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Life of the Party: The Biography of Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman

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When President Bill Clinton nominated Pamela Harriman to become U.S. ambassador to France in 1993, he was rewarding an extraordinary supporter with a crown jewel from the American political spoils system. Few deserved it more. The glamorous widow of statesman Averell Harriman had sheltered the Democratic party through a dozen years of exile and had used her late husband's When President Bill Clinton nominated Pamela Harriman to become U.S. ambassador to France in 1993, he was rewarding an extraordinary supporter with a crown jewel from the American political spoils system. Few deserved it more. The glamorous widow of statesman Averell Harriman had sheltered the Democratic party through a dozen years of exile and had used her late husband's fortune and her own drive to raise $12 million for the party and, ultimately, Clinton's campaign. But long before she became a diplomat, Pamela Harriman had an international reputation - as courtesan of the century. The ambitious eldest child of an English baron, Pamela was eager to flee rural life when her formal education ended at sixteen. Red-haired, voluptuous, and sexy at eighteen, when she claims to have met Adolf Hitler, she married Winston Churchill's only son at the onset of World War II and moved into No. 10 Downing Street. A volatile marriage to Randolph Churchill propelled the seductive young mother into wartime affairs with such powerful men as Harriman, Edward R. Murrow, and top generals on both sides of the Anglo-American alliance. After the war, Pamela divorced, moving to France and into liaisons with wealthy playboys Aly Khan, Gianni Agnelli, and Elie de Rothschild. Her second marriage, to Sound of Music producer Leland Hayward, put her at the crossroads of Broadway and Hollywood in the 1960s. After Hayward's death, a family feud, and a flirtation with Frank Sinatra, she married the seventy-nine-year-old Harriman. The former ambassador, New York governor, and presidential candidate introduced her to a new generation of world leaders as well as Democratic party officials delighted to welcome a beautiful and energetic doyenne. Unauthorized, but based on months of exclusive talks with Pamela Harriman, plus interviews with nearly two hundred friends, relatives, and critics, Life of the Party is the first inside look at the spectacular life and rise of a remarkable woman.


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When President Bill Clinton nominated Pamela Harriman to become U.S. ambassador to France in 1993, he was rewarding an extraordinary supporter with a crown jewel from the American political spoils system. Few deserved it more. The glamorous widow of statesman Averell Harriman had sheltered the Democratic party through a dozen years of exile and had used her late husband's When President Bill Clinton nominated Pamela Harriman to become U.S. ambassador to France in 1993, he was rewarding an extraordinary supporter with a crown jewel from the American political spoils system. Few deserved it more. The glamorous widow of statesman Averell Harriman had sheltered the Democratic party through a dozen years of exile and had used her late husband's fortune and her own drive to raise $12 million for the party and, ultimately, Clinton's campaign. But long before she became a diplomat, Pamela Harriman had an international reputation - as courtesan of the century. The ambitious eldest child of an English baron, Pamela was eager to flee rural life when her formal education ended at sixteen. Red-haired, voluptuous, and sexy at eighteen, when she claims to have met Adolf Hitler, she married Winston Churchill's only son at the onset of World War II and moved into No. 10 Downing Street. A volatile marriage to Randolph Churchill propelled the seductive young mother into wartime affairs with such powerful men as Harriman, Edward R. Murrow, and top generals on both sides of the Anglo-American alliance. After the war, Pamela divorced, moving to France and into liaisons with wealthy playboys Aly Khan, Gianni Agnelli, and Elie de Rothschild. Her second marriage, to Sound of Music producer Leland Hayward, put her at the crossroads of Broadway and Hollywood in the 1960s. After Hayward's death, a family feud, and a flirtation with Frank Sinatra, she married the seventy-nine-year-old Harriman. The former ambassador, New York governor, and presidential candidate introduced her to a new generation of world leaders as well as Democratic party officials delighted to welcome a beautiful and energetic doyenne. Unauthorized, but based on months of exclusive talks with Pamela Harriman, plus interviews with nearly two hundred friends, relatives, and critics, Life of the Party is the first inside look at the spectacular life and rise of a remarkable woman.

30 review for Life of the Party: The Biography of Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman

  1. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    4.5 stars. Was she a scandalous woman, a high class tart, seducer, an “ultimate gold digger”, or powerful and connected force to be reckoned with? Men paraded through her life. She had a reputation as a femme fatale, marriage destroyer, home wrecker, and the other woman. Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman rose from an English aristocrat sheltered in the country to the wife of Randolph Churchill, daughter-in-law to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, mother of Winston Churchill III, an 4.5 stars. Was she a scandalous woman, a high class tart, seducer, an “ultimate gold digger”, or powerful and connected force to be reckoned with? Men paraded through her life. She had a reputation as a femme fatale, marriage destroyer, home wrecker, and the other woman. Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman rose from an English aristocrat sheltered in the country to the wife of Randolph Churchill, daughter-in-law to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, mother of Winston Churchill III, and lover to the rich and powerful. She was transformed from a “giddy girl to a sophisticate” amassing “an incomparable collection of chums, patrons, and admirers” with a thirst for power. Her marriage to Randolph Churchill was unhappy but brought entry into the power, the Churchills, and provided the Child. War time brought intense love affairs that would become scandalous if prolonged after the war. She collaborated with the allies providing them with information while living the high life. Her lovers were legion from generals to the news media. “... she was an equal opportunity playgirl and eventually sampled them all.” To be a member of the Pamela club energized and excited some as she was shared among the “very rich, powerful and talented men.” Her affair during World War II with married diplomat and businessman W. Averell Harriman immersed her into power and his patronage and all things American. 30 years her senior, his father built Union Pacific Railroad into a huge family fortune. He was the U.S. ambassador to both the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom in the 1940's later becoming the United States Secretary of Commerce, the 48th Governor of New York, Assistant and Under Secretaries of State, and a two-time Democratic presidential candidate nominee. During World War II, she fell in love with American CBS broadcast journalist and war correspondent Edward Murrow, who caused her to change her political beliefs and views. She expected to marry him and her dream was to live in America. However, Ed backed out of leaving his wife, which brought her heartbreak. Postwar, depressed over her breakup with Ed, her whole life of men, parties, and power ended. She was now a divorcee with a young child that she had largely ignored. In 1947 Paris, Pamela met the son of Aga Khan, “then the fabulously wealthy Imam, or spiritual leader of the world’s Shia Imami Ismaili Moslems...” Her dalliance with international playboy Prince Aly Khan brought fun and excitement and a focus on the individual. In May 1948, Pamela dropped off her friend, widowed Marchioness of Hartington Kathleen “Kick” (sister of John F., Robert, and Teddy Kennedy), and her boyfriend, Lord Peter Fitzwilliam, at the airport shortly before their fatal plane crash. That same year, she met 27-year-old Gianni Agnelli, heir to Italy’s Fiat automobile empire, and they began a four-year affair. In the 1950's, she became the mistress of banking financier and vineyardist Elie de Rothschild in Paris. For Elie, “she was a discreet mistress who made him feel good” and would focus her complete attention on him. Pamela was attracted to rich and powerful men and became immersed in their lives making herself indispensable adopting each one’s identity, interests, and life into hers. Like a chamaeleon, she changed to meet each lover’s wants, whims, and desires and catered to his every need making him hunger for her more and further entrenching herself in his life. Men were attracted to her and she reveled in the attention and glamor bestowed on her in Paris in the 1950's. Intelligent, pretty, and connected with the Churchill name, she opened doors politically and socially for her men. She made them want to adore and need her by pleasing them and kept them interested. She would enrich them as best as she could and men paid her for that satisfaction. She was a strong and independent woman and kept her affairs discreet. She was forthright and opinionated. She had an separate life and taught herself or found mentors to gain knowledge on art, antiques, interior decorating, wine, and horses. She had an unerring eye for interior decorating and landscaping. She had elegant and sophisticated tastes but made her home “welcoming and comfortable.” She had an innate eye for the best. She became the “backroom” woman, where the knowledge, not the show, was more important. However, in reinventing herself to cater to her man, she was ruthless in excluding his children, family, and friends if contrary to her interests. While the mistress of Elie, she met Broadway producer Leland Hayward. He called her “the greatest courtesan of the twentieth century.” In 1960, they married. In 1977, his daughter, Brooke, published her memoir, Haywire, of her dysfunctional family and portrayed Pamela as the “Wicked Stepwitch of the West.” After the deaths of Leland in March 1971 and Averell’s wife in 1970, Pamela and Averell Harriman reconnected rekindling their flame and married in September 1971. Once again, she took over his life and was merciless in excluding those who had shared his life the past four decades with his former wife, Marie. She spent money discreetly at first and transformed their home inside and out. She convinced him to acquire a limousine, a chauffeur, and a private jet. Averell was a long-time Democratic supporter, politician and negotiator. After becoming an U.S. citizen, Pamela became very involved with the Democratic party creating fund raising “issues dinners” and political action committees. Former Democratic Party Chairman Bob Strauss, stated, “Pamela likes power. She is not a couch potato. She is a player. She wants to be a participant, not an observer. And, since she’s in Washington, a town of power and politics, she wants to be a player in power and politics.” She worked, she studied, and she succeeded. Averell died in 1986. Pamela’s efforts for the Democratic party and her support of Bill Clinton resulted in her becoming the United States Ambassador to France in 1993. This had me scouring Wikipedia and other sources. The book was chock full of information of Pamela’s lovers, past marriages, and other men. It was highly entertaining, gossipy, well researched, informative, and educational. Pamela was ambitious and driven in her pursuit of fortune and security and woe to those who got in her way. I found her fascinating. Initially, the author had access to Pamela for six months as she had asked him to write her autobiography but she eventually backed out. An engaging and worthy read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Joy H.

    RE: _Life of the Party_ I read this book a while ago, before I joined Goodreads. So I can't write a detailed review. However, I did save the following quotation from the book: "There has to be a certain amount of clutter to enforce your ownership of a room. Flowers or pillows or photographs - these can make a room suddenly spring to life." [From p. 281 of book, _Life of the Party_ by Christopher Ogden (2006) about Pamela Churchill Leland Harrison, (footnotes say the quote was taken from p.111 of "A RE: _Life of the Party_ I read this book a while ago, before I joined Goodreads. So I can't write a detailed review. However, I did save the following quotation from the book: "There has to be a certain amount of clutter to enforce your ownership of a room. Flowers or pillows or photographs - these can make a room suddenly spring to life." [From p. 281 of book, _Life of the Party_ by Christopher Ogden (2006) about Pamela Churchill Leland Harrison, (footnotes say the quote was taken from p.111 of "Architectural Digest", June 1984.)]

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cher Sweeney

    Amazing book about a woman that knew/rubbed elbows with famous people of the twentieth century. Daughter-in-law of Winston Churchill, married to Averil Harriman, Leland Hayward, Randolph Churchill... lover and mistress to Gianni Agnelli (Fiat), Edward R. Murrow, William S. Paley, Elie de Rothschild and many more. Hugely influential and a fund raiser for the Democratic Party, she reportedly hand-picked and championed Bill Clinton to the the Democratic candidate for president. SO many more interes Amazing book about a woman that knew/rubbed elbows with famous people of the twentieth century. Daughter-in-law of Winston Churchill, married to Averil Harriman, Leland Hayward, Randolph Churchill... lover and mistress to Gianni Agnelli (Fiat), Edward R. Murrow, William S. Paley, Elie de Rothschild and many more. Hugely influential and a fund raiser for the Democratic Party, she reportedly hand-picked and championed Bill Clinton to the the Democratic candidate for president. SO many more interesting details about this amazing woman. Hard to put this one down once you get started!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    Fascinating look at the events of the 20th century through the life of a woman who knew (in the Biblical sense of the world!) and married some of the men who were right in the midst of it all - prime minister's son, heir to a banking fortune, Hollywood producer, Democratic party political heavyweight... talk about a woman who knew how to use her feminine power to its greatest advantage. Fascinating look at the events of the 20th century through the life of a woman who knew (in the Biblical sense of the world!) and married some of the men who were right in the midst of it all - prime minister's son, heir to a banking fortune, Hollywood producer, Democratic party political heavyweight... talk about a woman who knew how to use her feminine power to its greatest advantage.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dixie Swanson

    Talk about reinventing yourself! The late Pamela Harriman did it many times, usually involving a man of note in WWII through the 1990's. From Churchill to Clinton, she was always the Life of the Party, even if she was the wicked stepmother. Talk about reinventing yourself! The late Pamela Harriman did it many times, usually involving a man of note in WWII through the 1990's. From Churchill to Clinton, she was always the Life of the Party, even if she was the wicked stepmother.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Karl

    Biography - what an incredible life! - married to Churchill's son, more marriages and divorces than you can shake a stick at, socialite on both sides of the Atlantic for decades, London, New York, Washington, eventually becoming the American Ambassador to France - good giddy fun Biography - what an incredible life! - married to Churchill's son, more marriages and divorces than you can shake a stick at, socialite on both sides of the Atlantic for decades, London, New York, Washington, eventually becoming the American Ambassador to France - good giddy fun

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Zaroulis

    In its way, this book is a horror story--the life of a beautiful woman who made her way to the top by ruthlessly using men just as they used her. From her promiscuous days (and nights) in London during World II to her years as a courtesan in France to her marriage to one of the great American fortunes, we watch Pamela's rise and rise and rise--to be the American Ambassador to France in the 1990's. She worked very hard. She succeeded. In its way, this book is a horror story--the life of a beautiful woman who made her way to the top by ruthlessly using men just as they used her. From her promiscuous days (and nights) in London during World II to her years as a courtesan in France to her marriage to one of the great American fortunes, we watch Pamela's rise and rise and rise--to be the American Ambassador to France in the 1990's. She worked very hard. She succeeded.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    Reading this, more than decade after its publication when Pamela's primary skills were already passé, it was clear how much things have changed. Pamela came out of the 19th century British aristocracy where only the first born male was entitled to inherit the family's property and power and to call it what it is/was - human rights within a family. Pamela could not expect familial affection or support. Her family turned her over to nannies and decreed that education, no matter how great her abilit Reading this, more than decade after its publication when Pamela's primary skills were already passé, it was clear how much things have changed. Pamela came out of the 19th century British aristocracy where only the first born male was entitled to inherit the family's property and power and to call it what it is/was - human rights within a family. Pamela could not expect familial affection or support. Her family turned her over to nannies and decreed that education, no matter how great her ability or curiosity, would hinder her marriage options. Pamela made her own match (did not wait for family negotiations) and married what history made the ultimate commodity, a link through a male namesake, to Winston Churchill. She used this "child" and followed the cultural and psychological patterns of aristocratic women by supporting and living through her man with a modern twist--- he did not have to be her husband. WWII put a chink in the armor of the British class system and affirmed the American ideal of social equality. The super wealthy European men paid in cash and friendship for all she willingly gave. She wanted commitment, which due to European social codes, would not be forthcoming. No wonder Pamela was seduced (in the pure sense of the word) by America. In America she was able to achieve far beyond what her family or country c/would ever provide for her. She was Darwinistic about men/marriage. If a man's wife was not as fit as her, Pamela had no qualms about the wife, Pamela should have the "position". Her sympathy for her second husband's mother (over that of his children) who had abandoned her family may be testament to an understanding of her emotional situation. One can salute Pamela's achievements, but her treatment of others is too cold for sympathy. As presented here, her mothering of "The Child" and her stepchildren replicates that toward her in her own nuclear family. Her treatment of staff and other women is pure 1950's sexism and a workaholic's view of the world. She rose above the rigid role of her family and society had given her. Unfortunately, within her intimate family (birth and blended) she could not break the chain of creating emotional liabilities.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Pam Venne

    Exceptionally noteworthy read of reinventing oneself given the addition of the Churchill name as a launching pad. Pamela is a woman of grit who took note of her natural resources and levied them to the fullest to achieve one of the highest awards to the Ambassador to France under JFK! From a naive 17-year old to a world renown woman with connections at the highest levels across the broadest of spectrums. She had a drive for perfection that wouldn't quit and a way of bringing herself into any roo Exceptionally noteworthy read of reinventing oneself given the addition of the Churchill name as a launching pad. Pamela is a woman of grit who took note of her natural resources and levied them to the fullest to achieve one of the highest awards to the Ambassador to France under JFK! From a naive 17-year old to a world renown woman with connections at the highest levels across the broadest of spectrums. She had a drive for perfection that wouldn't quit and a way of bringing herself into any room with pillows, flowers, and photographs.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Annmbray

    Fascinating life! Highly recommend this one. It is an unbelievable story of how someone who started at the bottom of the social system ended up right on top through several fortuitous marriages. A modern-day geisha to be sure!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    a gossipy byt rather captivating account of a woman who slept her way to the top!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Abra Smith

    Interesting but a little too long. Mrs. Harriman evidently slept with every man in Europe and this book is full of all the salacious details. She’s just not very like able. She’s cold, terrible mother to her son, nonexistent is really the word for her as a mother. Extremely calculating, she wanted money and went after men who had money, especially if they were already married.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kara

    Biography of Pamela Digby, who married Winston Churchill's son Randolph then became a high class courtesan in Britain and France during and after World War II, with countless lovers. After which she moved to America and married Leland Hayward, after he died she married a former beau from WWII Avery Harriman. Biography of Pamela Digby, who married Winston Churchill's son Randolph then became a high class courtesan in Britain and France during and after World War II, with countless lovers. After which she moved to America and married Leland Hayward, after he died she married a former beau from WWII Avery Harriman.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth VanDyke

    Really gossipy with lots of interesting information. Pamela Harriman was simply an awful person, opportunistic and acquisitive, both for men and money. Anyone who came into her orbit who was not a man that she was laser-focused on, absolutely hated her. Great read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lisa DeAntona

    Very difficult to follow - a lot of name dropping that had little to do with the story.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bill Berg

    https://beingbeliefbehavior.blogspot.... https://beingbeliefbehavior.blogspot....

  17. 5 out of 5

    Karen-Leigh

    Woman of money, power and fascination.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kerry Kenney

    Churchill. Hayward. Harriman. What I like about Pamela Harriman is that her life was newsworthy, noteworthy, she was self created, charismatic, indomitable and utterly unique. This biography doesn't come close to capturing her life but it does give a bit of a roadmap to someone that peripherally appears in the biographies and memoirs of so many of the great political personalities of the 20th century. Churchill. Hayward. Harriman. What I like about Pamela Harriman is that her life was newsworthy, noteworthy, she was self created, charismatic, indomitable and utterly unique. This biography doesn't come close to capturing her life but it does give a bit of a roadmap to someone that peripherally appears in the biographies and memoirs of so many of the great political personalities of the 20th century.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    This was a fascinating read - in terms of the historical background, in terms of the connections she had with pretty much anyone of importance, and finally in terms of how she managed to manipulate people and situations to get what she wanted. I was left wanting to know more and have therefore bought two other books about Pamela Harriman.

  20. 4 out of 5

    P

    Christopher Ogden makes this fascinating woman and the times in which she lived a very interesting read. Pamela was in the thick of many historical moments. Ogden also wrote about Margaret Thatcher which might be as well worthwhile to read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Gatlin

    I had to read this book after glancing at the front-cover photograph! Ms. Harriman was ruthless in her pursuit of rich men to keep her. She comes across as a bawdy, blowsy 19th century Madam; could've been one in another life. And that's not a put-down. Ann-Margret played her in a Lifetime biopic. I had to read this book after glancing at the front-cover photograph! Ms. Harriman was ruthless in her pursuit of rich men to keep her. She comes across as a bawdy, blowsy 19th century Madam; could've been one in another life. And that's not a put-down. Ann-Margret played her in a Lifetime biopic.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Donna Jones

    I wanted to read about Ms. Harriman because I've "run into her" in so many other biographies ... of Winston Churchill and of others who have had occasion to interact with her. She certainly had an interesting life! I wanted to read about Ms. Harriman because I've "run into her" in so many other biographies ... of Winston Churchill and of others who have had occasion to interact with her. She certainly had an interesting life!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ginger West

    Classic tale of a gold digger with the twist of said gold digger eventually makes herself productive person. I was on board with ol' Pam until she stole the jewelry that belonged to her stepdaughter's deceased mother. Classic tale of a gold digger with the twist of said gold digger eventually makes herself productive person. I was on board with ol' Pam until she stole the jewelry that belonged to her stepdaughter's deceased mother.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rhode

    Unlikable woman but good portrait

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    I didn't like her much so why did I read another book? I didn't like her much so why did I read another book?

  26. 5 out of 5

    Pat evert

    More interesting because of the famous people in her life! And - what a life!!!!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Book Concierge

    What a broad! This is the biography of Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman. A hugely entertaining read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    So gossipy! I loved it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    MJ

  30. 5 out of 5

    Holly E

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