Sale of Jewelry from the Estate of Aileen Mehle on April 27, 2017
Known to Her Fans Worldwide as the Society Columnist Suzy
Her Collection of Furniture, Decorations, Paintings, Couture, Costume Jewelry, Accessories, Photographs, and Memorabilia Will Be Offered on May 24
Doyle is honored to auction the Estate of Aileen Mehle, known to her fans worldwide as the society columnist Suzy. Her extraordinary collection of glamorous jewelry was offered as a special section of the April 27 sale of Important Jewelry. Her elegant furniture, decorations, paintings, couture, costume jewelry, accessories, photographs, and memorabilia will be offered on May 24.
During a career spanning over fifty years, Aileen Mehle lived a life as glamorous and exciting as any of the society figures, film stars, and celebrities whose lives she chronicled in her columns. At various times in her life, she was linked romantically with five and-dime heir Woolworth Donahue, Hollywood producer Walter Wanger, and the “Chairman of the Board” Frank Sinatra. In the 1960s, she was a regular panelist on the television program What’s My Line? and even had a cameo role in a 1967 episode of Batman.
Writing under the nom-de-plume Suzy, Aileen entertained straphangers, housewives, and the ladies who lunch from 1951 until 2005 with her unique take on society’s comings and goings. Alex Hitz described her in a recent tribute for Town and Country as “the undisputed arbiter and Queen of who-was-who in the richest uber-echelon of the rarefied world of that ‘high society’ or ‘beau monde.’ She was gossip’s grande dame.”
From a 1964 King Features Syndicate profile of Aileen Mehle:
Aileen Elder Mehle started writing about society on a dare, proceeded to gain popularity with a combination of spice, sense, satire, and scoops, and now has millions of readers relishing her King Features Syndicate column, “Society by Suzy Knickerbocker.”
Mrs. Mehle is twice-divorced and the mother, by her first husband, of a 22-year-old son, Roger Mehle, an Annapolis graduate. Attractively petite, and vivacious, with big blue eyes and a wide smile, she works a twelve- to eighteen-hour day, collecting items and writing her column, attending an endless succession of social functions and, several times a week, making the rounds of the elite New York City clubs. Her beat is two continents, and in the proper seasons she jets with the jet set to Washington, London, Paris, Rome, the Riviera, and back again to New York.
Born in El Paso, Texas, and educated in California where she grew up to become, for a brief spell, a grade-school teacher, Aileen Mehle had never written a line professionally until, in 1951, at a cocktail party in Miami, a Florida newspaper publisher heard her criticizing his paper’s society coverage. She recalls, “He dared me to do a better job.” She submitted three columns in the next few days to prove her contention that it was “easy,” and shortly found herself a very active member of the Fourth Estate.
All the while she was on the Miami paper, however, she hid her true identity from her society friends under the simple pseudonymous by-line, “Suzy.” She herself joined them in the popular game of trying to guess the writer’s name. “I think a man writes the column,” she used to tell her acquaintances, to throw them off the track.
In 1957, she moved her typewriter to The New York Mirror, still anonymous behind the nom-de-plume. Two years later, her picture was added to the column and her identity became public knowledge. In February of 1962, King Features began syndicating “Society by Suzy” in addition to its famous Hearst society by-line, “Cholly Knickerbocker.” By October of 1963, Suzy was carried in more than 35 newspapers. At that time, when the Mirror ceased publication, the New York Journal American, which always has featured Cholly, obtained the two, and “Cholly Knickerbocker” officially became a girl, “Suzy Knickerbocker.”
Aileen was just a baby when her parents, Aileen (O’Keeffe) and Lawrence Herman Elder moved the family from the Texas/Mexico border to Los Angeles, where Aileen grew up. Her father left when she was ten, which created a close life-long bond between mother and daughter. Aileen was educated at Long Beach Junior College and Santa Barbara State College (now the University of California, Santa Barbara) and considered becoming an actress. She met and fell in love with a young naval ensign, who would later become a rear admiral, Roger W. Mehle. The couple were married in 1939, and their son, Roger W. Mehle, Jr., was born in 1941 in Long Beach. The marriage didn’t last, however, and Aileen, her son, and her mother moved to Miami, Florida, where she filed for divorce in 1946.
In 1951, Aileen began to cover the society news of Miami and Palm Beach for the Miami Daily News using the pseudonym Suzy, a name borrowed from her new fiancé’s daughter. In 1952 in Palm Beach, Aileen married real estate developer Mark Kenneth Frank, Jr., whom she had met at a cocktail party in Washington, D.C. Aileen moved to Washington and gave up writing until her divorce in 1957. “I’ve had a couple of husbands, which is one too many for anyone,” she told Life magazine.
That year, at a cocktail party in Georgetown (“Sometimes it seems that everything important – some of it life-changing – that ever happens to me happens at a party”), she met Charles McCabe, publisher of the New York Mirror, a Hearst tabloid. He convinced her to move to New York, and gave her her own column in the Mirror. New York at the time had seven daily newspapers with society columnists, among them the legendary Walter Winchell and the long-standing, pseudonymous “Cholly Knickerbocker” column, which was penned at the time by Igor Cassini, designer Oleg’s brother.
In 1963 the Mirror closed, and Aileen moved to the Journal-American. There, she was given the Cholly Knickerbocker column, newly re-christened as Suzy Knickerbocker. She would say, “Someone finally gave me a last name.” In 1967, she moved to The Daily News and lost the “Knickerbocker” moniker, returning to “Suzy” for the rest of her career. By the early 1970s, her column was syndicated in over 90 newspapers reaching an estimated 30 million readers.
She moved to The New York Post in 1984, and in 1991 she made her final move, joining Fairchild Publications, where she wrote for Women’s Wear Daily and W until she filed her last column in 2005 at the age of 87. Aileen has been described as one of New York’s most important fund raisers, because a mention in her column of a charity gala ensured its success. In 1991, Marymount Manhattan College bestowed upon her an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, and established the Aileen Mehle Scholarship Fund for Journalism. A benefit in her honor raised over $250,000 for the scholarship. Myriad charity events appeared in her column, which raised millions of dollars, while “her witty and trenchant observations entertained and terrified New York society,” said her friend, columnist William Norwich. Interviewed by Vogue editor Leo Lerman in 1973, Aileen observed, “Glamour will never die. It’s the whipped cream on top of everything. It’s the fun and spice of life that everyone wants to read about. Gossip — that’s all anyone ever does anyhow, morning, noon, and night.”
When Aileen moved to New York in 1957, she settled into an elegant pre-War building on Park Avenue and made the Upper East Side her home for the rest of her life. Eventually, she moved a few blocks away into the lavish ballroom apartment of a 1905 Gilded Age mansion designed by C.P.H. Gilbert. In 2011, she relocated a few blocks south to an equally lavish ballroom apartment in a 1903 mansion designed by Horace Trumbauer, which Aileen’s close friend Mario Buatta decorated in the style of the ancien regime, complete with Continental furnishings, gilded mirrors, and whimsical singerie.
Aileen Mehle’s collection of jewelry reflects her exquisite taste, her vibrant personality, and her fondness for bold, colorful pieces by such designers as David Webb and Andrew Clunn. These were the pieces that she wore to glamorous events around the world during her remarkable life. Her collection is as unique as the charming, beautiful, and intelligent woman herself.
Jewelry from the Estate of Aileen Mehle comprised lots 323 through 370 in the April 27, 2017 auction of Important Jewelry.
Contents of Aileen Mehle's Elegant Manhattan Apartment: Auction May 24
Aileen Mehle's collection of Continental furniture, decorations, paintings, couture, costume jewelry, accessories, photographs, and memorabilia from her elegant ballroom apartment decorated by Mario Buatta will be auctioned on May 24. Read More