Barbara Cuching

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Barbara Cuching (Cushing)

Also Known As: "Babe", "Mortimer", "Paley"
Birthdate: (63)
Birthplace: Brookline, MA, USA
Death: July 6, 1978 (63)
New York, New York County, New York, United States (Lung cancer)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Harvey Cushing, M.D. and Katharine Stone Cushing
Ex-wife of Stanley Grafton Mortimer, Jr. and William Samuel Paley
Mother of <private> Burden (Mortimer); <private> Paley and <private> Paley
Sister of Mary Benedict "Minnie" Cushing; Betsey Maria Cushing and William Harvey Cushing

Managed by: Sara Catherine Mastriforte
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Barbara Cuching

Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimer Paley was an American socialite and style icon. She was first privately, and later publicly, known by the popular name "Babe" for most of her life.

she was the daughter of world-renowned brain surgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing, who was professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Yale universities.

A student at the Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut, she was presented as a debutante in October 1934 in Boston, with Roosevelt's sons in attendance. Her debut drew great attention during the Great Depression, and marked the beginning of her social career. She graduated from The Winsor School in Boston in 1934.

Paley worked as a fashion editor for Vogue in New York City when she met and married oil heir Stanley Grafton Mortimer, Jr. in 1940. Though her mother preferred that Babe marry a powerful man with a title, she generally approved of the union. Stanley´s sister was Katharine Mortimer, second wife of the tennis player and socialite Francis Xavier Shields, who by his first marriage with Princess Donna Marina Torlonia di Civitella-Cesi was the grandfather of actress Brooke Shields.

Barbara "Babe" Mortimer was named to the best-dressed list in 1945 and 1946. Her position at Vogue gave her access to designer clothes, often given in exchange for Babe's high profile and glamorous image. She became the mother of two children: Amanda Jay Mortimer (later Burden) and Stanley Grafton Mortimer III, but her marriage to Mortimer, Jr. ended by 1946. Mortimer, Jr. went on to marry Kathleen Harriman, the daughter of W. Averell Harriman, and fathered three additional children. Several retrospectives have claimed that Babe neglected her children while in pursuit of social status and depended upon the wealth of her husbands to support her lavish lifestyle. Her daughter Amanda has admitted that their relationship was "virtually nonexistent" and that the distance "was her choice, not mine."

After her divorce, she received a settlement based on a trust fund. She then set out to make a second high-profile marriage. In 1946, she met William S. Paley, the founder of CBS. Paley was phenomenally wealthy, with an interest in the arts and a desire to be a part of New York's café society. With Babe's social connections, beauty and style, Paley stood a greater chance of being granted entrée into a society which, until that time, had effectively shut him out. For Babe, Paley offered wealth, security and worldliness. Barbara "Babe" Cushing Mortimer and William S. Paley married in 1947 and the couple had two additional children, Kate and Bill, Jr.

Paley set about to cultivate and create a picture-perfect social world. The couple took an elegant apartment at the St. Regis and hired noted interior designer Billy Baldwin to decorate. She and Paley lived there during the week, while weekends were spent at Kiluna Farm, on 80 acres (320,000 m2) in Manhasset, Long Island, where a succession of landscape architects and garden designers beautified the grounds. The more distant retreat, Kiluna North, on Squam Lake in New Hampshire, was purchased in 1975; there they entertained celebrities who welcomed the privacy; its woodlands provided settings for the film On Golden Pond (1981).

Though the antisemitic prejudices of society excluded the Paleys from a number of important social functions and exclusive clubs, Babe nevertheless kept a circle of high-society friends that included author Truman Capote and fellow socialite/style icon Slim Keith. Capote included Paley and Keith in his group of "swans" (glamorous New York socialite women) along with Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli, and C.Z. Guest. Paley famously dropped Capote as a friend when excerpts of his much-touted work in progress, Answered Prayers, revealed the gossipy confidences of many of New York's elite.

In addition to lavish entertaining, Babe maintained her position on the best-dressed list fourteen times before being inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame in 1958. Babe regularly bought entire haute couture collections from major fashion houses. Her personal style was inspirational to thousands of women who tried to copy her, but as Bill Blass once observed, “I never saw her not grab anyone’s attention, the hair, the makeup, the crispness. You were never conscious of what she was wearing; you noticed Babe and nothing else.”

Her personal, unconventional style was enormously influential. A photograph of Babe with a scarf tied to her handbag, for example, created a trendy tidal wave that millions of women emulated. She often mixed extravagant jewelry with cheap costume pieces, and embraced letting her hair go gray instead of camouflaging it with dye. In a stroke of modernism, she made pantsuits chic. Babe's image and status reportedly created a strain on her marriage to Paley, who insisted that his wife be wrapped in sable and completely bejeweled at all times. By many biographers' accounts, Babe was lonely and frustrated as Paley carried on a chain of extramarital affairs. This psychological battering took its toll on Babe and her family. She was constantly under the scrutiny of society and the media, who pressed her to maintain the unrealistic image of a social and fashion goddess. These external pressures, as well as a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, finally affected her health.

In 1974, Babe was diagnosed with lung cancer. She planned her own funeral, right down to the food and wine selections that would be served at the funeral luncheon. She carefully allocated her jewelry collection and personal belongings to friends and family, wrapped them in colorful paper, and created a complete file system with directions as to how they would be distributed after her death.

Babe finally succumbed to lung cancer on July 6, 1978, the day after her 63rd birthday. She was interred in the Memorial Cemetery of St. John's Church, Cold Spring Harbor, New York. On his death in 1990, her husband was interred next to her.

Long after her death, Babe Paley remains an icon in the world of fashion and style. “Babe Paley had only one fault,” commented her one-time friend Truman Capote. “She was perfect. Otherwise, she was perfect.”

Many fashion designers and interior decorators continue to reference Babe Paley's style in their own creations. Paley and her "swans", much like Jacqueline Kennedy during the 1960s, exemplified a young, attractive and affluent class that many Americans aspired to join.

Babe Paley was portrayed in the film Capote (2005) by Michelle Harrison and in Infamous (2006) by Sigourney Weaver.

In Jacqueline Susann's 1969 novel, The Love Machine, the characters of socialite Judith Austin and her husband Gregory Austin, CEO of a television network, were said to be based on Babe and William Paley. Dyan Cannon portrayed Judith in the 1971 film version.

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Barbara Cuching's Timeline

July 5, 1915
Brookline, MA, USA
July 6, 1978
Age 63
New York, New York County, New York, United States