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NY Post
New York Post
22 Jul 2023


NextImg:Poet Rose Styron had a charmed life full of A-list parties and hijinks

Rose Styron seemed destined for a charmed life. 

When she was just 10 years old, on vacation to Mexico City, Rose announced she wanted “more than anything” to meet the great realist painter Diego Rivera.

A few days later, she was in his studio. After showing her his “beautiful and horrible pictures,” the larger-than-life muralist shook her hand and said: “I hope someday you’ll be as great a painter as I.”

Styron didn’t become a painter, but like Rivera, she did become an artist (a fine poet), political activist, and celebrity magnet.

Her new memoir, “Beyond This Harbor: Adventurous Tales of the Heart” (Knopf), chronicles her star-studded exploits with her novelist husband, Bill Styron. 

Norman Mailer arm-wrestled guests at the door to their parties.

James Baldwin wrote his book “In Another Country” at their guest house.

Styron parties were star-studded events with an eclectic mix of guests, including Lauren Bacall.
Courtesy of Rose Styronâs Collection

Their orbit included literary luminaries (Philip Roth, who Rose “discovered,” Paris Review founder Peter Matthiessen), movie stars (Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow), and political royalty (the Kennedys). 

Then-President Bill Clinton makes a memorable appearance at one of their dinners, reciting Faulkner and shoving the last remaining pieces of fried chicken into his pockets before saying goodnight. 

Rose — born in Baltimore in 1928 — met Southern writer Bill Styron in Europe, where he was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome.

She was working on her first book of poetry there after studying creative writing at Johns Hopkins. 

Rose Styron (here, with Diane Sawyer) first met Bill Styron in Europe.

Rose Styron (middle, with Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols) first met Bill Styron in Europe.
Courtesy of Rose Styronâs Collection

Styron and her husband, William, was pictured together at an event on Nov. 2, 2006.

Styron and her husband, William, was pictured together at an event on Nov. 2, 2006.
ZUMAPRESS.com

When Bill met her mother, he didn’t have a tie, so his pal Truman Capote, as a prank, leaned him one in a fringed burlap with a heart embroidered in the middle. 

Rose’s mom was not impressed, even if Bill didn’t end the evening drunk under the piano, like her daughter’s previous beau, debauched poet Dylan Thomas.

Still, they had to elope. 

Rose’s mother hung up the phone when she announced their engagement — and then hired a private detective to investigate his family. 

The couple eventually moved to Roxbury, Conn., where their neighbors included Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. 

Rose never met Monroe — the actress didn’t come to their friends’ dinner parties, because, per Miller, she was “nervous about dining with intellectuals and kept changing her clothes” — but she glimpsed the screen siren “walking on their roadside lawn, beautiful in a short black dress and a black headscarf.” 

The Styron family in Rome, 1960. Rose and William are pictured with 2 of their 3 children, daughters Susanna and Polly.

The Styron family in Rome,1960. Rose and William are pictured with 2 of their 3 children, daughters Susanna and Polly.
AP

The Styrons and their four children spent Christmas with Leonard Bernstein and evenings with Mike Nichols, who liked to play anagrams with Rose after her husband retired to write all night.

During summers at Martha’s Vineyard, they made friends with Jackie Onassis and Ted Kennedy, whose kids would come over for raucous sleepovers.

Young John-John (JFK Jr.) lost his pet rabbit under their floorboards one morning.

The Secret Service men spent hours “stationed at every possible exit, some on their bellies” until the bunny emerged in the late afternoon.

Rose Styron was pictured with Muhammad Ali (second from left).

Rose Styron is pictured with Muhammad Ali (second from left).
Courtesy of Rose Styronâs Collection

Frank Sinatra once pulled their oldest daughter out of the water and onto his yacht, whose other passengers included Claudette Colbert and Rosalind Russell.

His young girlfriend Mia Farrow accompanied her home. Another time, Old Blue Eyes ended up babysitting their youngest child, Alexandra. (The woman hired to watch the then-8-month-old got so flustered when she saw Sinatra at the door, she wordlessly handed him the kid and “fled.”)

The Styrons returned from a boat ride to find the crooner “sitting cross-legged on the lawn with our baby safe in his lap.”)

The Styrons befriended Jackie Kennedy Onassis during summers in Martha’s Vineyard.

The Styrons befriended Jackie Kennedy Onassis during summers in Martha’s Vineyard.
Getty Images

In 1974, Rose’s life took a turn when she went to Santiago, Chile, on behalf of the human rights group Amnesty International.

Her mission: to gain intel on those who had been tortured, killed, or “disappeared” under the CIA-backed dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The horrifying stories she heard changed the course of her life, from “poet, wife and mother” to “activist.” 

Beyond This Harbor: Adventurous Tales of the Heart by Rose Styron

“Beyond This Harbor: Adventurous Tales of the Heart” by Rose Styron.

“I could not allow myself to fully feel what I witnessed and what I learned about the plight of the imprisoned and tortured,” she writes about abandoning poetry at this time.

In between caring for her increasingly erratic husband — who would suffer from debilitating depression, eventually undergoing electroshock therapy — she met with dissidents all around the world, from war-torn Sarajevo to communist Cuba to apartheid-era South Africa. 

It wasn’t until Bill’s death, in 2006, that “the poetry flowed once more.”