Friday 19 December 2014

The diplomat's daughter

She was an American beauty, an heiress and the daughter of a colourful international couple. But Anne Bullitt died broken, almost blind, a ward of the Irish court. Along the way she married four times, experienced domestic violence, dealt in bloodstock and became chatelaine of a famous Irish estate. In an extract from his new book, The Dark Side of Celebrity, Liam Collins tells Bullitt's extraordinary story

When the prestigious London auctioneers Christie's sell a collection of haute-couture gowns as part of its Fashion Through The Ages sale next month it will bring down the final curtain on the life-long drama of "Little Annie" Bullitt, the American heiress and the last chatelaine of Palmerstown House.

When she bought the estate near Kildare in 1956 she was a wealthy socialite who mixed in international society and had just broken up with the third of her four husbands. When she left it for the last time more than 40 years later she was a lonely and broken woman, almost blind, a ward of the Irish court and about to embroil her advisers in a complicated court case with the wealthy Citywest owner, Jim Mansfield, that would last for almost a decade.

At stake in the dispute were a collection of valuables that included a Picasso painting, a couple of Ming vases, a pair of duelling pistols that had been given as a present to America's first president George Washington, and a collection of 80 high-fashion items, dresses by the Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga and Irish designer Sybil Connolly as well as accoutrements by Yves St Laurent.

It is these fashion items that will be sold at the South Kensington salesrooms of Christie's on Thursday.

How did such a glittering life end in such sadness?

Anne Moen Bullitt was born in Paris on February 24, 1924. Her father was a colourful American diplomat, William Christian Bullitt, who had been to Russia and brokered a deal with the revolutionaries under Lenin -- a deal that was repudiated by the man who sent him there, president Woodrow Wilson. Her mother, Louise Bryant, was a journalist, lover of the playwright Eugene O'Neill and wife of John Reed who is buried in the Kremlin and was the author of a famous eye-witness account of the events of October 1917, Ten Days That Shook the World.

Still bitter about Woodrow Wilson's "treachery", Bullitt had resolved to find some exotic place where he could "lie in the sand and watch the world go to hell". Instead he found himself in the arms of the glamorous widow Louise Bryant in Paris.

Having swapped diplomacy for writing, Bullitt had embarked on a collaboration with Sigmund Freud on a psychological study of his enemy Woodrow Wilson, which was so controversial that it wasn't published in the United States until the Sixties.

As a child Anne Bullitt would, according to Freud, prove one his great theories. When he asked her if she loved her father, the young Anne Bullitt replied: "My father is God."

"You know I have developed a theory that male children's first love is their mother and females' their father. But this is the first time a child has confirmed my theory," concluded Freud.

Then Louise began drinking heavily and told her husband in an angry letter: "I have lived too long with unconventional people to be suddenly made into a Bourgeoisie." Bullitt divorced her in 1930 and because of her drinking and a scandalous lesbian relationship he was awarded sole custody of their young daughter.

"I never have news of Anne. It is difficult for me to work," she wrote to friends from Paris, a lonely, sick alcoholic waiting for the cheque to arrive from Bullitt, who was prepared to give her a generous allowance as long as she stayed well away from him and their child.

In 1933 Bullitt was appointed the first United States ambassador to the USSR by his friend, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He sailed for Europe in November of that year accompanied by Anne, now nine, and her West Highland terrier, Pie-Pie.

It was a strange life for a young girl, living in a suite in the National Hotel in Moscow while the embassy was being built, her father being cheered in the streets and attending endless parties in Moscow where the diplomats drank the finest wines and dined on the choicest caviar while more than nine million peasants died in the countryside from starvation.

Already divorced by May 1947, Anne then married Nicholas Duke Biddle, an American diplomat based in Spain. In 1952 her husband resigned from his job and the couple moved to London where he took up a career as an investment banker.

In keeping with her lifelong interest in horses they began to mix with "the racing set". That was how she came to meet Roderic More O'Ferrall, the owner of the famous Kildangan Stud, an impressive stately home near Monasterevin, Co Kildare, and his colourful brothers, Francis and Rory, at Lingfield Races in the summer of 1954.

Anne Bullitt bought a filly from Francis "Frank" More O'Ferrall and, when he decided to run her in the 1,000 Guineas at The Curragh on May 26, 1954, she and her husband Nicholas decided it would be "rather fun" to come over to Ireland. It was, after all, the land of her grandfather whose name was Mohan, which had been anglicised to "Moen" by her snobbish father.

Sunday Independent

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