Georgia Dullea, 90, Dies; Reporter Chronicled a Changing Society

Georgia Dullea, a style reporter for The New York Times who chronicled, with sly bemusement and a miniaturist’s eye for detail, three decades of a culture in transition, died on Sunday in the Bronx. She was 90.

Her death, at a hospice facility, was confirmed by Sam Rudy, a friend.

Ms. Dullea arrived at The Times in the early 1970s, hired as a general assignment reporter for the so-called women’s pages, otherwise known as “Family Food Fashions Furnishings.” Those pages were perceived institutionally as a news ghetto, but the reporters who wrote for them were documenting a society reinventing itself after the seismic events of the 1960s.

Ms. Dullea covered feminist Thanksgivings, the impact of no-fault divorces on women, single women choosing motherhood, and the rise of the non-nuclear family, among other topics. In 1973, she wrote of the irritation of Black families moving to suburban Westchester County, N.Y., where they were patronized — or worse — by their white neighbors.

As the 1980s dawned, she captured fripperies like Perrier ice cubes and baby vegetables. She weighed relationship conundrums like flirtations by fax and the rising respectability of personal ads, writing of singles “swimming upstream in an alphabet soup of SWF’s, DBM’s and such, looking for love in the classifieds.” And she examined the wretched excesses perpetrated by that decade’s corporate raiders and their trophy (second) wives, a group John Fairchild of Women’s Wear Daily christened “Nouvelle Society.”

Ms. Dullea was its reluctant Boswell. (Editors often had to prise her work away from her. She would invariably protest, “Honey, there’s no story,” and disappear onto the back stairs for a smoke. At the 11th hour, however, she’d deliver a pitch-perfect piece.)

“Georgia basically owned the ‘nouvelle’ beat in the late ’80s,” Claudia Payne, a former longtime lifestyle editor of The Times, said by email. “She chronicled the parties, real estate, decorators, designers, ‘walkers’ and other hangers on. She could slip into Mortimers, sidle up to Christopher Mason at the piano bench, evaluate the yardage of a Christian Lacroix pouf and, with exquisite sensitivity, describe Blaine Trump’s AIDS charity work. She was a veritable Baedeker of the Upper East Side.”

And when the ’80s ended, she wrote the decade’s obituary:

“In their conspicuous consumption, the Nouvelles were consumed by the public and served up by a press for whom the point of the story increasingly became not how lovely, but how much,” Ms. Dullea observed. “The cake for the wedding of Laura Steinberg and Jonathan Tisch reportedly cost $17,000. Ummm, delicious. Taste that money.”

She was dogged and compassionate in her coverage of the dark side of the ’80s — the horrors of the AIDS crisis, which did not end with the decade, of course. She noted the rituals gay men created to memorialize their dead. She wrote of the support groups mothers of adult children with AIDS formed, and of their terrible heartbreak.

“Downstairs, the mothers of adult children with AIDS talked of doctors, drug trials and T-cell counts,” Ms. Dullea wrote of one group in 1994. “Upstairs, the mothers whose children had died of the disease talked of cremations, burials and patches on a memorial quilt. When they were not talking, they were weeping, upstairs and downstairs, on those Tuesday nights in the small brick building in Greenwich Village.”

Stephen Drucker, the founding editor of The Times’s Styles section, called Ms. Dullea “one of the finest writers the Times ever produced.”

“But what she wrote was published on the women’s page,” he said in a phone interview, “and later in the style pages, so it was never taken seriously. Make no mistake, it was serious.”

Georgia Milburn Comstock was born on Sept. 4, 1933, in Newark, N.J., and grew up in the Parkchester neighborhood of the Bronx. Her father, George Comstock, died when she was a baby. Her mother, Louella Patricia Doty, was an artist.

Georgia studied journalism at Fordham University, but, raising a family in her post-college years, didn’t begin writing professionally until she was in her 30s, when she wandered into the offices of The Patent Trader, a community newspaper in Mount Kisco, N.Y., to ask for a job. There, she won local awards for covering the women’s liberation movement in Westchester, where she lived.

She is survived by her son, Mark, and daughter, Regan. Her marriage to their father, Charles Dullea, an advertising manager, ended in divorce in 1980. In the mid-90s, she reconnected with Ernest Dickinson, her former editor at The Patent Trader. They married in 1995, the year Ms. Dullea retired. Mr. Dickinson died in 2021.

In 1993, Ms. Dullea covered the wedding of Donald Trump and Marla Maples in a Vows column, gently spoofing both the occasion and the Styles section’s oft-mocked wedding pages. It was a capstone to a year of gleeful reportage in the city’s tabloids, in which Mr. Trump’s divorce from his first wife and his affair with Ms. Maples had played out in their pages.

“‘There wasn’t a wet eye in the place,’” Ms. Dullea quoted one guest as remarking. She continued: “The bride is taking her husband’s name. The bridegroom is keeping his name, The Donald, a legacy from his former wife, Ivana. Ivana Trump is keeping her cool on the ski slopes of Aspen.”

Of her own wedding, Ms. Dullea once shared a rare personal detail, which she tucked into an essay about smoking rooms for The New York Times Magazine. (A former longtime smoker, she was mourning her old habit.)

“Perhaps the last place for a cigarette was a church,” she wrote. “And yet I do remember lighting up in the basement of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in September 1956, just before my wedding. The bride wore a gown of white satin and carried a pack of Lucky Strikes.”

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