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Barbara Goldsmith
Goldsmith in January 2009 at 78 years old.
Goldsmith in January 2009 at 78 years old.
Born Barbara Joan Lubun
(1931-05-18)May 18, 1931
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died June 26, 2016(2016-06-26) (aged 85)
United States
  • Author
  • journalist
  • philanthropist
Language English
Alma mater Wellesley College (B.A., 1953)
Genre Journalism
(m. 1977; div. 1992)
Children 3

Barbara Goldsmith (May 18, 1931 – June 26, 2016) was an American author, journalist, and philanthropist. She received critical and popular acclaim for her best-selling books, essays, articles, and her philanthropic work. She was awarded four honoris causa doctorates, and numerous awards; been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, two Presidential Commissions, and the New York State Council on the Arts; and honored by The New York Public Library Literary Lions as well as the Literacy Volunteers, the American Academy in Rome, The Authors Guild, and the Guild Hall Academy of Arts for Lifetime Achievement. In 2009, she received the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit medal from the Republic of Poland. In November 2008, Goldsmith sus elected a “Living Landmark” by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. She has three children and six grandchildren. The Financial Times declared that "Goldsmith is leaving a legacy—one of art, literature, friends, family and philanthropy."

Early life

Goldsmith was born Barbara Joan Lubun in New York City in 1931. She received a Bachelor of Arts in 1953 from Wellesley College, where she majored in English, after which she took art courses at Columbia University. Her first assignments as a journalist were in the art field, where she simultaneously amassed an art collection comprising mostly contemporary American painting and sculpture. In her early twenties, she wrote a series of prize-winning profiles of such Hollywood luminaries as Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, and Audrey Hepburn. In the late 1960s she initiated “The Creative Environment” series, interviewing in-depth Marcel Breuer, I.M. Pei, George Balanchine and Pablo Picasso, among others, about their creative process.

Goldsmith’s “The Creative Environment” caught the eye of Clay Felker, editor of the Sunday magazine supplement of the New York Herald Tribune. After the Tribune failed in 1967, Goldsmith provided Felker with the money to purchase the rights to the magazine and reinvent it as a standalone glossy, and in 1968 she became a founding editor and writer of New York, where she wrote not only about art, but also about the colorful characters in the art world. In the third issue of New York, she wrote a landmark article on Viva, a “superstar” in Andy Warhol films, with accompanying photographs by Diane Arbus. At the time, the article was praised and reviled. Tom Wolfe called it “Too good not to print” and honored her with inclusion in his anthology The New Journalism. When Wolfe called her one of the originators of this movement, Goldsmith said, “I think good journalism is all that counts, not a so-called group.” Other notable New York articles included her profiles of the Centennial of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and curator Henry Geldzhaler’s emerging artists exhibit, Thomas Hoving, Jamie Wyeth and Andy Warhol.

Goldsmith wrote “Bacall and the Boys” in 1968, a television special about Lauren Bacall in Paris with the then young, unproven avant-garde designers Yves St. Laurent and Giorgio Armani as well as Pierre Cardin and Marc Bohan of Dior. This earned her an Emmy award.

In 1974 Barbara Goldsmith became an adviser to the Hearst Corporation and then Senior Editor of Harper’s Bazaar, attracting top writers to the publication.

Later life and books

“At magazines I got tired of making other writers look good through my re-writing,” Goldsmith wrote. From the mid-1970s, though continuing to write for the New Yorker and the New York Times among other publications, Goldsmith concentrated on writing books, all of which brought critical success and became bestsellers.

In 1975 Goldsmith completed her first book, The Straw Man, a novel about the New York art world. The wealthy Royceman family’s private art collection—a hundred million dollars worth of Old Masters, Impressionists, Neo-Impressionists, and objects d’art—has been willed by Bertram Royceman to a New York museum to be housed in a special pavilion. However, Bertie, the only son of Bertram Royceman, files suit to challenge his father’s will. The ensuing battle exposes many of the players in the art world. The book reached #1 on the bestseller lists and was praised in a review by John Kenneth Galbraith in New York Magazine as “brilliant social criticism.”

Goldsmith’s second book was Little Gloria...Happy at Last, published in 1980. The nonfiction narrative tracked the 1930s custody battle for Gloria Vanderbilt (Little Gloria, then). The book reached the top of The New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists and was hailed by critics. It was a main selection of the Book of the Month Club and described as a “literary masterpiece...the skill of Proust,” by Alden Whitman. The book became both a Paramount Pictures film and a major NBC television mini-series, Little Gloria... Happy at Last, starring Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Christopher Plummer, and Maureen Stapleton. It was nominated for six Emmys, including one which Goldsmith won.

Johnson v. Johnson, Goldsmith’s third book, completed in 1987, recounted the longest, most expensive will contest in United States history between Basia Johnson, the widow of pharmaceutical heir J. Seward Johnson, and his children from previous marriages. It, too, became a bestseller and received critical accolades, such as The Washington Post Book World calling the book, “Brilliant and gripping...I hadn't counted on Barbara Goldsmith who somehow persuaded the combatants on both sides to level with her...The accumulated tawdriness seems part of some mythic destiny.” The New York Times Book Review found it, “Intriguing...a shadowy Gothic family drama.”.

Goldsmith completed her next book in 1998. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull chronicled the women of the Gilded Age who fought for equality and the right to vote. ..... It’s spellbinding.” The New York Times’ Richard Bernstein hailed it as an “absorbing, sweeping book...the richness of its narrative, the complex and morally nuanced portraits of its character...You finish it nearly out of breath astonished at the tragic heroism of the flawed character who tried to challenge the American Establishment.” Other Powers was the finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize. The book is optioned to become a major motion picture.

Her final book, Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie, has been translated into 21 languages world-wide. The work is based on the workbooks, letters, and diaries of Marie Curie, which had been sealed for sixty years because they were still radioactive. It won the prize for the Best Book of 2006 from the American Institute of Physics and its thirteen affiliated societies, earned Goldsmith the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit medal for service to the Republic of Poland in 2009, and will soon be adapted as a major joint HBO/Sony production.

Goldsmith’s most recent awards are the highest honor given by her alma mater Wellesley College, the 2013 Wellesley Alumnae Achievement Award. In 2013, she also received the Erwin Piscator Honorary Award for her writing. Many of her other outstanding awards are listed below. She died on June 26, 2016 at the age of 85.


The President of the Carnegie Corporation, Vartan Gregorian, named Barbara Goldsmith along with David Rockefeller and Brooke Astor on his list of America’s ten most enlightened philanthropists. Gregorian particularly noted the campaign she spearheaded to convert books and documents to permanent paper lasting 300 years instead of disintegrating in thirty and her securing of $20 million from the federal government for this crucial work.

Her major philanthropic efforts include the donation of two preservation and conservation laboratories at The New York Public Library and at New York University, where she also funds a series of business lectures in honor of her father, Joseph I. Lubin, and a lecture series on preservation and conservation. In 2010 the New York Public Library Services Center, a 126-square-foot (11.7 m2) building with 220 workers, now contains the state-of-the-art Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Divisions. She also funded a state-of-the-art rare book library at the American Academy in Rome and a preservation and conservation treatment facility at Wellesley College. She served on the Presidential Commission on Preservation and Access during the William Jefferson Clinton Administration and received the American Archival Association’s top award.

Among her early major philanthropic efforts was the 1968 founding of the Center for Learning Disabilities at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In 1974, she succeeded with Adele Auchincloss (the late Mrs. Louis Auchincloss) to have the city, state and parks department install safety surf, a cushioning material, under swings and slides in every park and playground in the five boroughs of New York City. Goldsmith initiated many other anonymous grants.

She founded the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in order to spotlight writers of conscience in 113 countries who have disappeared, were tortured, or were in prison at the time of the awards. Since 1987, in 22 years that she provided this award, 34 out of 37 imprisoned writers were released, often within months of the award. She helped establish the Core Freedoms Program which confines itself to free expression work in the United States. Larry Siems, Director of PEN Freedom to Write, declared of Goldsmith, “Her innovative idea and persistence and skill brought all this to fruition.” The PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award was instrumental in starting the campaign that led to the Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo winning the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

Selected awards and honors

  • 2013 Wellesley College Alumnae Achievement Award
  • Erwin Piscator Honorary Award, 2013
  • 2012 Woman of Achievement Award from the Women's Project Theater
  • Barbara Goldsmith received the honor of becoming a New York “Living Landmark” for all she had written and accomplished. This honor also has been presented to Brooke Astor, Jessye Norman, Charlie Rose, Beverly Sills, and Barbara Walters among others. November 2008.
  • On May 11, 2009 Goldsmith was honored before 1,000 people at a Lincoln Center ceremony by Literacy Partners for her Lifetime Achievements in the Arts.
  • The American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected to make her a member of this distinguished body founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock. April 15, 2000.
  • Authors Guild Award for Distinguished Literary Achievements, 2007
  • Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie won the single prize for the “best book on physics written by a non-physicist” from the thirteen affiliated societies of the American Institute of Physics.
  • Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit medal from the Republic of Poland for her contribution to Polish culture, 2009.
  • National Archives Award, also presented to Kenneth Burns, for contributions to American History.
  • The New York Public Library honored Goldsmith as a Literary Lion with a group including Toni Morrison, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe among others.
  • The New York State Council on the Arts.
  • Elected to the Council on Foreign Relations.
  • Presidential Commission on Preservation and Access.
  • Emmy for the CBS special “Bacall and the Boys”.
  • Two television Emmys as writer and executive producer for Little Gloria…Happy At Last.
  • Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize, 1998.
  • Presidential Citation from William Jefferson Clinton, July 15, 1998.
  • Presidential appointment to the eight person Presidential Commission for the Celebration of Women in American History, 1999.
  • New York Times notable books.
  • Association of American Publishers best non-fiction award.
  • Boston Globe best book of the year.
  • New York University Presidential Citation, 1993.
  • The Brandeis Library Trust Award for outstanding writing.
  • The Guild Hall Lifetime Literary Achievement Award.
  • Poets & Writers “Writers for Writers” Award, 1999.


  • The New York Public Library. Trustee since 1987. Served on Executive Committee, Nominating Committee, Library Policy Committee, Finance & Acquisitions Committee and others.
  • American Academy in Rome. Trustee since 1994. Served on Executive Committee, Committee on Fine Arts.
  • The Dorothy & Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers. Advisory Board since its inception in 1999.
  • PEN (Poets, Essayist, Novelists) American Center. Trustee, Core Freedoms Committee, Executive Committee, Advisory Board, originator of PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
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