Pierre Casteran And Bill Cunningham

Pierre Casteran was the son of a wealthy French family who visited Blithewold several times in the 1950s and 1960s. The late Bill Cunningham, as many are aware, was the American fashion photographer for the New York Times, known for his informal street photography. The connection between the two men became apparent when I met Bill Cunningham at the 2009 Blithewold Gala. He came to record the event for his Sunday New York Times page of beautiful people in beautiful gowns! Bill sought me out to ask if I knew anything about his friend, Pierre Casteran. A visit to the Archives soon revealed many photographs of Pierre and his family, and the Guest Book had many entries in the 1950s and 60s, but none left any clues as to how the Casterans came to know Marjorie Lyon.  Bill enlightened us with his stories…

In 1950 Marjorie Lyon’s niece, Marjorie Shaw, went to France to spend the summer with a family, hoping to perfect her French. She stayed with the Casteran family in Rouen and became very fond of them.  The Casterans had a son, Pierre, who returned home from the army while Marge Shaw was staying there.  He was waiting to go to college and had a completely free summer which he spent in Rouen with his family.  Pierre was exactly the same age as Marge. They spent the summer biking together in the Loire and a romance began. 

Pierre proposed to Marge, and when she returned to the United States he followed her and spent time at Blithewold as the guest of Marjorie Lyon. In order to stay in America indefinitely, Pierre joined the U.S. Army.  He wanted to go to Korea but instead was sent to France to spend the next few years pretending to be an American who had learned excellent French!  It was there that he met Bill Cunningham who had, to his utter delight, been posted to Paris to do basic training for the U.S. Army. Bill was invited to spend time with the Casteran family in Rouen, and at their family estate ‘the size of Blithewold’ in the center of Paris. Pierre’s father was head of the National Electric of France (now EDF.) After their military service was over they both returned to the United States, Bill Cunningham to New York, and Pierre to Boston where he boarded at the YMCA hoping to see Marge again. But by then Marge was engaged to David Jeffries. Though the relationship with Marjorie Shaw was clearly over, Pierre stayed in Boston and visited Marjorie Lyon often. At some point in the 1950s he invited Bill Cunningham to join him for a weekend at Blithewold. Occasionally he took his sister Madeleine with him, and later, after he married, he brought his children with him: one may have been ‘Barbara Casteran’ whose name appears in the Guest Book in June 1959.

From the Guest Book:

Pierre’s first entry in the Guest Book is 11 – 13 May, 1951. He returned to Blithewold three more times that year, in July, August, and September, and again in 1952. In June 1954, he wrote “I used to think Blithewold was lovely and beautiful but that was before I saw it with all its flowers and I just miss the words to say what I feel now.”

In June 1955, Pierre and Madeleine Casteran visited again. Madeleine wrote “After 3 years I find the Blithewold that I had left.”

June 16, 1956 – “Blithewold and its hostess are as enchanting as ever.”

August 26 – September 14, 1956 – “I did not win a game of pool.  Blithewold’s charms are too distracting.  But I won a game of Scrabble, for Blithewold’s muse was inspiring.”

Pierre’s name appears in the Guest Book in June of 1957, July 1958, and October 1961 when he wrote, “After two years it is so pleasant to be back in Blithewold even if the weather does not seem to want to co-operate. Thank you for a very comforting stay, Pierre.”

Bill Cunningham said that Pierre always spoke very warmly of the family.