Rebekah’s parents might not have cared a whit about loving their daughter, but they sure as heck cared about what she looked like. For example, he liked to vanity-publish nonsensical books that even he admitted were awful. As her own biographer put it, “The only reason her works were ever played in public was because she subsidized the performances.” Harsh, but true. Though Harkness didn’t seem to care that he was using her, she probably should have…. Before their divorce in 1946, they had two children; Allen Pierce (b. The New York Times described him as an “embarrassing sort of man,” and his hobbies completely back this up. Rebekah Harkness had ambition and drive. Let’s just…, The Truth Always Comes Out: Dark Family Secrets Exposed, Entrancing Facts About Madame de Pompadour, France's Most Powerful Mistress, These People Got Revenge In The Most Ingenious Ways, Tragic Facts About Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s First Wife, 43 Unbelievable Facts About Lies And Deception, Bizarre Facts About Ancient Civilizations, Other-Worldly Facts About Mars, The Mysterious Red Planet. Although William Harkness came from a well-respected family that was supposed to give Rebekah even more of the status she craved, William himself was…a total fool. She filled a pool with Champagne. In 1954, something curious happened to Rebekah Harkness: Her oil tycoon husband passed. People already thought she had betrayed Joffrey, but they now watched in horror as she ran her ballet into the ground. Socialite circles are infamously tight-lipped about their marriages, but there’s almost no doubt that Rebekah’s union with Pierce was a dismal affair—and one day, she made a disturbing confession. Her body had been slowly falling into disrepair—those injections hurt far more than they helped—and she started complaining of a mysterious stomach ailment. People reported that Harkness’s lavish marble bathrooms were often splattered with blood, and that her muscles had begun to calcify. The most famous “Pack” story from around this time is when, during one particularly boring and respectable soiree, the group decided to spike a punch bowl with laxatives. Rebekah divorced Pierce in 1946 after an excruciating seven-year marriage, and it wasn’t long before she set her sights on William Hale Harkness, the heir to the Standard Oil fortune. She would also fill her lavish fish tanks with Scotch, even as living goldfish swam in them. Styling herself as the life of the party, Harkness did things like throw plates at the ship’s Filipino orchestra, swim in her birthday suit in full view of other passengers, and send out strings of obscenities so loudly that the ocean liner eventually had no choice but to send the beautiful, foul-mouthed socialite off the boat. Madame de Pompadour didn't just share King Louis XV's bed, she also shared his power. He uses his nose to find bones, treats, and fun adventures. Hers is a story as tragic as it is beautiful, which caught the attention of one of our generation’s greatest storytellers and has been forever immortalized as a thing of wonder. Born in 1915 in St Louis, Missouri, Harkness was the second daughter of prominent stockbroker Allen Tarwater and … Oh, but they had more tricks up their perfectly-tailored sleeves. In other words, these pieces didn’t exactly do justice to their surroundings. When she was still just a young girl, the Harknesses noticed that their Betty was putting on weight, so they signed the “pudgy” girl up for dance and figure skating lessons to help her shed those unsightly pounds. Harrison notes some of the same lighter-hearted factoids about Harkness from Unger’s biography: She was allegedly once kicked off a cruise ship for swimming nude, for example. In 1961, Harkness decided she wanted to become the next great ballet master, so she sponsored actual master Robert Joffrey’s artisanal ballet troupe. A New York Times the article describes Harkness’s unusual upbringing. Much of their marriage dynamic was about his domineering presence setting her on the straight and narrow. Dancy Mason is the Editor-in-Chief at Factinate. Though the Harkness Ballet was floundering, there was one brilliant choreographer, Larry Rhodes, who received good press. And then there were her three children. Well, Rebekah Harkness was not to be outdone by anyone, and she commissioned her own “Harkness Blue,” which she used to upholster the velvet Louis XIV-style chairs she had placed in her dance studio. Surprise, surprise, this phase didn’t last long. In the 1960s, Harkness took Bobby Scevers, a dancer who was 25 years her junior, as her lover. On June 10, 1939, Harkness married Dickson W. Pierce, the son of Thomas M. Pierce and a descendant of Franklin Pierce. Jesse Tyler Ferguson and married couple Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively expressed interest in starring in a movie based on Taylor Swift's new track The Last Great American Dynasty.. Harkness, Rebekah (1915–1982)American composer, sculptor, dance patron, and philanthropist who founded the Harkness Ballet. He was in prison. © Copyright 2020 by In 1962 she turned her Rhode Island estate, Holiday House, into a summer dance camp for the entire Joffrey […] A philanthropist. Born Rebekah Semple West on April 17, 1915, in St. Rebekah Harkness in 1966. Nonetheless, Harkness actually doted on the babe, and for a time it seemed like she was going to be a better granny than she was a mommy. P.O. By 1982, the end was near for Harkness, yet tragically her son Allen wasn’t there. An artist (a descriptor she bestowed upon herself). As she aged, Rebekah started to live off of “champagne and injections,” including testosterone and an assortment of pain medications. BOX 191606 (Harkness reportedly cleaned her pool with Dom Pérignon.) When Harkness was 24 years old, she decided it was high time to marry, and she chose Dickson W. Pierce, an upper-class photographer, as her first husband. Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. She was 67.) Their marriage produced one child: Edith Harkness and their marriage lasted harmoniously for 7 years when William Hale Harkness died 1 October 1954 leaving his entire fortune, that included a major share of Standard Oil, to Rebekah to do with as she pleased. And then there were her three children. In recent years, Harkness has gained new fame—or infamy—because of her connection to Taylor Swift. She all but fired him from his own company, then twisted the knife by taking most of his dancers with her to form her new, solo Harkness Ballet. Upon her death in 1982, Rebekah Harkness was called many things in her New York Times obituary. She was notorious along the eastern seaboard for her tacky, campy, “new money” sensibilities, and her Harkness Theater was the epitome of her gaudy aesthetic. The St. Louis–born socialite is the subject of the singer-songwriter's "The Last Great American Dynasty.". (The music site NME is praising the tune as "a contender for the best Taylor Swift song ever written"; you can watch the official lyric video below.) The Harkness family looked immaculate from the outside…behind closed doors, though, was another story. But Rebekah made the most of it…. Eager to please her emotionally unavailable parents, young Rebekah worked incredibly hard at her dance and ice skating lessons. Thanks for your time! Rebekah had already had two children with her first husband, Allen and Anne “Terry” Pierce, and she then had one more child with William, a daughter named Edith. Rebekah Harkness was practically destined to become a spoiled little rich girl. Rebekah Harkness married the heir to the Standard Oil fortune. When she was still desperately clinging to her ballet dreams, Harkness decided to install an enormous, blue plastic Geodesic dome right smack dab in the middle of her front lawn as a formal practice space for her failing dancers. Instead, she was reared by a series of nannies—and that’s not even the worst part. She shoved $5 million into building the Harkness Theater, a lavish studio complete with marble staircases and a chandelier, and it was all for nothing: The company collapsed in 1975. One of Harkness’s signature moves was to use vastly expensive products for everyday, mundane things. “Is there a chic way to go?” One day, Rebekah would find out that question for herself. When Harkness planned to put Angel’s nursery over top of his room, Scevers snapped, “Let the little creature die!” Unfortunately, he was one of the few people still by Harkness’s side when the end came. The answer is more complicated than Swift’s song reveals. Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis. Besides despising Rebekah’s children, Scevers also hated her disabled granddaughter Angel. After that, Rebekah really let it all hang out. So then Rebekah married big-shot oil tycoon William Hale Harkness. Obviously, Rebekah was completely out touch with reality—so her next move makes sense. Source for information on Harkness, Rebekah (1915–1982): Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia dictionary. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at While at school, Harkness fell in with a fast crowd of like-minded women—that is, emotionally damaged drama queens looking to get revenge on their parents. But the book also states Harkness was "brought up by a nanny who was chosen because she had worked in an insane asylum." If Harkness’s lovers are anything to go by, she was a wildcat in the bedroom. Before she passed, the socialite spent $250,000 to commission a bedazzled urn from none other than Salvador Dali. Though Kean consulted with multiple US presidents, he also had big-time mafia ties. Extravagant Facts About Barbara Hutton, “The Poor Little Rich Girl”, These Cruel Teachers Are The Stuff Of Student Nightmares, Bone-Chilling Moments We'll Never Be Able To Explain, Bloody Facts About Ivan the Terrible, The Mad Tsar Of Russia, Plot Twist: These Surprise Endings Made Our Jaws Hit The Floor, More People Need To Know About Nell Gwyn, England’s X-Rated Cinderella, The Jaw-Dropping Life of Josephine Baker, The Black Pearl Of Paris, Absolute Legends: The Wildest Pranks Ever Pulled, Lawyers Reveal Their Most Jaw-Dropping Court Cases, Overheard Once, Forgotten Never: These Hurtful Comments Are Completely Brutal, I’m Done: These People Quit Their Bad Jobs And Toxic Relationships In Epic Ways. By Heran Mamo. “How should she do it?” She wondered. An artist (a … The resulting damages to herself, her companies and her children were heartbreaking. Suddenly, Rebekah was a rich widow—one of the wealthiest women in America, in fact. Everyone advised her to get her affairs in order, but as we’ll soon see, things didn’t work out so neatly for Rebekah Harkness in the end. When she went to the doctor’s office, they found a frightening problem. As yet another troubled member of the family, Allen had gotten into a fight, slain a man, and was eventually sentenced with manslaughter. Without any real studio space, her dancers often practiced on her front lawn. Edith often used her mother’s many, many pills to perform these attempts—and Rebekah was anything but empathetic. Wealthy, elegant, and beautiful, Harkness seemed to have it all—from her oil baron husband to her notoriously raucous parties. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Now she has one more posthumous title: muse. Harkness was jealous to an absolute fault, and even to her own detriment. Almost as soon as William Harkness kicked the bucket, Rebekah turned into one of the most tasteless, gaudy eccentrics the Western hemisphere had ever seen. The train wreck was now chugging along, and it wouldn’t stop until Harkness took her last breath. The couple divorced in 1977…but Rebekah’s life was about to take a much darker turn. Around this time, Harkness fancied herself a composer. She would pay for dancers’ nose jobs at the drop of a hat, and buy office desks for her administrators that cost months’ worth of New York rent, a generosity that often made her middle-class secretaries supremely uncomfortable—not that Harkness noticed. For what it’s worth, Allen called the years he spent in the clinker—and away from his mother—the “happiest of his life.”. Harkness definitely wasn’t the most fiscally-responsible business woman, but she does have the distinction of being the strangest girl-boss in history. She had a newfound freedom to do whatever she wanted with the piles of money in her bank account. Rebekah Harkness died of cancer in 1982 in New York at the age of 67. We want our readers to trust us. Discover Rebekah Harkness, the extravagant woman who inspired Taylor Swift’s song “the last great american dynasty.”. This had devastating consequences. Not really. She supported the arts in general, ballet in particular, and she had the wealth with which to do it. The Harkness Foundation for Dance still exists. According to Scevers, ”It was complete chaos…everybody running around signing wills and trying on different wigs.” And when Rebekah actually passed on June 17, 1982, things only got weirder from there. (Photos: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images, Beth Garrabrant) As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. Yet like so much of Harkness’s life, what seemed beautiful on the outside was rotting on the inside. Allen shot and killed a man in a brawl and was charged with second-degree murder, the charge eventually being reduced to manslaughter , with Allen serving a total of eight years. Their antics soon became legendary. Not only did her ballet collapse, her whole family did as well. At least once, Harkness and her friends got up on a banquet table and performed a strip tease for the distinguished guests around them. Hey, all publicity is good publicity—and Rebekah’s need to be in the spotlight soon grew to disturbing proportions. Harkness later admitted that she married the poor schmuck because she “had nothing else to do.” In fact, Rebekah had a much loftier—and extravagant—destiny in mind for herself. It's no surprise it was left abandoned upon Harkness's death until Swift began hosting the next generation of A-list parties set on the Atlantic Ocean in 2013. Raised primarily by a series of nannies, Harkness took up dancing and ice skating to lose weight and was highly disciplined in … Rocky Finds His Heart is Rebekah's first children's book. Doctors told Harkness that she had one ailment that no amount of money could cure: She was dying of stomach cancer. Pierce was the descendant of Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, and seemed like a good match for the ambitious girl…except really, he was just a starter husband. Together, the pair resided in Rhode Island, in a home called "Holiday House" that Swift now owns. Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? Just after 1966, Harkness became a grandmother when her daughter Terry gave birth to a little girl. For one, her “emotionally frigid” parents wanted absolutely nothing to do with raising her. Following the divorce, Harkness gained custody of both children. Apparently, Harkness liked to reward her boy-toys, because she soon made Castelli the artistic director of her ballet company. Though Harkness took those nasty testosterone injections to strengthen her body for dance, the “medicine” actually had the opposite effect. This is where Rebekah really started getting a tarnished reputation, and things got so bad that no amount of money could fix her downfall. A New York Times article described Harkness's unusual upbringing. Uh, how sweet? Jack Mitchell / Getty Images. They dubbed themselves the “Bitch Pack” and, after graduating in 1932, set about trying to wreak havoc on the socialite scene, one gala at a time. To zero people’s surprise, the Harkness family was utterly dysfunctional. While at her fancy finishing school, Harkness didn’t seem to care that her classmates were people with last names like “Roosevelt.” Instead, she scrawled in her scrapbook that she wanted to “do everything bad.” Well, she certainly achieved her goal…. Sadly, the socialite’s seemingly bottomless cruelty would soon hit even greater lows. Swift later connects herself to Harkness in the final moments of the song: Holiday House sat quietly on that beach / Free of women with madness, their men and bad habits / And then it was bought by me, Who knows, if I never showed up, what could’ve been / There goes the loudest woman this town has ever seen / I had a marvelous time ruining everything, I had a marvelous time ruining everything / A marvelous time ruining everything / A marvelous time / I had a marvelous time, Also in the song, Swift mentions some of Harkness’ antics. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery. Perhaps most tragically, Rebekah’s little granddaughter Angel had passed just before Rebekah herself; she was just 10 years old. And the dysfunction didn’t end there. All Rights Reserved. All rights reserved. The story of Rebekah Harkness is way more complicated than Taylor Swift lets on. This week, Taylor Swift showed the world what she’s been working on during quarantine: a new album, Folklore, which the singer-songwriter released late Thursday evening. The book is available for purchase on Amazon for $195, but a May 1988 New York Times review by the late journalist Barbara Grizzuti Harrison clues us into the reported inner world of Harkness as published in the book. Harkness, or rather his money, made Rebekah interesting. Salinger had the perfect stories for her music, so one day she disguised herself as a cleaning lady, knocked on his door, then tried to convince him to let her use his fiction. Harkness started acting out early in her adolescence, and her antics would put any other mean girl to shame. A patron of dance and medicine. Why? If you hear “oil” and think “Russian Oligarch rich,” you’d be pretty much right. Her parents hired a nanny for Harkness specifically because she "had worked in an insane asylum," and then Harkness went to finishing school, where she decided to "do … She hoped that the fourth time would be the charm, but the socialite had no such luck. Her daughter Terry gave birth to a child who died at age 10. I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. We’re always looking for your input! Although Catherine's successor Queen Anne Boleyn suffered an infamously dark fate, Aragon's own life was somehow even more tragic. Oh my God, the question here is: What didn’t she do? Reportedly, she wanted these updates so that she could see as little of her children as possible. Rebekah’s daughter Edith was clinically depressed and suicidal for much of her life (wonder why), and spent scores of years in and out of mental institutions following near fatal attempts at self-harm. And that wasn’t the only ill-advised thing she did…. This is vastly different from Harkness's own design that included eight kitchens and 21 bathrooms, which rather effectively prevented her from having to run into her three children while they were in the house. Rebekah rode up on the afternoon train, it was sunny / Her saltbox house on the coast took her mind off St. Louis / Bill was the heir to the Standard Oil name and money / And the town said / “How did a middle-class divorcée do it?” / The wedding was charming, if a little gauche / There’s only so far new money goes / They picked out a home and called it “Holiday House” / Their parties were tasteful, if a little loud / The doctor had told him to settle down / It must have been her fault his heart gave out, And they said / There goes the last great American dynasty / Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been / There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen / She had a marvelous time ruining everything. Children: Allen Pierce Anne Terry Pierce Edith Harkness: Parent(s) Allen Tarwater Rebekah Cook West: Rebekah West Harkness (April 17, 1915 – June 17, 1982) also known as Betty Harkness, was an American composer, sculptor, dance patron, and philanthropist who founded the Harkness Ballet. Sheesh, it’s not wonder Rebekah turned out to be a nightmare when she grew up. In 2020, Swift then penned the song “the last great american dynasty,” which tells Harkness’s twisted story for the world. When Rebekah decided to renovate her Rhode Island mansion, she demanded that it have a whopping eight kitchens and 21 baths. Equipped with a ludicrous amount of self-confidence, she did something supremely stupid. She was also a composer. Aw, how sweet. Upon her death in 1982, Rebekah Harkness was called many things in her New York Times obituary. 1944). First, a brief biography: Born Rebekah Semple West in St. Louis in 1915, Harkness was a divorcée whose second marriage was to Standard Oil heir William Hale Harkness. Name variations: Betty Harkness. Rebekah Harkness and her Harkness Ballet in 1966. Not long after Rebekah’s passing, her daughter Edith finally managed to succeed in her suicide attempts. She once demanded Castelli to, “Kiss me. See, Rebekah thought that notoriously reclusive writer J.D. By 1980, many of Harkness’s old friends had dropped off, and she was left with only her most sycophantic hangers-on. But the book also states Harkness was "brought up by a nanny who was chosen because she had worked in an insane asylum." As it turned out, this was the beginning of her ignominious end. The Harknesses were married for a brief period—just seven years. Read More. Her reason was chilling. Yet this came with great tragedy: The baby, named Angel, was severely brain-damaged. 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