Drue Heinz, Patron of Literature and Host of Authors, Dies at 103

Drue Heinz, right, skiing with her husband H.J. Heinz II and stepson John Heinz in the mid-1950s.

Drue Heinz, who used her riches to fund literary prizes, support The Paris Review and start a publishing house, died on Friday in Lasswade, Scotland, at Hawthornden Castle, which she had purchased in the 1980s and turned into a writers’ retreat. She was 103.

Her death was announced by Heinz Endowments, a foundation established by members of the family behind the H. J. Heinz foods empire. Ms. Heinz’s third husband, Henry John Heinz II, known as Jack, was a chairman of the company.

The British-born Ms. Heinz gave generously to the arts and had an affinity for literature. In the fall of 1970, intrigued by the literary quarterly Antaeus, she sent a letter on Heinz stationery — with its famous pickle logo — looking to purchase a subscription.

After contacting Daniel Halpern, the editor who founded Antaeus in Tangier, Morocco, with the writer Paul Bowles, she agreed to do substantially more: help fund the publication.

But her largess stipulated that Mr. Halpern do one significant thing for her: help start the publishing house called Ecco Press.

“She loved good literature and she loved writers,” Mr. Halpern, the president and publisher of Ecco, now an imprint of HarperCollins, said in a telephone interview. “She was close to Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Harold Pinter. And she introduced me to Rex Harrison. She was an insomniac who read at night, read all our books and loved the idea of reprinting books that had gone out of print, which was all we could afford at that time.”

He added: “Having a magazine and a press, especially one that was completely hers — and trusting this idiot kid with a dream to run it — was probably more important than art to her.”

Bankrolling a quarterly and a book publisher preceded another step in Ms. Heinz’s literary journey: acquiring Hawthornden, the former home of the 17th-century poet William Drummond, which stands on a promontory overlooking the River North Esk, and remaking it into a peaceful sanctuary for writers.

Recalling his experience with five other writers at the retreat, about eight miles south of Edinburgh, Pauls Toutonghi wrote that every evening they read from Drummond’s verse.

“We felt protected and safe, and most importantly, that our art was cared for — that it was significant, a worthwhile endeavor,” Mr. Toutonghi, author of the novel “Evel Knievel Days” (2012), wrote on the website Literary Hub in 2015. “This is something that everyday life in the modern world rarely — if ever — provides.”

The literary critic Helen Vendler spent a month’s residency at Hawthornden about 15 years ago. In an email she described the “small upstairs rooms, makeshift closet, a bed, desk and chair,” and “the names of those who preceded you in that room stenciled on the door.”

She called it “an exhilarating place” and, quoting Yeats, a “scene well set and excellent company.”

Ms. Heinz also supported the Hawthornden Prize in Britain, whose winners have included Hilary Mantel and Colm Toibin.

Ms. Heinz was born Doreen Mary English on March 8, 1915, in Norfolk, England. Her father, Patrick, was an Army officer; her mother was the former Edith Wodehouse. Doreen — who at some point changed her name to the more distinctive Drue — did not attend college.

Her first marriage, to John Mackenzie Robertson, ended in divorce, and her second husband, Dale Maher, an Oklahoman who was the first secretary to the United States legation in Pretoria, South Africa, was found dead in his car in 1948.

She had a brief acting career under the name Drue Mallory, cast in bit parts in three movies in 1950, and married Mr. Heinz in 1953. They remained together until his death in 1987.

They had homes in Europe and the United States and held lavish parties; among the guests at one, to celebrate Mr. Heinz’s 75th birthday in 1983 in Ascot, England, were Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret.

“There was a tent with an orchestra for dancing,” Gore Vidal, who also attended the event, wrote in his autobiography “Point to Point Navigation” (2006). “Another tent for those invited to dinner. A Ferris wheel. A pond. Swans.”

By then Ms. Heinz’s literary philanthropy was in full swing. She had started, in 1980, funding a prize for short fiction at the University of Pittsburgh Press, and later endowed its annual $15,000 prize in perpetuity.

In 1993, as she neared her 80th birthday, she began a 14-year tenure as publisher of The Paris Review, the literary quarterly edited for many years by George Plimpton, who died in 2003.

“She and George had been friends for decades,” Sarah Dudley Plimpton, Mr. Plimpton’s wife, said in a telephone interview. “She was kind of a dream publisher. She would support and promote the magazine where she could. And she was so generous in helping us through the transition after George died.”

Ms. Heinz took on a variety of tasks at The Review. She hosted round-table discussions on literature at her villa on Lake Como, Italy; paid for artists like Andy Warhol and Helen Frankenthaler to produce limited editions of promotional prints and posters in the 1960s; and interviewed the poet Ted Hughes for an issue of The Review in 1995.

Her lengthy conversation with Mr. Hughes, whose wife had been the novelist and poet Sylvia Plath, reflected her intense curiosity about the writing process.

“How long does it take to write a poem?” she asked him.

“Well,” he replied, “in looking back over the whole lot, the best ones took just as long as it took to write them down.”

Ms. Heinz’s survivors include her daughters Wendy Mackenzie and Marigold Randall, five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and three step-grandchildren. Her stepson, Sen. John Heinz, a Republican of Pennsylvania, died in a plane crash in 1991.

Lord Gowrie, a poet and former chairman of the Arts Council of England, recalled that Ms. Heinz remained busy past her 100th birthday.

“She still attended talks and readings at the Summer Edinburgh Book Festival,” he said in a statement, “and ferried authors to and from Hawthornden for her annual lobster supper in style. Modest, even frugal, in her own taste, she was the most generous hostess imaginable.”

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