An heiress and New York socialite, at the age of 23 Alice Antoinette DeLamar became one of the most eligible unmarried women in America. Between her coming-out party at the Sherry-Netherland in 1915 and the sudden death of her mining magnate father three years later, newspapers from Kansas, Cleveland, and Chicago, as well New York’s own venerable columnist Cholly Knickerbocker, rushed to publish speculation as to whom Miss DeLamar would marry. But she failed to satisfy the tabloids and salon chatter, choosing to remain single, childless and a lesbian. While living under the public radar for the remainder of her 88 years, Alice nonetheless managed to become a significant, yet unsung patron and benefactor of notable artists, writers, actors, choreographers, and dancers, helping them flourish over an era spanning two World Wars and a Depression when resources were thin, uncertain yet much needed.
In the late 1970s friends had encouraged Alice to write the life story of her Dutch father who had been a child stowaway. Captain Joseph Raphael DeLamar had a backstory full of adventure – ship stowaway, harrowing ventures as a buccaneer, the pursuit of degrees in chemistry and metallurgy leading to prosperous mining ventures across The West, the construction of architecturally notable estates, and a lifestyle of excess amongst his neighbors the Morgans, the Vanderbilts and the Roosevelts. In penning Joseph’s biography Alice integrated her own memoir but allegedly and rapidly the combined father/daughter manuscript disappeared into the discarded garbage bags.
I began searching for the manuscript after I discovered that a friend of Alice’s had salvaged what she could from the garbage bags over a series of nights in August 1983. Decades later she began dispersing bits and pieces of Alice’s belongings to devotees around the globe – those who were forever grateful for Alice’s generosity and friendship. Unlike many biographers, however, I haven’t had a formal literary estate to work with: no complete diaries, journals, photo albums or engagement calendars from which to reconstruct her life story. But thankfully Alice was a prolific letter writer. She produced multi-page legible handwritten letters recounting endless anecdotes of people’s lives, their foibles and affairs, cultural chatter about art, theatre, books, travel, and politics that provide an autobiographical lens onto her life and era. I am a “headhunter” by professional trade, insatiably curious about people’s stories, adept at conducting research, tracking down sources, interviewing and writing. I have made personal contact with the remaining sources with firsthand knowledge of Alice’s life, and I have amassed the first ever collection of photos, letters and video coverage that together finally tell Alice’s story.