Let it be known to all: It was I who created Mickey Easterling, who passed away on April 14, 2014 at an undetermined age.
Yes, that Mickey Easterling, who former Times-Picayune columnist Bill Grady in 1993 headlined this way: “Life of the Parties: Self-made socialite cuts swath with self-assured grand style.”
Self-made? I feel like Mama Rose when Gypsy turned on her. Don’t I get no credit, huh?
When Grady, like the good Legacy Journalist he was, asked her age, the subject “looked as if she’d caught an unsavory whiff of fatigued beluga caviar.”
“‘My AGE? What is my AGE?'” said Easterling, aghast.
“If she’d had a crucifix on hand,” the columnist continued, “she’d have held it up for protection against the dreaded ‘a’ word.”
New Orleans Advocate writer Dennis Persica fared no better last week: “Her family declined to release her age, noting she once said, “Age is a number, and mine’s unlisted.'”
However many years she graced this earth, Easterling, mistress of the bon mot and magnet to all things bon vivant, both entertained and donated lavishly. Her husband, marine and energy investor Vern Easterling, died in 1983, just 54 years old. It was his success that initially fueled his wife’s generosity.
But it was a decade prior to his death that, while living in England, I received a phone call from my mother, a month or so before her planned summer visit. Could she bring a friend, Jewel Toups, along? Then, the next day: “Jewel has a friend, Mickey Easterling, who’s never been to Europe. She’d like to come, too. Is that all right?”
Jewel’s husband, Rodney, was manager of the Lowe’s State Theater on Canal Street, and Jewel, a party girl often written up in New Orleans newspapers, had taken her friend Mickey under her wing. Lorraine Goreau, States-Item writer, once related a story Jewel had fed her. Back in the days when housekeepers in upper-middle-class homes answered the telephone, “Mrs. X’s residence,” Jewel had tried to leave a message for my mother. “Tell her Mrs. Toups called. No, that’s Tou . . Just tell her Jewel called. Jewel, like on the lard can.”
I met the trio in Dublin, where we dined with the parents of a grade-school friend of mine, “Boya” Sato, whose father had recently been appointed Japan’s Ambassador to Ireland. Mickey wore her handkerchief dress — scores of Western hankies stitched together — to the intimate dinner for six at the embassy residence. From Mickey’s end of the table I heard the words “Pearl Harbor,” as conversation ceased.
At our elegant picnic a week later on the lawn of the Glyndebourne opera festival, Jewel suddenly boomed out, “Did I tell you Rodney called last night? Said he know’s I’m gone ’cause his underwear came out gray when he washed it.”
“Not my Vern,” Mickey said with pride. “He knows how to get his bright white.”
Mercifully, the bell sounding the end of the interval chimed.
The next day, we headed to Liberty of London, where Mickey selected bolts of splendid fabrics to ship home. I recognized their reincarnations into saucy dresses over the next few years.
But fancy was our undoing. One October, I decided it was time to “Mickey-up” my wife, Millie, for our anniversary. To crown her new svelte black skirt and beaded top — accented by a bright red belt — I presented her with a milliner’s delight from Sandra Freeman’s Wilkinson Row boutique. Black net, embroidered in a paisley pattern, cascaded from an open-filigree cloche cap, creating a delectable Mata Hari effect.
We stopped by her mother’s house on the way to a party to show off her new look. Mama’s lip went up, ever so slightly, a sign of cautious disapproval. Millie, unnerved, nevertheless felt newly empowered.
Mickey arrived at the party, glanced at the hat, and strode imperiously away.
Checkmate for Millie in that ageless battle of fashion that Mickey fought so well.
Editor’s note: Mickey Easterling will have a final hour in the spotlight. A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held Tuesday, April 22, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Saenger Theater. Plans include placing Ms. Easterling’s body, on a wrought-iron bench in a garden setting, with champagne glass and cigarette holder in hand.