Picks and Pans Review: No Regrets: the Life of Marietta Tree
by Caroline Seebohm
She had wanted to be a cross between Eleanor Roosevelt and Carole Lombard, but Marietta Tree, the socialite and Democratic activist who died in 1991, was more akin to Pamela Harriman: an attractive, politically savvy paramour of powerful men.
Born into Massachusetts's prominent Peabody clan in 1917, Tree was about 10 when she announced to her grandparents that she would someday become a U.S. senator. By 20, she had rethought the matter, saying, "I intend to get power through connection with a man." And so she did—but with several men, among them two husbands (lawyer Desmond Fitzgerald and Ronald Tree, a conservative Member of Parliament), a U.S. presidential candidate (Adlai Stevenson) and a Hollywood film director (John Huston).
Unfortunately this is a rather limp rag of a biography. Seebohm never manages to make comprehensible her subject's star power and, despite dutiful reporting on Tree's strong stand for civil rights and her work for human rights at the UN, rarely makes her seem appealing or frankly even very interesting; there are too many instances of self-absorption, infidelity and indifference toward her daughters, journalist Frances Fitzgerald and model Penelope Tree. And Seebohm has an unfortunate way of putting things. "Thus did domesticity arise like a soufflé between them, embracing them in its frothy warmth," she writes of the Tree-Stevenson liaison. Naughty Marietta, indeed. (Simon & Schuster, $27.50)
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