Frances Ornstein

Female 1919 - 2007  (87 years)

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  • Name Frances Ornstein 
    Born 04 Sep 1919  Ohio Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Female 
    Died 06 Apr 2007  Fairax Co. VA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • Virginia, Deaths, 1912-2014. Virginia Department of Health, Richmond, Virginia
      Name: Frances Leighton Hoyt
      Gender: Female
      Race: White
      Age at Death: 87
      Birth Date: abt 1920
      Death Date: 6 Apr 2007
      Death Place: Fairfax, Virginia
    Buried Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA Find all individuals with events at this location 

      Washington Chronicler Frances S. Leighton, 87
      By Joe Holley
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Saturday, April 14, 2007

      Frances Spatz Leighton, 87, a prolific writer and journalist who made a career chronicling the lives of people who work backstage, backstairs or in backrooms in official Washington, died April 6 of congestive heart failure at Manor Care in Arlington. She lived at Lake Barcroft in Falls Church.

      Ms. Leighton wrote more than 30 books and countless articles on subjects such as the White House chef during the Eisenhower years, Jacqueline Kennedy's dressmaker and personal secretary, the man who ran the Senate restaurant, the man who worked as the House of Representatives doorkeeper for 42 years (William "Fishbait" Miller) and the dogs who have occupied the White House.

      She began carving out her journalistic beat shortly after arriving in Washington during World War II. Among the many freelance articles she wrote for Sunday supplements and other publications, including The Washington Post, were profiles of a Washington woman who "prayed" herself thin, an Ohio-born grandmother who was the official keeper of the Great Seal of the United States and a 12-year-old freshman at Georgetown University.

      Many of her books were of the "with" or "as told to" variety, including "My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House" (1961), which did not end up on the remainder table after public interest had moved on to the next big thing. Written with Lillian Rogers Parks, a seamstress and maid who worked in the White House from the beginning of the Hoover administration in 1929 to the end of the Eisenhower years in 1961, the book was on the New York Times bestseller list for 26 weeks and became the basis of a nine-part NBC miniseries in 1979.

      When the Leighton-Parks book came out in 1961, it so alarmed the incoming first lady that she ordered all White House domestic employees to sign a pledge that they wouldn't write about their White House experiences. Jacqueline Kennedy's personal secretary for 12 years, Mary B. Gallagher, waited until 1969 to write her book, after Kennedy became Jacqueline Onassis. That book was "My Life With Jacqueline Kennedy."

      "Fran was such fun to work with and so conscientious," said Gallagher, who had stored away a 700-page manuscript of her reminiscences for her two sons to read when they grew up. Once she felt free to tell her story, she sought Ms. Leighton at the National Press Club. The two women worked at Gallagher's home near Alexandria nearly every day for six months to get the manuscript in shape for publication. They remained friends until Ms. Leighton's death.

      Ms. Leighton occasionally wrote books about the rich and famous, including "The Pat Nixon Cookbook" (1960), with recipes for tamale pie and peppermint stick cake; "In the Footsteps of John Paul II" (1980), with John Szostak; "June Allyson" (1982), with the actress; and "The Search for the Real Nancy Reagan" (1987).

      Reviewer Maureen Dowd didn't like the Reagan book. "If this is the unauthorized biography of the First Lady, one shudders to think what the authorized version will be like," she wrote in the New York Times. "Frances Spatz Leighton . . . is so sympathetic to Nancy Davis Reagan that she almost becomes one with her."

      Ms. Leighton was born Frances Ornstein on a dairy farm in Geauga County, Ohio. At Ohio State University, she wrote poetry, had a show on the campus radio station and was a member of the Verse Writers' Guild of Ohio. She told an interviewer at the time that her aim in life was "to conduct a newspaper, poetry and philosophy column." She dropped out of school three weeks before graduation and moved to Washington.

      Before launching her book-writing career, she was a freelance journalist with the Metro Sunday Group, a contributing editor to Family Weekly and Washington editor of This Week Magazine.

      A diminutive woman with red hair and piercing green eyes, she was more comfortable asking questions than answering them, recalled Ed Sauer, a longtime friend. "She was focused, animated, always interviewing you," he said. "I think she knew a lot more than she wrote."

      In more recent years, she wrote "How to Write and Sell Your First Novel" (1986 and 1998) and "How to Write and Sell Your First Nonfiction Book" (1990). She also gave public lectures. Her regular topics included the extramarital affairs of U.S. presidents.

      For the last 25 years of her life, she lived in a house filled with books and surrounded by 60-year-old azaleas. She hosted an annual azalea party the first Sunday in May, which featured great food and what she called "a round robin." Toward the end of the party, she ushered the remaining dozen or so partygoers into her living room and had each of them share a story from his or her past.

      Her husband, retired Air Force Col. Kendall King Hoyt, died in 2001.

      She leaves no immediate survivors.
    Person ID I29830  Master File
    Last Modified 17 Jun 2015 

    Family Kendall King Hoyt,   b. 06 Oct 1903, Washington, DC Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 23 Aug 2001, Alexandria, VA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 97 years) 
    Married 01 Feb 1984  Fairfax, VA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • Virginia, Marriages, 1936-2014. Virginia Department of Health, Richmond, Virginia
      Name: Kendall King Hoyt
      Gender: Male
      Race: White
      Age: 80
      Birth Date: 6 Oct 1903
      Marital Satus: Widowed
      Marriage Date: 1 Feb 1984
      Marriage Place: Fairfax, Virginia
      Registration Place: Fairfax, Virginia
      Father: John Clayton Hoyt
      Mother: Jennie King
      Spouse: Frances Spatz Leighton
      Marital Status: Divorced
      Spouse Gender: Female
      Spouse Race: White
      Spouse Age: 64
      Spouse Birth Date: 4 Sep 1919
      Spouse Father: Joseph Ornstein
      Spouse Mother: Bertha Schwartzstein
      Certificate Number: 1984000084
    Last Modified 17 Jun 2015 
    Family ID F12666  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart