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The Loveliest Woman in America: A Tragic Actress, Her Lost Diaries, and Her Granddaughter's Search for Home Paperback – Bargain Price, June 16, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The life of Rosamond Pinchot Gaston has the makings of a great story. In 1926, the 20-year-old debutante was headed home from France when a Broadway producer on the ship discovered her and launched her acting career. But the same year, Rosamond also fled fame and wealth to toil at a cannery in California. She planned to force herself to survive without her family, her name, her past, or her bank account. By 1927 she had returned to the stage, though her continued stardom didn't bring happiness: Rosamond committed suicide in 1938. Bibi Gaston, Rosamond's granddaughter, learned about the star only when she received a box containing Rosamond's diaries and scrapbooks. But the author fails to draw us into Rosamond's story. Gaston writes in summary rather than scenes and gives an incomplete sense of Rosamond's character: Rosamond's diaries don't always explain her motivations, such as why she took her hiatus in California. Gaston also writes about her own life and how learning about her grandmother's dramatic life affected her, but the memoir aspect of the book is a distraction from the juicy part of the story. 50 b&w photos. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In contemporary times, with routine tabloid exaggeration and careless superlatives heralding shoddy reality shows, being known as “the loveliest woman in America” doesn’t have quite the same impact as it did in the 1920s, when Gaston’s grandmother, Rosamond Pinchot, was awarded the sobriquet by the American press. For a young woman blossoming at the dawn of the Jazz Age, the accolade was a direct result not of her illustrious family’s wealth or social prominence but of her notoriety as an actress who became an overnight sensation. Of course, such success was not without its consequences. A tumultuous marriage to New York society’s mercurial Bill Gaston and an affair with Broadway’s “bad boy” Jed Harris eventually drove Rosamond to her death at 33. Cloaked in scandal and secrecy, the newly revealed circumstances of her grandmother’s suicide motivated Gaston, a landscape architect, to embark on a painful and transforming journey of discovery that would not only reveal the identities of countless ancestors she never knew existed but would also provide the necessary touchstones for her own spiritual and emotional well-being. --Carol Haggas --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 Reprint edition (June 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060857714
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060857714
  • ASIN: B0046LUD24
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,906,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Have you ever been captivated by the old photograph of a long-dead stranger? Did you want to know her story, yet---even in this information-saturated internet age---find yourself quickly at a dead end?
That was my experience after seeing the bewitching photo of Rosamond Pinchot in the book "Edie: An American Tragedy" when I first read it 20 years ago. Thankfully, Bibi Gaston has fleshed out the portrait of her elusive grandmother and, in doing so, has tied together the threads of her family history: charisma and depression, great wealth and petty greed, being given great advantages as a child yet lacking loving parents and suffocating under secrets.
In the "Edie" book, the brief mention of Rosamond was almost dismissive and seemed to imply her suicide was inevitable. Yet Gaston shows us a vibrant, loving woman whose death surprised all who knew her.
Suicide can so color the entire history of someone's life, and people can be easily erased by someone else's tossed-off description.
Bibi Gaston has brought her grandmother back to life in her quest to understand her and unravel the mystery of her family and she has done so in the loveliest way.
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Format: Hardcover
The loveliest woman kept me up late for several evenings.... Two accomplished young women, two generations apart. Neither with much luck in romantic relationships but each laying claim to her own story. As a devourer of biographies, the new historical tidbits were rewarding by themselves - a new Eleanor Roosevelt letter (who, according to Rosamond's diaries, planted kisses on her lips) - the role of a 28 year old socialite in FDR's 1932 depression campaign - good natured gossip about the personalities and affairs of the household names of the 1920s and 30s (including the author of "Goodnight Moon"). The Pinchots and the Gastons appear to be real life examples of the American Dream gone awry as a result of a focus on material and (sometimes quirky) social success - see Fitzgerald and Wharton for the fictional examples. Since Rosamond Pinchot was a suicide at age 33, the author's search for a psychological framework for Ms. Pinchot's personality is a big part of the tale. Spontaneous nude sunbathing (as an anti-depressant?) is only one of Rosamond's impulses. In sum - thorough research combined with loving empathy. Two unfinished stories, but a satisfying artistic whole. What's not to like about this book?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Considering the author's extensive setting up of the mouth watering revelation about the discovery of her ill-fated Grandmother Rosamond Pinchot's personal diaries ("a thousand pages") and scrapbooks, I have to say I was disappointed that so little of it all was quoted or incorporated into the book design. Granted, Rosamond Pinchot's name is not known today and this book was more about the effects of her suicide on subsequent generations as well as the ripple effect of absentee fathers that began with her husband "Big" Bill Gaston. So perhaps pages and pages of pictures of Rosamond or her diary would have thrown the book out of key, for it is only a biography of her so much as how her life shaped the author's life (much like John Sedgwick's book "In My Blood" traced the lineage of the Sedgwick tree, which connects where Rosamond's mother Gertrude was the ill-fated Edie Sedgwick's grandmother's sister. Apparently, it was always a family worry that Edie would "turn out like cousin Rosamond", and alas, she did!)

Still, the book is called "The Loveliest Woman in America" and indeed it is Rosamond's beauty that "sells" the book and creates its primary interest, so it would be nice to at least have had more pictures of her, if not more of her diaries too. In fact, I wonder if it wouldn't have been more interesting if she had just published the diary instead of this book. None the less, it is well written and interesting, and certainly better than nothing after the bewitching portrait of Rosamond in Jean Stein's "Edie" sparked an interest in the heretofore long-forgotten actress.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Loveliest Woman in America" is perhaps the best book I've read in a decade. It is beautifully written and tells the generational story of two notable families. All the familial history is pulled together by the ostensible subject's granddaughter, with the starting point being her beautiful actress grandmother's suicide before she reached the age of 40. The author's search for family information reveals great sadness, missed opportunities, lost love, famous friends, accomplished family members, and emotional double-crosses that break one's heart. A big player in this book, oddly enough, is the land and remembered places ... forests, waterfalls, pools, paths, and islands in Maine. This book and the people in it will stay with you for a long time. I think Bibi Gaston
is a gifted storyteller and a brave heart.
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Format: Hardcover
Bibi Gaston wrote this book about her grandmother, Rosamond Pinschot Gaston, a socialite and actress of the 1920s and 1030s who was once named "the loveliest woman in America" in a news story. Discovered at age nineteen by a theatrical producer-promoter, while on a cruise, Rosamond was best known professionally throughout her career for her first stage role. Her beauty and high social status combined with the unusual choice of an acting career kept her in the news, off and on, for two decades. Her life ended tragically with suicide in 1938 at the age of thirty-three.

Intrigued by the little bit she knew about her grandmother and puzzled because of the family's suppression of facts surrounding her life and death, the author devoted herself to unraveling the mystery of who Rosamond really was and why her life ended as it did. The book is based mainly on Rosamond's diaries which came into the author's hands in 2003 after the death of her father, Rosamond's son.

Early on, Ms. Gaston seems to focus on establishing the pedigree, privilege, achievements and connections the Pinschot family; integral to the story but rather dry because of the passing of time and the persons involved. After Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Arden, and George Cukor, not many others of the then-famous names included evoked more than slight recognition to this reader though certainly some others will have more reason to remember. The narrative gets off to a very slow start but improves in both style and content in later chapters when Ms. Gaston writes with first-hand knowledge about her father and other members of the family. The chronology of the story jumps back and forth in time from the 1920s to 2007.
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