gael elton mayo

Gael Elton Mayo (1921-92)

Born in Sydney, Gael Elton Mayo was the youngest daughter of pioneering industrial psychologist, Emeritus Professor Elton Mayo, and Scottish-gened Australian beauty, Dorothea McConnel. She lived in America as a child, where her father had a Life Chair for research at Harvard and was an influential cult figure. Aged eight, Gael was sent by her parents to England with her older sister, for a European education. She was studying for a degree at the Sorbonne when she met a Russian émigré whom she married just before the outbreak of war. Gael was seventeen.

Getting her stateless husband out of France became a mission. They were caught in the Exodus — their son was born during the bombardment of Bordeaux. After near death from puerperal fever, hiding with peasants, being shot at by German soldiers, they reached Free France — only to find they were not free. Eventually, they arrived in New York by way of Spain and Argentina. Their marriage fell apart. Gael remarried.

She modelled briefly and was assistant editor of Popular Publications & Ken White (later Esquire). In 1944 Doubleday published her first novel, Honeymoon in Hell, based on her wartime experiences. But it is in her autobiography, The Mad Mosaic (1983), that her wartime escape is truly told.

Gael returned to post-war Europe. She wrote a column in Madrid for the Spanish American Courier, then worked for Picture Post and as writer-researcher for Magnum Photographers in Paris, with Robert Capa, David Seymour and Henri Cartier Bresson. She wrote 'Generation X' with Cartier Bresson in England (later changed to 'Youth of the World' by Holiday Magazine), and in 1955 was hired on a permanent basis to handle public relations for Seymour in Rome, but he was killed reporting Suez. She went on to collaborate with London photographer Baron, arranging and writing his Paris profiles of Anouilh, Abbé Pierre, Mendez France amongst others. Her career was disrupted when her husband kidnapped their daughter and took her with him to another country.

Gael's painting was encouraged by Moïse Kisling, who did a portrait of her (now in a private collection in Japan). She had eight Strasbourg, Mulhouse, Melbourne, and in 1969 was listed in The Encyclopaedia of Australian Art (Hutchinson). Gael also designed dress material for Leonard et Cie bought by Balenciaga and Carven, and wrote songs (lyrics and music) which she sang on British TV and in a film made at Elstree Studios. Four novels were published in the 1960s: The Devil and the Fool, Nobody's Nothing, Last Seen Near Trafalgar, It's Locked In With You.

She worked with her third husband, a French aristocrat beset by Balzacian legal disputes, to restore his crumbling family Chateau in the Jura — recounted in her memoir, The End of a Dream. The couple separated and Gael moved to England with their little daughter, then back to France, to Provence, about which she also wrote in The End of a Dream. They were reunited in the 1980s and planned to live together, but he suddenly died. For the last twenty years of her life, Gael — 'An invincible beauty' Observer — fought a virulent cancer of the head and neck, "the spook", about which she wrote in a second volume of autobiography, Living With Beelzebub. It was published just before she died … Book(s)