Pamela Digby was born the eldest daughter of a Dorset family and was given the superficial education suited for a marriageable, aristocratic young woman.
At 19, she met Winston Churchill's son, Randolph, on a blind date. He proposed the same night and they were married within weeks. The impulsive marriage may have been motivated by an already established ambition -- to gain money and power by allying herself with wealthy and powerful men.
Randolph was abusive and had a drinking problem, but Pamela bore him a son and was married to him for five years. While married to Randolph Pamela had affairs with Averell Harriman, General Fred Anderson, Jock Whitney, Bill Paley and Edward R. Murrow (if you are too young to know who these men were, it's enough to know that each was either wealthy, famous, or powerful, or all three). This was the beginning of her career as a courtesan. After her divorce at age 26, she moved from England to France.
From here on out, she was a professional courtesan, and was supported by wealthy men over the next two decades. She had a two-year affair with billionaire Prince Aly Salmone Kahn and was later involved with Gianni Agnelli, heir to the Fiat fortune. Pamela converted to Catholicism in hopes of marrying Agnelli, but he married a young Italian woman and left Pamela his Paris apartment, the Bentley and some money as consolation.
Pamela then pursued the French financier Baron Elie de Rothchild. She took other lovers, including French writer Maurice Druon, Greek ship owner Spyrose Niarchos and American millionaire Alpert Rupp Jr.
1957, Pamela Digby Churchill had attained celebrity status with her
ability to sell her love and use her charm and sexuality to gain material
rewards, arguably the most celebrated courtesan of recent history.
She eventually married agent/producer Leland Hayward and traveled in Hollywood circles for a while. Hayward died at the age of 68, and soon afterward, Pamela reunited with Averell Harriman, and within a month the 79-year-old Averell and the 51-year-old Pamela were married.
Averell's support, Pamela entered the political scene. When the Democratic
party came to Averell for help, it was both he and Pamela who responded.
They created PamPAC, a political action committee that raised money
for candidates. Now in her 60s, Pamela had reinvented herself as a mover
and shaker in the Democratic party.
In 1986, Averell Harriman died and Pamela became trustee of his estate. He left her $115 million, but in less than 10 years she had spent so much of the money that the Harriman heirs sued her!
In May 1993, Pamela returned to Paris as President Clinton's appointed U.S. Ambassador to France. Cynics made fun of what was seen at the time as a political payoff by Bill Clinton for her work for the Democratic Party, but she turned out to be a skilled and wise statesperson. In fact, for as far back as we have historical records, women have gained power, influence, and wealth for themselves by forming alliances with wealthy and powerful men, and there have been many famous courtesans who have been trusted, highly educated, and wise advisors to world leaders, and as such they have had real power and a profound influence on historical events.
Clinton broke the mold by moving the courtesan out of the background into a real role that she was well qualified to play. This was a daring move on Clinton's part. We may never know how conscious he was of how significant this move was in historical terms, because publicly he ignored Harriman's courtesan past although of course he was well aware of it. But whether he admitted it publicly or not, he acknowledged a role that courtesans have played throughout history by bringing the role out of the shadows and legitimizing it.
February 1997, Pamela Harriman had a stroke while swimming at the Ritz
and she died a few days later. The French bestowed on her the Grand
Cross of the Legion of Honor. Her funeral was held in the Washington
National Cathedral, where more than 1,000 people (including numerous
world leaders) mourned the passing of the misfit courtesan who had become
a first class diplomat.
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