“It all started at an antique show,” says author Deborah Pollack over the phone with New Times. As she speaks, it’s easy to envision the day she’s describing: a breezy South Florida afternoon; her strolling through an open-air market, fingering the unique items on display. That day, among the rubble, she spotted a chest filled with papers. As she dug through its contents, she knew she'd stumbled upon a valuable find. Pollack quickly purchased her newly discovered treasure chest and took her findings home to start reading.
"I have come across archives of old letters before," she says, "but none quite as fascinating."
It seems the collection of letters and clippings all belonged to a French count named George du Manoir, who lived in Miami Beach from the 1930s through the 1960s. Count du Manoir's words charmed Pollack. With each note, she could see a larger story unfold, and just as quickly as she had bought the box, a light bulb went off in her mind: “I realized this could be a book.”
In her latest nonfiction tome, Vintage Miami Beach Glamour: Celebrities & Socialites in the Heyday of Chic, the author tells of a time in our city’s history through the eyes and experiences of an immigrant. Pollack explains that although du Manoir did eventually become an American citizen, his friends still referred to him as the Count. "He wasn’t wealthy himself either, but he was virtually adopted by a wealthy Miami Beach couple who took him into their world."
The Count had access to the marvelous world of the Miami Beach elite. Whenever a celebrity rolled into town, he knew where to find them — and he wrote everything down in his letters. “When Elizabeth Taylor came to Miami, as she often did in the 1940s, the Count knew about it first because he was friends with the Pawleys,” says Pollack. “He was even invited to movie sets, like the filming of Slattery’s Hurricane."
The story in Vintage Miami Beach Glamour is told primarily “through the Count’s eyes and ears” and incorporates Pollack's own added research, she says. Sometimes, du Manoir wouldn’t mention a person by name in a letter but would offer enough clues that Pollack could track down the reference. She conducted her necessary research primarily at HistoryMiami as well as the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
“For instance, he wrote about a gorgeous model who was the daughter of a prominent Miami Beach dentist. While she was a student, she was crowned queen of the first Orange Bowl Parade,” says Pollack. Through her research, the author found a photograph of a young girl being crowned at the Orange Bowl and learned that her name was Bab Beckwith.
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“Beckwith was fascinating,” says the Palm Beach resident with awe in her voice. “She later became a top model in New York City, but while she was in Miami Beach in the ‘40s, she dated the future president John F. Kennedy. She also did some top secret work for Howard Hughes in California and was an expert pilot who trained with pilots in World War II.”
Vintage Miami Beach Glamour is filled with rare untold stories of the lives of local socialites in the 1930s through ‘60s. “My book is not about regular people,” says the author with a laugh. “It tells the story of an elite crowd who isolated themselves in their private clubs. Their social lives revolved around these clubs and if you weren’t a member, you were no one.”
As for what people will be writing about Miami Beach in 2109, Pollack can’t say. But she predicts, “The era today in Miami Beach will be just as celebrated, but in a much different way 90 years from now. It’s still a fascinating world.”
Vintage Miami Beach Glamour: Celebrities & Socialites in the Heyday of Chic costs $21.99 via arcadiapublishing.com.