C.Z. Guest Was a Society Queen Who Made a Career Out of Gardening

Fashion

Among Truman Capote’s swans was C.Z. Guest, one of his few friends that continued to speak with him after the release of his explosive book excerpt.

A native of Boston, Guest was born Lucy Douglas Cochrane. (According to the Associated Press, “C.Z.” was a version of her siblings’ nickname, which was Sissy.) She wasn’t much of a student but was one of the most high-profile Boston socialites, according to Time. After making her debut in 1937, she pursued acting. She was in a revival of the Ziegfeld Follies, the New York Times reported, but had no success breaking into film.

original caption guests at the knickerbocker ball new york, new york the knickerbocker ball, social highlight of the season, is held at the waldorf astoria in new york, december 12, for the benefit of the sister elizabeth kenny foundation and the new york foundling hospital present among the famous and beautifully attired ladies were mrs winston guest left and actress anita colby the ball was the fifth since the formation of the foundation whose purpose it is to serve the cause of children december 12, 1952

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C.Z. Guest with Anita Colby at the Knickerbocker Ball, held at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1952.

In 1947 she married Winston Frederick Churchill Guest, a steel heir, polo player, and second cousin of Winston Churchill, at Ernest Hemingway’s home in Cuba, the New York Times wrote. Hemingway was the best man.

Guest had a very vibrant life and was said to have been painted by both Diego Rivera (nude) and Salvador Dali (in a twin set). In 1962 she was on the cover of Time, with the headline “What It’s Like Today in Society.” She lived on a 150-acre property in Long Island, the magazine reported, and a Manhattan apartment on Sutton Place. She was considered one of the best-dressed women of her era and wore pieces by designers like Givenchy, Adolfo, and Mainbocher. Her circle of friends was varied enough to include Bruce Weber, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Andy Warhol, and Estée Lauder.

american socialite mrs winston f c guest aka c z guest, 1920 2003 beside the pool of her ocean front estate, villa artemis, in palm beach, florida, circa 1955 photo by slim aaronshulton archivegetty imagespinterest
Slim Aarons

Guest at Villa Artemis, her home in Palm Beach.

“I’m not ashamed of the way I live,” she told writer Sally Quinn in the Washington Post in 1977. “Look at the jobs I’ve given people. If you have money and servants then you’re helping somebody. If rich people didn’t spend money the country would be in much worse shape than it is today. If you have money then you give people pleasure. I wish I had more money. I’d spend more.”

Guest’s greatest passion was riding. After she was injured in an accident, she turned her energy towards gardening and began writing a column on the topic that was syndicated by 350 newspapers. She gave frank advice and had loyal readers. At that time, it was very unusual for a woman of her social standing to write professionally. In 1976, she published a book, “First Garden.” The introduction was written by Truman Capote and Cecil Beaton provided illustrations.

winston frederick churchill guest 1906 1982 and his wife c z guest 1920 2003 attend a party held in honour of the duke and duchess of windsor at the waldorf astoria, park lane, new york, 1953 photo by slim aaronshulton archivegetty images

Slim Aarons

C.Z. with her husband Winston Frederick Churchill Guest in 1953.

While promoting the book, she was appalled by an interviewer who asked her if she was rich. “Well, do you know what I did then? I said to her, ‘Have you ever had an abortion?’” she recalled in the Washington Post. “’Naturally she looked shocked so I said, ‘My dear, you have just asked me the rudest question one human being can ask another. So I thought I would ask you the same kind of question.’”

She died in 2003 at age 83.

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