Thursday, July 15, 2010

Slim Keith - The Triumph of the Small-Town Girl














Let's talk about Slim Keith (nee Nancy Gross in Pacific Grove, CA).  She was the small town girl who made good by using her innate intelligence, charm and looks.



In the mid-1930s, Nancy travelled to a resort in the Mojave Desert that was frequented by the movie stars of the day.  She had ambitions, but at this time, I would bet she hadn't formulated exactly what she wanted.  There, she met the actor William Powell (of "The Thin Man" fame) and it was he who gave her what was to be her lifelong nickname: "Slim."



In her autobiography, "Memories of a Rich and Imperfect Life," Slim says she hardly knew there was a Depression on, since her life of party after party in Hollywood didn't allow for views into what most of America was going through.  Eventually, she met and married the director Howard Hawks.  He immortalized her in the film "To Have and Have Not," when he featured Lauren Bacall as a girl Humphrey Bogart calls "Slim."  The famous line "You know how to whistle, don't you..." is attributed to the real Slim Keith.  The movie has remained a classic for various reasons, not least of which is the fact that Bacall and Bogart became lovers during filming.

Slim recorded in her book that Hawks had everything she wanted at the time: looks, charm, success, the house, the cars and the yacht.  Yet, the marriage was less than perfect.  He was a gambler, a womanizer, and she said, "a cold fish."

Enter husband #2:  the famous producer Leland Hayward, for whom she left Hawks.  Hayward was apparently, the love of her life.  When he left her after 12 years of marriage, she admitted that she "lost the best part of my life."

Throughout these two marriages, Slim had been improving herself:  She honed her natural sense of style and learned to dress her lanky figure; she learned to decorate, and to entertain on a lavish scale.  She modeled for fashion magazines, frequented famous night clubs, and became a leading society figure.


When Hayward left her, she entered into a loveless union with Sir Kenneth Keith, an English banker.  Sir Kenneth owned two homes and his aristocratic bona fides  would assure Slim and her daughter a solid place in society.  When that marriage ended, she returned to America and lived the life of the "ladies who lunch."  Slim Keith was one of the society "swans" that Truman Capote wrote of in his unfinished novel "Answered Prayers."


Slim Gross Hawks Hayward Keith was the epitome of the ambitious American girl who climbs the social ladder by using her smarts, charm and looks.  It was her contention that "it was more important to have an intelligence that showed, a humor that never failed, and a healthy interest in men," than anything else.

Slim died in 1990, aged 73... Long live the spirit, drive, and ambition she represented!

'Til next time.

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