Betsy Bloomingdale, the socialite and renowned fashion leader who was the widow of Alfred S. Bloomingdale, the department store heir, and a celebrated hostess to royalty, world dignitaries and show business luminaries, died on Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 93.
Family members confirmed her death with several news organizations, including Women’s Wear Daily and Vanity Fair magazine, which said the cause was complications of a heart condition.
Vivacious, celery-thin, with a husky, confiding Lauren Bacall voice, Mrs. Bloomingdale was a high-octane doyenne of the Social Register whose friendships — many remarkable for their longevity — encompassed presidents and princes, tycoons and leaders of government, entertainment, publishing and the arts.
She lived in palatial homes in Los Angeles and New York; shopped for $20,000 gowns at Paris houses of couture; frolicked with the Kissingers, the Cronkites and Malcolm Forbes on Rupert Murdoch’s yacht in Morocco; attended the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1981; and dined regularly with Ronald and Nancy Reagan at the White House in the 1980s.
In the exclusive Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles, her neighbors over the years were Hollywood legends: Barbara Stanwyck, Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson. She kept diaries of the dinner parties she had given since the late 1950s, many for charities, and took photographs of table settings to avoid using the same one twice. She was perennially on lists of the world’s best-dressed women.
For decades, she and her husband were trusted friends of the Reagans. With homes a few minutes apart in Los Angeles, they shared soirées, holiday gatherings and family occasions, and celebrated a succession of Mr. Reagan’s triumphs as he, with the help of Mr. Bloomingdale and others in the Reagan “kitchen cabinet,” ascended from film star to the California governorship in 1967 and to the presidency in 1981.
As part of that inner circle, the Bloomingdales trekked to the Reagans’ ranch in the Santa Ynez Mountains for Nancy’s birthday parties; for 20 years, they celebrated New Year’s Eve at Lee and Walter Annenberg’s Palm Springs estate, and on election nights they gathered in Bel Air to watch the returns.
When the Reagans moved to the White House, the Bloomingdales took an apartment at the Watergate complex. Mrs. Bloomingdale, often called the first friend of the first lady, was Mrs. Reagan’s confidante during her husband’s political career and, especially, afterward, during the emotional stresses of his battle with Alzheimer’s disease in the 1990s and his death in 2004.
“She looks a little frail,” Mrs. Bloomingdale told The New York Times on the day of Mr. Reagan’s state funeral in Washington. “But she is very strong inside. She is. She has the strength. She is doing her last thing for Ronnie. And she is going to get it right.”
After her own husband’s death in 1982, Mrs. Bloomingdale, who was accustomed to seeing her name only in society columns, was drawn into a lurid tabloid scandal when his longtime mistress, Vicki Morgan, sued the Bloomingdale estate and his widow for $10 million for breach of promise. She claimed that Mr. Bloomingdale, in exchange for her companionship, had promised her lifetime support and a house.
In a deposition, Ms. Morgan, 37 years his junior, told of a sadomasochistic relationship with Mr. Bloomingdale. His widow acknowledged the affair, but contended that Ms. Morgan had been a well-paid prostitute, undeserving of further compensation. A Los Angeles court dismissed most of the suit in 1983.
Ms. Morgan was bludgeoned to death in 1983 by another companion, who was convicted of her murder. A jury awarded her estate $200,000 from the Bloomingdale funds for the benefit of her 15-year-old son.
Betsy Bloomingdale was born Betty Lee Newling in Beverly Hills on Aug. 2, 1922, the daughter of a socially prominent doctor. Growing up, she knew Cary Grant, James Stewart and Merle Oberon. She attended the Marlborough School in Los Angeles and Bennett College in Millbrook, N.Y.
She briefly aspired to an acting career before becoming, in 1946, Mr. Bloomingdale’s second wife. (His first, to the actress Barbara Brewster, had ended in divorce.) They had three children: Geoffrey, Lisa and Robert. There was no immediate word on Mrs. Bloomingdale’s survivors.
Mr. Bloomingdale inherited a fortune as the grandson of a co-founder of Bloomingdale’s, the New York department store that grew into a national chain. In 1950, he started a credit card business called Dine and Sign, and a year later merged it with a new operation, Diners Club. He became the Diners Club chairman in 1964.
The Bloomingdales moved into their Holmby Hills mansion in 1958 after it had been remodeled by the designer Billy Haines. He gave it an outdoor atrium living room, a swimming pool that Mrs. Bloomingdale used regularly and a garden of cypress trees, hedges and beds of tea roses, dahlias and zinnias that she used in floral arrangements.
Her book “Entertaining With Betsy Bloomingdale” (1994) offered advice to aspiring hostesses.
Mrs. Bloomingdale, who usually took two trips a year to Europe to buy designer gowns, donated a large collection of her couture to the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles. Sixty outfits from Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta, Chanel, Dior, Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent were exhibited in 2009.
In 1996, she had a fashion epiphany in Paris. She left a Valentino show without placing an order, walked into a boutique on the Avenue Montaigne and bought a ready-to-wear Valentino gown.
“I thought, ‘I like that and that,’ ” she told The Wall Street Journal. “And I can buy three of those for the price of one haute couture gown. That’s when I started wearing ready-to-wear.”