Reves, Wyn-Nelle Russell [Wendy] (1916–2007)

By: M. Grace Slayter

Type: Biography

Published: May 26, 2021

Updated: June 2, 2021


Font size: A / A reset

Wyn-Nelle “Wendy” Russell Schroeder Baron Reves, model, businesswoman, art collector, and philanthropist, was born to David L. Russell and Blanche K. (Murphy) Russell in Marshall, Texas, on May 2, 1916. Her parents named her Wyn-Nelle, but she went by the name Wendy. David and Blanche Russell separated by 1930, and Wendy and her mother moved to Austin, Texas, where Blanche found work. They remained in Austin until Wendy’s parents reunited sometime during the early 1930s and moved to San Antonio.

While living in Central Texas, Wendy first began her modeling career with the Canadian Fox Fur Company, and, according to her own account, she was also cast by Howard Hughes, Jr., in a small role in his film Hell’s Angels (1930). San Antonio was also where she met her first husband, Arnold Leon “Al” Schroeder, who had attended West Point and enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Corps in 1932. The couple met while he was stationed at Randolph Field Air Corps Training Center (see RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE) outside of San Antonio. In August 1934, when she was eighteen, Wendy Russell followed Al Schroeder to Hawaii, and the couple reportedly married shortly thereafter. In 1935 their only child, Arnold Leon Schroeder, Jr., was born. Sometime between 1935 and 1940 her husband was reassigned to Washington, D.C., and by 1938 the couple separated.

By 1938 Wendy was living in New York City full-time where she worked as a model for the well-known Powers Modeling Agency. While there she went by the name Wendy Russell. That same year, she reportedly appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, The New Yorker, and Vogue. By 1946 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle called her the “town’s number one model.” She reportedly made about $300 a week in 1941 and $400 in 1949 at the height of the fashion season, which she said was two and three times what the average model made. However, she wanted to be remembered as more than “a mannequin.” So, in addition to modeling, she began and operated a clothing rental service especially for models and photographers.

In 1940 Wendy Russell married Paul Girlando-Baron, a composer and orchestra leader. Gossip columns followed the relationship and their separation around 1945. Throughout the 1940s the papers documented her dating life with members of the New York social scene and Hollywood celebrities, including Cary Grant and Errol Flynn. By 1945 she met Emery Reves, a Nobel Prize-nominated writer and publisher known for his appeals for world peace. However, the two did not enter into a relationship until about 1947. Her relationship with Reves was her longest and lasted until his death in 1981. The couple married in 1964 in Thonex, Switzerland, and spent most of their lives together in France in a villa that they bought—known as Villa La Pausa on the French Riviera.

The couple bought Villa La Pausa from Coco Chanel around 1953. Before they became the owners of Villa La Pausa, it was already a famous destination for the rich and influential, and under their ownership its reputation prevailed. At the villa they entertained famous individuals such as Winston Churchill, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Aristotle Onassis, and the actors Greta Garbo, Errol Flynn, and Clark Gable. Winston Churchill was an especially frequent guest, having been a colleague and intimate friend of Emery Reves since the 1930s. Through her husband, Wendy also became a friend of the prime minister and exchanged letters with him when he was not visiting them in France. She was determined to make the villa her own and set herself apart from Chanel’s style. Art collecting became a part of this endeavor as it was a shared passion of the couple. Wendy and Emery set about building an immense collection which they used to decorate their home.

Wendy lived for another twenty-five years after Emery’s death in the 1980s, and during this time she became especially concerned with ensuring that his name was memorialized in public memory. Part of this effort involved the donation of the couple’s art collection in 1985 after she was persuaded to give it to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). The collection held more than 1,400 works of varying styles and included pieces by Van Gogh, Renoir, and Monet. This endowment stipulated that the museum recreate some of their rooms at Villa La Pausa with items from the collection. This precondition was considered unusual by many Dallas art collectors and caused controversy. Oddly, Wendy Reves had never been to Dallas before the donation to the museum, despite the close proximity to her hometown of Marshall. She was quoted saying that she had always felt like Dallas was something “unattainable” growing up impoverished in Texas, but, returning to the state years later, she felt “loved” by the people of Dallas and created a social circle for herself. Those that interviewed and knew her described her as good natured and whimsical but also lonesome and set in her ways. Meanwhile, she frequently described herself as down-to-earth and called herself a “typical East Texas girl.”

In the 1980s Wendy Reves returned to her girlhood home of Marshall, Texas, where she wanted to help the small town acquire the means to build up an art museum. She arranged for an acquaintance, Janine Michelson, to donate the art of her late husband’s to create the institution. Wendy also donated her own money to the project and was especially involved in the process of creating the Michelson-Reves Museum of Art, now the Michelson Museum of Art. She also donated money to the town for the establishment of the Wonderland of Lights, a Christmas festival which made Marshall an East Texas holiday destination. In all, Reves donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to revitalize the town’s downtown district, restore historical buildings, and make improvements to Wiley College. Returning to Dallas in the 1990s, she made donations to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. The contributions created the Wendy and Emery Reves International Breast Cancer Symposium and the Reves Breast Cancer Diagnostic and Treatment Center at Zale Lipshy University Hospital. Sometime around 1990 she also donated to the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, and an arch with Emery’s name on it was placed at the entrance of the symphony’s hall.

In 1987 Wendy went to Virginia, where Frank Shatz, a friend of her late husband, persuaded her to bequeath funds to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The donation established the college’s Reves Center for International Studies in 1989, and a building on the college’s campus was renamed Reves Hall in honor of the donation. The time she spent in Virginia inspired a new love affair for Wendy with the town of Williamsburg and resulted in a request that she be buried with Emery’s ashes in the College William & Mary Cemetery. According to Shatz, Wendy said during her last visit to Williamsburg that she considered it to be her “home and family.”

At the age of ninety, Wendy Russell Reves died from a respiratory infection on March 13, 2007, in Menton, France. She was buried with Emery in the College of William & Mary Cemetery, and the Dallas Museum of Art honored her with a ceremony in the Reves Gallery. Her will dictated that money from her estate go to the Reves Center at William & Mary. Obituaries marking her death were published in newspapers around the country and noted her husband's accomplishments and her relationship to Winston Churchill. Posthumously, she is remembered through her many contributions in both Texas and Virginia where structures and programs continue to bear her name.

Visit the Texas Women Project's standalone website

The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.

Visit Website

Austin American, December 21, 1938. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 13, 1946. Dallas Morning News, March 14, 2007. Thomas Hartman, “Have I Got a Collection for You,” Texas Monthly, November 1985. Marshall News Messenger, July 27, 1941. New York Times, June 7, 2013. Nancy Smith, Churchill on the Riviera: Winston Churchill, Wendy Reves and the Villa La Pausa Built by Coco Chanel (Columbus, Ohio: Biblio Publishing, 2017). The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection at the Dallas Museum of Art (https://collections.dma.org/essay/R3KQD6bm), accessed May 5, 2021. Glenna Whitley, “In the Court of Queen Wendy,” D Magazine, August 1991.

Categories:

  • Museums, Libraries, and Archives
  • Museums
  • Collections
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
  • Visual Arts
  • Collectors and Patrons
  • Women

Time Periods:

  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century

Places:

  • Central Texas
  • Austin
  • East Texas
  • East Central Texas
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

M. Grace Slayter, “Reves, Wyn-Nelle Russell [Wendy],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 21, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/reves-wyn-nelle-russell-wendy.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

May 26, 2021
June 2, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects:

Loading