The Bridesmaid's Daughter: From Grace Kelly's Wedding to a Women's Shelter - Searching for the Truth About My Mother

The Bridesmaid's Daughter: From Grace Kelly's Wedding to a Women's Shelter - Searching for the Truth About My Mother

by Nyna Giles, Eve Claxton

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Overview

A daughter’s moving search to understand her mother, Carolyn Scott—once a bridesmaid to Princess Grace and one of the first Ford models—who later in life spent years living in a homeless shelter.

Nyna Giles was picking up groceries at the supermarket one day when she looked down and saw the headline on the cover of a tabloid: “Former Bridesmaid of Princess Grace Lives in Homeless Shelter.” Nyna was stunned, shocked to see her family’s private ordeal made so public—the woman mentioned on that cover, Carolyn Scott Reybold, was her mother.

Nyna’s childhood had been spent in doctor’s offices. Too ill, she was told, to go to school like other children, she spent nearly every waking moment at her mother’s side at their isolated Long Island estate or on trips into the city to see the ballet. The doctors couldn’t tell her what was wrong, but as Nyna grew up, her mother, who’d always seemed fragile, became more and more distant. Now Nyna was forced to confront an agonizing realization: she barely knew the woman on the magazine in front of her.

She knew that her mother had been a model after arriving in New York in 1947, living at the Barbizon Hotel, where she’d met the young Grace Kelly and that the two had become fast friends. Nyna had seen the photos of Carolyn at Grace’s wedding, wearing the yellow bridesmaid gown that had hung in her closet for years. But how had the seemingly confident, glamorous woman in those pictures become the mother she knew growing up—the mother who was now living in a shelter?

In this powerful memoir of friendship and motherhood, Nyna Giles uncovers her mother’s past to answer the questions she never knew to ask.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250115492
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/27/2018
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 562,610
Product dimensions: 5.78(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.96(d)

About the Author

NYNA GILES is the youngest daughter of Carolyn Scott Reybold, a model best known as one of Grace Kelly's bridesmaids. Having had a successful, 20-year career in advertising, digital marketing and sales, Nyna now serves as Chief Operating Officer for Giles Communications, a leading public relations company. She is also a tireless advocate for the mentally ill, having served as a vice president on the board of The Association for Mentally Ill Children of Westchester, Inc. for 10 years. She lives in Westchester County, New York with her husband.

EVE CLAXTON is a writer, editor, and Peabody award-winning radio producer. She’s worked as an editor or co-writer on numerous nonfiction books.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Carolyn

The young woman in the photograph isn't my mother yet, and she isn't Grace's bridesmaid. It's the summer of 1947, and she's still Carolyn Schaffner, about to leave Steubenville, Ohio, for New York City. She's so young, barely nineteen years old, slender and pale-complexioned, with angled cheekbones and her dark hair in a pageboy, smiling out at the future ahead of her.

Carolyn had wanted to live in New York for as long as she could remember. Growing up in the little clapboard house on Pennsylvania Avenue in her hardscrabble hometown, she always felt as if she belonged someplace else, if she could only figure out how to get there. Her parents had divorced when she was young, her father moving away to Virginia. Her mother, Dorothy, was dark-haired like Carolyn, with the good looks of a movie star, and she quickly remarried. Dorothy had two more children with her new husband, Joe. Carolyn often felt that her half brother and half sister were her mother's real family, and that she — Carolyn — was somehow on the outside, watching them from a distance. Joe ran a small laundry service. Carolyn's new stepfather was a tall, coldhearted man, who believed that her role in the house was to provide unpaid labor for the benefit of him and his children. There were always dishes for her to clean, messes to clear up, her brother and sister's clothing to wash. The smog of Steubenville's steel mills left behind a layer of grit on every surface of the house that, despite her weekly scrubbing with pine and Lysol, never stayed away. It was easy to displease Joe. If Carolyn missed her curfew in the evening by as much as a minute, her stepfather would bolt the doors and refuse to let her in. Then she would have to stay with her friend who lived across the street, or walk three miles to her cousins' house to find a bed for the night. When Carolyn returned in the morning, the stack of dishes in the kitchen sink was still there from the night before, waiting for her to wash them.

When Carolyn was younger, her birth father, Harold Schaffner, would occasionally come to visit. Each time, Dorothy would warn Carolyn, "the bad man is coming." Before long, the visits from the bad man stopped and it was only when Carolyn turned fifteen that she decided she wanted to seek out her true father. She went to the local police chief and asked for help. The police chief managed to track down Harold in West Virginia. That summer, Carolyn spent two months with her father, meeting her two half siblings there.

After she graduated from high school, she got a job in the local department store, in the children's shoe division. She worked and saved as much as she could, but she worried that if she stayed in Steubenville too long, she'd end up marrying a local boy, and then she'd never escape. There were so few options for a young woman in search of an exit, but Carolyn had an important asset. Ever since childhood people had complimented her on her appearance: her dark brown eyes, her winning, natural smile; her blue-black hair that lay sleek to her head. While she was still in high school, a teacher introduced her to a commercial photographer, who offered to take some test shots. Carolyn started reading every fashion magazine she could lay her hands on, studying the models, their expressions and poses, practicing at home in the mirror in her bedroom.

The summer after leaving high school, she saw her opportunity. Steubenville was celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding — its sesquicentennial. As part of the celebration, the prettiest girl in town would be crowned Queen of Steubenville. First prize was either a trip to Hollywood for a screen test or five hundred dollars. Carolyn entered the contest and campaigned for her votes, knocking on doors and enlisting promises of support. She won, none of the other girls coming close to her beauty. As queen, she presided over all the sesquicentennial activities, riding in the parade on the biggest float of them all with the words HER MAJESTY emblazoned on the side. Carolyn waved from her silvered throne as the people crowding either side of the street cheered for her. For four nights, she appeared in a historical pageant staged at the local stadium, playing the "Queen of the Festival" in front of an audience of thousands. Her photograph — wearing her blue and gold cape and jeweled crown — was front page in the local newspaper. People recognized her as she walked down the street.

When it came time to choose her prize, Carolyn turned down the ticket to Hollywood; she wasn't interested in acting. Instead, she took the cash prize, using some of it to pay for a one-way ticket to New York City. Carolyn wasn't going to follow the pattern set by Steubenville, or by anyone else's expectations.

In New York, she would try her luck as a model.

A girlfriend drove her to the Steubenville train station to catch her train. Dorothy had to stay home and make dinner for Joe and the children that evening; she couldn't leave them, even to say good-bye to her own daughter. So when Carolyn left, there was no one from her family to see her off. As the station platform and her hometown disappeared into the distance, it was almost as if she'd never been there at all.

Thinking about the day, I wonder how she got up the courage to do it. How did a young, single woman in 1947 find it within herself to leave her family and move to another city without any idea of what came next? How unhappy must her life have been at home with her stepfather on Pennsylvania Avenue that she felt so motivated to escape?

Perhaps my mother believed that staying in Steubenville would require a different kind of courage, one that she knew she couldn't muster.

* * *

A day later, Carolyn stepped down from her train at Penn Station, and caught a cab to 140 East Sixty-third Street. She read all the fashionable magazines, so she knew that the Barbizon Hotel for Women was the best place for a girl to stay while in the big city. Barbizon residents were models, actresses, singers, students, and secretaries, girls who, like Carolyn, wanted to make something of themselves. The hotel's rooms were reasonably priced, and most important, as male guests weren't allowed much farther than the lobby, she would be safe.

Most of the hotel's guests, not only the out-of-towners like Carolyn, would have been intimidated at first sight of the Barbizon. From the sidewalk, even if you craned your neck, it could be hard to see the tip of the building, twenty-three stories high, with dark brown brick terraces and setbacks, like a giant, somber wedding cake. Carolyn pushed inside the revolving doors and into the lobby, nearly as wide and as deep as the building, with a curved staircase sweeping up to an ornate wooden mezzanine. Nervously, she walked toward the front desk, where a small, smiling woman was waiting to greet her. This was Mrs. Sibley, the hotel's manager. Carolyn handed over her references while Mrs. Sibley looked her up and down.

Candidates for residence at the Barbizon were assessed on their references, as well as their age, looks, and background. The management's preference was for attractive girls in their late teens or very early twenties — and with a waiting list of at least one hundred names, Mrs. Sibley could have her pick. At nineteen, Carolyn met the age requirement. As for her pedigree, Mrs. Sibley most likely assumed that Steubenville was a steel town and that Carolyn's parents were solidly blue-collar. Fortunately, Carolyn was pretty enough to pass Mrs. Sibley's test.

Then Mrs. Sibley read Carolyn the hotel rules and regulations. No cooking appliances in the rooms, lest the building burn to the ground. No liquor in the rooms. It was the hotel's preference that young ladies did not stay out late at night but returned to their rooms at a respectable hour. A warning would be given to anyone who didn't comply. If, after a warning, the girl continued to stay out late, Mrs. Sibley would have to inform management, who might decide to give her room to another girl. As a guest of the hotel, Carolyn had the use of its swimming pool, gym, library, and roof garden. In the afternoons, complimentary tea and cookies were served in the recital room, on the mezzanine above the lobby. Should she wish to join, backgammon and card games were held in the evenings in the recreation room, and there were regular educational lectures on a range of subjects, to improve the mind.

But Mrs. Sibley and her fellow staff of the Barbizon weren't only seeking to improve the minds of the young ladies of the hotel. They were also determined to protect their virtue. No men were admitted beyond the lobby, Mrs. Sibley warned Carolyn, unless a guest wanted to bring her date to the coed lounge on the nineteenth floor, in which case a special pass was required. And after sundown, male elevator operators were switched for female ones, in case any man should be tempted beyond his station.

* * *

Carolyn's room was on the ninth floor, and like all the Barbizon's rooms, it was tiny and narrow; you could almost stretch out your arms and touch the walls on either side. There was just enough room for a small single bed with a nightstand, a desk with a radio, and a table lamp. The green drapes matched the bedspread and the carpet. Bathrooms were shared and situated at the end of the hall. Carolyn didn't mind. From her window, she could look out across the rooftops of the tan-colored town houses of Sixty-third Street and beyond to the entire city. Even after midnight, she learned, the streets were alive with noises: traffic, taxi horns, and the voices of people passing down below. For twelve dollars a week, this world was hers.

At the Barbizon, Carolyn did her calculations. She had nearly two thousand dollars in her pocketbook, made up of her prize winnings and her savings. This was more money than she had ever possessed, but still, she wasn't naïve. She knew it wouldn't last forever. She thought about signing up for a modeling school but feared the cost. In her room, she kept her folder of test shots, taken back home in Steubenville. She had posed down at the golf course, wearing the dirndl skirt she'd made herself in black and white stripes, her dark hair like satin and her lips painted and full.

Each morning, Carolyn dressed as if preparing to go to work, pulling at the fingers on her gloves until they were perfectly straight, pinning her hat on her head at the ideal angle, then taking the elevator down to the lobby. There she stood and watched as the hotel's residents hurried out of elevators, chattering to one another as they pulled on their gloves and adjusted their hats, before streaming through the revolving doors, out into the world and their lives. More than anything, Carolyn wanted to follow them.

And so she did. Mostly, she walked, saving the subway or cab fare and learning the city as she went. She discovered Bloomingdale's department store, right around the corner from the hotel, where she could admire the latest fashions. Walking farther, she stumbled on the Horn & Hardart Automat, just south and west of the hotel on Fifty-seventh Street. The food at the Automat was cheap and fresh, and stored in little glass boxes. You dropped the nickels in the slot, turned the dial, and then popped open the door to pull out your selection. Carolyn thought the Automat was so modern and clever, as if you'd just stepped into the future. No one minded if she stayed for hours, sitting by the window upstairs, looking out onto the hats of people passing by on the avenue below, only getting up to refill her cup of coffee from the spout in the wall. In Steubenville, when she went home at the end of the day, she spent her time clearing up after her younger siblings, washing dishes, cleaning house. But after she ate at the Automat there were no dishes to wash. And when she went back to the hotel, her room was her own; it was cleaned, and the bed made and turned down. She was free.

One day, only a week after she arrived in New York, Carolyn was at her usual spot at the Automat, looking out over Fifty-seventh, when a young man came up to her. He introduced himself as a photographer.

"You're an attractive girl," the young man said. "Ever thought about modeling?"

Carolyn told him yes, and that she'd even had some test shots taken while still home in Steubenville. The young man sat down; they started talking. The photographer knew people. He could introduce her.

Would she like to meet Harry Conover, owner of one of the oldest and largest modeling agencies in the country?

Carolyn nodded yes. The young man scrawled an address and number on a piece of paper — 52 Vanderbilt Avenue. That day, Carolyn left the Automat and ran back to the Barbizon with the paper in her pocket, the ticket to her new beginning.

CHAPTER 2

Nina

That young and determined woman at the Barbizon is a person I never knew. By the time I was born, my mother was in her early thirties, married and living on Long Island, spending her days taking care of my two older sisters and me. When I picture her back then, I see her standing at the stove in our kitchen, head tilted slightly. She's wearing her everyday blouse and slacks, either in white or pale pink. One hand is stirring something on the stove; the other is holding on to the counter. To one side is a glass of wine. Her cigarette is in an ashtray, and when she picks it up, she twirls it in her fingers absentmindedly. My mother is quiet and methodical in her movements as she stirs. Classical music plays on the turquoise turntable she keeps in the kitchen. I'm standing behind her, quiet as I can be, always worried she might startle if I make too much noise.

In my earliest memory of my mother, I'm still a baby. I've just learned to walk, and I've somehow maneuvered myself over the bar of my crib, sliding down onto the floor below, then going out along the hallway to the stairs overlooking our living area. I turn around to shuffle down the stairs on my knees, going about halfway down before I call to her. My mother's standing below at the kitchen counter with her back to me. When she hears me call, she runs to me, scooping me up into her arms, protecting me. Even as a baby, I'm searching for her, trying to keep her close.

When I was growing up, my mother and I were often in the house alone. My father was almost always someplace else, either working or socializing in the city. My two sisters were six and eight years older than me; they had their own lives, their friends and places to go. Our house was at the end of a long private road, surrounded by woods, at the edge of the waters of Long Island Sound. My father called our home the Dream House, and he had helped to design it. The Dream House was built from planks of redwood trees, with ceilings two and a half stories high. At the back of the house were giant picture windows from floor to ceiling looking out over our own little beach, where I liked to play. The house was very modern, ahead of its time, but at night, when the wind was blowing, the Dream House creaked and complained, as if it never wanted to be built at all.

Through the woods and up the hill was a castle called Eastfair. This was the home of my father's closest friend, Sherman Fairchild. Sherman was a millionaire and he had built the castle for himself, modeling it on a medieval French château he had visited while traveling in Normandy. The castle was vast and made of stone, with a tall tower at one end, of the kind in which princesses are imprisoned in fairy tales. The Eastfair estate had twenty acres of grounds, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, a pool, and a big square building with a photography studio inside, where Sherman would take pictures of the models that came to visit him on the weekends. It was Sherman who had given us the strip of land on which to build our home, and Sherman who threw the parties my father attended while my mother stayed at home with me.

When my older sisters, Jill and Robin, were home, I did my best to keep up with them. I took note of what they wore, what they said, how they acted. I wanted to have what they had and to be a part of whatever they were doing. This came with its risks. I remember standing and watching my sisters playing with the tree swing that my father had rigged up in the woods to the side of our house. I knew I was too young to join in, so I stood to one side. The swing seat was made of wood and metal. Jill climbed into the tree, and Robin was pushing the swing as high as she could so that Jill could grab it and leap on.

"Nina!" Robin shouted, warning me to get out of the way.

I turned just as the metal swing hit me right on the top of my head. My sisters carried me back into the house, leaving a trail of blood all the way across the gravel driveway, up the steps, and into the kitchen, where my frantic mother tried to stop the blood with towels. When it became clear that the cut was severe, they took me to the emergency room. I remember how frightened I was, the feeling of being restrained, my arms strapped into a papoose, aware of every stitch the doctors sewed up my head.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Bridesmaid's Daughter"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Nyna Giles and Eve Claxton.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Dedication,
Prologue,
Part One: Before,
Chapter 1: Carolyn,
Chapter 2: Nina,
Chapter 3: Carolyn,
Chapter 4: Nina,
Chapter 5: Carolyn,
Chapter 6: Nina,
Chapter 7: Carolyn,
Chapter 8: Nina,
Chapter 9: Carolyn,
Chapter 10: Nina,
Chapter 11: Carolyn,
Chapter 12: Nina,
Chapter 13: Carolyn,
Chapter 14: Nina,
Chapter 15: Carolyn,
Chapter 16: Nina,
Part Two: After,
Acknowledgments,
Mental Health Resources,
Sources,
Photograph Credits,
About the Authors,
Copyright,

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