A few months before Mr. and Mrs. Payson were to be married, in the summer of 1924, he took her on a skiing trip to his native New England. "It was awful," she says. "I didn't know anything about skiing, and all I can remember is Charlie yelling at me, 'Lean forward, lean forward!' I did my best, because I thought maybe he wouldn't marry me if I didn't do well, and then after it was all over I discovered that Charlie didn't like to ski either. Thank God! I loathe winter sports."
The winter ones are about the only sports that Mrs. Payson hasn't followed enthusiastically at some point in her life. When, as Joan Whitney, she was growing up at Greentree and in the family's Fifth Avenue town house, sport took up almost as much time as business among the elegant rich surrounding her. Beginning with W. C. Whitney, Mrs. Payson's grandfather, who was an extremely wealthy lawyer, street car magnate and politician, the Whitneys have occupied about the same position in sport for the last three-quarters of a century that the Wallendas have on the high wire for a somewhat shorter period.
Payne Whitney, Mrs. Payson's father, was a devoted Yale man who captained the crew in 1898 and later coached it to victory over Harvard after the professional coach had quit in a huff and called the oarsmen "gutless." He built his own private golf course across the knolls of Greentree, and alongside the main house he put up an enormous sporting complex containing, among other things, an indoor swimming pool, a vast collection of sporting art and one of only seven court tennis layouts now in use on this side of the Atlantic. The $7.5 million Payne Whitney Gymnasium at Yale, which Mrs. Payson and her mother and brother gave in memory of her father, is still the most sumptuous and complete gym in the world.
Helen Hay Whitney, Mrs. Payson's mother, was a gay and friendly lady who bequeathed much of her own personality to her daughter. In addition to playing and watching baseball and hobnobbing with heavyweights, she founded Greentree Stable and raced its pink-and-black silks until her death in 1944; Twenty Grand, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1931, was one of her horses. Harry Payne Whitney, Mrs. Payson's uncle, was an early 10-goal polo player, and his Thoroughbreds were always among the country's best, twice winning the Kentucky Derby. C. V. Whitney, Mrs. Payson's cousin and the son of Harry Payne, was eminent in polo, conservation and racing, and still is.
Jock Whitney, as Mrs. Payson's younger brother is known to his friends, has been much in the news lately—first as President Eisenhower's ambassador to the Court of St. James's and more recently as the new owner-publisher-editor-in-chief of the
New York Herald Tribune
. Before that, Jock rowed in college, did some amateur boxing, twice captained the national championship polo team, raced Thoroughbreds and owned that piece of Abe Simon. From angling to yachting there was hardly a sport other than basketball and bowling that didn't engross the members of the Whitney family.
Not long after her marriage. Mrs. Payson and a friend of hers named Mrs. Thomas I. Laughlin bought a couple of Thoroughbred racehorses for $400 apiece and started the Manhasset Stable. From this modest beginning the two women developed Manhasset to a point where it figured prominently in some of the better stakes races on the East Coast. The nearest they came to a champion was a 2-year-old colt named Thingumabob, who won the Arlington Futurity in 1938. Only a week or so later the colt broke his leg in a fall during the running of the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga and had to be destroyed. Mrs. Payson, who is deeply sentimental about animals as well as people, was so shaken that she seriously considered giving up racing, but fortunately she thought better of it later.
After the U.S. entered World War II Mrs. Payson and her brother Jock merged their stables with their mother's Greentree. But before that there were so many Whitney horses spinning around the New York tracks that one day at Saratoga one of Mrs. Payson's daughters cried, "Look, Mummy, everyone in the family got a prize. Grandma's horse won, Uncle Jock was second, you were third—and Cousin Sonny won the booby prize."
The operation of the Greentree Stable and Kentucky breeding farm was taken over by Mrs. Payson and her brother after their mother died in 1944. Under their direction Greentree has remained one of the distinguished stables in American racing, and twice they have had the Horse of the Year—Capot in 1949 and Tom Fool in 1953. Thoroughbred connoisseurs particularly admire Greentree for the delightful names of its horses, many of which reflect Mrs. Payson's passion for baseball. Among others there have been Third League and Hall of Fame and One Hitter, the last by Shut Out out of a mare called Bold Anna. Greentree is more generous than most stables about retiring its old campaigners to a life of leisure on its farm in Lexington, and Mrs. Payson refers to these horses as the Gashouse Gang after the colorful St. Louis Cardinals of the early 1930s. The family racing tradition is now being carried into another generation by Mrs. Payson's daughter, Lorinda, and her husband, Vincent de Roulet, who race under the nom de course of Shelter Rock Stable.
It wasn't until 1941 that Mrs. Payson's interest in baseball became intense. That year she took a season box at the Polo Grounds, and for the next 16 years she was a fixture at Giant games, sitting in her seat opposite first base with a Giant cap perched on her head. Her loyalty reached some sort of high point when she allowed newsmen to photograph her chauffeur wearing a Giant cap as he drove her from the ball park.
During this time Mrs. Payson became friendly with a New York stockbroker named Donald Grant, who was a wintertime neighbor of hers in Hobe Sound, Fla. They discovered their mutual admiration for the Giants, and when Mrs. Payson mentioned that she would like to own the team, Grant replied that he would like to manage it. Soon after the war, Grant bought himself a share of Giant stock, and when he told Mrs. Payson about it she asked him to get one for her.