Not since Truman Capoteâs Black and White Masked Ball more than two decades ago has there been so much razzle and dazzle, glitter and glamor, all for the glory of Aileen Elder Mehle, known to column readers around the country as Suzy.
Suzy has been seducing and surprising her readers for 30 years with teasing talk and tantalizing tales. And they love it. So on November 4th, 60 of New Yorkâs most influential Ladies, the kind she writes about, decided to pay her back in style with a Gold and Silver Ball Masque in her honor that Suzy insisted be a benefit for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Thatâs the way she is. And although the ball did rival Trumanâs famous tour de force, Suzy does not like being compared to Truman and his naughty deeds. Suzy likes to be a friend to the people she writes about.
Her friends called the night at the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel âIn Celebration of Suzy,â and rightfully so. Aileen Mehle has a lot to celebrate, primarily her recent move to Rupert Murdochâs New York Post for a deal even Suzy couldnât resist.
One thing is for sure, Suzy is a winner. She has outlasted and out-scooped every other social columnist who has ever dared to attempt to dominate New Yorkâs social world through the written word. She gets at least ten invitations a day to the best parties in town and admits she simply picks the ones that are most newsworthy. Once she accepts an invite she never cancels. And as far as the hostesses are concerned, once she accepts their party, they know the night is bound for glory.
But who is this Texas-born powerhouse who slyly takes on the worldâs richest and most powerful with such wit and style? âIâm a Gemini,â she says, âI can go from fiddy, frivolous, to deadly serious and I do. However, I donât have time for introspection, reflection or meditation. Iâm just trying to get a job done.â
And then there is the other Suzy who admits, âI have what Bill Buckley calls X-ray vision. He says I can see through all of us. That I can spot a phonyâŠ and I can. I think itâs a gift. Iâm seldom wrong about people. When I see someone and I donât get a good reaction, that feeling almost never changes. No, I canât say never. I have made two mistakes about people and I married both of them.â
AILEEN MEHLE: He was, I think, the best-looking man I ever saw in my life. I almost had to marry him because he was so good-looking. After we were divorced, I got contacted by The New York Mirror, who had seen the columns I had done in Miami. They wanted me to do it and they had just fired their society columnist. So I said, âNo, really, I canât do it. I havenât lived in New York for a long time. Iâve been living in Florida and Washington. I couldnât possibly write a New York column.â And they said, âWell, come on up here, anyway, and let us talk to you.â
LINDA ASHLAND: And the rest is history.
AM: I began to write three columns a week under the name of Suzy. They would put me on a different page each day. And I knew nothing. I was a total novice, but I loved them all, and they loved me, so I became a big hit. It was so fast. So then, the Hearsts said, âSuzy has to be anchored,â which means put on the same page every day. Now, nobody had been anchored on that paper except Walter Winchell. He was on page ten. He was on the descendency; his star was not twinkling as bright as it had been. So they put me on page six. They used my picture, and I was no longer anonymous. They started advertising me on the trucks. Theyâd say, âSuzyâs on fire,â âSuzyâs the hottest thing in town.â Thatâs the way I started in New York. And when the Mirror closed, I went to the Journal American and became Suzy Knickerbocker, and then I went to the World Journal Tribune, and when that closed, I went to the Daily News, and now Iâm with the New York Post.
LA: You were sort of an overnight star, in a way.
AM: Well, it did happen fast. The Hearsts thought the column was great. Then time came for me to sign a contract with the Journal American, and at that time, every paper in New York except The New York Times was after me. So, I thought to myself, as I was going to have lunch with Kingsbury Smith, the publisher of the Journal American, âShall I tell him this so that I can get a salary raise, so heâll realize how in demand I am?â Then I thought, âNo, no, no. Iâm just going to sit there and listen to him.â We sat down, and he said to me, âListen Aileen, I know all the other papers in New York are after you.: So I didnât have to say anything. He said it for me.
LA: What do you think it was that made your column so special?
AM: Well, style, wit, an attitude, an opinion, common sense, along with a sort of teasing, tongue-in-cheek send-up.
LA: And accuracy.
AM: My first thought when I write a column is accuracy. I try very, very hard to be accurate. If itâs a rumor, I say itâs a rumor. I donât like blind items; I almost never use them. I check as best as I can; in fact, I check and re-check. That doesnât mean that you win every time, but it does mean that your accuracy is very high, and your credibility goes right along with your accuracy. First I want them to believe me. Secondly, I want to be readable. And thirdly, whateverâs left over is the whipped cream. Also, I never take anything seriously, unless the time comes when something should be taken seriously, and then indeed I do.
LA: How do you decide whom to put in your column?
AM: Itâs just whoever happens to be doing something at the moment. And if they fit in with the people I think should be in my column.
LA: What kind of people?
AM: Certainly itâs the upper crust in the society world and in the world of showbiz because I throw out a little of both. The people who have the most money have the most bang, the most style.
LA: Do you feel powerful?
AM: Not at all.
AM: Of course, thereâs power, itâs the power of the printed word. It doesnât really matter what kind of writing you do. I always say, if you have a âhouses for rentâ column or a âpets for saleâ column, you already have a certain power, because you appear. I would rather be called influential than powerful. I would rather have people feel that perhaps I influence more than IâŠthat I sway, perhaps, their feelings about something.
LA: Compare the kind of people whom you write about today to the ones you were writing about in the â60s.
AM: The way it has changed is that money doesnât talk anymore; it shrieks. And so the people who have money care more about entering this social, hectic, out-every-night life, and seeing themselves written about and talked aboutâ
LA: The social climbersâŠ
AM: I discuss social climbers quite a lot because I have nothing against them per se. I always say weâre all trying to climb in some way or other. Weâre trying to do a better job, weâre perhaps trying to get to the top in some way. But, as Iâve said before, many people who have succeeded in every other area have not made it socially. And that is when they start thinking about being part of what they consider the glamor [aspect of success].
LA: What do you do when youâre no working?
AM: I take a vacation, I go and visit my friends, where itâs cozy and easy and beautiful. I donât think about anything except having a good time. I most often spend my summers in Europe.
LA: Is there anything that you havenât done that youâd like to do?
AM: Anywhere I want to go, I can go. So I tend to go to places that I love best, to be around the people that I like the best and the people who make me laugh.
LA: What kind of people are those?
AM: My kind of people. People who are very clever, who love to have a good time. I cannot stand being around dumb-bunnies; I just canât take it. I talk about this to my friends all the time, and they say they feel exactly the same way. They just want to be around sharp people who make them laugh and who make them happy.
LA: You donât want to hear anyoneâs problems?
AM: No, I hear their problems all the time. I hear their problems all the time.
LA: Do you think youâll ever marry again?
AM: I donât think so. I think twice is enough. I see so few marriages that I envy. I think marriage, if it works, is the ideal arrangement, but it works so seldom, and somehow I think itâs better to just love them and not marry them. What would I do with a husband? What would a husband do with me?
LA: Do you have any future plans?
AM: No, my future is all taken care of. Iâm contracted for quite a longâ
LA: Youâll be doing this forever.
AM: Well, not forever, but for a while.
LA: What else in life are you proud of that youâve done?
AM: Iâm very proud of my son. He has been a great source of joy to me, mostly because of his sense of humor and a giant brain. He is a lawyer and an investment banker. He has been a naval officer, as his father before him. My first husband was an admiral. He has made very high marks in everything he has ever done. Of course, just lately, he has been assistant secretary of the Treasury for domestic finance, with Don Regan. So, thatâs it, for me.
LA: Is he married?
AM: No, Iâm pushing him along.
LA: Do you see him often?
AM: Yes, I do. He lives in Washington now, but I see him.
LA: What does he think of all of this?
AM: He thinks itâs great that his mother is gainfully employed.
LA: Do you spend holidays with him?
AM: Yes, sometimes I do.
LA: What is Christmas like for you?
AM: I donât even think about things like Christmas.
LA: Do you ever give parties?
AM: Once in a while, I have people over. We drink champagne or we have some caviar, and I do that fairly frequently, but I donât have much time to do it. I am not geared toward those lines.
LA: So you never entertain?
AM: Not other than that. If they come over here for Christmas, then I have hams and turkeys and all sorts of food and cakes and desserts and candies. We have just a huge spread.
LA: Do you get a lot of special Christmas presents, fromâ
LA: Whatâs the most extravagant gift youâve ever received?
AM: Well, I canât remember. All I know is that I get about 250 presents every Christmas. My friends and I make a list, so that I can say thank you.
LA: Do you send out Christmas gifts ever?
AM: A few. Very few.
LA: What is the best party youâve ever been to?
AM: Iâve been to so many wonderful ones that itâs hard to say which is the best. In Portugal, there were two balls that stand out in my memory. The Patinio and the Schlumberger parties. Just lately Drue Heinzâ party for her husbandâs 75th birthday was the most ravishing Iâve been to, handled perfectly from beginning to end. I wrote three and a half columns on it, which is the most Iâve ever done on anything. But you see, private parties like that donât happen so often any more. I mean, even the rich in Europe, like Guy and Marie-Helene de Rothschild, who gave the most beautiful private parties, donât do that anymore. If they give a private party, itâs a small dinner.
LA: How do you get your information?
AM: I get it from everyone. I cannot discuss sources, but theyâre from the highest to the lowest to the in-between to the most unbelievable to the where-did-that-come from toâŠeverything, from the top to the bottom.
LA: What is gossip?
AM: Gossip starts on the front page of every paper and ends on the back page of every paper. On the front page there is gossip about people running the world. On the back page there is gossip about sports figures. Everything that is printed is just gossip. Rumors are printed from the beginning of the paper to the end, and I donât care what paper it is. That happens in magazines, too, unless youâre reading a magazine that tells you a recipe for the best chocolate cake youâve ever eaten in your life. Then it can still be gossip, because somebody can say, âI ate that and let me tell you what happened afterwards. Three people threw upâŠâ But itâs what makes the world go âround because it happens everywhere and at every moment of the day. After all, there is nothing as interesting to people as other people, particularly if those people are glamorous, rich, in the public eye, talented.
LA: Tell me about the days before you wrote any column. Where were you born?
AM: I was born in Texas, in El Paso. My motherâs family is of Spanish descent; thereâs very little Spanish blood left in me now. They were pioneers of El Paso. They were Spaniards, from Madrid, who held land grants from the King of Spain, just like the California land grants. In fact, a goodly portion of it may still be called âAscarate.â That was my great-great-great-great-grandfatherâs name, and he was the one who settled there. I was born there. My mother was born there, right on the banks of the Rio Grande River, in a house called Harts Mill, a beautiful house. My grandmother was born there, too. My fatherâs family came from Louisiana.
LA: What kind of life did you have in El Paso?
AM: It was a wonderful life. Just fun, fun, fun, fun. Boys, boys, boys. Parties, parties, parties. We all had a wonderful time. And I had a lot of wonderful girlfriends, some of whom Iâm still in touch with.
LA: What did you want to be when you grew up?
AM: I never thought about it. I read these things about people who say, âI always wanted to be an actress. I knew from the time that I was five that I wanted to be an actressâ or âI knew I wanted to be a writer.â But, I donât know, I just didnât think about it.