Dorothy Hale

Dorothy Hale
Born Dorothy Donovan
January 11, 1905
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Died October 21, 1938 (aged 33)
New York City, New York, USA
Spouse Gardner Hale (1927–1931) his death

Dorothy Hale (January 11, 1905 - October 21, 1938) was an American socialite and aspiring actress who committed suicide by jumping off a building in New York City. Hale was considered a remarkably beautiful woman with less remarkable talents who was introduced to high-society and luxury living. Her husband's death, followed by several unsuccessful relationships, left her financially dependent on her wealthy friends. Artist Frida Kahlo created a famous painting based on the incident titled The Suicide of Dorothy Hale.[1]


Early life

Hale was born Dorothy Donovan in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[2] In 1919, after attending a convent and a drama school, Hale left home to pursue a career. Her family hired detectives to find her, but she eventually returned when her funds ran out.[2] With the assistance of friends, she eventually landed a job in the chorus of a Broadway production of Lady, Be Good.[2] While she was studying sculpture in Paris, she married millionaire stockbroker Gaillard Thomas, son of the wealthy gynecologist T. Gaillard Thomas; the brief marriage ended in divorce.[3]

She married Gardner Hale (1894–1931), in 1927. Gardner Hale was a fresco, mural and society portrait artist, and the married Dorothy Hale continued moving in creative and expensive social circles. During this west coast period she socialized with artists Miquel and Rosa Corvarrubias, Frida Kahlo and photographer Nickolas Muray.[4]


Hale's stage work was limited to several seasons in stock companies and some work as a dancer and Ziegfeld girl.[4] In the summer of 1935, Hale and her friend Rosamond Pinchot, another New York socialite and aspiring actress, opened in Abide with Me, a psychological drama written by their friend Clare Boothe Luce. Though the three friends enjoyed the experience tremendously, the play was panned and it died quietly.[5] Pinchot would go on to take her life by carbon monoxide poisoning in January 1938.[3]

Personal life

When her husband's car went over a Santa Maria cliff in December 1931, she was left in severe financial difficulties. No longer able to maintain her high-society lifestyle, Hale began to accept the largess of rich lovers and generous friends, such as Luce, to whom she was close. "We all believed that a girl of such extraordinary beauty could not be long in either developing a career or finding another husband. Dorothy had very little talent and no luck."[4]

Hale repeatedly yet unsuccessfully tried to find work as an actress. In 1932, an acquaintance with Samuel Goldwyn led to an uncredited role in Cynara, as well as a minor role in Catherine the Great (1934). Her screen tests were dubbed a failure.[4]

Hale and Isamu Noguchi at the premiere of Four Saints in Three Acts, February 7, 1934, Hartford, Connecticut


Numbering among Hale's ill-fated lovers were Constantin Alajalov, a well-known New York cover artist;[4] the still-married Russell Davenport, a writer for Time magazine; and Isamu Noguchi, an up-and-coming sculptor, artist and designer.

Early in 1933, Noguchi and Hale took a Caribbean cruise where he was introduced to many of her wealthy and influential friends from New York; many of them commissioned portraits, including Luce for a sculpture bust.[6] Noguchi traveled to London and Paris with Hale, hoping to find more patrons.[6] Noguchi had begun a portrait sculpture of Hale, but it was never finished and its present location is unknown.[7]

Hampshire House, 150 Central Park South, New York City

In 1934, Hale and Luce accompanied Noguchi on a road trip through Connecticut in a car Noguchi had designed with Buckminster Fuller, the Dymaxion car.[4] The threesome stopped to see Thornton Wilder in Hamden, Connecticut, before going on to Hartford to join Fuller for the out-of-town opening of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts.

By 1937, Hale was involved in a serious romance with Harry Hopkins, WPA administrator and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s top adviser.[3] Anticipating a "White House wedding" Hale moved into Hampshire House, a 27-story apartment building at 150 Central Park South, and began putting together a trousseau, but Hopkins abruptly broke off the affair. Luce said in later years that the White House was not happy about the Hopkins/Hale engagement rumors, and that may have been the cause of the break.[4] The gossip columnists who had been reporting the engagement rumors played up the cruel jilting, causing Hale great embarrassment.[3] Hopkins would eventually marry Lou Macy, a close Roosevelt associate.

In 1938, another benefactor and abandoned suitor, Bernard Baruch,[8] advised Hale that, at 33, she was too old for a professional career and that she should look for a wealthy husband.[4][9] Baruch even gave her $1,000 with the instructions, "... to buy a dress glamorous enough to capture a husband."[3][4]

Hale became despondent over her stalled career, constant debt, and unhappy love life.[8]


From her New York Times obituary

Farewell party

The evening of her death, Hale informally entertained some friends; she had told them that she was planning a long trip and invited them to a farewell party.[2][4] Among the guests at this informal "last party" were Mrs. Brock Pemberton; Prince del Drago of Italy; painter Dorothy Swinburne, who was married to Admiral Luke McNamee (President of the McKay Radio and Telegraph company); and Margaret Case (later Harriman, daughter of Frank Case), an editor at Vogue who would go on to write The Vicious Circle.[2] After the party Hale went on to the theater with Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Morgan to see the Stokes' play, Oscar Wilde.[2]

After attending the theater, Hale returned to her home — a one-room apartment with a kitchenette on the 16th floor of Hampshire House — at about 1:15 am, leaving a large number of friends partying at the 21 Club. She apparently spent the next four hours at the typewriter composing farewell notes to friends: one to Baruch expressing regret at not taking his advice;[8] and one to her attorney, instructing how her estate and burial were to be handled.

Frida Kahlo. The Suicide of Dorothy Hale. 1939. Oil on masonite. 60.4 x 48.6 cm. Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona, US

Translation of the legend:

In the city of New York on the twenty-first day of the month of October, 1938, at six o'clock in the morning, Mrs. Dorothy Hale committed suicide by throwing herself out of a very high window of the Hampshire House building. In her memory [...*] this retablo, executed by Frida Kahlo."[9] *The words "Mrs. Clare Booth Luce commissioned" were painted out of the legend by Noguchi at Luce's request after Kahlo delivered the commission.[3]

At 5:15 am on October 21, 1938, Hale threw herself out of the window of her apartment. She was found still wearing her favorite Madame X femme-fatale black velvet dress with a corsage of small yellow roses, given to her by Noguchi.[9]

Though the New York Times covered her death,[2] accordingly, Hopkins believed that Baruch had used his influence to mute the reporting of Hale's suicide and diffuse his involvement in the affair.[8]

In his interview for the Herrera book on Frida Kahlo, Noguchi would say of Hale:

She was very beautiful girl, all my girls are beautiful. I went to London with her in 1933. Bucky (Buckminster Fuller) and I were there the night before she did it. I remember very well she said, 'Well that's the end of the vodka. There isn't anymore.' Just like that you know. I wouldn't have thought of it much, except afterward I realized that that's what she was talking about. Dorothy was very pretty, and she traveled in this false world. She didn't want to be second to anybody, and she must have thought she was slipping.[4]

Frida Kahlo painting

Hale's friend Clare Booth Luce, an ardent admirer of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, almost immediately commissioned Kahlo to paint a "recuerdo" portrait of their deceased mutual friend, so that in Kahlo's words: "her life must not be forgotten".[3] Luce understood a recuerdo to be an idealized memorial portrait and was doubtless expecting a conventional over-the-fireplace portrait for her $400. After being shown in March in Paris, the completed painting arrived in August 1939: Luce claims she was so shocked by the unwrapped painting that she "almost passed out."[3][4] What Kahlo created was a graphic, narrative "retablo", detailing every step of Hale's suicide. It depicts Hale standing on the balcony, falling to her death while also lying on the bloody pavement below.[10] Luce was so offended that she seriously considered destroying it; but instead she had sculptor Noguchi paint out the part of the legend that bore Luce's name.[3] Luce simply left the work crated up in the care of Frank Crowninshield, only to be presented with it again decades later, when Crowninshield's heirs discovered it in storage.[4] She donated it anonymously to the Phoenix Art Museum, where it was eventually outed as a Luce donation. The museum retains ownership, although the painting is frequently on tour in exhibitions of Kahlo's works.

In 2010, the painting was included in a "sweeping view" of Noguchi’s career in the “On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi and His Contemporaries, 1922-1960” show at the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, Queens, New York City.[11]

Stage play

A play based on Hale's suicide, The Rise of Dorothy Hale, was written by Myra Bairstow and premiered Off-Broadway at the St. Luke's Theater on September 30, 2007.[12] The play is a veiled analogy to the life and death of Marilyn Monroe, and questions whether Hale's death was suicide or a disguised murder involving some of the power-brokers of the time.[13]


  1. ^ The Suicide of Dorothy Hale. Frida Kahlo's painting.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Dorothy Hale Obituary. New York Times. October 22, 1938. p.34
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Morris, Sylvia (1997). Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce. New York: Random House. ISBN 0394575555. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Herrera, Hayden (1983). Frida, a biography of Frida Kahlo. San Francisco: Harper & Row. pp. 289–294. ISBN 0-06-091127-1. 
  5. ^ Martin, Ralph C. (1991). Henry and Clare: an Intimate Portrait of the Luces. New York: Putnam. ISBN 0399136525. 
  6. ^ a b Duus, Masayo (2004). The life of Isamu Noguchi: journey without borders. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 069112096x. 
  7. ^ Smithsonian American Art Museum's Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture Database
  8. ^ a b c d Grant, James Douglas (1983). Bernard M. Baruch: the adventures of a Wall Street legend. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-41886-6. 
  9. ^ a b c Andrea Kettenmann (1999). Frida Kahlo: 1907-1954 Pain and Passion. Taschen. ISBN 3822859834. 
  10. ^ Robinson, Hilary. Feminism-Art-Theory: An Anthology, 1968–2000. Blackwell Publishing, 2001.
  11. ^ Rosenberg, Karen, "Art Review: The Far-Ranging Artistic Alliances That Shaped a Sculptor", The New York Times, December 16, 2010 (December 17, 2010 p. C31 NY ed.). Retrieved 2010-12-17.
  12. ^ "Playbill, Sept. 19, 2007". 
  13. ^ Wells, Judy. "Dramatic exploration: What caused a fatal fall?" Florida Times-Union. 8 January 2008.

External links

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