In Passing: Beverley Jackson
Beverley Jackson, who died of natural causes last week just short of her 92nd birthday, was one helluva gal! The society doyenne, who moved to our rarefied enclave in 1963 after a privileged upbringing in Beverly Hills and Pasadena, was a fellow student at Westlake School for Girls with Shirley Temple.
For 22 years Beverley penned the By The Way column for the Santa Barbara News-Press, which covered the coming and goings of high society and celebrities in our Eden by Beach, becoming friends with many of them, including TV chef Julia Child, who ended her days residing at Casa Dorinda.
But it was a trip to China in 1975 with TV host Steve Allen and his wife Jayne Meadows that changed her already eclectic and adventurous life. She became an avowed Sinophile, making frequent visits and amassing one of the major collections of Chinese clothing in the US, including rare imperial robes, which she donated to the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, where she was curator of Asian art for 20 years.
I first met Beverley in 2007 over lunch at the Bella Vista at Ty Warner‘s Biltmore when I moved here from Hancock Park to become a columnist for the News-Press. I found her a fascinating character and we had, we learned, many friends in common.
She had been a good friend of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who headed the French wine dynasty that produced such legendary vintages as Château Lafite and Mouton Rothschild, which retails for around $600 a bottle depending on the vintage. They would meet frequently in her beloved Paris, a throbbing metropolis that fitted her perfectly given her tastes in art, fashion and gourmet dining.
The highlight of any week was to be invited to her Montecito Shores home to dine on Chinese cuisine, naturally, in an ornate opium bed that was used as a small dining room. It was rumored to have come from a brothel in Shanghai! I always found it quite amusing watching the look on people’s faces when I revealed I had spent the night “in bed” with Beverley Jackson.
We would also lunch frequently at the Coral Casino where she was a lifetime member. Beverley would always encourage me to bring my Vilebrequin suit so I could take advantage of the magnificent swimming pool.
On the occasion of a full moon she would host delightful soirées at the China Palace on Coast Village Road and was a frequent guest at the Montecito home of the late film legend Kirk Douglas and his wife, Anne. I fondly remember one I attended with her to celebrate the tony twosome’s new patio sitting with actress Bo Derek and her actor beau John Corbett.
Another highlight was her annual firefighters bash to raise money and gifts for Toys for Tots. The hallway outside her apartment would be festooned with Chinese lanterns and used as a makeshift bar as Beverley, ever the perfect host, would wear yet another dazzling Chinese silk costume with some decidedly eccentric fashion touches, including her silver sequinned sneakers and Sonia Rykiel Elton John-style glasses.
Beverley was also a prolific author, writing seven non-fiction works, starting with Ladder to the Clouds in 1999 and Shanghai Girl Gets All Dressed Up, and Kingfisher Blue: Treasures of Ancient China two years later. She followed these up with other fascinating tomes, including Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of An Erotic Tradition, about the ancient tradition of foot binding, and The Beautiful Lady Was a Palace Eunuch. The intricately crafted shoes, along with many examples of her costumes from the Qing dynasty, were displayed in the spacious living room of her condominium.
Beverley’s final book, The Dolls of Spain, was published in 2017 and accompanied her newfound interest in a variety of art projects, including pine needle baskets, art works using leather book covers, and impressive jewelry incorporating seashells, belt buckles and innumerable other eclectic ingredients.
Although she was at a very low ebb three or four years back when was suffering from shingles, Beverley bounced back with a vengeance. She hosted a bash for the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, where she gave 600 photographs reflecting her glittering lifestyle for a socially-gridlocked exhibition. She was a regular spectator at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club. She also started writing regularly for The Voice.
She was particularly proud when she was photographed with Argentinian Ralph Lauren Polo model Nacho Figueras, a good friend of Prince Harry. “He’s so adorable,” she cooed.
To mark her 80th birthday Beverley took over the historic Val Verde estate for a 1920s themed bash. In 1983 Beverley was with an elite group that welcomed Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip to Santa Barbara when she visited President Ronald Reagan at his ranch when the royal yacht Britannia had been delayed by storms in San Diego.
“Her Majesty was particularly impressed by the architecture of the Courthouse,” Beverley told me. “As well traveled as she was, she said it was one of the most beautiful buildings she’d seen.”
One of the great loves of Beverley’s life was her extremely mischievous dachshund Rennie who replaced her beloved pet of the same breed, Natalie. I vividly remember attending pedigree puppy classes with her in Goleta, but, sadly, it was a lost cause!
In her latter years Beverley, fortunately, had a rapprochement with her New York-based only daughter, Tracey, 62, and it was good to see her and her husband at various parties, along with Keith and Mary Hudson, the parents of Santa Barbara warbler Katy Perry.
Sadly, given the pandemic lockdown, I was unable to visit Beverley, but we kept in touch by telephone and e-mail, and she would often send me newspaper and magazine clips she thought might be useful for my Montecito Miscellany column.