Male model, gracious-living expert, voracious, hobnobber — Jacobson wrote the book on the art of giving
Long before the gaudy onslaught of plastic gift cards at every cash register, a young man named Stuart Jacobson took the basic tenet of gift-giving — a gesture of friendship — and parlayed it into a glittering, albeit brief, presence in the publishing world. Dallas-born in 1954 and educated at St. Mark’s School of Texas, Jacobson attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he majored in political science and hoped for a career in international diplomacy. Those aspirations were put aside when legendary Dallas modeling agent Kim Dawson saw a family photo of him in the office of his father, Dallas dermatologist Coleman Jacobson. She declared Stuart “fabulous-looking” and encouraged him to consider a career in modeling. He did.
By the late 1970s, he was on magazine covers (Esquire, British Vogue) and jetting to exotic locations for fashion shoots. In 1983, while Jacobson was living on the West Coast, his career-defining event happened. Stuart’s father, in Palm Springs to visit his friend and professional colleague Walter Annenberg, the former ambassador to Great Britain, invited Stuart to join him. Giving a tour of his home, Annenberg showed Stuart one of his prized possessions: a personally inscribed photo given to him by Winston Churchill. Noting Annenberg’s pride and emotion in recounting the occasion, Stuart wondered what other notable gift exchanges had transpired. That moment was the genesis of his first book, below, Only the Best: A Celebration of Gift Giving in America, the top-selling coffee-table book of 1985.
He met with few, if any, rejections on the project: Texans Carolyn Horchow, Clint Murchison, Oscar Wyatt and Lyda Hunt (giving a cranberry glass vase to daughter Caroline Hunt), plus Andy Warhol, Bill Blass, Tony Duquette, Coco Chanel, Gregory Peck, Jack Benny and Clare Boothe Luce were happy to describe and display their most valued gifts. Only the Best was such a resounding success that a publicity tour ensued. High-end glossies excerpted the book. People magazine profiled him. A follow-up book, The Art of Giving, a European spin on Only the Best, was published in 1987. The second wave crested all too soon: Jacobson died at his Dallas home in 1989.