John Hay Whitney

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the ambassador, publisher, philanthropist and investor. For the venture capital firm founded by John Hay Whitney, see J.H. Whitney & Company.
His Excellency
John Hay Whitney
United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
In office
February 11, 1957 – January 14, 1961
Monarch Elizabeth II
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by Winthrop W. Aldrich
Succeeded by David K. E. Bruce
Personal details
Born August 17, 1904
Ellsworth, Maine
Died February 8, 1982 (aged 77)
Manhasset, New York
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Mary Elizabeth Artemus
(m. 1930; div. 1940)

Betsey Cushing Roosevelt
(m. 1942)
Children Kate Roosevelt Whitney
Sara D. Roosevelt Whitney
Parents Payne Whitney
Helen Julia Hay
Relatives See Whitney family
Education Groton School
Alma mater Yale College
Awards Legion of Merit
Benjamin Franklin Medal[1]

John Hay Whitney (August 17, 1904 – February 8, 1982), colloquially known as Jock Whitney, was U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune, and president of the Museum of Modern Art. He was a member of the Whitney family.

Early life[edit]

Helen Hay Whitney and her six-year-old son, John Hay Whitney (October 12, 1910)

Whitney was born on August 17, 1904, in Ellsworth, Maine, Whitney was a descendant of John Whitney, a Puritan who settled in Massachusetts in 1635, as well as of William Bradford, who came over on the Mayflower. His father was Payne Whitney, and his grandfathers were William C. Whitney and John Hay, both presidential cabinet members. His mother was Helen Hay Whitney.[2]

The Whitneys' family mansion, Payne Whitney House on New York's Fifth Avenue, was around the corner from James B. Duke House, home of the founder of the American Tobacco Co. Whitney's uncle, Oliver Hazard Payne, a business partner of John D. Rockefeller, arranged the funding for Duke to buy out his competitors.

Jock Whitney attended Groton School, then Yale College. He joined Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Phi chapter), as his father had. Whitney, his father, grandfather, and great-uncle were oarsmen at Yale, and his father was captain of the crew in 1898. He was a member of Scroll and Key. While at Yale, he reputedly coined the term "crew cut" for the haircut that now bears the name.[citation needed] After graduating in 1926, Whitney went to Oxford University, but the death of his father necessitated his returning home. He inherited a trust fund of $20 million (approximately $210 million in 2005 dollars), and later inherited four times that amount from his mother.


Business career[edit]

In 1929, Whitney was hired as a clerk at the firm of Lee, Higginson, where he met Langbourne Meade Williams, Jr., the son of the founder of Freeport Texas Co., a sulfur mining company. Williams enlisted his aid in ousting the chairman of his family's company by buying shares of the company. Whitney soon was Freeport's biggest shareholder, enabling Williams to sack the chairman and his management team. Williams became Freeport's president in 1933 and Whitney was appointed Chairman of the Board.[3]

In 1946, Whitney founded J.H. Whitney & Company,[2] the oldest venture capital firm in the U.S.,[4] with Benno C. Schmidt, Sr., who coined the term "venture capital." Whitney put up $10 million to finance entrepreneurs with business plans who were unwelcome at banks. In 1958, while he was still ambassador to the United Kingdom, his company Whitney Communications Corp. bought the New York Herald Tribune,[5] and was its publisher from 1961 to its closure in 1966.[6] Whitney Communications also owned and operated other newspapers, plus magazines and broadcasting stations.[7]

Theatre and motion pictures[edit]

Whitney invested in several Broadway shows, including Peter Arno's 1931 revue Here Goes the Bride, a failure that cost him $100,000, but was more successful as one of the backers of Life with Father.

An October 1934 Fortune article on the Technicolor Corporation noted Whitney's interest in pictures. He had met Technicolor head Herbert Kalmus at the Saratoga Race Course. In 1932, Technicolor achieved a breakthrough with its three-strip process. Merian C. Cooper of RKO Radio Pictures approached Whitney with the idea of investing in Technicolor. They joined forces and founded Pioneer Pictures in 1933,[2] with a distribution deal with RKO to distribute Pioneer's films. Whitney and his cousin Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney bought a 15% stake in Technicolor.[8]

Whitney was also the major investor in David O. Selznick's production company Selznick International Pictures, putting up $870,000 and serving as Chairman of the Board. He put up half the money to option Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind for the Selznick film version, in which he then invested, and later in Rebecca (1940).[2]

Military career[edit]

Whitney served in the United States Army Air Forces as an intelligence officer during World War II, assigned to the Office of Strategic Services. He was taken prisoner by the Germans in southern France,[9] but escaped when the train transporting him to a POW camp came under Allied fire.[10][11]

Thoroughbred horse racing[edit]

Jock Whitney on the cover of Time (March 27, 1933)

Whitney inherited his family's love of horses, a predilection he shared with his sister, Joan Whitney Payson. Jock and his sister ran Greentree Stables in the U.S., owned by their mother. In 1928, he became the youngest member ever elected to The Jockey Club.[12]

Whitney and his first wife "Liz" raced horses both in the United States and in Europe. He owned Easter Hero who won the 1929 and 1930 editions of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In the 1929 Grand National, his horse twisted a plate and was beaten by a nose at the finish. Although Whitney entered the Grand National annually, he never again came close to winning.

The Whitneys entered four horses in the Kentucky Derby in the 1930s, "Stepenfetchit," which finished 3rd in 1932, "Overtime," which finished 5th in 1933, "Singing Wood," which finished 8th in 1934, and "Heather Broom," which finished 3rd in 1939.

Jock Whitney was also an outstanding polo player, with a four-goal handicap, and it was as a sportsman that he made the cover of the March 27, 1933, issue of Time magazine.

Political life[edit]

Whitney was the major backer of Dwight D. Eisenhower. President Eisenhower appointed him United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom,[2] a post held sixty years earlier by Whitney's grandfather John Hay.[13] Whitney played a major role in improving Anglo-American relations, which had been severely strained during the 1956 Suez Crisis, when Eisenhower demanded that the British, French and Israelis terminate their invasion of Egypt.[14]

Personal life[edit]

In 1930, Whitney purchased the Llangollen estate as a bridal gift for his fiancée, the Pennsylvania socialite Mary Elizabeth "Liz" Altemus. It was a 2,200-acre (890 ha) historic equestrian farm just outside Middleburg, Virginia. They were married on September 23, 1931.[15] Although married to Altemus, Whitney was romantically linked to Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Bennett, Paulette Goddard and Joan Crawford. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard met at one of Whitney's parties. In the early 1930s, Jock Whitney began an affair with Nina Gore Vidal; at the same time Mary Altemus Whitney had an affair with Nina Vidal's husband Eugene Vidal.[16] The couple divorced in 1940,[15] but Liz Whitney remained there for the rest of her life, becoming an internationally renowned horse breeder and a member of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association Hall of Fame.

In 1942, he married Betsey Cushing Roosevelt Whitney, ex-wife of James Roosevelt, son of Franklin D. Roosevelt,[17] and adopted her two daughters:[2]

Whitney met Fred Astaire in New York City while the former was a student at Yale University and they became lifelong friends, sharing a passion for horse racing. Whitney became a major investor in two of Astaire's Broadway stage vehicles, The Band Wagon (1930) and Gay Divorce (1932), and played a crucial role in securing for Astaire a contract with RKO Pictures in 1933, using his contacts with Merion C. Cooper - both men were board members of Pan American Airways whose planes were prominently featured in Astaire's breakthrough film with Ginger Rogers: Flying Down to Rio (1933).[18]

During the 1970s, Whitney was listed as one of the ten wealthiest men in the world. The residences at his disposal over the years included an estate on Long Island; Greenwood Plantation in Georgia; a townhouse and an elegant apartment in Manhattan; a large summer house on Fishers Island, near New London, Connecticut; a 12-room house in Saratoga Springs, which the Whitneys used when they attended horse races; a golfing cottage in Augusta, Georgia, where he was a member of the Augusta National Golf Club; and a spacious house in Surrey, England, near the Ascot Racecourse. Mr. Whitney also owned an estate in Aiken, South Carolina, which he considered his 'retirement' home and where he hoped to spend his final days.[2]

Whitney died on February 8, 1982 at North Shore Hospital, Manhasset, Long Island, after a long illness[2]


Payne Whitney made substantial gifts to Yale, to the New York Presbyterian Hospital, and the New York Public Library. After his father's death, the family built the Payne Whitney Gymnasium at Yale in his honor. The family also financed Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic at New York Presbyterian Hospital in 1932.

Whitney created the John Hay Whitney Foundation for educational projects in 1946.[2] The Foundation provided fellowships to the racially and culturally deprived. He became a major contributor to Yale University, where he served as a Fellow of the Corporation.[19]

In 1951, he and his wife Betsey Cushing Whitney donated land from their "Greentree" estate in Manhasset, New York toward the building of North Shore Hospital. Currently called North Shore University Hospital, it is the flagship hospital of the 3rd largest not-for-profit secular healthcare system in the United States, the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.[20]

In 1953, Whitney received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York."

In the late 1960s/early 1970's John Hay Whitney donated two small parcels of land in Manhasset to the County of Nassau and to the Manhasset-Lakeville Volunteer Fire Department. The Nassau County parcel was the new home for the 6th Police Precinct of the Nassau County Police, located at the S/E intersection of Community Drive and East Community Drive. Just east of the 6th pct, at 2 E Community Dr., the M-LFD parcel was the new home of Fire Company #2 of the M-LFD, where John Hay Whitney was voted in by the membership of Company number two as an Honorary Member of the Company.

Museum of Modern Art[edit]

In 1930 Whitney was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and named President of the MoMA Film Library in 1935. In 1941 he succeeded Nelson A. Rockefeller as President of MoMA.[21][22]

Art collection[edit]

Among the paintings in his collection, Jock Whitney's prized possession was the Bal au moulin de la Galette painted in 1876 by the French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir.[2] In 1990, his widow put the painting up for auction with Sotheby's, New York and it sold for US$78 million to Japanese businessman, Ryoei Saito.


  1. ^ "Whitney Wins Franklin Medal". The New York Times. 24 May 1963. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "JOHN HAY WHITNEY DIES AT 77; PUBLISHER LED IN MANY FIELDS". The New York Times. 9 February 1982. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  3. ^ "John Hay Whitney Elevated.". The New York Times. 24 March 1934. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  4. ^ News, Bloomberg (14 June 2000). "Metro Business; A Change of Identity For J. H. Whitney". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  5. ^ "JOHN HAY WHITNEY ILL; Herald Tribune Publisher Is Recovering From Influenza". The New York Times. 25 October 1961. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  6. ^ Bigart, Homer (13 August 1966). "Closing of Herald Tribune Is Reported Decided Upon; Owners of Merged Papers Said to Have Acted After Study Showing Gloomy Outlook for Morning Publication Decision Is Reported Reached For Closing of Herald Tribune". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  7. ^ Times, Special To The New York (29 August 1958). "Herald Tribune's New Owner Known as Amiable Diplomat; John Hay Whitney, Philanthropist and Sportsman, Proved Himself an Astute Envoy to London". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  8. ^ "NEWS OF THE SCREEN; Selznick Absorbs Pioneer -- Cinema 'Winterset' Under Way -- Prospectus and Other Matters.". The New York Times. 22 June 1936. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  9. ^ "J. H. WHITNEY CAPTURED; | Colonel Reported Taken by Germans Somewhere in France". The New York Times. 30 August 1944. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  10. ^ Times, Wireless To The New York (15 September 1944). "Allies Confirm Escape Of Col. 'Jock' Whitney". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  11. ^ "Col. Whitney in Washington". The New York Times. 30 September 1944. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  12. ^ "J. H. WHITNEY IS HONORED; Named Outstanding Horseman of Decade-Gallant Fox Chosen". The New York Times. 3 June 1937. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  13. ^ Times, Special To The New York (29 December 1956). "NEW ENVOY TO LONDON". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  14. ^ Times, Special To The New York (1 September 1957). "Whitney Flies Back to London". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  15. ^ a b "MRS. JOHN H. WHITNEY IN RENO FOR DIVORCE; States Intention on Arrival-- Both Interested in Horses, Films". The New York Times. 8 April 1940. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  16. ^ Kaplan, Fred (1999). Gore Vidal, A Biography. New York: Doubleday. p. 61. ISBN 0-385-47703-1. 
  17. ^ "Mrs. Cushing Roosevelt Becomes Bride Here of John Hay Whitney; Former Wife of President's Eldest Son Wed to Wealthy Sportsman and Financier in a Simple Home Ceremony.". The New York Times. 2 March 1942. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  18. ^ Schwartz, Rosalie (2004). Flying Down to Rio. Texas: Texas A&M University Press. p. 299. ISBN 1-58544-382-4. 
  19. ^ Times, Special To The New York (20 December 1950). "SCHOLARS' LECTURESHIPS; Whitney Fund to Underwrite Foreigners' Visits to U.S.". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  20. ^ Times, Special To The New York (23 June 1947). "WHITNEY GIFT DOOMS 'GRUESOME GATEWAY'". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  21. ^ "John Hay Whitney Succeeds Nelson A. Rockefeller as President of Museum of Modern Art" (PDF). Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  22. ^ "J.H. WHITNEY HEADS MODERN MUSEUM; Head of Art Film Library Is Successor to N. A. Rockefeller, Who Resigned Post ART OF TODAY IS PRAISED New President Pledges His Effort to Widen Public's Appreciation of It". The New York Times. 10 January 1941. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  • Kahn Jr., E.J. (1981). Jock: The Life and Times of John Hay Whitney. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-385-14932-8. 

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Winthrop W. Aldrich
U.S. Ambassador to the
United Kingdom

Succeeded by
David K. E. Bruce