According to her diaries, Elizabeth Drexel accepted this mariage blanc. After all, King Lehr, as he was called by friends, elevated her social position and got her invited to the best parties in Newport and Paris. In return, she set him up with an annual allowance of $25,000 (the equivalent of $750,000 today).
With the flowering of café society in the thirties, journalists who chronicled the goings-on of fashionable folk at venues such as El Morocco, the Stork Club, and 21 became the era’s preeminent walkers. There was Jerome Zerbe, New York’s first society photographer; and Maury Paul, the social chronicler who invented the term “old guard” for the set he favored and who claimed a collection of more than 50 fur coats. But Lucius Beebe, who regularly wrote about café society in his Herald Tribune column in the thirties, was the period’s best-loved extra man. Known for the “outrageous majesty of his appearance,” as one contemporary journalist called it, Beebe favored John Lobb boots, Charvet ties, and Savile Row suits. The radio personality Walter Winchell dubbed him Luscious Lucius—probably a none-too-veiled jab at his sexual proclivities—and Beebe had one of the era’s few openly gay relationships: He met his lifelong partner, Charles Clegg, at the walker hatchery otherwise known as Evalyn Walsh McLean’s house. And although Beebe went on to become the nation’s foremost railroad historian, he described his social position thus: “I consider my function,” he wrote, “that of a connoisseur of the preposterous.”
At 82, Luis Estevez is the last surviving member of the golden age of walking that revolved around midcentury swans Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, C.Z. Guest, Slim Keith, and the Duchess of Windsor. “I must sound like such a name-dropper,” he says, using the words “best friend” to describe Guinness, Cole Porter, Merle Oberon, Elsie Woodward, Liliane de Rothschild, Betsy Bloomingdale, and Marella Agnelli all in the course of a single conversation. A New York fashion-design star in the fifties known for curvy gowns with fanciful necklines, Estévez could never be an extra man quite in the manner of his good friends Bill Blass and Billy Baldwin—after all, in 1953 he had married the well-born model Betty Dew (Hubert de Givenchy served as his best man) to appease his old-school Cuban parents. “The real walkers didn’t have wives—otherwise the numbers would be off,” he chuckles. “Betty and I had a straight social life, because social life was straight—or it was supposed to look that way. But I did lots of gay things, and so did she.”
The walker’s sexuality, Estévez says, was never challenged—even by the red-blooded likes of William S. Paley. Of course, there were rare exceptions: Slim Keith, the California model–turned–British noble, spent so many nights out with Bill Blass that she determined it would be more convenient to have him as a lover. One summer weekend she invited him to Nantucket, and on his first night on the island, Blass changed for dinner and was surprised to find a candlelit table set for two. Immediately understanding Keith’s purposes, Blass dined politely, packed his bags, and never spoke to her again.