(pic – Georgia Morrow)
One of the characters in my novel How to Un-Marry a Millionaire is a serial marrier. At thirty-seven years old Suzanne Nelson-Drummoyne-Graff-Carmel is onto husband number three- and counting.
Women who marry for status, money or a title have long fascinated me. History is strewn with these creatures who have been blessed with the goods to pull it off.
One of my favourite of these gals was society hostess Nancy Slim Hawks who reigned supreme – collecting husbands, homes, and style icon laurels – from the 1930s until her death six decades later.
The marvelously sultry Lauren Betty Bacall who hit movie screens like the wet dream of every man’s big sleep was not “discovered” by director Howard Hawks as legend goes, but by his wife Slim Hawks.
Slim was only 24 when she married the much older Hawks in 1941. He was the first of the husbands for this repeat offender who chose rich men to enhance her life. Long before the term was coined she was a quintessential trophy wife.
Beautiful, elegant, young and possessed of the type of confidence instilled by an ambitious mother who sent her daughter off in a yellow roadster at 17 to find the good life, Slim Hawks was as accomplished and talented – many said more so – as her more famous husband.
Quick witted with a cynicism well beyond her years, her chit chat was often plucked straight up by Hawks and placed in the mouths of his leading ladies.
The role that launched Ms. Bacall in To Have and Have Not was inspired by Slim who contributed much of her – uncredited – dialogue.
Wearing Slim’s chic clothes, speaking Slim’s zippy sexy lines, including the immortal come-on, ”You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve?” and even using the nickname Slim, she shot to stardom – and bagged the desirable Humphrey Bogart to boot.
As for Hawks himself, Slim knew what she wanted and he didn’t stand a chance.
”He was not only handsome, charming, and successful he was exactly the package I wanted. The career, the house, the four cars, the yacht – this was the life for me.”
Hawks was at the time one of the world’s top directors.
”You’re the most remarkable thing I’ve ever seen,” he said to Slim. “You’re going to marry me.”
”Well, we’ll see. But thanks anyway,” she told him.
”Mostly, I think he liked the way I looked. For him, I was a fabulous arm piece, the ultimate decoration, the embodiment of the Hawks woman. It wasn’t about the woman herself, it was about a look. Howard liked a no- nonsense femininity. His woman could be chic, she could be sexy, but you’d better believe she could also make a ham and hoe a row of beans.”
It was a look and style that Betty Bacall also favoured. Fresh-faced, unaffected – the original California Girls.
Later when Slim had tired of Hawks’ narcissism and philandering and decided to leave the marriage she ran off with another equally famous man.
The great literary agent and impresario Leland Hayward – producer of The Sound of Music among many precious jewels – ushered her into a different type of glamorous world where she reigned by his side as theatrical royalty in her new, reinvented persona.
Long nipping at her heels has been the irrepressible Pamela Churchill – the notorious husband stealer.
Just dumped by Gianni Agnelli redhead Pam was looking for a new husband and grabbed her chance when it came.
Slim had become too sure of poor old Leyland.
Too certain that she was irreplaceable.
Out she went and in came Pamela.
Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman eventually attained her own fame as US Ambassador in Paris, with the help of her last husband Avril Harriman’s vast fortune.
After picking herself up and dusting off her pearls Slim did the only thing any girl in her position would have done.
Went out and found herself another husband.
Sir Kenneth Keith was a Brit with a title and she became the Lady Keith. But like all of them, she kept him begging until she agreed to do him the honour of becoming his wife.
All her life Slim had her pick of the world’s most illustrious men, including Ernest Hemmingway and Clarke Gable who were both in love with her.
”It was about good looks, brains, taste, and style. . . . The only ingredient I brought to this recipe was the recognition that, while you have to be natural, you also have to be different. . . . In my day, different meant not having your hair done in a pompadour and adorning it with a snood, or not trying to hide your intelligence behind a sea of frills. I somehow knew there was a glut in that market. I opted for a scrubbed-clean, polished look. I thought it was more important to have an intelligence that showed, a humor that never failed, and a healthy interest in men.’
Her marriages all ended unhappily. Sir Kenneth bit the dust after 10 long years of marital boredom.
“God blessed me with a happy spirit and many other gifts. What I was not blessed with I went out and got. Sometimes the price was too high, but I’ve never been much of a bargain hunter,” Slim concluded about her life.
Getting rid of that snood was a good move too.