Lally Weymouth Has a Lot Going for Her: Brains, Glamor, a Famous Family and Now a Big Book
Lally Weymouth comes very close to being the woman who has everything. Consider her all-white East Side Manhattan apartment decorated with museum-quality Chinese art, the French maids, parties so lively that Jackie Onassis invites herself, clothes by Halston (“I started going to him before he was famous”)—all this, and a mother who happens to be Kay Graham, publisher of the Washington Post.
Right now Lally, 33, divorced and the mother of two young daughters, is being an author. Her book, a 320-page, heavily illustrated soft-cover, America in 1876: The Way We Were, is selling more than 1,000 copies a week and a hard-cover edition is a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate. Deadlines over and freed at last from editorial drudgery, Lally exclaims, “I never stay home more than 15 minutes.”
Packaging history seems right up Lally’s alley. After all, she points out, she grew up in Washington—”a one-industry town where everything is politics or journalism about politics.” Her mother was the daughter of Washington Post owner Eugene Meyer, although Lally recalls her as “a little Georgetown housewife who walked the dog with her daughter and shopped at Safeway.” Her father, Phil Graham, who was given control of the Post in 1948 by his father-in-law, “was the person I cared for most in the world.” He loathed having serious talks, she remembers. Instead, he wrote his children (Lally has three brothers) witty notes of advice sometimes ending, “If you don’t see the relevance, go stick your head in the deep-freeze for 10 minutes.” When he couldn’t sleep, he would wake Lally to “keep me company.” Lally remembers that when he bought Newsweek, “He sent me to the drugstore to buy a copy, because he’d never read it.”
Lally, whose real name is Elizabeth, went to Radcliffe—next door to her father’s Harvard—and majored in American history and literature with “terrifically brilliant” professors (“A good teacher will always get you interested”). Then, in the summer of ’63, her junior year, Phil Graham committed suicide. “I thought it was the end,” she says. “He was always the someone there in case you did something disastrous.”
The next year, at the age of 20, Lally married Yann Weymouth, son of a Navy admiral. She worked on the Boston Globe until her first daughter was born and Weymouth was graduated first in his class at MIT’s school of architecture. The marriage, she now admits, “was horribly rash.” After six years and a second baby, they were divorced. She adjusted to the loneliness of single life “not very well. I just shuffled along.”
Like the widowed Kay Graham, who took over as publisher of the Post, Lally Weymouth became a working mother. She edited Thomas Jefferson: The Man, His World, His Influence for an old friend, English publisher Sir George Weidenfeld, “because he said it was a good way to start in book publishing.” Next, Random House editor Jason Epstein persuaded Lally to tackle America in 1876. “She had the courage to take on a chore larger than most historians could handle,” Epstein says, “and make sense of it.”
Facing a now-or-never 1976 pub date, Lally recalls “hovering in terror over my typewriter.” Every day editor Epstein was on the telephone. “He actually told me,” she laughs, “to take off those awful clothes and that awful makeup. The only thing that matters is work.” She balked only when he ordered, “And those men have to go.”
Now the book is out, the parties have begun and the men are back, “although I’d be an awful fool to talk about them.” There is time to pay attention to 8-year-old Pamela’s ballet career—she will dance the role of the Bug in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Lincoln Center. And a third book is under way, “except that it’s bad luck to talk about it.” Is it really true there are drawbacks to growing up rich? “Yes,” says Lally. “But either you decide you have a problem, or you view your family as a terrific advantage and say, ‘Let’s go forward.’ ” Which happens to be the direction Lally Weymouth is pointed at the moment.