In the six months before her debut in 1938, Brenda Diana Duff Fraizer – a quiet, pretty girl from a New York society family – became the world’s “Glamour Girl No. 1,” with five thousand articles written about her, her face everywhere recognized, movie stars from Errol Flynn to Johan Crawford maneuvering to be photographed at her side, fan letters arriving with only her photograph on the envelope to guide the post office.
Her look – lunar skin, ruby lips, and jet black hair – became the look of the day. The entire photographic corps followed her wherever she went – to the Stork Club, to El Morocco, to her hairdresser, to the races at Belmont, to sailing on the Acquitania, to tea at the Plaza.
At seventeen, Brenda Frazier was the most envied girl alive – yet her life was already on a tragic and irreversible slide toward a string of unhappy marriages and love affairs, toward alcoholism and suicide attempts, toward the reclusive final years when she scarcely left her bed.
Drawing on scores of interviews and family documents, Gioia Diliberto takes us into the Café Society world Brenda Frazier epitomized – the world of exclusive nightclubs, charity balls, and openings, the world of gossip columns and of elaborate and expensive juvenile pranks played out in post-party hours of the morning. Then into Brenda’s private world – from childhood, at once neglected and manipulated by her driven, ugly-duckling mother, who was determined to become through Brenda the belle of the ball that she herself had never been and who was blind to her daughter’s yearning for a non-public life…And to the London of the turn of the twentieth century, where Brenda’s mother, crushed by the weight of her mother’s imposing presence, made her own debut… And to the rigidly established social world of Brenda’s grandmother in Montreal, London, and Nassau in the 1890s – where we recognize the seeds of Brenda’s story.
Gossip and tragedy, social history and psychodrama mingle in this richly resonant book about celebrity at an early age, about a girl who lived her mother’s fantasy, and about the strange customs of the fashionable world reflected in three generations of high society.