Bill Paley Puffs New Life Into La Palina
By Michael Blanding
|William S. Paley behind a camera at CBS|
The daughter of legendary Boston neurosurgeon Harvey W. Cushing, Babe was born into New England society. Her sister Betsy was married to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s son before marrying venture capitalist and founder of the International Herald Tribune Jock Whitney. Her other sister, Minnie, married multimillionaire William Vincent Astor before divorcing and marrying artist James Whitney Fosburgh, a still life of whose hangs on the wall in Bill’s Nantucket living room. Everywhere there was art: William was president of the Museum of Modern Art, to which he donated his collection of works by Picasso, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and dozens of other major artists; and Minnie donated pieces by Cézanne, Renoir and Winslow Homer to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she served as a trustee.
|Barbara “Babe” Paley’s father, Harvard neurosurgeon Harvey Williams Cushing, with Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov|
Despite living such a charmed life, Bill was never entirely comfortable in society circles. A shy child later diagnosed with learning disabilities, he had a particularly conflicted relationship with his father. “He was a man of incredible appetites with a great love for life,” says Bill. “That was a little overwhelming for a kid with learning disabilities who wasn’t really interested in business or making money.” At the same time he could turn on the charm for acquaintances, William could be distant with his family. “I always wanted to prove myself to him, and then I gave up trying and went in the other direction.”
After his tour in Vietnam and work building boats, Bill settled in Washington, DC,running several popular eateries in that city and one in Baltimore—a move he now realizes was an attempt to connect with his father, whose love of eating was legendary. (As Truman Capote once famously said of him, “He looks like a man who has just swallowed an entire human being.”) Along the way, Bill also got heavily into drugs. “I did pretty much everything,” he says.
Photographs by Melissa Mahoney