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Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Frazier's Ex Dead at 87

Mimsi Frazier

By Gloria Negri, Globe Staff

Boston: In New York City in the 1940s, George and Mimsi Frazier were the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald of their day. The couple even looked the part of the darling madcaps of the 1920s, he, a handsome, elegantly dressed Harvard man; she, a beautiful and smart young woman who could stand up to, as well as stand by, her man.

They lived in fashionable Beekman Place while George, who would go on to become a columnist for the Boston Herald and The Boston Globe, was covering entertainment for Life Magazine. Their lives were a cabaret filled with fun, drinking, social hijinks, the friendships of other beautiful people, and the literary lions of the day. The wives of Benny Goodman and John Steinbeck were godmothers to their two sons.

As George saw it, he and Mimsi were a perfect match. As he was quoted in a 1984 biography of Frazier, Another Man's Poison, any girl he would fall in love with would "have to be a female Frazier with the same interest in jazz and books and minor matters that he had. Mimsi was just such a girl."

Mimsi Harbach, whose marriage to Frazier ended in divorce and who was widowed in two later marriages, died May 5 in Sarasota, Fla., where she spent her winters. She was 87 and had a summer home on Nantucket. Her son J Pepper Frazier of Nantucket said his mother died of lung cancer.

"She was different from other young girls who would clamor about [Frazier] at the Hot Club, different from the girls in his stories," wrote Fountain, who lives in Duxbury. "Though she was just 18 years old, she had poise and confidence and an independent streak absent in the other girls he knew.

"George had met the girl he liked better than himself," the Frazier bio said.

Marion "Mimsi" Madden and George Frazier were married in December 1941. They divorced 10 years later. Even then, friends and relatives said, George and Mimsi remained somehow connected.

"George's refusal to accept or acknowledge the divorce was part of the denial that made him who and what he was, the person and the writer," said Bruce McCabe of Scituate, a Globe colleague of Mr. Frazier.

"George wrote about what should be, which is not always what it was," he said. "If he were alive today, he wouldn't have accepted Mimsi's death. He once called her 'the only girl I ever met who was smarter than me.' "

Frazier was a Globe columnist, known for his eccentricities and verbal flourishes, from 1970 until his death in 1974.

Mrs. Harbach later married Dr. Leonard Ciner, an obstetrician and gynecologist. After his death, she married Robert Harbach, the son of the Broadway lyricist Otto Harbach.

Mrs. Harbach's sons said that it was difficult to be close to their mother. "She was imperious and moody," Pepper said by phone from Bermuda. "In a nutshell, she was a prima donna."

Yet Pepper said he was at his mother's bedside six hours before she died. "I was on pretty good terms with her," he said.

Mimsi Madden was born in West Roxbury to Samuel and Kitty Madden. In his book, Fountain said that Samuel's successful liquor business was wiped out by Prohibition. After his death in 1922, Kitty Madden saw to it that her daughters got jobs at the public library.

After Mimsi graduated from Roxbury Memorial High School in 1936, she did not go to Simmons College, as planned, but remained at the library. "I have always been a snob," she said in the book. "If I couldn't get a scholarship and go away to school, I just wasn't going to go."

Soon Frazier started making a great many trips to the Boston Public Library.

The couple set up housekeeping in a flat over the Grolier Bookstore in Harvard Square, and George began writing a jazz column for the Herald in 1942, according to Fountain's book. McCabe said Mimsi would often read his columns before they appeared, and it was she who encouraged him to move to New York. There he became entertainment editor for Life.

Manhattan is where their comparison to Scott and Zelda began. "They were a handsome, popular couple," Fountain wrote.

In Sarasota, Mrs. Harbach became well-known in the society columns of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, hosting fund-raisers in her Siesta Key condo and supporting the arts.

Robert A. Kimbrough of Sarasota, Mrs. Harbach's former attorney, recalled her as "a bit of a character, someone you might think of as a grand dame."

Her son Pepper said her ashes will be scattered over Nantucket Sound.

(Thanks to Richard Meyer, of Maryland, who tipped Junto to this story, which appeared in The Globe on 27 June).