Monday, March 3, 2014

Gertrude Sanford Legendre spy, socialite, inspiration

The common bond of Gertrude Legendre,
Ann Harding and Katharine Hepburn

Gertrude Sanford Legendre, her brother and sister were said to have been the inspiration for Philip Barry's 1929 original play version of Holiday. 

Barry, who wrote the play version of Holiday was a fan of Hepburn's. He would also write The Philadelphia Story seemingly with Hepburn in mind for the part of Tracy Lord. 

Gertrude Legendre was a 1920's socialite and big-game hunter who went on to work during World War II for the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency. She lived 1902-2000.

She was supposedly the model for the character for Linda Seton, the part played in the 1930 film version by Ann Harding and the 1938 version by Katharine Hepburn.

Legendre "became the first American woman captured in France when, on a visit to the front northeast of Paris, she found herself pinned down by German sniper fire. Held as a prisoner of war for six months. She escaped and went by train to Switzerland. The train stopped short of the border; as she dashed to the frontier, a German guard ordered her to halt or be shot. She continued and reached the border."
 -- New York Times, March 2000

I found a passage in The Spy Who Spent the War in Bed And Other Bizarre Tales from World War II that seems to sum up her character, an adventure she had during the war.
"In late September, Gertrude was issued a five-day pass. Typical of high-spirited people, she sought even more adventure. So with two OSS male companions she decided to drive a jeep toward the front lines because she wanted to 'smell the battle.' She was making thee hazardous trek without permission.

"A few days later the entire OSS apparatus from Washington to Paris was rocked by blockbuster news from Radio Hamburg an American woman Gertrude Legendre had been captured in Luxembourg. Paris and Washington gave sighs of relief when the radio broadcast identified their captive as an interpreter for an American naval officer.'

Gertrude's husband was now a lieutenant commander serving in the Pacific. When notified of his wife's precarious predicament, he paid the ultimate tribute to her courage and daring with the comment, 'God help the Germans!'"

Holiday Mary Astor, Ann Harding, 1930
Canvas Print / Canvas Art - Artist Everett

(Pathé Motion Picture studio would merge with RKO in 1931)

Later in her life, this former big game hunter became an environmentalist. She established the Medway Environmental Trust. Her South Carolina home, Medway Plantation would forever be managed as a nature preserve to protect the wildlife that thrives there. 

"Mrs. Legendre lamented that almost all of the adjoining plantations had fallen victim to strip malls and industrial development, and as a result Medway has become a vital refuge for many creatures some of them endangered, whose habitats have been consumed by relentless urban sprawl." 

-- Goose Creek, South Carolina: A Definitive History 1670-2003, Heitzler

According to The New York Times, Gertrude Legendre Sanford liked to throw big New Year's Eve parties. "Gertie hosted guests like Bing Crosby for shooting holidays and held a lavish costume ball every New Year's, making her entrance on one occasion on the back of an elephant."

Here's a toast they attribute to her. Good for New Year's, weddings, whatever the occasion

If you're a fan of Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes and/or the film, Dirty Dancing, all the better.

''I look ahead. I always have. I don't contemplate life, I live it. And I'm having the time of my life.''

The Medway house; September 1940
2012 Update:

"A Greek shipping tycoon with a taste for bird hunting and fine art is the new owner of one of South Carolina’s most historic pieces of real estate."

Mr. Gregory Callimanopulos purchased the Medway estate for 11 million dollars from the Medway Institute and its trustee, Bokara Legendre, daughter of Gertrude Sanford Legendre.

She inherited the property in 2000 from her late mother, conservationist and philanthropist Gertrude Sanford Legendre, who with husband Sidney Legendre bought Medway for $100,000 in 1929. The land is protected from commercial development through legally binding conservation easements.

Medway first went on the market for $25 million in 2004. The asking price had been reduced to $15 million by last fall. Medway Institute could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"Callimanopulos plans to reintroduce wild quail at Medway and use the Berkeley County estate as a personal getaway and hunting retreat, said Richard Baldwin, president of Tradeland Investors Inc., a New York-based firm identified on the deed as the buyer."
-- The South Carolina Post and Courier April 12, 2012 

Related Pages of Interest:

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Holiday


The Spy Who Spent the War in Bed: And Other Bizarre Tales from World War II
 by William B. Breuer

Goose Creek, South Carolina: A Definitive History 1670-2003, vol.1 by Michael James Heitzler

Gertrude Sanford Legendre wrote two autobiographies 40 years apart:

The Time of My Life, 1987

An earlier autobiography, The Sands Ceased to Run, is sometimes published under Gertrude S Legendre. This volume from 1947 can be harder to find.

The New York Times, The South Carolina Post and Courier

Ann Harding - Cinema's Gallant Lady Find out more about Ann Harding. She received an Academy Award nomination for her film performance in Holiday, the first version of Philip Barry’s play.

Major updates to this page will be noted with a revision date. 
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Images US Public domain.
Portrait of Gertrude Sanford
by William Orpen (1878–1931)
house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places US.

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