Mary Raye Gross
July 15, 1917
Salinas, California, U.S.
|Died||April 16, 1990 (aged 72)|
|Other names||Nancy, Lady Keith |
(m. 1941; div. 1949)
(m. 1949; div. 1960)
Kenneth Keith, Baron Keith of Castleacre
(m. 1962; sep. 1972)
Nancy "Slim" Keith, Lady Keith (July 15, 1917 – April 6, 1990) was an American New York socialite and fashion icon during the 1950s and 1960s, exemplifying the American jet set. She and her friend Babe Paley were the thinly veiled inspiration for characters in Truman Capote's novel Answered Prayers. She is also credited with bringing Lauren Bacall to Hollywood's attention by showing her then-husband, producer Howard Hawks, a magazine cover with Bacall's picture on it.
Born Mary Raye Gross in Salinas, California (her mother changed her name to Nancy), by age 22, she had appeared on the cover of Harper's Bazaar. She was included on that celebrated fashion magazine's "best-dressed" list for years, and in 1946 won a Neiman Marcus Fashion Award (as Mrs. Leland Hayward). Nicknamed “Slim”, she was also dubbed the original "California Girl" because of her golden looks and athletic ability. She considered a career in opera, before deciding it was too demanding.
Slim at the age of 16 left school and traveled to Death Valley. While staying at the Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort, she met William Powell. Through Powell, she was introduced to William Randolph Hearst and his companion Marion Davies. She thus became a Hollywood socialite and was frequently seen at parties with Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. She was pursued romantically by Clark Gable, as well as by Ernest Hemingway. In 1938 she met Howard Hawks, the noted film director, who was immediately smitten with her and did everything he could to persuade her to marry him, despite the fact he was already married to Athole Shearer, the sister of actress Norma Shearer. Three years later, after his divorce from Athole, they were married. Hawks, however, was unable to remain faithful, and shortly after the birth of their daughter Kitty Hawks, Slim moved to Havana to stay with Ernest Hemingway. There in Cuba she also met the man who would be her second husband, the movie and theatrical producer Leland Hayward. In 1949, soon after divorcing their respective spouses, they married in New York and remained together for 10 years. Slim later wrote that Hayward had been the one love of her life even though he had left her for Pamela Churchill, who, like she, had gained much of her early celebrity as a socialite and by marriage. Slim's next and last husband was British banker Kenneth Keith, whom she left in 1972 after a 10-year marriage.
Keith banished Capote from her life when he used her as the unflattering model for the fictional Lady Coolbirth of his infamous and unfinished Answered Prayers. She never spoke to him again. This particular era is explored further in Melanie Benjamin's novel The Swans of Fifth Avenue. According to Sally Bedell Smith in Reflected Glory, the model for Lady Coolbirth was Pamela Harriman, not Slim Keith.
Slim was also known for her iconic sense of style. With exceptional taste, Slim pursued an elegant, crisp style in all that she wore.
Slim Keith was portrayed in the film Infamous (2006) by Hope Davis. She was also depicted in Melanie Benjamin's book The Swans of Fifth Avenue (2016). The novel explores elements of Slim's colorful life, as well as her friendships with Babe Paley and Truman Capote. Although her remarkable sense of style is not a focus of the novel, much can be said about her contributions to classic, Americana dress. In a particularly revealing scene, Benjamin imagines Keith raising a glass to Babe and Truman. She recalls, "'A time before it was fashionable to tell the truth, and the world grew sordid from too much honesty.'"
- Berger, Marilyn (1990-04-07). "Nancy Lady Keith Is Dead at 73; A Socialite Known for Her Wit". New York Times.
- Keith, Slim; Tappert, Annette (1990). Slim: Memories of a Rich and Imperfect Life. Simon and Schuster. pp. 34–39.
- Bagby, Sarah (2016). "'The Swans of Fifth Avenue' is a Delicious Novel", transcription of broadcast review, KMUW, 89.1, NPR Radio (Wichita, Kansas), January 11, 2016. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
- Preston, Caroline (2016). "'The Swans of Fifth Avenue' review: Would you trust Truman Capote?", book review of The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin. The Washington Post, February 1, 2016. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- Keith, Slim with Annette Tapert (1991). Slim: Memories of a rich and imperfect life. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-446-36196-8.
- Zilkha, Bettina (2004). Ultimate style: the best of the best dressed list. New York: Assouline. ISBN 2-84323-513-8.
- Jefferson, Margo (1990). "She knew how to whistle". New York Times, April 7, 1990.