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In this photo released by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department on August 28, 2010, Paris Hilton is pictured in a police booking photo in Las Vegas, Nevada. According to reports, Hilton and her boyfriend Cy Waits were arrested late Friday night after being stopped on the Las Vegas Strip in a black Cadillac Escalade by a police motorcycle officer who smelled marijuana smoke coming from the vehicle driven by Waits. Hilton was charged with suspicion of felony cocaine possession after police found a small amount of cocaine in her purse. Waits charged with driving under the influence.
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Young women born or wed into great wealth, then cast into the public eye, are endowed with collective hope and expectation. Vessels of vicarious living, we suffer with them as they fall prey to gold diggers, mental illness and the responsibilities that come with privilege. Not all famous heiresses are doomed. There are those who use their resources and influence in positive ways.
Let’s take a look at some of the Celebutantes that preceded the Casey Johnsons and Paris Hiltons of todays media landscape. See the full gallery here.
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Brenda Frazier (two above), for whom the term Celebutante was coined in 1935, was the daughter of a wealthy Boston family and married football star Shipwreck Kelly, with whom she had one daughter. It was said that she suffered from a stiff neck, trying to keep her hair in perfect order. Later in life, she lived a hermetic existence, ravaged by anorexia and bulimia in Cape Cod.
Evelyn Nesbit, aka the girl in the red velvet swing, began life destitute, but blessed with beautiful auburn hair and a curvaceous figure and became an in-demand artists model as a teenager, until at age 16 she encountered Architect Stanford White, who according to lore, plied her with enough champagne to steal her virginity. White enjoyed pushing young women in the a red velvet covered swing for his aesthetic pleasure in a room of his apartmentwith mirrors. She carried on with White for a while, became involved with John Barrymore and then married Harry Kendall Thaw, who later murdered Stanford White at a theater performance in a rage of jealousy. Nesbit was eventually a vaudeville performer, silent film actress and penned two memoirs. Later in life she struggled with addiction, suicide attempts and alcoholism, eventually became a ceramics teacher. In 1955, a movie was made about her life called “The Girl In The Velvet Swing”.
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Barbara Hutton, called”poor little rich girl” by her generation, was heiress to the Woolworth and E.F Hutton fortunes. She came into her $50,000,000 inheritance in 1933. She was married seven times, but claimed to have loved only her third husband, actor Cary Grant. He was the only one of her husbands that didn’t take substantial money with them after each divorce. A shy young woman, Hutton was uncomfortable with her status. She struggled with anorexia throughout her life. She bore only one child, a son who was killed in an airplane crash when he was 36. She died at the Beverly Hills Hotel with only $3,500 to her name.
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Jane Holzer, also known as Baby Jane Holzer, was born to a wealthy Real Estate family and spent her early years living in Florida and the New York area. She was thrown into the limelight when a photo of her taken by David Bailey, appeared in British Vogue. She married into more Real Estate money when she connected with Leonard Holzer. The couple lived in a twelve room apartment on Park Avenue. Holzer became acquainted with Andy Warhol and starred in a number of his films and ran in the same Factory social circuits. She never became engulfed in the drug culture of the Factory scene and became an art collector, film producer and real estate star in her own right.
*Thanks to Marcia Dover Hoffman for her research and story conception for Society Women on the Edge.