Archive for August, 2009

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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