Cher Ted...

The lasting friendship of Ted Tourtellotte and Niki de Saint Phalle

Generous, charming and cosmopolitan, Ted Tourtellotte led a rich life filled with travel, friends and art. Always gracious and respectful, he cultivated deep relationships with those he met and left lasting impressions on the acquaintances he made. He was considered a close friend by Joan Fontaine and spent time with French President Francois Mitterrand but it was his enduring friendship with Niki de Saint Phalle that was most dear to him.

Born in Wilburton, Oklahoma in 1928, Ted attended Oklahoma A&M College before joining the Army to serve in the Korean War. During his time in the service, he earned a Purple Heart after being wounded and evading capture behind enemy lines and competed for the Army in the 1953 World Modern Pentathlon Championship. Upon his return to civilian life, he embarked on a career with Air France in New York and in 1964 achieved his dream job, North American Director of Public Relations. He met with VIPs and diplomats, splitting his time between New York and Paris where he kept houses and it was through a mutual Parisian friend, Christian DuMonteil, that he first made the acquaintance of Niki.

While the two became close during their time together in France, it was upon Niki’s move to La Jolla, California, near the San Diego house that Ted had retired to, that they became almost inseparable. Mornings began with a phone call. Some days the calls included Niki and Ted laughing for 10 minutes at a time or “barking” into the phone to exercise their facial muscles. They practiced yoga, walked on the beach, meditated, dined together, attended art openings and dance reviews. They went to the movies and attended the theater. As Ted recounted in an interview, 

We used to go walking along the beach every afternoon at 5:30. I'd pick her up at the studio and then we would walk on the beach from an hour and we would talk or say nothing. And it made no difference one way or the other, and we walked from the beach to the thing that goes out in the water, it's a wharf [...] then back again; it was about a mile or so. Niki was not strong physically and the afternoon walks and the sea air really made her feel good, so then we'd go back to her place, have a bowl of soup and then she'd continue to work through the evening and then I'd get home about 10 or 11 and I'd call her the next morning at 7:30...

Playful and silly, they basked in their time together. Each felt a deep caring for the other, always protecting and nurturing, comforting and supporting. 

Ted remained by Niki’s side until her passing in 2002. Her absence left an enormous void in his life until his own death in April 2022, almost twenty years later. We are honored to present a collection of works evidencing the close bond shared by Ted and Niki, many of which were gifts that Niki created for her good friend. The inscriptions throughout speak to their love for each other, their laughter and the fun they shared.

Niki de Saint Phalle

Niki de Saint Phalle was born Catherine-Marie-Agnès-Brandon Fal de Saint Phalle in France in 1930 to an upper-class Franco-American family. They lost their wealth during the Great Depression and moved to the United States in 1933. Saint Phalle attended the Brearley School in New York City until she was expelled for defacing statues on the school’s campus (she painted the fig leaves on nude figures an offending red). She was later sent to the Oldfields School in Maryland and graduated in 1947. After school, she modeled for Vogue and Life magazine, married a childhood friend when she was 18 and became a mother two years later.

In 1952 Saint Phalle and her husband moved back to Paris, where he studied music and she studied theater. The following year, after a period of intensive travel throughout Europe, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized; she took up painting to help with her recovery. In 1955 the family again moved, this time to Mallorca and Saint Phalle gave birth to her second child. While in Mallorca, she was exposed to the architecture of Antonio Gaudí, who would become a major influence for the imaginative style and ambitious scale of her work.

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