The Golden Couple
Gerald and Sara Murphy on La Garoupe beach, Antibes, 1926.
Some 50 years after meeting Gerald and Sara Murphy, a still dazzled Donald Ogden Stewart wrote: ”Once upon a time there was a prince and a princess: that’s exactly how a description of the Murphys should begin. They were both rich; he was handsome; she was beautiful; they had three golden children. They loved each other, they enjoyed their own company, and they had the gift of making life enchantingly pleasurable for those who were fortunate enough to be their friends.”
Gerald Murphy, Ginny Carpenter, Cole Porter, and Sara Murphy, Venice, 1923.
Gerald and Sara Murphy were, to many of their contemporaries, the beautiful couple of the 1920’s, and they left their mark on many works of art about the period: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ”Tender Is the Night,” Ernest Hemingway’s ”Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Philip Barry’s ”Holiday,” Archibald MacLeish’s ”J.B.,” John Dos Passos’ ”Big Money” and Pablo Picasso’s ”Woman in White,” among others.
Much has been written about Paris in the 20’s with the Murphys at the epicenter of one of the most enviable circles that included among others Joyce, Miro, Picasso, Man Ray, Stravinsky, Hemingway, Beckett, Brancusi, Leger, Balanchine, Fitzgerald, Isadora Duncan: everyone, it seemed, was in Paris, and the Murphys — generous, stylish and hospitable — knew and entertained them all.
”The Murphys were among the first Americans I ever met,” Stravinsky said, ”and they gave me the most agreeable impression of the United States.”
Ernest Hemingway with Sara and Gerald Murphy at Nordquist L Bar T Ranch, Wyoming, 1932.
Yet the Murphys’ life together was no fairy tale; in the end it came very close to tragedy. Sadly with the passage of time and the vagaries of friendships, a few of their cohorts proved to be as undependable as life’s destinies.
Amanda Vaill in her brilliantly rendered biography, Everybody Was So Young quotes from Hemingway’s posthumous memoir, ”A Moveable Feast,” in which Hemingway nastily — and unforgivably, considering their generosity to him — commented, ”They were bad luck to people but they were worse luck to themselves and they lived to have all that bad luck finally.”
Gerald reacted with his odd, characteristic blend of sympathy and resigned detachment: ”What a strange kind of bitterness — or rather accusitoriness . . . . What shocking ethics! How well written, of course.”
The Murphys, Pauline Pfeiffer, and the Hemingways, 1926, Pamplona, Spain
“It wasn’t the parties that made it such a gay time.
There was such affection between everybody. You loved your friends
and wanted to see them every day, and usually you did see them
every day. It was like a great fair, and everybody was so young.”
Idle Hours, 1894. William Merritt Chase.
Although East Hampton in the 1920’s was becoming a watering place for the wealthy with vast singled “cottages” arising along its windblown dunes and tranquil saltwater ponds, the vacationing artists had given it a distinctive flavor. …
Intellectual it may or may not have been, but East Hampton was relaxed, entertaining, and gay. The daughter of one of Sara’s closest friends remembered it as bathed in a kind of perpetual summer light, like a William Merritt Chase painting;
“the women all had tiny waists and beautiful shoes,
and they wore long fluttering eyelet dresses, and veils on their hats —
chiffon veils they tied under the chin —
and there were was always a breeze.”
There were golf games and amateur theatricals at the Maidstone Club, horse shows and dog shows in neighbors’ paddocks, parties on friends’ porches and sloping lawns — and it was at one of these that Sara Wiborg met a boy named Gerald Murphy.