Marietta Peabody Tree

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Marietta Peabody Tree
Born (1917-04-17)April 17, 1917
Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died August 15, 1991(1991-08-15) (aged 74)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
Breast cancer
Nationality American
Education St. Timothy's School
Alma mater University of Pennsylvania
Occupation Socialite, political supporter
Spouse(s) Desmond FitzGerald (1939–1947)
Ronald Tree (1947–1976)
Children Frances FitzGerald
Penelope Tree
Parents Malcolm Endicott Peabody
Mary Elizabeth Parkman
Relatives Rev. Endicott Peabody (grandfather)
Endicott Peabody (brother)[1]

Marietta Peabody Tree (April 17, 1917 – August 15, 1991) was an American socialite and political supporter, who represented the United States on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, appointed under the administration of John F. Kennedy.


Early life[edit]

Marietta Endicott Peabody was the only daughter of Malcolm Endicott Peabody, the rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and Mary Elizabeth Parkman. Her grandfather Rev. Endicott Peabody was founder and first headmaster of Groton School where her four brothers Endicott, Samuel, George, and Malcolm were educated.[2]

Although born into an old New England family, Tree's parents were strictly middle-class, and were among the old-line Yankees and Episcopalians in what was fast becoming the Roman Catholic stronghold of Lawrence. Tree's mother Mary was an extensive charity worker, and encouraged her daughter to get involved with the community.

Tree attended St. Timothy's School, where she excelled in athletics above studies. An effervescent, leggy blonde, she was an accomplished flirt and irresistible to men from an early age.[3] She undertook a grand tour of Europe and finishing school in Florence upon graduation to avoid college.[4] When asked to predict her own future, she wrote down: "Parties, people, and politics."[2]

Her father insisted that she, unlike many society girls of the time, attend college, and she enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in 1936. Although she withdrew from the Class of 1940, reflecting the era's skepticism of higher education for women,[5] in later interviews she would exclaim: "I'll never stop being grateful to my father for forcing me to go to college. It changed my life."[3] In 1964 she was presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, and in 1971 with an honorary Bachelor of Arts.[5] She is also an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Desmond FitzGerald[edit]

During college, Marietta was courted by Harvard law graduate and New York lawyer Desmond FitzGerald. The couple married on September 2, 1939, and Marietta gave birth to a daughter Frances FitzGerald. Frances FitzGerald later became a noted journalist and historian.

Marietta began a career as a fact checker despite having no college degree and no prior journalistic experience, and latterly writer for Time magazine. At night she partied with the Astors, Paleys, and Warburgs; describing these years as: "a fever of happiness."[2]

Her ardent liberal Democratic views clashed with those of her Republican husband and created tensions in the marriage. After America entered the Second World War in December 1941, Marietta accepted a post as part of the American delegation assisting the British Ministry of Information.

When Desmond left New York to fulfill a role in the war effort, Marietta started a passionate and intense affair with the film director John Huston.[2] Rumors, ones often perpetuated by Tree's daughters and friends, liked to paint Marietta as "the only woman Huston ever truly loved."

Ronald Tree[edit]

Although contemplating marriage with Huston, Marietta and FitzGerald were invited to Barbados by a colleague from the British Ministry of Information. Ronald Tree, whose mother was the daughter of retail magnate Marshall Field, was then a dollar billionaire; he himself was then MP for Harborough, Leicestershire and friend of Winston Churchill. Although both were married, Marietta and Tree began an affair.[4]

Although he was bisexual and twenty years older than Marietta,[2] Tree and Peabody divorced their respective partners at the end of World War II and married on July 26, 1947. Marietta moved into Tree's home, Ditchley Park, but found herself bored with English country life. Tree and most of his friends were Conservatives, and Democrat Marietta again found herself politically isolated. Their daughter Penelope was born in 1949.

For the first time in his life short of money, Ronald Tree sold Ditchley and agreed to return to New York with Marietta, her daughter Frances Fitzgerald and their own daughter, future '60s fashion model Penelope Tree,[6] and his butler Collins.[2][7]

Politics and Adlai Stevenson[edit]

Marietta Tree immediately joined the Lexington Democratic Club, and two years later was elected the county chairwoman. She was elected to the Democratic State Committee in 1954.

In 1952, Tree became involved in the Presidential election campaign of Adlai Stevenson. After his defeat, the couple became constant companions and lovers, but Ronald Tree was unfazed and even invited Stevenson to the couple's homes in New York, Barbados and London. Marietta and Stevenson developed code names for each other – Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, and Mr. and Mrs. Richardson – and arranged trysts at various friends' houses that they considered safe.

Tree was part of Stevenson's unsuccessful 1956 Presidential campaign, and upon his return to a legal career the pair continued their affair but became slightly more distant. Stevenson also took other lovers, keeping Marietta on edge, frequently disclosing his encounters by stockpiling in a drawer by his bed a number of poems and meditations of love that he would send and receive from various women.[2]

This encouraged Tree's earlier lover, the film director John Huston, who even gave her a role in his 1960 movie The Misfits. But she was devoted to Stevenson, and although she refused to divorce Tree, she gladly accepted John F. Kennedy's offer of becoming the United States Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, aptly appointed under Stevenson as the head of the American delegation.[3] She served in this position from 1961 to 1964.

On July 14, 1965, Tree and Stevenson were walking in London when he suffered a heart attack, and later died at St George's Hospital. That night in her diary, she wrote: "Adlai is dead. We were together."[3]

Later life[edit]

Ronald and Marietta became virtually estranged. Ronald Tree died of a stroke on July 14, 1976 in London, while Marietta was in New York.

Ronald Tree left Marietta with little money, and she was forced to sell much of the couple's property to remain financially stable. She started an affair with English architect Richard Llewelyn-Davies, and financed the married man's business expansion into the United States. But Davies died suddenly, and Tree was forced to cover some of the estate's debts.[8]

Tree through her connections was able to obtain some well paid directorships, including the boards of CBS, Pan Am, and Lend Lease Corporation of Australia. She also served as women's trustee on the board of the University of Pennsylvania.[9] These positions and incomes enabled her to not only support herself, but resist calls from her later publishing and political community lovers to write her memoirs, including lover Eben Pyne. She also served on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 100th Anniversary Committee.[10]

In 1987 she appeared in the Danny Huston film Mr. North, and a few weeks before John Huston died of emphysema on August 28, 1987. Her friends in the 1980s included Donald Trump, Charles Wrightsman (who in 1986 bought the Lorenzo Lotto artwork Venus and Cupid in her honour for the Metropolitan Museum of Art);[11] and President Ronald and Nancy Reagan, the latter of whom she was criticized for in the Democratic party,[4] which she worked for until 1990 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Death[edit]

Tree fought the disease hard, including undertaking a double mastectomy, and told her friends she was suffering from influenza.[4] Tree died on August 15, 1991, at her home in New York. Her ashes were buried by her daughters.[8]

Character[edit]

Tree was brought up in a strict household, whose requirements she transferred to her own daughters: they never had dolls when children.

Isaiah Berlin characterized her political standing as, "a progressive, liberal figure who was mixed up with a lot of naive left-wing sympathizers." Like her contemporary Pamela Harriman, Marietta attained through men what women of her time were forbidden to attain for themselves. As the feminist movement gained momentum in the 1960s, Marietta refused to support its cause, and in 1967 she angered her fellow female delegates to the New York state constitutional convention, by refusing to sign three resolutions pertaining to women's rights.[12]

References[edit]

  • Seebohm, Caroline - No Regrets: The Life of Marietta Tree. Pub: Simon & Schuster, 1998 ISBN 0-684-81008-5

Notes[edit]

External links[edit]