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. Aged eight, Gael was sent to England with her older sister for a European education. She was studying for a degree at the Sorbonne when she met a Polish-Russian émigré whom she married in June 1939. Gael was seventeen.
Vsevolod was about to be mobilized into the French Army when their baby boy was born in June 1940, during the bombardment of Bordeaux. They returned to Paris. The Nazis entered and the Gestapo arrested Gael. Three days later the forlorn trio fled from Paris and fell into a German trap at the border. They hid in a hotel full of Gestapo agents. Two Gaullists took them through the woods in the daytime and they missed the German patrol by five minutes. They got to Marseille and hid in a brothel where the Madam gave milk to baby Steve. They got to Cannes and six months later, with the help of Elton Mayo and the Rockefeller Foundation, the penniless trio got a visa for Argentina and managed to get to Spain by the end of June 1941. On a steamer bound for Buenos Aires baby Steve nearly died. From Buenos Aires, a British consular agent got them to New York. Their marriage fell apart.
Gael modelled briefly and then worked for Popular Publications & Ken White (later Esquire). In 1944 Doubleday published her first novel, Honeymoon in Hell, based on her wartime experiences. These were retold in greater detail in her autobiography, The Mad Mosaic, published in 1983. Browse & Buy
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.
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). 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. Browse Fiction
She and her third husband, a French aristocrat beset by Balzacian legal disputes, restored his dilapidated family Chateau in the Jura — recounted in her memoir, The End of a Dream. 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. Browse Non Fiction
Gael Elton Mayo, writer, photographer and artist | BBC Radio 4, Start the Week, March 1983