Key Facts & Summary
- Tony Pinchot Bradlee was the wife of Washington Post executive editor, Ben Bradlee
- She lived a glamorous life: she worked at Vogue, and subsequently became an artist and jeweller; she was one of Jacqueline Kennedy’s best friends, and held elegant parties with the presence of the most prominent intellectuals, politicians, and journalists of the 1960s
- On October 12, 1964, Tony’s sister, Mary Meyer was killed in Georgetown (in Washington D.C.): her death remains an unresolved mystery to this date
- Tony and Ben divorced because of their differences and dedication to their jobs: Ben Bradlee was transforming the Washington Post into one of the best newspapers of the country, whereas Tony was increasingly more interested and devoted in the pursuit of her spiritual beliefs
- Tony died at the age of 87 after suffering from dementia
Not much information regarding Antoinette Pinchot Bradlee (also known as Tony) is readily available. Rather, her name is tied to two other people: her ex-husband Ben Bradlee (who was the executive editor of the Washington Post), and her sister, Mary Pinchot Meyer (who was the wife of CIA officer Cord Meyer). Nina Burleigh, author of A Very Private Woman (1998) points out that unlike her sister, Tony was a very reserved and quiet woman that had an incredible taste for clothes: she is described as ‘more restrained and formal than her older sister’.
Antoinette Pinchot was an ‘ethereal’ (Burleigh 1998), graceful, pretty, blonde, and slender woman. Many defined her as charming, and even Jacqueline Kennedy noticed her elegant allure.
Tony carried out her studies in Art at the Corcoran School, in Washington, and subsequently graduated in New York at the Brearley School, and the Vassar College (Bernstein 2011).
Thanks to her natural charm and elegance she started working for Vogue magazine. During this time, she was married to Steuart L. Pittman, a lawyer.
In 1954, when Tony met journalist Benjamin C. Bradlee in Paris, she was still married to Pittman. At the time she was travelling across Europe with her sister, and Bradlee ‘was the chief European correspondent for Newsweek’ (Bernstein 2011). Tony and Mary defined their Europe holiday as a ‘husband-dumping trip’ (DiEugenio 2015).
Whilst in Paris, Ben and Tony spent time together in sophisticated environments. In fact, according to DiEugenio (2015), Ben Bradlee ‘lived in the style of the old French aristocracy’: he rented a fabulous castle with a swimming pool and a pond. Since the castle had sixty-five rooms and two ballrooms, the couple hosted upper-class parties (DiEugenio 2015; citing Himmelman).
Two years later, after having divorced from their respective partners, the two got married and moved to Washington.
Even when they returned to the States, the couple’s life was glamorous: they attended private dinners at the White House and also had an intimate friendship with the Kennedy’s.
Moreover, Tony and Ben would organise parties and dinners in their home on 3325 N Street (neighbouring the Kennedy’s): the attendees were some of the most prominent politicians, ‘intellectuals, and journalists’ (Heymann 2003: 60). The mood of the 1960s was very evident during their parties: they ‘danced to rock-and-roll records while feasting on beer and pizza’ (Heymann 2003: 60).
The ‘unhappy’ and ‘lonely’ Jacqueline Kennedy explicitly asked Tony in a ‘plaintive’ tone to be her best friend (Harberstan 1979). In his book Conversations with Kennedy (1975), Ben Bradley noted a discussion that went on between Jacqueline and JFK in front of them, in which Jaqueline claimed to her husband ‘Oh Jack, you know you always say the Tony is your ideal’ (Halberstan 1979).
After J.F.K.’s assassination, Tony stayed with Jacqueline Kennedy in Virginia, where they endured ‘a couple of “emotional weekends”’ (Remnick 1995).
Notwithstanding the good times spent together, the couple broke apart because of their differing characters and interests: in 1965, Ben Bradlee became the chief executive editor of the Washington Post, whereas Tony was ‘seeking spiritual fulfilment through her artwork and Gurdjieff’ (Bernstein 2011).
Tony had six children: from her first marriage (1947-1955) were born Andrew Pittman, Nancy Pinchot, Rosamond Casey, and Tamara Pittman; whereas from her second marriage (1947-1955) were born Dominic Bradlee, and Marina Murdock (Bernstein 2011).
When Tony divorced Ben Bradlee, she became increasingly dedicated to her art and spiritual pursuits. In fact, she became a ceramicist, a jeweller, and a painter. In 1972, Tony Pinchot also managed to have her own exhibition at Jefferson Place Gallery. Art critic Paul Richard gave his opinion of Pinchot’s artwork and claimed that ‘What makes these works remarkable is not the hardness of their shells, but the delicacies of their interiors…These pieces do not yell, they do not gobble space. Their shapes are generally simple — spheres, columnar pods, and discs — but each shape has an opening, a window, and there is nothing simple about what goes on inside’ (Bernstein 2011; citing Richard).
During her last years, Tony Pinchot Bradlee was affected by dementia. She died on November 9, 2011, at the age of 87.
The Murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer
In Nina Burleigh’s book, Mary Meyer is described as a wild, complicated, mysterious woman, that highly valued her independence and ‘personal authority’: she was an artist that had received a good education, and was an attractive lady surrounded by luxury (1998). However, it is also possible that in the man-made society she lived in, Tony’s sister suffered from undiagnosed depression and loneliness. In fact, growing up, she witnessed a suicide within her family; and her marital life with Cord Meyer, a CIA agent, had proved incredibly difficult until their divorce (Burleigh 1998).
Mary enjoyed being a seductress, she was fascinated by anything glamorous and dramatic: one of the men she knew also claimed that Mary ‘reminded him of a cat walking on a rooftop in the moonlight’ (Burleigh 1998). Essentially, her charm allowed her to become one of White House insiders. Thanks to her connections to the CIA, Mayer was able to meet President Kennedy and his wife Jackie. Kennedy and Mary’s love affair started in 1960 and ended in 1963, the year of his death. The President wrote a letter that somehow never reached Meyer: he begged her to go visit him (such visits would usually occur when Jackie was away): ‘I know it is unwise, irrational, and that you may hate it, — on the other hand you may not — and I will love it. You say that it is good for me not to get what I want. After all of these years — you should give me a more loving answer than that. Why don’t you just say yes’ (Norman 2018). Moreover, it is speculated that Meyer also introduced drugs such as LSD and marijuana into the White House (Norman 2018).
When Kennedy was shot, Mayer had already interrupted her rendez-vous with the President: her sister Tony noticed that Mary did not seem shocked by his death (perhaps because she had already been warned to keep her distances).
The following year, on October 12, 1964, Mary Meyer was attacked and shot whilst she was walking along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath. Some believe that the murder of Mary Meyer was part of a ‘government-silencing conspiracy’ (Norman 2018).
However, it is necessary to note that Meyer had strong opinions about foreign policy, and – since she had been married to a CIA agent – she possessed much knowledge of the events: in fact, it would not be a surprise to discover that Washington D.C.’s national security viewed Meyer and her private conversations with the President as a threat (Norman 2018).
The night after Mary was murdered, Ben and Tony received a call from Japan. Anne Truitt had been one of Mary’s best friends, and she advised the couple to retrieve Mary’s diary before the FBI laid its hands on it in order to make it public (Burleigh 1998). In fact, it is likely that her diary contained much information that would have enlightened the situation, revealing details of her relationship with President Kennedy, as well as her hopes and fears (Norman 2018). Once the diary was confiscated by James Angleton (one of Mary’s friends and head of the CIA), it was immediately destroyed (Norman 2018).
[1.] Bernstein, A. (2011). Antoinette Pinchot Bradlee. The Washington Post. [online] Available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/2011/11/14/gIQAazbbMN_story.html?_=ddid-7-1549803720&utm_term=.28caa7271b4f
[2.] Burleigh, N. (1998). A very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer. [online] Available from: http://movies2.nytimes.com/books/first/b/burleigh-private.html
[3.] DiEugenio, J. (2015). Ben Bradlee’s Not Such ‘A Good Life’. Consortium News. [online] Available from: https://consortiumnews.com/2015/03/10/ben-bradlees-not-such-a-good-life/
[4.] Halberstan, D. (1979). The Powers that Be.
[5.] Heymann, C. D. (2003). The Georgetown Ladies’ Social Club: Power, Passion, Politics in the Nation’s Capital. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Atria Books.
[6.] Norman, A. (2018). Who killed Mary Pinchot Meyer? ATI. [online] Available from: https://allthatsinteresting.com/mary-pinchot-meyer-murder
[7.] Remnick, D. (1995). Last of the Red Hots. New Yorker. [online] Available from: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1995/09/18/last-of-the-red-hots