Taylor Swift's new song, "The Last Great American Dynasty", is about Rebekah Harkness, the scandal-stricken personality who once owned the 2013 Watch Hill mansion in Rhode Island
Taylor Swift's eighth album "Folklore" is a collection of songs "written from the perspective of people I've never met". One such person is Rebekah Harkness, an eccentric celebrity who Swift described as "an unsuitable widow who takes revenge on the city that drove her out."
This & # 39; city & # 39; is Watch Hill, Rhode Island – a wealthy coastal village where Swift bought a cliff-top mansion in 2013 that was once owned by Rebekah and her husband William Harkness, a heir to Standard Oil who was one of the richest men in America.
The newly married couple bought the manor house with 40 rooms in 1947 and called it "holiday home", in which Rebekah Salvador Dalí, her personal yogi B.K.S. Iyengar and her pet raccoon.
Harkness was only married for seven years and inherited her husband's great fortune after he died of a heart attack in 1953. As a widow, she renovated the Rhode Island mansion to house 8 kitchens and 21 bathrooms. This arrangement effectively prevented her from seeing three children regularly, ”the New York Times said.
Although she was a talented sculptor, composer and generous patron of ballet; It's the glaring details of Harkness’s life that define her legacy.
She rang the doorbell of J. D. Salinger once, disguised as a cleaning lady. She also hit her sister's debutante ball with mineral oil. She cleaned her pool with Dom Perignon, colored chocolate mousse blue, and made enemies when she turned her neighbor's cat light green in revenge. She killed her goldfish by filling the tank with scotch and enjoyed moving huge amounts of money between bank accounts to confuse her accountants.
Rebekah Harkness became one of the richest women in America after inheriting her husband's huge fortune from Standard Oil when he died in 1953. The couple married in 1947 and bought the oceanfront home in Rhode Island that Taylor now owns and called it the "Holiday House." After the death of William Harkness, Rebekah spent his fortune living a lavish champagne and drug life in homes around the world where she, Salvador Dalí, her personal yogi B.K.S. Iyengar and her pet raccoon
Harkness is best known for the chaotic legacy she left behind. She rang the doorbell of J. D. Salinger once, disguised as a cleaning lady. She also hit her sister's debutante ball with mineral oil. She cleaned her pool with Dom Perignon, colored chocolate mousse blue, and made enemies when she turned her neighbor's cat light green in revenge
Swift bought & # 39; Holiday House & # 39; 2013 for $ 17 million. The lyrics to their song read: & # 39; Bill was the heir to Standard Oil's name and money / And the city said: & # 39; How did middle class divorce? & # 39; / The wedding was charming, albeit a little gauche / New money only goes so far / They chose a house and called it "holiday home"
With millions to burn her life, she sank into chaos and excess, defined by drugs, madness, suicide, subsequent marriages, and homes around the world. She indulged in the luxury her frugal dead husband had frowned upon: a ski chalet in Switzerland, a palatial penthouse in the exclusive Westbury Hotel on Madison Avenue, endless amounts of champagne and curious "vitamin B injections" from New York's infamous Dr. Feelgood.
Swift's lyrics read: "There is the greatest woman who has ever seen this city. She had a wonderful time ruining everything."
Her son Allen said that she had surrounded herself with "all the fairies flying from the ground, the extortionate lawyers, the crazy people, the people in a trance".
Harkness was the second daughter of three children, who was born into a socially known family in St. Louis in 1915. She was raised by a nanny who was checked out of her work in an asylum. Her father, a successful stockbroker, was known as the "bully" who alternated between terror and total disregard, while her mother was too busy with her own social calendar to care for her own children.
Rebekah attended high school in Fermata, South Carolina, where her classmates were found in the American aristocracy: Roosevelts, Auchinclosses, and Biddles. She wrote in her scrapbook that she had planned to "do everything bad".
Her group of friends formed a "subculture of local debutantes" and called themselves "B *** h Pack", the New York Times reported. They enjoyed good-natured rebellions, especially at social events where they performed striptease dances on dining tables to shock and shock other guests.
Her first marriage was to W. Dickson Pierce, a high-profile commercial photographer with whom she had two children: Allen Pierce and Ann Terry Pierce. Like her own mother, Rebekka was emotionally distant.
She met William Hale Harkness, the dashing heir of the Standard Oil Empire in 1947 when she was summering in her parents' vacation home in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. William Harkness' great-uncle originally employed John D. Rockefeller when the company was founded in 1870.
He was 15 years older than her, but the two married in a private ceremony attended by their two children and William's daughter from his first marriage – Elizabeth & # 39; Buffy & # 39; Grant Montgomery (she grew up and married actor Robert Montgomery and was the mother of actress Elizabeth Montgomery).
Swift's texts read: & # 39; Bill was the heir to Standard Oil's name and money / And the city said: & # 39; How did middle class divorce? & # 39; / The wedding was charming, albeit a little gauche / There is only so much new money going / You chose a house and called it "holiday home".
The couple commuted between their & # 39; Holiday House & # 39; and her colossal Park Avenue Duplex, where William set out to make Rebekah a real matron. She had given birth to another daughter, Edith Hale Harkness, who had spent her whole life inside and outside of mental hospitals.
She married twice after William's death, both times with different doctors. Both ended in divorce.
Rebekah Harkness and her Harkness Ballet Company photographed on the Rhode Island estate in 1964. Harkness founded their own ballet school and company after arguing with Jerome Robbins and the Joffrey Ballet School when they refused to rename their company in their honor. Jane Remer, the company's deputy director, recalled: “I was sitting at a desk that was worth more than my apartment! Every morning she and I had something to discuss, Rebekah came down in her pink and blue jerseys and literally stood on her head, and we had the conversation with her upside down. It would all be very proustical and would never have made too much sense. & # 39;
Her last partner was Bobby Scevers, a 25-year-old man who, according to Craig Unger, the biographer of Rebekah, was a self-proclaimed homosexual. After Rebekah's death from stomach cancer in 1982, the New York Times wrote: “Mr. Scevers has an amazing way of getting right in the middle of every sentence he uttered. he seems to think that Rebekah Harkness & # 39; death happened to him more than her & # 39 ;.
Taylor Swift's new song, "The Last Great American Dynasty," is about Rebekah Harkness, the scandal-stricken personality who once owned Watch Hill, Rhode Island's Swift mansion, acquired in 2015
There was no lost love between Scevers and Harkness’s children. He declared them "the most worthless, selfish, useless creatures I've ever seen".
But few people lived more tortured than the three children of Harkness. Edith attempted suicide several times and failed before she succeeded in 1982 after her mother's death. She jumped off the roofs and overdosed pills and experienced both events. Craig Unger said Rebekah asked, "How should she do this? Is there a fancy way? & # 39;
According to Unger, Bobby Scevers replied coolly: "I'm glad Edith is gone. I can't believe it took her so long to be successful. & # 39;
Allen Pierce, Rebekah's only son, was second-degree convicted of murder after shooting a man during a fight. He was incarcerated in a Florida prison for ten years and was unable to attend his mother's funeral in 1982. “Her son Allen says the years he spent in prison were the happiest in his life. He likes to talk about blowing people away, ”the New York Times reported.
Rebekah's daughter Ann-Terry Pierce gave birth to a severely disabled child named Angel, who died at the age of ten. At first Rebekah showed genuine affection for the child, but according to the New York Times, her passion, as it was, quickly burned out, accidentally, when the baby pulled a ribbon from her hair.
In 1961, Rebekah Harkness decided to put her excess money into the Robert Joffrey ballet company, which was then headed by the famous choreographer Jerome Robbins. In the required manner, she did it in & # 39;great – albeit occasionally in Marie Antoinette style, ”the New York Times reported.
She was & # 39; generous, lavish, wanton, demanding and delusional & # 39 ;; and finally severed ties with Joffrey when they refused to rename the company in their honor. She immediately withdrew her financial support and opened her own dance company, which she called "Harkness Ballet". She poached 14 Joffrey dancers and hired the greats: George Skibine, Marjorie Tallchief and Alvin Ailey. She paid Andy Warhol for the production design.
She bought an old RKO colonial theater on Broadway and 62nd Street to serve as the company's playhouse, and spent millions of dollars to renovate it to make it look like the St. Petersburg Ballet School.
"You see," she said apologetically, "money can buy anything."
A New York Times art punished Harkness for building her company on the ruins of an old one. The Rebekah Harkness Foundation has paralyzed the Joffrey Ballet for the present and endangered the future of the company, ”he said. "This is a moral issue."
Harkness spoiled her dancers with lavish gifts: perfume, scarves and expensive leather goods. "If a dancer needed a nose job or orthodontics, she paid the bill," wrote Unger.
By the time the company was founded in 1975, Harkness had invested the equivalent of $ 86 million (in today's money) to be successful.
A dancer is quoted in the New York Times: “We were the favorites. We were loved ones.
Jane Remer, deputy director of the company, remembered a more eccentric behavior and remembered how Rebekah came down in her pink and blue jerseys and literally stood on her head and we had the conversation with her on our heads. It would all be very proustical and would never have made too much sense. & # 39;
In the 1970s, Harkness became increasingly addicted to drugs. She was a regular patient of the infamous Dr. Feelgood and like so many of his other patients (JFK, Truman Capote, Elvis Presley, Tennessee Williams, Marlene Dietrich) became addicted to his curious "vitamin B" injections. She was also heavily reliant on pain relievers and testosterone, "which spilled blood on her bathrooms and calcified her muscles," the New York Times wrote.
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