I believe in IS. It‘s the singular moment that takes you from what was, to what will be. ‗IS‘ is the face of reality. At times it‘s as warm and comforting as the summer sun against your skin; then without warning it can grow ugly beyond definition, a thing you‘d turn away from if given the choice, but the truth is you don‘t have a choice. Nobody does. We don‘t get to choose the ‗IS‘ of our life. ‗IS‘ simply shows up on our doorstep and says here I am, so deal with it. In all probability, I should have died fifty two years ago; but after seventeen years of hanging onto the tail of the tiger, I wasn‘t quite ready to let go.
You might expect that a woman born into a family with turn of the century steel money and an aristocratic heritage would be plunked down on the pathway of plenty, but you‘d be wrong. I grew up fatherless, crammed into a one room cottage with Mother and two siblings born of a different father. At times I could envision my half-brother, Scott, a valiant protector. Other times he became my tormentor. With our sister Dorothy Lee, there was no such question—she hated me from the moment I was born. Perhaps I could fault Mother for the haphazard choices that forced us into such a situation, but why lay blame on her when in some ways I‘m as reckless and irresponsible as she ever dreamed of being. The likelihood is that she and I both inherited an errant gene, one that burrows its way into your soul and causes you to fly in the face of tradition, deny impossibility, and forge a pathway through this briar patch of life. If such a gene exists, it probably originated with Grandmother Alice Paul, a suffragette who marched herself down to Washington demanding the right to vote; then with two suitcases and three little girls slipped away in the dark of night, leaving her husband behind. Long before I entered this world I‘d been infused with Grandmother‘s sense of defiance and my father‘s passion for unbridled freedom. Little wonder I grew up a tomboy, a daredevil, a latchkey kid who neither knew nor understood the meaning of fear.
The life I‘m now living began in Southern Florida on a sweltering summer day, when the air was thick with humidity and my skin prickled with restlessness. It was June 2, 1958; two days after I‘d strutted across the stage, a finalist in the New Smyrna Beach Beauty Pageant, and three days before I‘d planned to wear the new prom gown hanging in the closet. I was seventeen, the age when sitting still is impossible, boredom worse than death, and a new adventure lurking around every corner. After spending over a year in New York, I‘d returned to Daytona searching for something—freedom perhaps, or that magical stimulus that would quicken my heartbeat and send challenge pulsing through my veins.
At the age of fifteen, I had been allowed to go to Manhattan to attend the Semple Finishing School for Girls; but after a month of rather ridiculous curfew restrictions and listening to the same etiquette lessons Mother had preached from the time I was born, I moved out. My first thought was the Barbizon Plaza, an exclusive hotel for women. For a while it looked as though I might be accepted, but once they discovered I was not yet sixteen, I received a polite no. It was the same story with several other women‘s hotels; apparently a fifteen year old girl was something no one wanted as their responsibility. In desperation, I turned to my brother Scott, who was married to a Jewish woman. She pulled a few strings and got me into a Jewish Women‘s Hotel. If I were to stay in New York, it seemed to be my only option.
After being told repeatedly that I should work as a model, and equipped with few marketable talents other than my good looks, I decided to give modeling a shot. It was at a casting call that I met the three gay men, also models, who would ultimately become my best friends and protectors. We struck up a conversation and when they learned my age, Sam said, “Fifteen! What‘s a girl your age doing in New York alone? Do you even realize the dangers of this business? Some agencies issue a call for models, but they‘re not really looking for models! Get involved in something like that, and you could end up in serious trouble.” The other two agreed. “We‘ve got a spare room,” Robert said, “You can move in with us and we‘ll get you to the legitimate agencies.” Within the week, I left the hotel and moved in with my new friends.