“Fern Andra” Edna Andrews

17 Mar

Vernal “Fern Andra” Edna Andrews was born 24 November 1893 in Watseka, Illinois, the daughter of William P. and Sarah Evett Andrews. A great beauty who exuded sex appeal, she changed her name to “Fern Andra” and eventually became known as “the Mary Pickford of Germany.” She began her career at the Stephens Opera House in Watseka in a vaudeville act that included tightrope walking, a trick she learned from her step-father, Frank St. Clair. In 1905 she appeared at the Globe Theatre in Chicago and four years later joined a touring acting troupe, the United States and Canada Theatrical Company. In 1909, as part of the Millman Trio, she appeared before President Taft and his family and guests at a private performance at the White House.

In 1913 Fern became popular in London before moving on to Germany where she found herself when the First World War began. She was offered a film contract by the German Gaumont Company and her first movies, “Ave Maria” and “Crush,” were a success. She followed them with three others the next year and in 1915 she opened her own film production company in Germany, Andra-Film, and eventually produced and acted in more than 80 movies. At the outbreak of War she was accused of spying for the English, French, and Americans, and was only saved from deportation by the intervention (she claimed to have been briefly held in a prisoner of war camp and later insisted that the Emperor himself ordered her rescue) of Baron Friedrich von und zu Weichs zur Wenne, a distant family relation of the Austrian Empress Zita (his family were feudal nobility from Bavaria). Fern married the Baron but he was killed just before the end of the War and, for the rest of her life, she used the name “Baroness Fern Andra.”

After the end of the War Fern continued acting and became known as “the most beautiful girl in Europe.” In 1920 she caused great scandal for her movie, “Genuine” when she appeared on film clad only in a costume painted onto her body. On 4 July 1922 on a flight to Hamburg she and her business manager survived an airplane crash which killed her companion, Baron Lothar von Richthofen, brother of the “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen. In 1923 she married Kurt Prenzel (1896-1960), the German middleweight boxing champion, who had been a prisoner of war during World War I in Knockaloe prison camp. In 1925, the same year in which he had a role in one of Fern’s films, Prenzel was severely bitten by a rabid dog when he jumped in front of his wife to protect her. The injuries to his hand forced him to discontinue boxing for a while. He and Fern divorced soon after and he moved permanently to the U. S. in 1928 where he fought eight more times until he retired in 1930. In December of 1925 Fern arrived in New York City on the Aquitania to spend the holidays with her mother. Among the passenger guest list headed by “40 London revue beauties” were principals Bea Lillie and Gertrude Lawrence, all of whom were to appear at a gala performance in Atlantic City on New Year’s Eve. Also on board were William B. Leeds, Jr., son of the American-born Princess Anastasia of Greece, with his wife, Princess Xenia of Russia, as well as the Grand Duke Dmitri.

Fern continued acting in Germany until 1927 when she returned to the U.S. to live in Hollywood. In Tijuana, Mexico, on 15 February 1934, she married stage and movie actor Ian Keith (1899-1960, whose birth name was Keith McCauley Ross) who appeared in more than 350 roles and was closely associated with Jose Ferrer and co-starred with Helen Hayes in “Mary of Scotland.” She divorced him in Chicago in 1935, claiming he had “an ungovernable temper,” (her bodyguard was the only witness at the divorce hearing). Later that year her mother announced Fern’s engagement to six-day bicycle racer William “Torchy” Peden, but that marriage did not take place and she again returned to Germany. In 1937 she testified before the House Immigration Committee in Washington, claiming that European countries were discriminating against foreign artists and performers.

Fern returned to Germany and as World War II began the rumors of her having been a spy resurfaced although this time she was said to have spied on behalf of the German government against the U.S. She was rumored to have been a mistress of General Goebbels whom she had known when he was a young man working as a tutor. Fern returned to the U. S. where she broadcast in German to counteract Hitler’s Nazi propaganda. She moved to Connecticut and married her final husband, General Samuel Edge Dockrell, a playwright and producer who had been commandant of the Putnam Phalanx, a historic militia in Harford, CT. His play, “Torpedo,” had its premiere in Hartford in 1937. Fern Andra made frequent visits to her hometown of Watseka, IL, and lived with her last husband in Wiesbaden, Germany, the last four years of their lives. He died in Aiken, South Carolina, two days after arriving there with Fern. She died of cancer at the age of 80 in a nursing home in Aiken on 8 February 1974.

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13 Dec

Georgianna “Anna” Robinson was a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Robinson who operated Minneapolis’ old Grand Opera Hotel on First Avenue. In about 1893 Anna and her sister, Margaret, left Minneapolis for New York City and their parents later followed them. Anna began as an artist’s model but soon appeared on the stage in “The Kentucky Girl” where her beauty brought her many followers. She became best-known to American audiences in “Shenendoah.” For a while she was the mistress of American attorney and composer Joseph Redding. On her first European tour her admirers were said to include the King of Belgium and the dissolute Duke of Manchester.

Anna met in Monte Carlo a fellow actor known as “James Erskine” but who was actually James Francis Harry St. Clair-Erskine, the 5th Earl of Rosslyn (16 March 1869 – 10 August 1939), who had obtained a Scottish divorce from his first wife in 1902. His sisters were society hostess Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland, as well as the Countess of Westmoreland. He was a half-brother of the famous beauty, Daisy, Countess of Warwick, who had been a long-standing mistress of the Earl’s close friend, King Edward VII, when the king was Prince of Wales.

Erskine served as a soldier with Thorneycroft’s Horse at the relief of Ladysmith then was a war correspondent for the London Daily Mail during the South African War. After serving briefly as an editor of Scottish Life, Erskine took to the stage. He married in 1890 Violet Vyner, by whom he had a son and a daughter, but she divorced him for desertion in 1902, the same year in which he appeared on the New York stage in a small role in “There’s Many a Slip.” The production was also the first American appearance of British ingénue Beatrice Irwin who was soon engaged to Erskine. The engagement was called off and Irwin went to Canada while Erskine returned to London where he had a small part in a Pinero play.

Although the Earl inherited 3,400 acres of land along with his titles, his gambling debts were legendary. He was declared bankrupt in 1897 (when a trust was established to look after his estate) and was the first hereditary peer to take to the stage to make his living. By his own estimate toward the end of his life, he admitted to squandering more than £250,000 on horse races and in the card rooms. It was only because he was bankrupt that he was prohibited from taking his seat in the House of Lords. As he later said, “I ended up in Bankruptcy Court. I cannot understand it because I seemed to be winning always.” In 1900 he wrote his recollections of the Boer War but later took the book off the market because of his inferences of gross misbehavior on the part of the British military at Sannah’s Post. In 1928 he wrote his self-congratulatory memoirs, My Gamble With Life, “strictly for money,” and was unapologetic for the resulting scandal over his lack of remorse.

Despite his financial situation, Anna Robinson married on 20 March 1905 in London the 5th Earl of Rosslyn. She had been frugal with her earnings as an actress and acquired a significant amount of savings. She lent her husband £1,000 to lease Scotland’s Thurso Castle and to entertain there. She also later testified that, at the time of their marriage, she settled upon him “a generous sum of money… and often paid other sums for him.” In the same year that Lord Rosslyn married Anna Robinson, his younger brother, Alexander, married an American, Winifrede Baker, daughter of Henry William Baker of California.

The Earl’s memoirs state that he “accepted blindly [Anna’s] statement that she had a house in London and sufficient money added to mine to keep us alive until we made good on the stage.” He blatantly lied in insisting that, after two days of marriage, they never saw one another again until their divorce trial. His credibility already in doubt, Lord Rosslyn declared in his book that Anna was “a drug fiend and addicted to drink.” At one point in the marriage, a shipment 32 cases of wine was delivered to their door at Thurso. Anna was eventually forced to pay for the wine even though it was ordered by her husband, and she was said to remark upon delivery, “See, it is addressed to me. Your credit isn’t good enough,” although she later insisted that what she actually said was, “I don’t think it nice to have boxes of wine all sent in my name.” Anna also was forced to pay her husband’s gambling debts. Finally bowing to the inevitable, she obtained a Scottish divorce from the Earl of Rosslyn in July of 1907. At the time he was living in Paris and, after the divorce, was served writs for large amounts of money lent to him by his wife. The Earl unsuccessfully appealed the divorce and never repaid the debts to Anna.

In 1908 the 5th Earl of Rosslyn married the much-younger Vera Bayley and they had two sons and a daughter. Serena Mary Dunn, one of Lord Rosslyn’s granddaughters by his first wife, married the 4th Baron Rothschild. The current Earl of Rosslyn, a career policeman, began his duties as a foot patrolman and was seriously wounded by a gunman who bit him during a robbery attempt. In 2003 the current Earl was named head of the elite Scotland Yard team of bodyguards that protect the Royal family and their palaces.

Anna Robinson went through all her savings and finally returned to New York, virtually penniless, in 1915. She attempted a return to the stage but was unsuccessful, eventually sinking into penury. In 1917 her friends took her to the New York Hospital where she was transferred to the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital after she had been adjudged insane. On 5 October, Anna Robinson, formerly Countess of Rosslyn, died in the Manhattan State Hospital for the Insane. She was 47.

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13 Oct

Margaret Edmona “Mona” Travis Strader, daughter of horse breeder and trainer Robert Strader and of Birdie O’Schockency Strader, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on 5 February 1897. Her parents were divorced in 1902 and she and her brother were then reared, in an atmosphere of chaos and sadness, by their paternal grandmother. Their father tried to remain involved in his children’s lives and acquired a 76-acre estate called “Forkland,” in 1909, the same year in which he married an affluent wife. It was a lesson that was not lost on his daughter.

Mona was beautiful even as a child and developed into a stunning woman. One of her father’s clients, Henry J. Schlesinger (1879 – 1955), was 18 years older than she. His family was said to be the wealthiest in Wisconsin. He purchased Fairland Farm in Lexington in 1916 where her father bred and trained horses. On 24 January 1917, Mona married Henry Schlesinger. Her wedding gift from the groom was “a magnificent rope of pearls.” After a honeymoon trip north, the young couple moved to Milwaukee where the Schlesinger family owned an iron and coke company. They took a home there and kept Fairland Farm for annual visits. The next year, they had a son, Robert, who would cause his mother much heartache as an adult.

While living in Milwaukee Mona met the very handsome James Irving Bush (1883 – 1961) of Racine, a stellar college athlete who was described as “the handsomest man in America.” When his wife died in 1920, his relationship with Mona deepened and she divorced Schlesinger. Mona gave her husband custody of their son in exchange for a trust fund guaranteeing her between $30,000 and $50,000 per year, and she retook her maiden name.

Mona moved to New York City soon followed by Bush who was in December of 1920 named Vice President of the Equitable Trust Company. In October of 1921 she married him at New York City’s Central Presbyterian Church. He and Mona honeymooned in Havana then moved into their home at 300 Park Avenue. That marriage, too, was unhappy and it was said that her husband was an alcoholic. Mona divorced him in Paris 25 July 1925 (in 1931 Bush would marry Virginia Van Sant Alvord and in 1938 he married Ethel Post Dieterich).

Mona returned to New York City where in 1926 she opened a dress shop with a close friend, Laura Merriam Curtis, daughter of former Minnesota Governor William R. Merriam. Laura’s fiancé had been Harrison Williams (born at Avon, Ohio, on 16 March 1873), supposedly the wealthiest man in America with a fortune of $600 million. Williams left his modest bicycle business in Ohio in 1903 and moved to New York City as part of a tire manufacturing venture with his brother-in-law. His first wife, Katherine Gordon Breed of Pittsburgh, whom he married in 1900, died in 1915. In 1906 he created a gas and electric company that eventually owned many public utilities in the United States and by 1909 he was included in the Social Register. In 1923 he financed a zoological expedition to the Galapagos Islands where a volcano was named in his honor. Three years later, along with Vincent Astor and Marshall Field, he financed William Beebe’s expedition to the Sargasso Sea.

Contrary to some reports, Mona did not steal Harrison Williams from her friend. Three days after the announcement of the engagement of Laura Curtis to Harrison Williams, she abandoned him and remarried her former husband, James Freeman Curtis. Nor did Laura introduce Mona to Williams. As a friend of her first husband’s banking family in Wisconsin, he met her there and attended her second wedding in New York City.

On 2 July 1926, at Williams’ apartment on Madison Avenue, Mona Strader Schlesinger Bush married Harrison Williams. She was 29 and he was 53. In 1924 Williams had purchased the Krupp-built Vanadis, the largest yacht afloat, originally built for New York financier C. K. G. Billings (who once gave a white-tie dinner party where each guest was seated on horseback and attended by a personal liveried footman). He renamed it the Warrior and he and Mona frequently sailed around the world entertaining lavishly. It was eventually sold to Barbara Hutton in 1939 and is now a floating hotel in Stockholm.

Mona and her new husband sailed on an around-the-world honeymoon on the Warrior attended by a crew of 45. One of her acquisitions during the cruise was a 98.6-carat deep blue Sri Lankan sapphire. Upon their return Williams continued his astounding compilation of wealth, launching in 1929 two trust securities named in honor of Mona’s Kentucky heritage: Shenandoah Corporation and Blue Ridge Corporation. Only months later came the stock market crash and Williams’ net worth was reduced from $680 million to as little as $5 million. Congress accused him of having controlled one-fifth of the utilities in America. When one questioner asked why he had not been satisfied with $680 million, Williams replied, “I wanted to make it an even billion.” Shortly before the crash, one financial reporter wrote that Williams would soon be the richest man in the world. Afterwards, he would spend the remainder of his life attempting to reclaim both his reputation and his vast fortune.

Williams had for years leased J. P. Morgan’s estate at Glen Cove, but in 1926 he and Mona purchased Oak Point, a beautiful estate on Long Island, and commissioned popular architects Delano and Aldrich to design for them a palatial mansion with a fifty feet by twenty-five feet drawing room. Separately there was a sports pavilion with a tennis court and a swimming pool that hydraulically converted to a dance floor. It all added up to what photographer and designer Cecil Beaton called, “a sumptuous country house.”

In 1928 they also acquired 1130 Fifth Avenue, a beautiful home built for diplomat Willard Straight and his wife, a daughter of multi-millionaire William C. Whitney, then purchased by Elbert Gary, president of U. S. Steel. There, Mona had an all-white drawing room designed by Syrie Maugham graced by a Sorine portrait of Mona above the mantel and a stunning view of Central Park. There was also an apartment in Paris and a home in Palm Beach with 600 feet of ocean frontage, redone top-to-bottom in white by Syrie Maugham.

Mona became a constant attraction in the fashion magazines of the day. In 1936 she acquired a villa, Il Fortino, on the Isle of Capri with a stunning view of the Bay of Naples. Attached to the ocean by a private underground passage, Il Fortino boasted unequaled gardens nourished each day by a boatload of fresh water from the mainland. As one social observer wrote at the time, “The only reason the Harrison Williamses don’t live like princes is that princes can’t afford to live like the Harrison Williamses.”

The Surrealist artist Salvador Dali painted Mona’s portrait which caused widespread comment when it was exhibited in 1943. When she first saw the portrait Mona discovered she had been painted nude; she withheld payment and her figure was clothed. In the 1930’s while Mona and her husband were visiting Venice, their friend Prince Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge introduced them to an associate who had actively sought the introduction. He was Count Albrecht “Eddie” von Bismarck-Schönhausen, born at Friedrichsruh on 6 July 1903, third son of the 2nd Prince Bismarck and of Countess Marguerite Hoyos (granddaughter of Robert Whitehead, inventor of the torpedo), and a grandson of the famous Iron Chancellor. The Count proved a valuable ally and easily slipped into a position as Harrison Williams’ secretary.

Having survived the stock market crash and the succeeding Depression, the Williams were forced to make financial concessions. They sold their yacht in 1939, then sold both their Long Island estate (it was demolished in 1950) and their Palm Beach home. By 1942, they were occupying only two floors of their Fifth Avenue mansion and placed their eight cars in storage. They remained friendly with a pro-German set during the War and were suspected of pro-Nazi sentiments. Harrison Williams quietly worked to restore his fortune and, having accumulated $100 million, he died at Bayville, New York, on 10 November 1953 at the age of 80. He left $10 million to his sister, Zella, who outlived him by only six weeks. The remaining $90 million was left to Mona.

Her newly-inherited wealth did not shield her from care, however. In 1955 her son, Robert Schlesinger (who was described in contemporary news accounts as a “playboy”), fell in love with actress Linda Christian who had been discovered by dashing actor Errol Flynn and featured in the 1946 movie, “Holiday in Mexico.” In 1949 she married equally-handsome actor Tyrone Power by whom she had two daughters (one of whom, Taryn Power, followed her parents into acting and was in “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger” in 1977). Linda Christian and Tyrone Power divorced in 1956 and she received an unprecedented one million dollar settlement. She would become the first “Bond girl” in the screen adaptation of Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale.” When Linda Christian first became involved with Mona’s son, she was still married to Tyrone Power.

Schlesinger began sending Linda very expensive jewelry eventually exceeding $132,500 in value. When his $100,000 check to Van Cleef & Arpels bounced, the tony jeweler sued Linda seeking return of the gifts. Mona’s son was then indicted on eight counts of using his mother’s name and reputation to swindle three prominent businessmen in an elaborate oil scheme. Schlesinger had even pretended in a telephone conversation to be his mother’s official financial advisor as the noose began tightening around his neck. In the end, Robert Schlesinger didn’t get the money or the girl. Linda Christian married British actor Edmund Purdom who starred in the 1954 movie of “The Student Prince” (he lip-synched to Mario Lanza’s voice). After that divorce she was dating the wealthy race-car driver Alfonso “Fon” de Portago, 17th Marquis of Portago ad 13th Count of Majorada, when he was killed in a 1957 crash that also killed his co-driver as well as nine spectators including five children. The Marquis had jumped out of his car just before the start of the race to kiss Linda Christian in the crowd. At the time he was still married to South Carolina beauty Carroll McDaniel by whom he had two children (by the first American super-model, Dorian Leigh, he also had a son who committed suicide at the age of 21). Carroll McDaniel would later marry Milton J. Petrie, founder of Petrie Stores, who was reportedly worth $940 million at his death and left her a trust fund of $150 million.

With her son’s legal troubles just becoming public, on 7 January 1955, Mona Williams married in a private civil ceremony at the municipal court in Edgewater, New Jersey, Count Eddie von Bismarck (they would later have a religious ceremony in Rome on 14 February 1956). She was 57 and the groom was 51. At the time, he was thought to be suffering from terminal colon cancer. The count, formerly an interior decorator (his work included the Embassy Club of the Hotel Ambassador in New York City), began dealing privately in antiques. Mona must have been aware that he was homosexual, but they enjoyed a fifteen-year companionable marriage that worked well for both of them. By some accounts, Mona may have enjoyed the chalice as well as the sword. The much-married Etti Plesch, the only woman to have won the English Derby twice, wrote in her memoirs of an engagement party given for Etti at the first of her six marriages, this one to American millionaire Clendenin Ryan, Jr., “… given by the legendary (and somewhat predatory) beauty, Mona Harrison Williams (later Countess Bismarck). She was absolutely fantastic and one of the most beautiful women I ever saw with her green eyes and red hair…. I was a bit surprised when she followed me into a room and closed the door behind her. I had to escape. I did not know she was like that.”

In 1956 the von Bismarcks bought a home in a fashionable section of Paris and had it luxuriously decorated by Stephan Boudin who would later help Jackie Kennedy at the White House. They alternated between winters in Paris and spring and summers at Capri and both converted to Catholicism. Baron Alexis de Redé recalled an elegant party at the Paris home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The very wealthy Arturo Lopez-Willshaw, whose wealth was lavished both on the Baron and on the Hotel Lambert, had visited Mona’s flat there while she was away. At the Windsor party she admonished him, “How dare you, little man, go into my cupboards and look through everything!” Lopez-Willshaw was slightly inebriated and replied, “You were a manicurist! How dare you say those things to me? Your husband is nothing more than a German gigolo!” For whatever its purposes, their marriage worked well until Count Eddie von Bismarck’s death at Geneva on 16 October 1970.

Perhaps Mona was not designed for life alone, for on 6 November 1971, she married in Geneva her late husband’s doctor, Umberto de Martini. She was 74 and he was 60. Though he was multilingual (Mona spoke only English) and walked her dogs faithfully, Mona’s friends were not pleased at her most recent husband. Through her old friend, Italy’s exiled King Umberto II, Mona purchased a title for him and he was created Count Umberto de Martini on 10 January 1973. Even in their elegant French home Martini served simple pasta dishes with inexpensive wines. He dismissed her long-time employees and was alleged to keep her medicated.

On 30 June 1979, Mona’s last husband was killed when the sports car he was driving careened off a bridge near Naples and landed in the river below. Inevitably Mona’s friends referred to the accident as “Martini on the rocks.” His will made it evident that he had planned to outlive her and inherit her fortune. Having told her that he was opening a clinic, he had already pocketed $3 million in a Swiss bank account and made bequests to an embarrassing number of relatives of whom Mona was unaware. She quickly dropped his name and resumed calling herself “Countess Bismarck.”

Mona’s old friend Cecil Beaton visited her at Capri and was shocked to find that all traces of her famous beauty had left her. “She is now suddenly a wreck. Her hair, once white and crisp and a foil to her aquamarine eyes, is now a little dried frizz, and she has painted a grotesque mask on the remains of what was once such a noble-hewn face, the lips enlarged like a clown, the eyebrows penciled with thick black grease paint, the flesh down to the pale lashes coated with turquoise… Oh, my heart broke for her.” Mona spent her last years putting her affairs in order and making arrangements for various paintings to be disbursed to institutions of her choosing. On 10 July 1983, she died at her house in Paris. She was buried in a Givenchy gown with her third and fourth husbands, Harrison Williams and Count Eddie von Bismarck, at Glen Cove on Long Island. Of the $90 million she had inherited from Williams, approximately $25 million remained. She gave one million dollars to her wayward son and the balance, including the proceeds from the sale of Il Fortino as well as her famous jewels, established the Mona Bismarck Foundation still headquartered in her Paris home.

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22 Aug

Helena Rubenstein, daughter of Horace Rubenstein and Augusta Silberfeld Rubenstein, was born at Crakow, Poland, on 25 December 1871. She briefly studied medicine in Switzerland and emigrated to Australia in 1902. Helena married first on 7 June 1908 in Sydney, American journalist Edward Morganbesser Titus, by whom she had two sons, Roy and Horace.

In Australia she noted that the weather caused women’s faces to appear rough and red. She opened a shop in Melbourne where she dispensed her own facial cream and taught women how to care for their skin. In 1908 her sister joined her and assumed management of the shop while Helena went to London with $100,000 to found what would become an international business. In 1911 at a London gallery opening of the sculptor Elie Nadelman, she purchased the entire exhibition to display in her international salons.

Helena and her first husband lived in Paris until World War I necessitated their move to the United States. She opened salons throughout the country and established the phenominally successful “Day of Beauty” in her shops. Helena and her husband divorced in 1937 and the next year in NYC she married Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia (sometimes spelled Courielli-Tchkonia), born at Georgia, 18 February 1895, died at New York City 21 November 1955. Prince Artchil, who was 23 years younger than she, had a somewhat tenuous claim to the Princely title as he was born a member of the untitled noble Tchkonia family of Guria and at some point took the title of his grandmother, born Princess Gourielli.

Helena developed a line of male cosmetics in her new husband’s name. Her company was enormously successful and she became extremely wealthy and founded the Helena Rubenstein Pavilion of Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv where her collection of miniature rooms was housed. Salvador Dali painted her portrait in 1943 with her face superimposed upon the side of a cliff. In 1953 she created the Helena Rubenstein Foundation, stating, “My fortune comes from women and should benefit them and their children, to better their quality of life.” She contributed largely to health and medical research issues.

In 1959 she went to Moscow as the official representative of the U. S. cosmetics industry at the National Exhibition. She died in New York City 1 April 1965. Prince Artchil was president of the Georgian Association in America from 1945 to 1947. He died 21 November 1955. Both Helena and Prince Artchil were buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens, New York, with his inscribed coat of arms, headed by a princely coronet, atop their graves

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17 Aug

Medora Marie von Hoffmann, born at Staten Island, NY, 1857, died at Cannes 3 March 1921, was a daughter of Athenais Grymes von Hoffman and Louis A. von Hoffmann, a New York banker and one of the founders of the Knickerbocker Club. She married on 15 February 1882, Antoine-Amedee, Marquis de Mores and de Monte-Maggiore, born in Paris 15 June 1858, died in Africa 1896, eldest son of Don Richard, Duke of Vallombrosa and of l’Asinara, Count of San-Giorgio, Baron of Tiesi, Tissi, Ossi and Usini.

Although her father was usually referred to in New York society as “Baron von Hoffmann,” (including his obituary), his title was not recognized by the Almanach de Gotha. Medora’s maternal grandparents were Susanna Bosque Grymes (third wife and widow of William C. C. Claiborne, first American Governor of Louisiana) and John Randolph Grymes, United States Attorney for Louisiana and personal counsel to Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans, who resigned his post to represent the pirate Jean Lafitte. Medora was named for her maternal aunt who was the second wife of Samuel Ward, acclaimed Washington lobbyist, whose first wife was Emily Astor, daughter of William Backhouse Astor (Ward’s sister, Julia Ward Howe, wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”).

In the early 1880’s, de Mores decided to make his fortune in the American west. He settled in the Dakotas territory at the junction of the Little Missouri River and the Northern Pacific Railroad. He named his new town “Medora” for his wife and immediately began establishing himself in the cattle business making use of his father-in-law’s capital. In June of 1883, the Marquis and a companion were accosted by three cowboys who reportedly threatened their lives. De Mores killed one of them and was tried three times for the murder – each trial with a different judge. His faithful wife moved into his jail cell and shared confinement with him while he was acquitted on each occasion.

The Marquis began butchering 200 cows per day and shipping beef in newly-refrigerated boxcars to Chicago. He amassed 26,000 acres and built a 26-room mansion later called “The Chateau de Mores.” In his small town of Medora, he built a brickyard, stores, a saloon, a hotel, a newspaper, and even a Catholic Church. In 1883, the same year in which de Mores tackled the Dakotas territory, Teddy Roosevelt arrived to shoot buffalo. Struck by the success of the young Marquis, Roosevelt bought 450 head of cattle and went into the same business. De Mores soon wrote a letter to Roosevelt accusing him of undercutting the Marquis on a deal and Roosevelt took the letter as a challenge to a duel. The two were able to settle the matter amicably and Roosevelt eventually returned to New York having lost his entire investment.

In 1885, while on a business trip to New York City, de Mores was informed that he must return to the Dakotas to be tried once again for the cowboy’s death. In reply to a New York Times reporter’s questions about the trial, he insisted, “I have plenty of money for defense, but not a dollar for blackmail.” Although the Marquis was acquitted again, his business ventures repeatedly failed. His New York investors had approved a credit line of $7,000 and were astounded when they were presented with invoices for $50,000. By the end of 1887, the Marquis admitted defeat and his land, said to be worth $175,000, was sold at auction for $71,000, including 10 acres on the Kansas River within the limits of Kansas City.

The Marquis announced that he was abandoning his failed businesses to go tiger hunting in India. The New York Times, referring to Medora as “a handsome wife, as courageous, even, as he is himself, and scarcely a whit behind him in hunting accomplishments,” announced that she would accompany her husband, continuing, “She has been through the savagest parts of our Western country, galloping into dangers galore … The rifle is a toy in her hands, and buffalo and grizzlies and wild deer have gone down in regiments for her bullet’s sake.” The Times’ final verdict on the Marquis’ abandonment of western life was that he “has given up being a rich man. The experience didn’t seem to suit him exactly. He started in well four or five times, but somehow each time he managed to get over the troublesomeness of it.” The newspaper’s conservative estimate was that he and his investors had lost $1.5 million.

After the de Mores’ sojourn in India, the family moved to France where the Marquis became involved in politics and was a participant in several duels. He became virulently anti-Semitic and blamed Jews for most of his business losses. In 1896 he was murdered in North Africa by his escort of Tuareg tribesmen while crossing the Sahara where he was trying to join the French and Arabs in the Khalifa’s holy war against the Jews and the English.

In 1903, Medora returned to the Dakotas and was interviewed by a local newspaper. She explained, “I want my children to see the place where we lived so long… I loved Medora, I love it still, and it will be very dear to my memory. I will not let Medora die until after I do. I can’t tell just what I will do, but I must see the old ranch.” She lived until March of 1921 and died at the palatial Villa Vallombrosa at Cannes.

The couple had three children, Athenais, Louis (who succeeded his grandfather as Duke of Vallombrosa and Duke of l’Asinara but the male line is now extinct), and Paul. The fully-restored Chateau de Mores is now part of a 128-acre park operated by the State of North Dakota. In 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt revisted Medora where, as he described it, “the entire population of the Bad Lands down to the smallest baby had gathered to meet me.” He visited once again in retirement in 1911.

Medora’s sister, Pauline von Hoffmann, married the immensely wealthy German industrialist Baron Ferdinand von Stumm who was ennobled by Wilhelm II in 1888 and authorized to add “Halberg” to his last name. His family owned the Neunkirchen Iron and Steelworks. Ferdinand served as imperial ambassador to Madrid from 1887 to 1892 and entertained the Kaiser at von Stumm’s Castle Rauischholzhausen where the Baron died in 1925. One of von Stumm’s paintings, a de Goya portrait of Don Antonio Noriega, now hangs in the National Gallery in Washington. The von Stumms’ daughter, Maria, married Prince Paul Hatzfeldt, son of American Helen Moulton.

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09 Jul

Prince Vlora

Helen Kelly Gould with her two daughters

Helen Kelly (1885 – 1952), daughter of Edward Kelly, Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, and granddaughter of financier Eugene Kelly, in 1902 married Frank Jay Gould, youngest son of railroad financier Jay Gould. They had two daughters, Helen and Dorothy (who were reared mainly by Frank Gould’s sister, Mrs. Finley Shepard). The girls wed Swiss Barons, Jean-Daniel de Montenach and de Graffenried de Villars.

Helen Kelly Gould married second, in July 1910, Ralph Thomas, wealthy treasurer of the Sugar Trust, forfeiting half her annual alimony from Gould. He died five years later at the age of 32 (supposedly leaving her $2 million although she denied it) and, in June of 1917, she married in Paris, the Albanian Prince Noureodin Vlora, whose father had been the Ottoman Prime Minister.

He was born in Constantinople but the family estate was in Valona, Albania. His father, Ferid Vlora Pasha, was Vizier of Turkey under Abdul Hamid. Prince Noureodin’s sister, Djellalleddin Pasha, was the wife of the ex-Khedive of Egypt. Helen and Noureodin met in Biarritz in December of 1916. Within months, she was pictured in American newspapers arriving on the S. S. Aquitania as “Princess Vlora of Albania” with accompanying press assertions that she “may sometime be Queen of Albania.”

Vlora did not appear at their Paris divorce proceedings in 1922 but Helen evidently maintained a certain fondness for the prince. Some years later, when he was imprisoned along with twenty-three rebels who resisted a coup led by King Zog, Helen appealed to the American legation to intercede in his behalf. Consul Robert Murphy tried to comply but all communications had been cut off with the capital of Tirana, and Prince Vlora was eventually executed.

Helen married again in 1926 to soap manufacturer Oscar F. Burke. Among the guests at their reception were Mr. and Mrs. Kingdon Gould (he was the nephew of Helen’s first husband, Frank). The Burkes also divorced and Helen retook her maiden name and died a few years before Frank Gould, her first husband, on August 8th, 1952, in Barbizon, France.

At one time, the much-married Ziegfeld girl, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, announced her engagement to Prince Vlora but he was not among her six husbands. Peggy’s then-husband, millionaire lumberman James S. Joyce, charged in their 1921 divorce that his wife’s plan had been to secure one million dollars from him and then to wed Prince Noureodin Vlora.

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16 May

Pola Negri, born as Apolonia Chalupec on 31 December 1894 (or 1897) in Lipno, Poland, became one of Hollywood’s most famous silent film stars. When she was a child her father was arrested by the Russian army and sent to a Siberian gulag. As a result her mother moved to Warsaw where Pola was accepted into the Imperial Ballet. Her promising career was cut short by tuberculosis and, with the help of her mother’s childhood friend, she was accepted into the Warsaw Imperial Academy of Dramatic Arts. She debuted as Hedwig in Ibsen’s The Wild Duck and moved to the national theatre of Poland.

World War I interrupted her rise and she and her mother were again cast into poverty. She resumed acting after the war and was discovered by film director Ernst Lubitsch with whom she made many successful movies in Germany. Adolf Hitler was so mesmerized by her that he personally countermanded an order forbidding her to work in Germany because she was supposedly partly Jewish (she later won a 10,000 franc judgment against a French newspaper which claimed that she had an affair with Hitler).

Her film with Lubitsh, Madame du Barry, was released in the U.S. as Passion and it made them both immediate stars. They moved to Hollywood where she appeared in a string of successful movies and was known as a great rival to Gloria Swanson, who eventually married the Marquis Le Bailly de la Falaise de la Coudraye (1898-1972) (Swanson and Negri once had a cat fight with real cats).

Negri married and divorced a Polish nobleman, Count Eugene Dambski. She became the mistress and fiancee’ of Charlie Chaplin but broke her relationship with him in a verbal spat which was assiduously reported. As she later claimed, “A great deal has been written about my relationship with Charlie Chaplin. Unfortunately, much of it has been written by Mr. Chaplin. Still less fortunately, what he wrote was largely untrue. Rather than say he behaved in less than a gentlemanly fashion, I would prefer to excuse him on the grounds that all clowns live in a world of fantasy.”

At the death of her former lover Rudolph Valentino (who said of himself in 1923,“Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams.”), Negri rushed out of a film location to throw herself, heavily veiled in black and supported by bodyguards, onto Valentino’s coffin. She brought his body back to Los Angeles from New York City with train stops along the way for his fans to pay homage. The public was unimpressed and her popularity began to wane.

She was not forgiven when, in 1927, less than a year after Valentino’s death, she married Prince Serge Mdivani (whose brother, David, married film star Mae Murray) and took him to live in her chateau in France. They divorced in a highly public proceeding at The Hague in November 1932 after she lost the bulk of her fortune which was estimated in 1929 to be $5 million. She claimed that his mishandling of her financial affairs ultimately ruined her.

Prince Serge then married wealthy opera singer Mary McCormic who was known as the “baby diva” and went through her money as well. Pola Negri returned to Europe for a while then back to the U.S. to make her talking-picture debut in A Woman Commands. When it was not successful, she returned to Europe and remained there until the increasing Nazi domination caused her to leave in 1940 for the U.S. where she finally retired from films in 1964.

She lived for a while in one room in a small hotel in New York City and was forced to sell her jewels in order to survive. She then recovered some of her European property and moved to San Antonio, Texas, in 1957. She lived forgotten there with a female companion, Margaret West, until her death. She wrote Memoirs of a Star in 1970, but never regained her position or her money and suffered a brain tumor which she declined to have treated. She lived two additional years and died of pneumonia at San Antonio’s Baptist Hospital 2 August 1987 and was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles. She left most of her estate, including rare prints of her early films, to St. Mary’s University and her personal library to Trinity University, both in San Antonio.

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23 Feb

Gladys Virginia Steuart, born 18 July 1891, died 19 November 1947, was a daughter of John Henry Steuart (1831 – 1892), U. S. Consul at Antwerp, and Mary Virginia Ramsay Harding Steuart (1891 – 1947, later Mrs. de Strale d’Ekna), whose father was a Virginia millionaire. Gladys met in at the Austro-Hungarian Embassy in Paris in 1912 and married at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Geneva 29 July 1914, Count Gyula/Julius Apponyi de Nagy-Apponyi (1873 – 1924), son of Count Ludwig Apponyi, Grand Marshal of the Court of His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty of Hungary. Gladys’ sisters, Muriel and Fanny, married respectively Count Seherr Thoss and Count Laszlo Karolyi.

Gladys and Gyula Apponyis’ daughter, Countess Geraldine Apponyi, was born in Budapest, Hungary, on 6 August 1915. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, the family fled to Switzerland but returned to Hungary in 1921. At the death of Count Apponyi on 27 May 1924, his widow took her three daughters, Geraldine, Virginia (who later married Count de Baghy de Szechen), and Gyula, to live live near her widowed mother in Menton in the south of France. There Gladys married a French Army officer, Gontrand Girault, by whom she had more children, Guy, Sylviane, and Patricia Girault. Her Apponyi in-laws insisted that her children by the first marriage be returned to Hungary where they were enrolled at the Sacred Heart boarding school in Pressbaum near Vienna.

The young and beautiful Geraldine’s grandfather’s fortune had been depleted and she accepted work as a shorthand typist. She then sold postcards at the Budapest National Museum where one of her uncles was director. A photo of the then-17 year-old Geraldine, taken while leaving a ball at the Karolyi Palace in Budapest, was given several years later to a sister of King Zog of the Albanians who introduced the young woman to the King in December of 1937. He asked for her hand almost immediately and Geraldine, who became known as the “White Rose of Hungary,” was raised to royal status as Princess Geraldine of Albania.

On April 27, 1938, in Tirana, Albania, Geraldine married the King, who was 20 years her senior, in a civil ceremony witnessed by Count Ciano, Mussolini’s envoy. She was Roman Catholic and he was Muslim and promised to build for her a Catholic chapel in their royal palace. King Zog I, Skanderbeg III of Albania (born Ahmet Zogolli, his name was later changed to Ahmet Zogu, born 8 October 1895), was King of Albania from 1928 to 1939. He was previously Prime Minister of Albania between 1922 and 1924 and President of Albania between 1925 and 1928. At 22, Geraldine was the second-youngest Queen in the world (after Egypt’s Queen Farida). The couple drove to their honeymoon in a scarlet open-top, Mercedes Benz, which was a present from Adolf Hitler (Hungary’s Regent Horthy sent a phaeton and four Lipizzaner stallions). Geraldine’s marriage made her mother, Gladys, the first American-born mother of a queen.

Geraldine’s only child, her son, Leka I, was born at the Royal Palace in Tirana, Albania, on 5 April 1939. Although Geraldine retained her Catholic faith, her son was Muslim and a godson of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. King Zog’s rule was cut short with the invasion of Albania by fascist Italy in April 1939 and the family fled the country into exile only two days after the birth of their son. The puppet government passed the throne to Italy’s King Victor Emanuel III.

From 1946, Geraldine and Zog lived in Greece, Turkey, England, Egypt (where they lived until King Farouk was toppled in 1952), the United States (at Knollwood, their estate on Long Island), France, Rhodesia, Spain, and finally South Africa. Their son, Leka I, is the current claimant to the Albanian throne. When he married an Australian, Susan Cullen-Ward (1941 – 2004), Queen Elizabeth II sent a telegram of congratulations. They have a son, Crown Prince Leka, who was born in South Africa in 1982 (his maternity ward was supposedly declared temporary Albanian territory for one hour so that he would be born in Albania).

King Zog died in Hauts-de-Seine, France on 9 April 1961. It was said that he had survived 55 assassination attempts. Queen Geraldine, the first half-American queen, died in Albania on 22 October 2002, where she had been invited to return by 40 members of Parliament that same year. Their son’s activities have ensured that he will never assume his father’s throne. For years he was an arms dealer (sometimes referred to as “Rambo of the Balkans”) for which he was arrested in Thailand. In 1999 he was arrested in South Africa and his diplomatic privileges revoked when police found more than 70 weapons with 14,000 rounds of ammunition in his home. When his airplane landed in Gabon for refueling, troops who had been hired by the Albanian government to arrest him surrounded the plane. He appeared in the door with a rocket launcher and his would-be attackers fled. He re-entered Albania for the first time in 1993, greeted by 500 supporters, under a passport issued by the Royal Court-in-exile. Although the government refused to acknowledge the passport (which listed his occupation as “King”) he was allowed to visit, declaring that he would renounce the passport if a referendum on the monarchy failed. Leka returned again in 1997 when 2,000 supporters greeted him and his weeping mother. The promised monarchy referendum was held and only 1/3 of voters favored its restoration (Leka made accusations of voter fraud but they were largely disproven). He organized an armed insurrection and was sentenced in absentia to three years imprisonment for sedition, a conviction that was pardoned in 2002 when he re-entered the country to live. That same year he attempted to bring almost 90 pieces of arms, including hand grenades and rocket launchers, into Albania. His son, the Crown Prince, now lives in Tirana.

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30 Jan

Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino), daughter of Eduardo Cansino and Volga Haworth Cansino, was born Brooklyn, NY, 17 October 1918. The daughter of a Spanish-born dancer and his partner, Hayworth became a professional dancer with her father’s nightclub act at the age of 12 and appeared as Rita Cansino in several films beginning in 1935. She was billed as her father’s wife rather than his daughter and, during those years, she endured her father’s repeated sexual abuse.

She escaped her plight by marriage to a man 22 years older than she. On the advice of her first husband, Edward Judson (who became her manager; they were married 1937 – 1943), she changed her name and dyed her hair auburn, cultivating a sophisticated glamour that first registered in Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Strawberry Blonde (1941), and Blood and Sand (1941). The musicals You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942), both with Fred Astaire (who said in his memoirs that she was his favorite partner and “danced with trained perfection and individuality”), and Cover Girl (1944), with Gene Kelly, made her a star and a favorite pinup girl of American servicemen.

The sexual allure of Hayworth’s performance rose to its peak in Gilda (1946), which caused censorship issues because of the so-called striptease in which she was filmed singing “Put the Blame on Mame” (the dubbed voice was not hers). Rita was called “The Great American Love Goddess” and was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1941. In that same year a photo of her in Life magazine became the most-requested G. I. pinup selling more than five million copies. In a reference to her status as a bombshell, Rita’s likeness was placed on the first atomic bomb to be tested after World War II at Bikini Atoll.

Her later films included The Lady from Shanghai (1948), directed by her second husband, Orson Welles (to whom she was married 1943 – 1948 and had a daughter, Rebecca), as well as Affair in Trinidad (1952), Salome (1953), Miss Sadie Thompson (1953), Pal Joey (1957), Separate Tables (1958), The Money Trap (1966), and The Wrath of God (1972).

Rita was in the south of France in 1948 when she was invited to a party she did not want to attend given by Elsa Maxwell in Cannes. She dressed all in white and arrived late and, from the moment Prince Aly Khan saw her, he was smitten although both were still married. His sexual appetite was voracious but selfish (Alastair Forbes said of him, “Aly’s idea of premature ejaculation was about the same as Father Christmas’s – i.e. one should only come once a year.”). Rita announced she was leaving films and married in France (she was visibly pregnant at the time) on 27 May 1949 (as his second wife) Prince Aly Aga Khan, born Turin, Italy, 13 June 1911, died France, 12 May 1960, son of Prince Sultan Mohammed, Aga Khan III, leader of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslims, and his second wife, Theresa Magliano, an Italian ballet dancer. Through his father, Aly Khan was a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammed by his daughter, Fatima.

They had one child, Princess Yasmina Aga Khan, who was born 28 Dec 1949 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Aly Khan was expected to succeed his father despite his well-known tastes for fast cars and beautiful women. But when his father, the Aga Khan, died in 1957, his will designated Aly Khan’s eldest son, Karim, then a student at Harvard, to succeed him. Aly Khan was then named as head of Pakistan’s delegation to the United Nations despite criticism of his not being Pakistani.

Aly Khan was killed in an automobile accident 12 May 1960 in suburban Suresnes, France, when the Lancia he was driving was hit by an oncoming car as he was driving to the home of his half-brother, Prince Sadruddin, near the Saint-Cloud golfcourse. A former French model, known as Bettina, was seated next to him and was slightly injured. Aly Khan’s chauffeur, who was seated in the rear seat while his employer drove, escaped with minor injuries.

Rita’s marriage to Aly Khan failed in 1951 and they divorced in 1953. She returned from Europe to the States and resumed her film career, leaving the screen again during her marriage to singer Dick Haymes from 1953 – 1955. Her final marriage, to director James Hill, was from 1958 to 1961. She once said, “Men go to bed with Gilda but they wake up with me.”

For some 15 years before her death, Hayworth suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Her daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, assumed all responsibility for her mother and made public the fact that she was suffering from the disease – the first time many people were made aware of its ravages. Rita Hayworth died at her daughter’s apartment in Manhattan on 14 May 1987 and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, CA. Since 1985, the Rita Hayworth Galas, chaired by her daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, have raised more than $44 million. One hundred percent of those funds go toward research and support programs for Alzheimer’s disease. Actor Joseph Cotton said of Hayworth, “”No matter how bad the film, when Rita danced it was like watching one of nature’s wonders in motion.”


06 Dec

Martha “Sunny” Sharp Crawford, daughter of George W. Crawford and Annie Laurie Warmack Crawford, was born at Manassas, VA, 1 September 1931. Sunny’s father, who was the founder and chairman of the Columbia Gas and Electric Company, died when his only child was three, leaving a fortune of $75,000,000. Her mother purchased Tamberlane, an estate in Greenwich, CT, and a Fifth Avenue apartment.

Sunny graduated from Chapin School in New York City then was removed to Europe when she fell in love with a Russian translator from a noble but penniless family. Sunny’s mother remarried Russell Aitken in 1957 and they took Sunny with them to the Schloss Mittersell in the Austrian Alps where she met her future husband. She married as his first wife on 20 July 1957, Prince Alfred von Auersperg, born Salzburg 20 July 1936, died Salzburg 19 June 1992. The wedding was performed at Tamberlane, her family estate in Greenwich, CT, by a Catholic priest.

Sunny’s daughter, Annie-Laurie “Ala,” married as her second husband 9 June 1989, American banker Ralph Isham, born 17 Apr 1956. Sunny’s son, Prince Alexander “Alex,” married NYC 10 June 1995, American Nancy Louise Weinberg, born Norfolk, VA 10 May 1959. Prince Alfred and Sunny Crawford divorced and he married two more times and had an additional daughter by his third marriage.

Martha married second, in NYC 6 June 1966, Claus Borberg, born in Copenhagen 11 August 1926, who was adopted and used his mother’s name of Bulow altering it to “von Bulow.” He was an attorney in London and served as vice president of Getty Oil. The story of their marriage and her subsequent coma was told in the book and movie “Reversal of Fortune.” Claus was charged with her attempted murder but subsequently acquitted after a lengthy, expensive, and well-publicized legal battle. Sunny and von Bulow had a daughter, Cosima, who sided with her father in his trials for the attempted murder of his wife. Sunny’s mother, whose estate was worth $90 million, had drawn her will so that her three grandchildren would share equally at her death. Mrs. Crawford rewrote her will excluding Cosima and dividing her $90 million equally between Sunny’s two children by Prince Alfred. Cosima and her father continue to live in Sunny’s homes and to draw income from her estate while Sunny was in a persistent vegetative state until December of 2008.