Whitney Walton was hardly a household name when she died quietly recently while working at her job as a social worker in Baton Rouge, and she wanted it that way.
In the 1970s and ’80s under a different guise, though, she counted dozens of big-name Hollywood stars and standout entertainment figures as her phone pals.
At one time, she was checking her answering machine to hear Billy Joel trying his latest unfinished song out on her. And she was chatting on the telephone with people like Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Robert De Niro, Johnny Carson and Ted Kennedy, according to Vanity Fair, which profiled her in a 1999 issue that revealed her hidden identity as Miranda Grosvenor.
Walton, who died of natural causes Feb. 24, enjoyed her brief burst of fame after capturing the attention of powerful men living in the highest social circle of Hollywood just by talking with them over the phone in conversations that never went beyond flirting.
She concealed her identity by posing as a blond model named Miranda from Baton Rouge attending Tulane University in New Orleans. No one knows for certain why she disappeared from that circle, but her real identity was later revealed in the 1999 Vanity Fair article.
The article described her as a fan who made a hobby of calling stars.
Walton, who lived more than 40 years in Baton Rouge, worked more than 25 years as a social worker at Head Start, an East Baton Rouge Parish program that works with low-income families.
Walton’s younger brother, Lynn Walton, confirmed that his older sister was indeed Miranda Grosvenor but said her life’s work as a social worker and friend was more telling of his sister’s accomplishments.
Lynn Walton, who now lives in Alabama, said that since his sister’s death, he has “met all these people who said how wonderful she was, people who she had counseled when they were teenagers.”
He described his sister as a perky cheerleader.
“She was full of laughter,” Lynn Walton said. “She was 5 foot tall and had dyed blond hair, always with a smile on her face. She knew everybody, and everybody knew her.”
He said his sister was an avid reader in her spare time, traveled the world and spent her summers in Pensacola, Florida.
“She would lie on the beach for hours and hours,” Lynn Walton said. “That’s how she spent the last 20 years, always surrounded with people.”
One of those people was Jean Whitmire, who, around 1990, encountered Walton when she sold Walton the Gulf Breeze, Florida, condominium unit Walton would return to time and time again.
Whitmire said she remembered being confused when Walton decided she didn’t want to actually see the unit before she closed on it.
“Whitney said, ‘Well, you want to sell it, don’t you?’ ” Whitmire recalled.
Whitmire, happily reminiscing about her friend of more than 25 years, said when she offered to pick Walton up to sign paperwork for the condo, Walton said, “I’m going to be the fat little peroxide blonde waiting in the driveway.”
Walton, Whitmire and several other women in Florida forged long-term friendships that day.
Whitmire said she found out about Walton’s prior life as a socialite in New York only a few days after Walton, 74, died when a mutual friend Googled Walton’s name.
Whitmire said she remembered Walton told her one time that she had once been highly connected but thought nothing of it.
“I’ve been laughing every day I think about Whitney,” Whitmire said. “She’s rolling over in her grave and laughing like hell. If you haven’t met her, you’ve missed a sunshine as far as I’m concerned.”
Walton never married or had children.