"You can’t be too rich or too thin” (or “A woman can never be too rich or too thin") is a popular phrase that originated in the 1960s. Women were obsessed with being thin (a popular 1960s model was called “Twiggy") and everyone wants more money.
The phrase was popularized by Babe Paley (1915-1978), the socialite wife of CBS television executive William S. Paley. The Duchess of Windsor (1895-1986) also used the phrase. Gloria Vanderbilt (born in 1924) has also been associated with “too rich or too thin.”
New York Journal-American society columnist “Suzy Knickerbocker” (Aileen Mehle) wrote in April 1967: “...and Mrs. J. Gordon Douglas Sr. of Newport. It is Mrs. Douglas who is responsible for one of the most trenchant remarks of recent years. ‘A woman,’ quoth she, ‘can never be too thin or too rich.’”
J. Gordon Douglas was the son of William Proctor Douglas, who had a New York mansion on West Fourteenth Street that was an early location for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. William Proctor Douglas was a yachtsman who won the America’s Cup; in 1876, he helped introduce polo to America. James Gordon Douglas (who died in 1960) was a stockbroker with E. F. Hutton & Co. His second marriage was to Garnette Crossan Dick. (A June 5, 1943 marriage announcement in the New York Times has “Garnett Crossan Dick,” but a July 21, 1960 obituary has “Garnette Crossan Dick.")
Wikipedia: Babe Paley
Barbara Cushing Mortimer Paley (July 5, 1915 – July 6, 1978) was an American socialite and style icon. She was first privately, and later publicly, known by the popular name “Babe” for most of her life.
Her famous style
Babe set about to cultivate and create a picture-perfect social world. The couple took an elegant apartment at the St. Regis and hired noted interior designer Billy Baldwin to decorate. She and Paley lived there during the week, while weekends were spent at Kiluna Farm, on eighty acres in Manhasset, Long Island, where a succession of landscape architects and garden designers beautified the grounds. The more distant retreat, Kiluna North, on Squam Lake, was purchased in 1975; there they entertained celebrities who welcomed the privacy; its woodlands provided settings for the film On Golden Pond (1981).
Though the anti-Semitic prejudices of society excluded the Paleys from a number of important social functions and exclusive clubs, Babe nevertheless kept a circle of high-society friends that included author Truman Capote and fellow socialite/style icon Slim Keith. Capote included Paley and Keith in his group of “swans” (glamorous New York socialite women) along with Gloria Guinness and C.Z. Guest. Paley famously dropped Capote as a friend when excerpts of his much-touted work in progress, Answered Prayers, revealed the gossipy confidences of many of New York’s elite.
In addition to lavish entertaining, Babe maintained her position on the best-dressed list fourteen times before being inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame in 1958. Babe regularly bought entire haute couture collections from major fashion houses. Her personal style was inspirational to thousands of women who tried to copy her, but as Bill Blass once observed, “I never saw her not grab anyone’s attention, the hair, the makeup, the crispness. You were never conscious of what she was wearing; you noticed Babe and nothing else.”
Her personal, unconventional style was enormously influential. A photograph of Babe with a scarf tied to her handbag, for example, created a trendy tidal wave that millions of women emulated. She often mixed extravagant jewelry with cheap costume pieces, and embraced letting her hair go gray instead of camouflaging it with dye. In a stroke of modernism, she made pantsuits chic.
Wikipedia: Truman Capote
Truman Capote (pronounced /ˈtruːmən kəˈpoʊti/) (30 September 1924, New Orleans, Louisiana – 25 August 1984, Los Angeles, California) was an American writer whose short stories, novels, plays, and non-fiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) and In Cold Blood (1965), which he labeled a “non-fiction novel”. At least 20 films and television dramas have been produced from Capote novels, stories and screenplays.
Wallis, Duchess of Windsor
Wallis, Duchess of Windsor (born Bessie Wallis Warfield, later Spencer, then Simpson; 19 June 1895 or 1896 – 24 April 1986) was an American socialite who married, as her third husband, Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, fo rmerly King Edward VIII.
Growing up, Wallis and her widowed mother were partly supported by their wealthier relatives. Her first marriage, to a U.S. naval officer, was punctuated with periods of separation and eventually ended in divorce. In 1934, during her second marriage, she allegedly became the mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales. Two years later, after Edward’s accession as King, Wallis divorced her second husband and Edward proposed to her.
The King’s desire to marry a twice-divorced American with two living ex-husbands and a reputation as an opportunist caused a constitutional crisis in the United Kingdom and the Dominions, which ultimately led to the King’s abdication in December 1936 to marry “the woman I love”. After the abdication, the former king was created Duke of Windsor by his brother George VI. Edward married Wallis six months later, after which she was formally known as the Duchess of Windsor, without the style “Her Royal Highness”.
Before, during and after World War II, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were suspected by many in government and society of being Nazi sympathisers. In the 1950s and 1960s, she and the Duke shuttled between Europe and the United States, living a life of leisure as society celebrities. After the Duke’s death in 1972, the Duchess lived in seclusion and was rarely seen in public. Her private life has been a source of much speculation, and she remains a controversial figure in British history.
The Quote Verifier:
Who Said What, Where, and When
By Ralph Keyes
New York, NY: Macmillan
“You can never be too RICH or too thin.”
This popular maxim has been attributed to Dorothy Parker, Joan Rivers, Rose Kennedy, Diana Vreeland, and—most often—either the Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson) or Babe Paley. In the early 1970s the duchess even had these words embroidered on a throw pillow. No matter how rich and thin she may have been, Mrs. Simpson was not particularly clever and is unlikely to have coined this phrase. Babe Paley is a more promising candidate. THe comely wife of CBS founder William Paley was known for her tart tongue. Nonetheless, no credible evidence exists that she coined this remark. THe most likely candidate of all is one to whom the observation is seldom attributed: author Truman Capote. According to quote compiler Alec Lewis, Capote said he observed that you can’t be too rich or thin on The David Susskind Show in the late 1950s (probably 1959). Capote was close to Babe Paley and could have fed her the line.
Verdict: Credit Truman Capote as originator, tentatively, and Babe Paley as primary publicist.
The Yale Book of Quotations
Edited by Fred R. Shaprio
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson)
U.S.-born British aristocrat, 1896-1986
“You can’t be too rich or too thin.”
Quoted in L. A. Times, 17 June 1970
24 April 1967, Syracuse (NY) Herald-Journal, Suzy Knickerbocker column (from New York), pg. 15, col. 3:
...and Mrs. J. Gordon Douglas Sr. of Newport. It is Mrs. Douglas who is responsible for one of the most trenchant remarks of recent years. “A woman,” quoth she, “can never be too thin or too rich.” Think about it…
15 October 1967, Chicago (IL) Tribune, section 9, pg. 2:
“A woman can never be too rich or too thin,” said one of the Beautiful People as reported by Suzy Knickerbocker last spring.
2 March 1968, Lebanon (PA) Daily News, Walter Winchell column, pg. 7, col. 4:
At Goldie’s: “There are two things a woman never is—Too Rich or Too Thin.”
Google News Archive
13 May 1968, Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette, “Squirrel Cage” by Douglas Welch, pg. 41, col. 1:
And she said: “Why don’t you beguile me with something Mrs. William S. Paley has said lately? Every time I pick up a women’s magazine Mrs. Paley is saying something that makes me terribly proud I am a woman.”
And I said: “Well, of course, you know her most profound saying? She said that a woman can’t be too rich or too thin.”
And she said: “Oh, everyone knows she said THAT! For a while there, they were going to put it on our silver dolars instead of In God We Trust because it more nearly reflects our modern faith.”
22 July 1969, Long Branch (CA) Press-Telegram, “Wonderful Washington” by Virginia Weldon Kelly, pg. B9, col. 3:
Usually the rich are very thin. There is a cliche currently in ultra society that no woman can be too rich or too thin.
6 June 1971, Elyria (OH) Chronicle-Telegram, “After a fashion...Duchess of Windsor is forever young at heart” by Marian Christy, pg. C2:
Irreverently, two yelping, growling black pugs precede the Duchess’s entrance, challenging the stranger. Pandemonium is halted when the queenly Duchess slides back into a couch and issues soothing words.
One pug squats on a pillow on which has been needlepointed, “You can’t be too thin or too rich.”
17 September 1972, San Antonio (TX) Light, “Cassini Carousel” by Igor and Oleg Cassini, pg. 10H, col. 1:
There’s an old saying that you can’t be too rich or too thin, but heiress Gloria Vanderbilt’s magazine editor husband, Wyatt Cooper, doesn’t agree. With Gloria down to 98 pounds, word is out that Wyatt doesn’t like it and there is some tension at home. He wants her to fatten up.
11 February 1973, San Antonio (TX) Light, “Those Thin but Frantic Woman” by Judy Kelemesrid (Harper’s Bazaar), part IV, pg. 1, cols 1-2:
“You can never be too rich or too thin.”
Nobody is really sure who first uttered these immortal words. Some say it was Babe Paley; others, the Duchess of Windsor or Gloria Guinness. At any rate, for at least two decades now, that quote has been the watchword of those skinny frantic ladies who flit around town from fashion show to fancy lunch to fittings with their favorite designers.
Ask them why they are obsessed with being thin, and they will probably reply: “For good health reasons, dahling.” But when pressed, or in off-the-record comments, they are likely to tell you they are trying to out-skinny their friends. Or make the Best Dressed List. Or please their husbands (or lovers).
New York City • Food/Drink • (1) Comments • Wednesday, January 14, 2009 • Permalink