I've used this image before, three years ago, with others - of Twiggy, Pearl Bailey and Duke Ellington* - from the 1969 Henry Wolf series advertising the Olivetti "Brightwriter", the Studio 45 semi-portable typewriter. It was only yesterday, however, that I came to realise New York high society columnist Suzy Knickerbocker was in real life El Paso-born Aileen Mehle (1918-2016). She was approaching 51 when this Wolf photo was taken. Mehle was actually born Aileen Elder, but throughout most of her life used the surname of her first husband, Cincinnati-born Roger William Mehle (1915-1996), later a US Navy rear admiral. They married in June 1939, when she was 21, and were divorced in 1946. My awareness of her true identity came through finding the Wolf typewriter image in a lengthy feature on Mehle by Bob Colacello in the latest edition of Vanity Fair, "How Suzy Ruled Society Gossip for Five Decades".
Aileen Mehle working at her Park Avenue home
with assistant, Cathy MacLean, in New York in 1966.
Starting at the Miami Daily News and finishing at Women’s Wear Daily in 2005, Mehle was active in journalism for more than 50 years. At the height of her career, her daily column ran in some 90 newspapers across the US and Canada and reached an estimated 30 million readers, according to a 1973 profile in Vogue. Life magazine said she was “easily the brightest and most widely read society columnist in the country”.
As a Texas teenager
Mehle attended Austin High School and while still a teenager moved with her family to California. She went to Long Beach Junior College and Santa Barbara State College (now the University of California, Santa Barbara). At the Hearst-owned New York Mirror, Mehle adopted the pseudonym Suzy from the daughter of her second husband, Mark Kenneth Frank Jr.
In 1963 Hearst closed the Mirror and installed Mehle at the Journal-American, where she added Knickerbocker to her byline. Three years later, the Journal-American was combined with the New York Herald Tribune and the World-Telegram & Sun to form the World Journal Tribune, which lasted until May 1967. At that point the only Big Apple newspapers left were the three still publishing today: The New York Times, the Daily News and the New York Post. Aileen landed at the News, then the largest in circulation of the three, where she would remain for the next 17 years, until 1985. Mehle then jumped from the News to the New York Post. In 1991, at age 73, she made the final move of her career, to Fairchild Publications, and in 2005 gave up her column for good. Mehle died, aged 98, last November 11.
*Twiggy is Lesley Lawson (née Hornby).