Lucille (Lulu) Kaye of New York and Vineyard Haven, sister in law of the late photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt and a guardian, along with Life magazine, of his photographic archives, died in New York on August 23. She was 92, and her death occurred 17 years to the day after the death of Mr. Eisenstaedt.
Born in Cape Town, South Africa on April 7, 1920, she was the youngest of eight daughters of Hymie and Anna Zlotnik. Her father, of Polish ancestry, was a London-trained master tailor in Cape Town. Family legend had it that a forebear of her mother’s had been wigmaker to a king of France.
Lulu was educated at Good Hope Seminary in Cape Town. Then, ever energetic and adventuresome, she began feeling the urge to travel beyond her own country. Her mother had died and her father encouraged such travel. One older sister, Rhoda, had married an investor, Walter S. DeVale, and was already in New York. Myra, another sister, was as eager as Lulu to see something of the rest of the world. So in 1945, when German submarines still scoured the Atlantic seeking Allied ships to sink, the two sisters decided to leave for Argentina, with plans to continue on to New York. By then, the DeVales had become the owners of an exclusive Fifth Avenue chocolate shop, Altman and Kuhne, and they needed help in the shop. A trip there to buy top-of-the-line chocolates was always on the itinerary of passengers from the Cunard liner, the Queen Mary, when she came into New York harbor. If the passengers didn’t have the time to go to the shop themselves, Walter DeVale would deliver them to the pier by Rolls Royce.
For months, as they plotted their departure, Lulu and Myra frequented the Cape Town offices of the Thomas Cooke travel agency trying to learn of vessels to take them across the Atlantic. When one was finally found, it was the coal-carrying Argentine barque Tijuca. The captain of the sailing vessel warned all potential passengers that they were crossing the Atlantic at a particularly dangerous time. Neither 25-year-old Lulu nor her slightly older sister were deterred. Once the vessel was at sea, it was repainted in an effort at disguise. Because of the need to avoid submarines, the captain took a circuitous route, frequently escorted by Allied naval vessels, and it was several months before they reached Argentina. With her cultured South African accent, Lulu reveled in later years in retelling the story of that adventurous crossing in which she said the captain and crew surrendered their bunks to the passengers and slept on deck. Once they encountered but escaped a U-boat, she recalled. And the journey took so long that there was fear the Tijuca might run out of food and water.
The Zlotnick sisters stayed only briefly in Buenos Aires before heading for New York, where they arrived on August 14 — VJ Day (coincidentally, the same day that Eisie, her future brother in law, took his famous photograph of a sailor kissing a young woman in Times Square).
When the sisters arrived, Walter DeVale met them in his Rolls Royce and drove them to West 55th street for their first night in the New World. From then until the time of her death, Lulu lived in one or another apartment building on that street. And she convinced Eisie to move there in his later years so he would be within walking distance of his place of work, Life Magazine, on 50th and Sixth, four blocks away.
After some years with the chocolate shop, Lulu left to become treasurer of the Poetry Society whose offices were in lower Manhattan at the National Arts Club. It was a perfect job for the culturally-savvy, sociable Lulu — mingling with and helping to support writers. She remained there until the 1970s and the death of her sister Kathy, who had married Eisie. Then Lulu took on the job of looking after him — in New York city, on his photographic travels around the world, and on the Vineyard where he and Kathy had summered at the Menemsha Inn for decades.
Lulu quickly formed an attachment to the Vineyard and Vineyard people as Eisie and Kathy had. Eisie’s favorite Islanders included Al and Peg Littlefield of West Tisbury, with whom he had become acquainted when he stopped once to photograph their scarecrow and ended up being intrigued by Mrs. Littlefield (and taking a picture of her in a trademark wide-brimmed hat). The Littlefields became favorites of Lulu’s, too, and on summer visits she loved to pick wild blueberries in one of their fields. At the end of berry-picking expeditions, she would join Peg and Al for a celebratory glass of champagne on their porch, bordering what today is the Polly Hill Arboretum.
After Eisie’s death in 1995, Lulu decided she wanted a Vineyard home of her own and, in 2000, she purchased a small, one-person house on Franklin street that West Tisbury carpenter Tom Thatcher had recently renovated. But she knew she wanted something grander and gave it away, and it was moved to Skiff avenue.
In her new home, which she hired Vineyard Haven architect Peter Breese to design and named Breese cottage in his honor, she made sure there was plenty of room for entertaining friends and relatives. Former Vineyarders Brandon Wight and Bruce Blackwell remember her as “a most marvelous hostess.”
In all seasons, whenever the spirit moved her, she would come up to the Vineyard to see her friends and entertain them at a meal or a proper tea, or to enjoy her garden, walk to market or simply take it easy. Though she was in her 80s and 90s, she always traveled by bus from New York to Woods Hole. Shortly before her death last week, she gave her friend and Vineyard Haven neighbor Russell Burrows an Eisenstaedt photograph of the old North Tisbury oak tree that she wanted to be sure would go to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Her plans for the future included arranging an exhibit of Eisie’s photographs of Vineyard people, with the help of Life photography director Barbara Baker Burrows.
Lulu Kaye is remembered fondly by her many nieces and nephews. “An amazing, caring person . . . she gave love and looked after people. It has been an honor to have had an aunt like her,” said nephew Ronnie Tannur.
She is survived by three nephews, Barry, Jammy and Ronnie Tanur of South Africa and Allan Leas of London; and three nieces, Carol Anne Swartz, Anna Berkowutz and Susan Cohen, all of South Africa, and numerous great-nieces and nephews. Her niece Anna was with her at the time of her death.
A graveside service was held early this week at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, N.Y. where both Alfred and Kathy Eisenstaedt are also buried.
Contributions in Lulu’s memory may be made to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, P.O. Box 130, Edgartown 02539.