In 1959, Nikita Khrushchev’s cavalcade screeched to a halt at 57th and Lexington so the Soviet leader could wave at a comely pedestrian: Jacqueline Beymer Lebenthal.
“When she told me, it was the only time she acknowledged that she just might be pretty,” said her husband, James Lebenthal, chairman emeritus of the eponymous municipal bond firm, downstairs at the Cosmopolitan Club on Friday, March 19. He was standing before 200 friends and family members who had come to celebrate Ms. Lebenthal, the interior designer, who died after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s on March 7, at age 79, leaving three children: Claudia, who directs a photo archive; and Alexandra and Jim, who work for the family business.
Alexandra, who in her eulogy noted that her mother’s way of dressing “is part of my style on a daily basis,” was trim and chic in a knee-length, stem-green sheath from Douglas Hannant’s spring resort 2010 collection, and dangly white bauble earrings that clacked gently into the microphone as she spoke. “Style and presentation were everything. She exuded a sense of coolness and beauty and grace,” she said. Her own daughter, Ellie, sat quietly in a lavender tulle confection and orange Tory Burch flats. New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham was present, sans camera.
”She would have found Jersey Shore reprehensible, but secretly watched it,” Alexandra continued. “She would have had a Facebook page. She would not have liked the high-topped sneaker in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.”
Mr. Lebenthal likened the young Jacqueline to a tumbleweed that had blown east instead of west. The metaphor was personal as well as poetical; in 1951, Mr. Lebenthal’s first and only film, T is for Tumbleweed, was nominated for an Academy Award in the short subject category. (The winner was Walt Disney’s Grand Canyon.) Born in 1930 in Twin Falls, Idaho, Jacqueline first blew eastward to Vassar College, then to Yale School of Design. After graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in 1953, she set up shop as a professional decorator, meeting the man who would become her husband when he hired her to do his apartment.
That 1959 bachelor pad, viewed by the Transom in a photo emailed by Mr. Lebenthal, looks startingly contemporary: sleek gray sofa, rough-hewn coffee table and charcoal walls softened by an old roll-top desk. Asked if it had appeared in a magazine, Mr. Lebenthal replied: “That was the sad thing about being Jackie Lebenthal. If I wasn’t in the shot, it remained our secret.” He signed off: “Jim L. (for lens hog).”)
Jacqueline had been president of the Decorators Club-the oldest women’s professional organization in America-from 1978 to 2000. “Henrietta Housewives need not apply!” said fellow member Tonin MacCallum, standing upstairs after the service near an overstuffed chintz sofa. “She was just-perfect-always au courant, hair and makeup just so.”
Self editor in chief Lucy Danziger, a close family friend, added a philosophical take. Jacqueline, she said, “was amazingly modern in her understanding of presentation being an art form. Her aesthetic mind worked the way today’s aesthetic world works. She lived her life in a beautiful and substantive way.”