decided to turn it down. "I went to Diana Vreeland and said, 'I don't think I can do it.' I was scared. Really frightened.I'd never been scared before in my life. But didn't think I had the confidence. Diana said, 'What are you talking about? Think of all the people who've helped you. You can't let Truman and Cecil (Beaton) down.' Truman did go with me a couple of times. And Estee Lauder helped so much. I've done it all in a year."
She says she's met people she never would have met. "All sorts of people. I wouldn't know Kenneth for instance. He came to my shop in New York and now he carries my things. people stop me on the street to ask where they can buy my jumpsuits, to say they like my arrangements.
"Now I have a garden furniture business and I also have my fragrance, an insect repellent spray."
If you closed your eyes and pretended she didn't have an accent, C.Z. Guest would sound just like any other merchant hustling her wares. "I'm much busier than I ever was before," she says. "I think women, when their children grow up, can change their lives. You can even kiss and make up your husband. Or find another husband."
She is well aware, however, that 15 or 20 years ago her "career" would not have been possible, certainly not for a woman of her station at any rate.
"It wasn't accepted then," she says. "And my husband wouldn't let me do anything. When I made the best-dressed list people came to me and wanted me to do riding shirts but Winston wanted me home with children. But now the children are more or less grown up. (She has a son, Alexander, 22, as well as her 13-year-old daughter.)
"I'm not a woman's lib," says C.Z. Guest. "But I do feel women should express themselves. have their own identity. I was totally under Winston when we first got married.
"You know," she muses. "Nobody has even said, 'gee C.Z., what courage you have."
And from Capote: "Templeton, the Guest's small and delightful estate in Old Westbury, has two hot-houses adjoining the rosebrick main house, and it is instructive to watch the mistress of the manor wandering around their misty, subtropical interiors adjusting a hyacinth here, straightening an orchid there: she seems so . . .exotic, and, I can't say why, a bit sinister like one of those ritzy enigmatic ladies in a stylish thriller. Perhaps the atmosphere of hot-houses, the quivering green light, he verdant haze scarcely rippled by slowly turining fans, makes everyone look like that."
"My mother," says C.Z., "had fantastic flowers and greenhouses. And I have always had flowers in my house. I learned everything about them from my mother after I got married. And you won't believe it, but I'm allergic to dogs and horses."
That doesn't stop her, however, from having beautiful purebred dogs and horses around her all the time. "I just usually don't go into the stable unless it's absolutely necessary and I always wear gloves when riding."
C.Z. Guest will tell you plain out, too, that she is absolutely hopeless in the kitchen. "I've luckily had the most marvelous chef for 22 years. I tell you if you put $1 million on this table right now and told me to cook a meal for four I'd to tell you I wouldn't know how. My dear, I wouldn't know how to cook an egg. I wouldn't even know how to turn on the stove. Besides," she says, sniffing, "I can't stand the smells of the kitchen. I love the smells of a stable, though. If I tried to cook I'd probably stay up all night for a week just trying to get it right. I'm perfectionist. The most difficult thing in the world for me to do would be to cook. But now everybody in New York cooks, Bill and Chessy Rayner, everybody. I always had servants."
C.Z. Guest pauses and then, after a pensive moment she says,"I still live in a very small world. I go out and do things like this and then I get back in my own little group. But with this book I've met all sorts of people, celebrities, personalities and I have something to discuss."
She was thrilled, she says, at agent Swifty Lazar's Academy Awards-night party in New York a few weeks ago, to which she was escorted by Truman Capote, thrilled to see "all those celebrities come up to me and say, 'I've read your book.' It's gotten me over being shy!"
Shy she is not. And if she ever was, there is no trace of it now. And if she ever was her new cause, taking up for the rich, has gotten her over it, given her a focus.
"There is," says Mrs. Winston F.C. Guest, "absolutely nothing wrong with money, whether you inherit it or make it. you can't do without it. You must respect it, use it, spent it, circulate it and have fun with it!"
"Vegetables?' 'Vegetables!' At Babe Paley's table, or Bunny Mellon's or Betsy Whitney's or Ceezie's - haven't you ever noticed how extraordinary the vegetables are" The smallest, most succulent peas, lettuce, the most delicate baby corn, asparagus, limas the size of cuticles, the tinest sweet radishes, everything so fresh, almost unborn - that's what you can do when you have an acre of greenhouses." - From Truman Capote's introduction.