The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo Page 1

Film legend and ’60s It Girl Evelyn Hugo has just announced that she will auction off 12 of her most memorable gowns through Christie’s to raise money for breast cancer research.

At the age of 79, Hugo has long been an icon of glamour and elegance. She is known for a personal style both sensual and restrained, and many of Hugo’s most famous looks are considered touchstones of the fashion and Hollywood archives.

Those looking to own a piece of Hugo history will be intrigued not only by the gowns themselves but also by the context in which they were worn. Included in the sale will be the emerald-green Miranda La Conda that Hugo wore to the 1959 Academy Awards, the violet soufflé and organdy scoop-neck she donned at the premiere of Anna Karenina in 1962, and the navy-blue silk Michael Maddax that she was wearing in 1982 when she won her Oscar for All for Us.

Hugo has weathered her share of Hollywood scandals, not the least of which being her seven marriages, including her decades-long relationship with film producer Harry Cameron. The two Hollywood insiders shared a daughter, Connor Cameron, who is no doubt the influence for the auction. Ms. Cameron passed away last year from breast cancer soon after turning 41.

Born Evelyn Elena Herrera in 1938, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, Hugo grew up in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City. By 1955, she had made her way to Hollywood, gone blond, and been rechristened Evelyn Hugo. Almost overnight, Hugo became a member of the Hollywood elite. She remained in the spotlight for more than three decades before retiring in the late ’80s and marrying financier Robert Jamison, older brother of three-time Oscar-winning actress Celia St. James. Now widowed from her seventh husband, Hugo resides in Manhattan.

Preternaturally beautiful and a paragon of glamour and daring sexuality, Hugo has long been a source of fascination for moviegoers the world over. This auction is expected to raise upward of $2 million.


I look around at the desks beside me and then back at Frankie, trying to confirm to whom, exactly, she’s talking. I point to myself. “Do you mean me?”

Frankie has very little patience. “Yes, Monique, you. That’s why I said, ‘Monique, can you come into my office?’ ”

“Sorry, I just heard the last part.”

Frankie turns. I grab my notepad and follow her.

There is something very striking about Frankie. I’m not sure that you’d say she was conventionally attractive—her features are severe, her eyes very wide apart—but she is nevertheless someone you can’t help but look at and admire. With her thin, six-foot-tall frame, her short-cropped Afro, and her affinity for bright colors and big jewelry, when Frankie walks into a room, everyone takes notice.

She was part of the reason I took this job. I have looked up to her since I was in journalism school, reading her pieces in the very pages of the magazine she now runs and I now work for. And if I’m being honest, there is something very inspiring about having a black woman running things. As a biracial woman myself—light brown skin and dark brown eyes courtesy of my black father, an abundance of face freckles courtesy of my white mother—Frankie makes me feel more sure that I can one day run things, too.

“Take a seat,” Frankie says as she sits down and gestures toward an orange chair on the opposite side of her Lucite desk.

I calmly sit and cross my legs. I let Frankie talk first.

“So, puzzling turn of events,” she says, looking at her computer. “Evelyn Hugo’s people are inquiring about a feature. An exclusive interview.”

My gut instinct is to say Holy shit but also Why are you telling me this? “About what in particular?” I ask.

“My guess is it’s related to the gown auction she’s doing,” Frankie says. “My understanding is that it’s very important to her to raise as much money for the American Breast Cancer Foundation as possible.”

“But they won’t confirm that?”

Frankie shakes her head. “All they will confirm is that Evelyn has something to say.”

Evelyn Hugo is one of the biggest movie stars of all time. She doesn’t even have to have something to say for people to listen.

“This could be a big cover for us, right? I mean, she’s a living legend. Wasn’t she married eight times or something?”

“Seven,” Frankie says. “And yes. This has huge potential. Which is why I hope you’ll bear with me through the next part of this.”

“What do you mean?”

Frankie takes a big breath and gets a look on her face that makes me think I’m about to get fired. But then she says, “Evelyn specifically requested you.”

“Me?” This is the second time in the span of five minutes that I have been shocked that someone was interested in speaking with me. I need to work on my confidence. Suffice it to say, it’s taken a beating recently. Although why pretend it was ever really soaring?

“To be honest, that was my reaction, too,” Frankie says.

Now I’ll be honest, I’m a little offended. Although, obviously, I can see where she’s coming from. I’ve been at Vivant for less than a year, mostly doing puff pieces. Before that, I was blogging for the Discourse, a current events and culture site that calls itself a newsmagazine but is, effectively, a blog with punchy headlines. I wrote mainly for the Modern Life section, covering trending topics and opinion pieces.

After years of freelancing, the Discourse gig was a lifesaver. But when Vivant offered me a job, I couldn’t help myself. I jumped at the chance to join an institution, to work among legends.

On my first day of work, I walked past walls decorated with iconic, culture-shifting covers—the one of women’s activist Debbie Palmer, naked and carefully posed, standing on top of a skyscraper overlooking Manhattan in 1984; the one of artist Robert Turner in the act of painting a canvas while the text declared that he had AIDS, back in 1991. It felt surreal to be a part of the Vivant world. I have always wanted to see my name on its glossy pages.

But unfortunately, for the past twelve issues, I’ve done nothing but ask old-guard questions of people with old money, while my colleagues back at the Discourse are attempting to change the world while going viral. So, simply put, I’m not exactly impressed with myself.

“Look, it’s not that we don’t love you, we do,” Frankie says. “We think you’re destined for big things at Vivant, but I was hoping to put one of our more experienced, top hitters on this. And so I want to be up front with you when I say that we did not submit you as an idea to Evelyn’s team. We sent five big names, and they came back with this.”

Frankie turns her computer screen toward me and shows me an e-mail from someone named Thomas Welch, who I can only assume is Evelyn Hugo’s publicist.

From: Thomas Welch

To: Troupe, Frankie

Cc: Stamey, Jason; Powers, Ryan

It’s Monique Grant or Evelyn’s out.

I look back up at Frankie, stunned. And to be honest, a little bit starstruck that Evelyn Hugo wants anything to do with me.

“Do you know Evelyn Hugo? Is that what’s going on here?” Frankie asks me as she turns the computer back toward her side of the desk.

“No,” I say, surprised even to be asked the question. “I’ve seen a few of her movies, but she’s a little before my time.”

“You have no personal connection to her?”

I shake my head. “Definitely not.”

“Aren’t you from Los Angeles?”

“Yeah, but the only way I’d have any connection to Evelyn Hugo, I suppose, is if my dad worked on one of her films back in the day. He was a still photographer for movie sets. I can ask my mom.”

“Great. Thank you.” Frankie looks at me expectantly.

“Did you want me to ask now?”

“Could you?”

I pull my phone out of my pocket and text my mother: Did Dad ever work on any Evelyn Hugo movies?

I see three dots start to appear, and I look up, only to find that Frankie is trying to get a glimpse of my phone. She seems to recognize the invasion and leans back.

My phone dings.

My mother texts: Maybe? There were so many it’s hard to keep track. Why?

Long story, I reply, but I’m trying to figure out if I have any connection to Evelyn Hugo. Think Dad would have known her?