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Socialite Marguerite Littman dies aged 90

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Socialite Marguerite Littman, founder of influential charity Aids Crisis Trust and friend to the stars, died this month aged 90. 

Born in Monroe, Louisiana to one of the city’s oldest families, Marguerite described herself as a ‘zigzag’ socialite who charged up the ladder to the highest ranks of high society.

Her showbiz social circle of friends included Elizabeth Taylor, Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol, Rock Hudson and Truman Capote, who is said to have based Breakfast At Tiffany’s Holly Golightly on the petite, vivacious and charming Littman.

Princess Diana met Littman through her fundraising efforts in London and the pair delighted in swapping notes on who ‘brought oxygen into a room’. 

Socialite Marguerite Littman, founder of influential charity Aids Crisis Trust and friend to the stars, has died aged 90. She befriended Diana (pictured in 1997) through her charity work

Born in Monroe, Louisiana to one of the city’s oldest families, Marguerite described herself as a ‘zigzag’ socialite who charged up the ladder to the highest ranks of high society. Her circle included Princess Diana (left in 1997), Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger (right in 2003)

It was in fundraising the Marguerite made her biggest mark. Pictured, with Elizabeth Taylor and her eighth husband Larry Fortensky at an Aids Crisis Trust event in 1991

Marguerite also zigzagged between the US and London, where she lived for 30 years with her third husband, British barrister Mark Littman. The couple owned a house in Brompton Square and then a mansion in Chester Square, where Marguerite hosted charity events and entertained in true Southern style.

She married her first husband, The New Yorker sub-editor Harry McNab Brown, in 1952 but the marriage broke down three years later – Brown was prone to drinking binges – and he pulled a gun on her when she went to their house to pick up her clothes. 

After a chaotic few years of dating – one of her boyfriends fell in love with her brother, novelist and playwright Speed Lamkin – in 1959 she married young actor Rory Harrity. They divorced in 1963 following claims Harrity was an unfaithful drunk. 

Blessed with a southern drawl, Marguerite was given her introduction to starry social circles when she visited her brother in Hollywood in the early 1950s. Producer Jerry Wald was taken by her beauty and wanted to put her under contract at Columbia but she was unable to shake her accent, dashing any hopes of her being a leading lady. 

Marguerite zigzagged between the US and London, where she lived for 30 years with her third husband, British barrister Mark Littman. The couple owned a house in Brompton Square and then a mansion in Chester Square, where Marguerite hosted charity events and entertained in Southern style. Pictured, with Pamela, Lady Harlech, at a 1970 Chester Square charity fair

Marguerite in 1971 in her London  living room with a David Hockney portrait on the wall behind

But her natural twang opened another door when Tennessee Williams and director Elia Kazan overheard her speaking at a cocktail party and hired her as a vocal coach. 

In April 1955 she coached Barbara Bel Geddes in the Mississippi accent for the Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She taught Margaret Leighton for The Sound and Fury (1959), Laurence Harvey for Summer and Smoke (1961), and Elizabeth Taylor for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958.

In 1962 she was quoted declaring Taylor ‘the best pupil she had’ but was conscious of becoming a parody of herself and quit vocal training for writing, publishing a book that divided the world into ‘cat’ and ‘dog’ people. 

However it was in fundraising the Marguerite made her biggest mark, and led her to meeting Princess Diana.  

Marguerite worked as a vocal coach in Hollywood and trained Elizabeth Taylor for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958 (pictured, with co-star Paul Newman). She declared Taylor her ‘best pupil’

A close friend of Rock Hudson, Marguerite nursed the actor as he was dying from Aids in 1985 and vowed after his death to do something to tackle the crisis. Right, Hudson in 1984

A close friend of Rock Hudson, Marguerite nursed the actor as he was dying from Aids in 1985 and vowed after his death to do something to raise money to tackle the condition, which at the time was still considered the ‘gay cancer’. 

In 1986 and by this time living in London, Marguerite sent letters to 300 high net-worth and influential people, determined to drum up more support from the establishment. This was easy work who described herself as a ‘collector’ of people.

She asked each person for £100 to become a founding member of the Aids Crisis Trust and received just one ‘no’. 

‘We had no overheads, as we licked our own stamps and used our own telephone,’ she later recalled. ‘The accountants wouldn’t believe there were no administration costs, so they made us put in a claim for £5.’ 

Six months later she launched the trust with a glittering gala auction at Christie’s. Everyone from Boy George to the Duchess of York attended and David Hockney contributed his Alphabet. David Bailey and Lord Snowdon also had ‘studios’ on site where the well-heeled guests could pay to be photographed. 

Princess Diana and Marguerite Littman at an Aids charity event in 1990. The pair delighted in swapping notes on who ‘brought oxygen into a room’

Her work with the Aids Crisis Trust led to a friendship with Princess Diana, although Marguerite said they were more like ‘playmates’ than confidantes. 

In 1996 Princess Diana helped Marguerite stage an auction of her dresses. 

Recalling the phone call, Marguerite later said: ‘She [Diana] said: “I have a wonderful idea. I’m going to give you all of my dresses.” I didn’t know quite what that meant. I thought, “Oh, God, do I dress that badly?”’

The result was the Christie’s New York charity auction of Diana’s dresses, held in July 1997, a month before the princess’s death. The event raised $3.25million, half of which went to the Aids Crisis Trust.  

In 1999 the charity was dissolved, having achieved its aim of raising support for the cause within the British establishment. 

Mark died in 2015 and thereafter she was cared by her house manager.   

Marguerite Littman died on 16 October aged 90. 

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