In 1978 her daughter Victoria invited her to visit India. Victoria, from whom she had been estranged for years, was translating Sanskrit texts into Tibetan near Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile. Mrs. Hadley saw the invitation as a chance to re-establish ties, and she and her daughter traveled from New Delhi to Dharamsala. Mrs. Hadley described the trip in “A Journey With Elsa Cloud,” a blend of autobiography, family saga and travel book whose title came from Victoria’s childhood wish to be “the sea, the jungle, or else a cloud.”
Along the way, Mrs. Hadley developed a lifelong interest in Tibet. In 1979 she wrote “Tibet 20 Years After the Chinese Takeover.” She was a board member of Tibet House for many years and endowed the Leila Hadley Luce Chair for Modern Tibetan Studies at Columbia University.
Trouble lay just over the horizon after the journey of reconciliation. Victoria denounced the book and later contributed family letters and her own diaries to support her sister Caroline’s lawsuit, whose details were reported in The New York Post and Vanity Fair.
Caroline Nicholson said that Mr. Luce had repeatedly tried to rape her and that she had been invited into bed by her mother and Mr. Luce. The case was dismissed in 2004 when the judge ruled that New York’s 30-year statute of limitations for the complaint had expired. Faith Nicholson said that Mrs. Hadley had attempted to assault her sexually and had intentionally inflicted emotional distress.
As charges and countercharges flew back and forth, Mrs. Hadley revealed, in her deposition, that she had been pursued ardently by Marlon Brando when he was performing on Broadway in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and had had a passionate affair with the cartoonist Charles Addams.
Matthew Eliott (who changed his last name in the 1970s) conceded that his mother was mentally troubled but challenged his sisters’ version of events, which painted a picture of their mother as a narcissist obsessed with money, social connections and her weight.
During the turmoil Mrs. Hadley produced a serene book, “A Garden by the Sea” (2005), about the pleasures of tending marigolds and irises on Fishers Island.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Today's New York Times obituary of Leila Hadley by William Grimes (IMHO the best writer on the paper), reads like The Darjeeling Limited, Life Acquatic, and Royal Tennenbaums rolled into one: