Bidding adieu to a grand legend Harriman: A glittering crowd of admirers -- from aristocrats to movie moguls to politicians -- came to Washington for the funeral of Ambassador Pamela Harriman.

February 14, 1997|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The famous, the near-famous and the never-famous converged on the National Cathedral yesterday to bid adieu to Pamela Harriman, the ambassador to France who built a legend around her political connections and high-powered salons.

Part diplomat, part fund-raiser, part aristocrat -- and, some might say, part vixen -- she was remembered yesterday as a patriotic American who had served her country well. In the crowd of 1,157 that gathered for her funeral, the far reach of her charms was boldly in evidence.

Gregory Peck and Oscar de la Renta sat not far from the Clintons and Gores. Limousines deposited everyone from French envoy H. E. Philippe Seguin (representing that country's government) to Winston Churchill's descendants (products of Harriman's first marriage, to Randolph Churchill).

Senators and House members mingled among Georgetown grandes dames in black hats and stoles. Lobbyists indulged in a little quiet schmoozing. Onlookers who never knew Harriman came to stare none-too-discreetly at the international clique that had embraced her.

"I just came to admire the great life she led, and see all the people who knew her," said retired Army Col. Jim Loome, 70. "She was a great figure in history."

Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman died last week of a brain hemorrhage while swimming in the pool at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. She will be buried next to her third husband, W. Averell Harriman, multimillionaire financier and former New York governor, who died in 1986, on his estate in Arden, N.Y.

Over her 76 years, Harriman managed to reinvent herself time and time again. From an English aristocrat she became a European socialite with a penchant for married men. By the 1980s, after she had become an American citizen, she turned into a formidable Democratic fund-raiser.

Harriman may have been "a citizen of the world," as President Clinton eulogized her, but her funeral was pure Washington.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland emerged from a bus of fellow lawmakers, her green wool coat soon lost in a crowd of society matrons with glazed hairdos and fearsome furs.

Jack Valenti, a Washington fixture as longtime head of the Motion Picture Association of America, stood on the cathedral steps in his black cowboy boots, cell phone in hand, talking about a book deal.

Two cathedral workers caucused to figure out whom to direct to the better seats -- the senators or the House members. (They figured it out: the senators.)

The seats were ranked with color-coded tags. The yellow ones -- meant for the truly powerful -- read "POTUS" (President of the United States), "Secretary Albright," "The Attorney General" and variety of Churchills, Digbys and Harrimans.

Harriman's connections began through her high-profile marriages. After the Churchill union ended in divorce, she married Leland Hayward, a Broadway producer whose many successes included "The Sound of Music." In the wake of Hayward's death, she married the 79-year-old Harriman, with whom she had had an affair 30 years earlier, during World War II.

Indeed, it was her affairs -- with such luminaries as Prince Aly Khan of Pakistan; Gianni Agnelli, chairman of the Fiat auto company; Baron Elie de Rothschild, the banking and wine magnate; and Edward R. Murrow, the legendary CBS broadcaster -- that drew the buzz around Harriman.

Harriman once called "extraordinary" the number of men she was reputed to have slept with but never did. Some of the married men who escorted her to parties after Harriman's death were in the audience yesterday with their wives.

Onlookers could not help but look for her old flames. There they hoped to spot John Carter Brown, the former director of the National Gallery of Art, who was 14 years younger than Harriman and a frequent squire.

It was a glittering crowd. One onlooker, Harriet Meyerson, made a beeline to Gregory Peck, scoping out his gray goatee and plaid coat and exclaiming: "You're still good looking."

Aside from Peck (whom biographers have not listed as a Harriman paramour), in the pews were Ethel Kennedy; composer Marvin Hamlisch; Katharine Graham, chairwoman of the Washington Post Co.; socialite Kitty Carlisle Hart; and Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, general chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

"There were lots of people here oh, gee, senators and such," said Marlin Leiphart, a 63-year-old retired engineer from Arlington, Va., who came with his camera. "This is a real event."

Those who knew Harriman well were hardly surprised by the outpouring in her honor.

"No matter who it was, no matter who you were, she would always light up a room around you," said Anna Raymond, her secretary in the early '90s. "She was a grand person."

Others who met Harriman only briefly remember the same. Robert Block, a public relations consultant who did business in Paris, still seemed dizzied by her.

"It was fantastic just to talk to her," he said. "Oh! That charm."

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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