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Worldly Goods of a Gracious Lady

May 01, 1997|BRIDGET BYRNE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"She had magic. She made you feel that your visit to her was doing her a great favor," said Scott Berg, who first met the late Pamela Harriman when he interviewed her last husband, Averell Harriman, for a biography of Samuel Goldwyn.

Not long before her death this year, he saw her at the American Embassy in Paris while working on his current project, a biography of Charles Lindbergh. Berg visited the embassy, where Harriman was ambassador, to see the bed where the aviator had slept after his historic transatlantic flight.

Others in the crowd flocking into the Sotheby's showroom in Beverly Hills on Monday night for a pre-auction glimpse of the leavings of Harriman's grand life seemed more interested in speculating just where the lady herself had slept. The frisson of gossip that had surrounded Harriman as she moved and married through interlinked circles of wealth and power continued as people stared at the paintings and property from her three homes in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Paris and tried to pin down her allure.

"That was a Republican viewpoint," said one woman after hearing a less than complimentary remark about Harriman, who was a major Democratic fund-raiser.

"She was the most charming woman you ever met," said Chase Miskin, who first encountered Harriman when they were involved with environmental fund-raising. "I saw her not long before she died and she looked more beautiful than ever, so soignee."

Nancy Livingston, who recalled a dowdier looking woman from the era of Harriman's marriage to producer Leland Hayward, said she once asked Kitty Hart to explain her friend Pamela's appeal. "Kitty told me that the secret was she had only one desire--to make you comfortable, to take care of you."

Certainly the large photographs on the showroom walls, depicting Harriman's residences, furnished as she lived in them, revealed a comfortable world, though not perhaps as high-priced as people seemed to expect. Major impressionist paintings she once owned are not part of this collection of items left over after the settlement of family feuds and debts.

What remains is more personal, reflecting the history of her life from the days of World War II when her marriage to Randolph Churchill first thrust her onto the world's stage. Among the paintings are one by her father-in-law, amateur artist Winston Churchill. "Jug with Bottles," the bottles being whiskey and cognac, is estimated at a price of $30,000 to $40,000."

Among those at the cocktail hour viewing, hosted by Sotheby's West Coast Chairman Andrea Van de Kamp, were Pam and Shannon Clyne, Edie Frere, Judi and Gordon Davidson, Edie and Lew Wasserman, Phil and Bea Gersh, Ken Schwartz, Audrey Greenberg, Barbara Poe-Levee, Ken and Diane Bishop, Max and Ellen Palevsky and Sotheby's vice president, Hugh Hildesley, who compiled the catalog for the May 19-21 auction in New York.

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