Pauline de Rothschild

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Pauline, Baroness de Rothschild (née Potter; December 31, 1908 – March 8, 1976) was a writer, a fashion designer, and, with her second husband, a translator of both Elizabethan poetry and the plays of Christopher Fry.[1] She was named, with Diana Vreeland, who was added to this list in 1964, to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1969, alongside Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Dean Acheson, Angier Biddle Duke, Cary Grant, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

She was born Pauline Potter at 10 rue Octave Feuillet in the Paris neighborhood of Passy, to wealthy expatriate American parents of Protestant background.[4][5] Her mother was Gwendolen Cary, a great-grand-niece of Thomas Jefferson and a distant cousin of Britain's Lords Falkland and Cary.[6][7] Her father was Francis Hunter Potter, a playboy who was a grandson of Alonzo Potter, an Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania, and a nephew and great-nephew of successive Episcopal bishops of New York, Horatio Potter and Henry Codman Potter.[6]

Potter was a member of several families that were prominent in the American South since the 17th century. She was a great-great-granddaughter of Francis Scott Key and a direct descendant of Pocahontas.[8][9] His wife Mary Tayloe Lloyd Key was both a Lloyd, daughter of Edward Lloyd IV of Wye House and a Tayloe of Mount Airy on her mother, Elizabeth's side, the daughter of John Tayloe II and sister to John Tayloe III of The Octagon House, arguably the wealthiest American, if not Southern Planter. Her grand-aunts Jennie and Hetty Cary (wife of the Confederate general John Pegram) were well-known figures during the Civil War, known as the "Cary Invincibles" and considered heroines for sewing battle flags. It was Jennie Cary who put the words of James Ryder Randall's poem "Maryland, My Maryland" to the German folk song "Lauriger Horatius", thereby creating what would become the state song of Maryland. Her mother's cousin and sometime guardian Constance Cary Harrison was one of the United States' best-known women in the late 19th century, a prominent novelist and social reformer. Another cousin, Francis Burton Harrison, served as Governor General of the Philippines and was a Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency.[10]

Due to her parents' frequent separations and subsequent divorce and their later marital and romantic entanglements and custody disputes, she was brought up in varying degrees of poverty and luxury in New York City, Paris, Biarritz, and Baltimore.[1] She was educated at a private finishing school in Groslay, a town north of Paris, as well as schools and tutors elsewhere in France and Maryland, but her formal education was effectively over by the age of 16.[1]

By her father's second marriage to Clara Waterman Knight Colford (formerly Mrs. Sidney Jones Colford), a Philadelphia sugar and utilities heiress, she had two stepsisters, Clara and Dorothy.[11]

First marriage[edit]

In 1930, in Baltimore, Maryland, she married Charles Carroll Fulton Leser (1900–1949), a descendant of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, an art restorer, who was the younger son of a prominent judge and a grandson of one of the city's leading newspaper publishers.[12][13] He also was an alcoholic and a homosexual.[1][14] After moving to Majorca, Spain soon after their marriage, they separated in 1934, divorced in 1939, and had no children.[10]


After she and Leser separated, she was romantically involved with a number of prominent men, including Paul-Henri Spaak (a Prime Minister of Belgium), American diplomat Elim O'Shaughnessy (1907-1966), French horticultural heir André Levesque de Vilmorin [Wikidata] (1907-1987), Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovitch Romanov of Russia (one of the assassins of Rasputin), and producer-director Jed Harris.[14][15] For a period of years she also was the lover of Isabelle Kemp, an heiress to a New York drug-store and real-estate fortune.[1][16][17]


In the early 1930s, she worked as a personal shopper in New York City, acting as a fashion advisor to wealthy socialites too busy to shop and too unsure of their personal style. Later, after moving to Europe with her first husband, she operated dress shops on Majorca.[1] She also worked for the couturier Elsa Schiaparelli in London and Paris and often was seen in society columns dressed in the firm's latest creations.[1]

In the early 1940s, she and a friend, Louise Macy, a former editor of Harper's Bazaar, opened Macy-Potter, a short-lived fashion house, in New York City. The firm was bankrolled by a monetary settlement from Macy's former lover, millionaire John Hay Whitney, a.k.a. Jock Whitney, who had left her to marry Betsey Cushing, a former daughter-in-law of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Though Macy-Potter's first (and only) collection was a critical and financial disaster,[18] Potter went on to design a collection for Marshall Field and later to direct the custom-fashion division of Hattie Carnegie, the New York fashion company, succeeding Jean Louis, who left in 1943 to become chief fashion designer for Columbia Pictures.[5][19]

She remained at Hattie Carnegie for nearly a decade and was known professionally as Mrs. Fairfax Potter.[5] Philippe de Rothschild and Joan Littlewood, Milady Vine: The Autobiography of Philippe de Rothschild (London: Jonathan Cape, 1984) Among her clients were the Duchess of Windsor, automotive heiress Thelma Chrysler Foy, actress Gertrude Lawrence, actress Ina Claire, and prominent others. She also designed the women's costumes for John Huston's Broadway 1946 production of No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre, starring Ruth Ford and Annabella. The gown she designed for Ford is in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

Potter also worked briefly as an uncredited fashion model. One assignment for Harper's Bazaar had her posing in the latest Grecian-style gowns for the photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe.

Second marriage[edit]

On 8 April 1954, after several years as one of his several mistresses, she became the second wife of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, a noted playboy and poet who was the owner of the fabled French winery Château Mouton Rothschild.[1] The baron's previous wife, Elisabeth Pelletier de Chambure, died in 1945 in Ravensbrück concentration camp.[20]

By this marriage, she had one stepchild, Philippine de Rothschild (1933–2014).[5]

Literary pursuits[edit]

de Rothschild admired the works of the Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima and the stories of Danish writer Isak Dinesen, and she hoped to make her mark as a writer.[1] Her articles about fashion, travel, and other subjects were published in Harper's Bazaar and Vogue (the latter's editor in chief, Diana Vreeland, was a distant cousin).[21] In 1966, Harcourt Brace published her only book, The Irrational Journey, a brief, atmospheric memoir of a trip she and her husband took to the Soviet Union in the dead of winter.[5]


Pauline de Rothschild died on 8 March 1976, of a heart attack in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel, in Santa Barbara, California.[22] She previously had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had undergone open-heart surgery for a deteriorated valve in 1975.[1] Rothschild's health problems were exacerbated by Marfan's syndrome, a genetic abnormality.


She is buried on the grounds of Château Mouton Rothschild in Pauillac, Bordeaux, France, beneath a translucent tomb made of Lalique glass and marble. The monument also contains the remains of her second husband and his parents, Mathilde and Henri de Rothschild.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Philippe de Rothschild and Joan Littlewood, Milady Vine: The Autobiography of Philippe de Rothschild (London: Jonathan Cape, 1984)
  2. ^ Marylin Bender, "A New Goal for the Ambitious Male: The Best Dressed List", The New York Times, 13 January 1969
  3. ^ Bernadine Morris, "Wives Proud of 'Best-Dressed' Husbands", The New York Times, 12 January 1970
  4. ^ Jerry Rosco, Glenway Wescott, Personally (University of Wisconsin Press, 2002)
  5. ^ a b c d e Frank J. Prial, "Baroness Pauline de Rothschild Dies", The New York Times, 9 March 1976
  6. ^ a b "Francis H. Potter Weds in England; Nephew of Bishop Potter Marries Miss Gwendolyn [sic] Cary at Westminster", The New York Times, 22 October 1907
  7. ^ Her maternal great-grandmother, Jane Margaret Carr Cary, was a daughter of Thomas Jefferson's sister, Martha Jefferson, and Jefferson's best friend, Dabney Carr.
  8. ^ Stuart E. Brown, Lorraine F.Myers, and Eileen M. Chappel, Pocahontas’ Descendants, The Pocahontas Foundation, 1985, reprinted 2003 by the Genealogical Publishing Co. Her mother's line of descent from Pocahontas is (1) John Rolfe (1585 - ~1622) & Pocahontas (~1595 - ~1617); (2) Thomas Rolfe (~1615 - ) & Jane Poythress; (3) Jane Rolfe (1650 - 1676) & Col. Robert Bolling (1646 - 1709); (4) John Bolling (1676 - 1729) & Mary Kennon (1679 - ); (5) Jane Bolling (1698 - 1767) & Col. Richard Randolph, (1689 - 1748); (6) Mary Randolph, (1727 - 1781) & Archibald Cary (1721 - 1787); (7) Anne Cary, (~1745 - 1789) & Thomas Mann Randolph, (1741 - 1793); (8) Virginia Randolph, (1786 - ) & Wilson Jefferson Cary (1784 - 1823); (9) Wilson Miles Cary (1806 - 1877) & Jane Margaret Carr; (10) Sydney Carr Cary (1845 - 1896) & Pauline Playford; (11) Gwendolen Playford Cary
  9. ^ The descent from Key is as follows: Francis Scott Key married Mary Tayloe Lloyd = Philip Barton Key (1818-1859) married, in 1845, Ellen Swann = Alice Lloyd Key (1855-) married Francis Hunter Potter Sr = Francis Hunter Potter Jr married Gwendolen Cary = Pauline Potter Leser de Rothschild. This line of descent has been established through period newspaper articles (particularly those about the famous murder of U.S. District Attorney Philip Barton Key by Congressman Daniel Sickles in 1859, an episode that is the subject of the book American Scoundrel by Thomas Keneally).
  10. ^ a b Jerry Rosco, Glenway Wescott, Personally (University of Wisconsin Press, 2002), page 55
  11. ^ "Mrs. Colford Weds F.H. Potter in Nice", The New York Times, 8 April 1921
  12. ^ Marriage Announcement: Potter-Leser", The New York Times, 17 September 1930
  13. ^ "A New Tintoretto", The Art Digest, September 1930
  14. ^ a b Mitchell Owens, "Remembrance of Beauty", Nest Magazine, Winter 1998/1999
  15. ^ Evelyn Keyes, Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister: My Lively Life In and Out of Hollywood (Lyle Stuart, 1977)
  16. ^ "A.T. Kemp, Member of Old-Time Family", The New York Times, 26 January 1945
  17. ^ "Obituary: Isabelle Kemp", The New York Times, 8 July 1965
  18. ^ According to Annette Tapert's book The Power of Style (Crown, 1994), "To all eyes, Pauline Potter laid the most complete egg that had ever been laid, to all eyes but one. Hattie Carnegie, who wouldn't have sold one single piece on that line, went behind the scenes and offered Pauline a job .... (page 127)
  19. ^ David Leddick, Intimate Companions: A Triography of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus, Lincoln Kirstein, and Their Circle (Macmillan, 2001), page 165
  20. ^ Frank J. Prial, "Philippe de Rothschild, 85, Dies; Maker of Château Mouton Wine", The New York Times, 21 January 1988
  21. ^ Eleanor Dwight, Diana Vreeland (William Morrow, 2002)
  22. ^ "Baroness de Rothschild Dies", The New York Times, 9 March 1976


  • Philippe de Rothschild and Joan Littlewood, Milady Vine: The Autobiography of Philippe de Rothschild (London: Jonathan Cape, 1984).
  • Mitchell Owens, Pauline On My Mind, The New York Times, 5 November 2000,
  • Mitchell Owens, Remembrance of Beauty, Nest Magazine, Winter 1998/1999.
  • Architectural Digest, May/June 1997, pages 118-123.
  • Joseph Holtzman, Derry Moore, and Carl Skoggard, Rooms (Rizzoli, 2006).
  • Edited with essay by Barbara Plumb, Photographs by Horst P, Horst, Horst: Interiors, Bulfinch Press, Boston, 1993.
  • Frank J. Prial, Baroness Pauline de Rothschild Dies, The New York Times, 9 March 1976.
  • Frank J. Prial, Philippe de Rothschild, 85, Dies; Maker of Château Mouton Wine, The New York Times, 21 January 1988.
  • Annette Tapert and Diana Edkins, The Power of Style: The Women Who Defined the Art of Living Well (Crown, 1994).
  • Hugo Vickers, The Unexpurgated Beaton: The Cecil Beaton Diaries as He Wrote Them, 1970–1980, (Knopf, New York, 2003).