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They are ten outstanding women of the twentieth century. Each had an aura. They were mighty warriors and social leaders, women of aspirations who persevered. They lived through the Great Depression and a world war. Circumstances did not defeat them. They played on Broadway and in Washington. They had glamour, style, and intelligence. They dressed up the world.
In Great Dames, Marie Benner introduces us to a pantheon of women whose lives are both gloriously individual and yet somehow universal. Her subjects range from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who found happiness in her last decade, to Constance Baker Motley, who argued Brown versus the Board of Education before the United States Supreme Court, to Luise Rainer, who won two Academy Awards by age thirty, then fled Hollywood for good. We meet Kitty Carlisle Hart, a professional charmer and tireless advocate of the arts, and Diana Trilling, the intellectual's intellectual, who published her final, splendid memoir at age ninety-one. There are even the Becky Sharps, who maneuvered powerful men to help them ascend: Marietta Tree, Pamela Harriman, and Clare Boothe Luce. And the wonderfully flamboyant Kay Thompson, whose pint-sized creation, Eloise, gave her a place in American cultural history. Finally, there is Thelma Brenner, who was the first great dame her daughter ever knew.
These are women who helped shape a century. They were grand and they were gallant. Marie Brenner's portraits are intimate, vivid, and true, and full of subtle but important lessons. The way the great dames lived their lives—their rules, their codes, their insistence on certain fundamentals—are models that today's women should consider as they ascend to positions of leadership in a new millennium.
"These women were our geishas, whispering in our ears to influence all aspects of American life."–Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times