I am easily distracted. The other day, in search of information on polo player Stephen “Laddie” Sanford, whose Hurricanes won the U.S. Open five times in three different decades, I learned that Laddie had graced the cover of Time magazine, knew Cole Porter, played polo on Long Island and in Hollywood, summered on the Riviera. Heir to the Bigelow-Sanford carpet fortune, he could afford the best ponies and an elevated lifestyle. He was a playboy before the word belonged to Hugh Hefner and played polo before the word belonged to Ralph Lauren.
His sister, Gertrude Sanford Legendre, was a debutante, big game hunter and a spy with the OSS during World War II who was captured by the Germans, held captive for six months, and then escaped into Switzerland, sprinting the last 50 yards to the border as a sentry shouted at her to stop. She lived to be 97, an amazing woman, now almost completely forgotten.
As is Sanford’s wife, actress Mary Duncan. She starred on Broadway, most notably in 1926’s The Shanghai Gesture, and then went to Hollywood and appeared in 16 films, including 1931’s Five and Ten with Marion Davies, with whom she weekended at San Simeon. But in 1933, after a delightful performance in Morning Glory, a film that brought its leading lady, Katherine Hepburn, her first Oscar as Best Actress, Mary retired and married Laddie. They settled in Palm Beach. Their oceanfront villa, Las Incas, featured a room decorated entirely in sea shells. Mary played tennis, at first shocking and then inspiring a generation of wealthy women who had been taught indolence was their proper role. She lived to be 98, the Grand Dame of Palm Beach, whose work for charity surpassed all her other accomplishments.
They had the world by the tail, but now you can barely find a word written about them. So passes fame. But I remember them today, and salute their style.