Fleur Cowles

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Fleur Cowles, (died in 2009) died "aged – probably – 101, was a formidably creative American journalist and socialite who turned her back on humble origins to make her life's business networking with important people all over the world. She travelled to Persia as the guest of the Shah; Cary Grant was best man at the last of her four weddings; Yehudi Menuhin visited to play at her house in Sussex...

"In 1946 President Harry Truman's administration appointed her special consultant on the Famine Emergency Committee, set up to deal with hunger in the post-war world. She devised a campaign urging Americans to cut down their consumption of cereals by 50 per cent to free up more grain for export to starving children in Europe.

"It was while she was in Washington working on the project that she met the publisher Gardner Cowles who was then with the Office of War Information. He was known as Mike, and by this time she had changed her name to Fleur. They married in December 1946 and she quickly joined his magazine Look, introducing features and fashion stories to appeal to women readers (she disapproved of its reputation as men's "barbershop reading") and expanding advertising.

"The late 1940s and early 1950s were to prove the basis of Fleur Cowles's lasting fame as a journalist and doyenne of the supremely well-connected. With her husband she travelled the world, meeting and interviewing leaders from Churchill to Eva Peron.

"She was at her best on the attack. During Fleur Cowles's 1950 trip to Buenos Aires, Eva Peron tried to charm the influential journalist, paying Cowles particular compliments about her jewellery. Cowles was not taken in, insisting Peron's political "motivation was hatred and revenge". The British Ambassador, Sir John Balfour, gave Fleur Cowles the idea of comparing the Perons to an earlier Argentinian husband-and-wife political team, Manuel and Encarnacion de Rosas. The result was Cowles's 1951 book, Bloody Precedent.

Most of her attention at this time, however, was turned to the lavish and stylish new magazine, Flair, started with her husband's considerable financial backing...

"Following their divorce, she married Tom Montague Meyer, a timber merchant some years her junior, whom history relates she had either met in Persia in 1953 (when staying in Tehran as a guest of the Shah) or when they sat together by chance on a plane. Cary Grant was best man. Once married the Meyers lived part of the year in five sets in Albany, London, part in their Elizabethan farmhouse in Sussex and part in a ninth-century castle, which they restored in the Extremadura province of Spain.

"Fleur continued to be energetic for the rest of her life. She produced an authorised biography of Salvador Dalí in 1959...

"Fleur Cowles's achievements in other spheres were no less impressive. She was a senior fellow of the Royal College of Art in London, a trustee of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust and president of the European-based LSB Leakey Trust. With her last husband, she helped build the Institute for American Studies at Oxford University, and she served as a trustee of the George Marshall Home in Virginia. The University of Texas at Austin built an exact replica of her study in Albany and held regular symposia in her name." [1]

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  1. Fleur Cowles, telegraph.co.uk, accessed June 12, 2010.