Archive for the ‘ Women of Influence ’ Category

A House Is Not A Home…

While looking for inspiration for today’s post I stumbled upon a story about Joseph Force Crater a judge who disappeared on August 6, 1930.

He’s never been found

While that is a story, right now it’s a story for another day.  I promise, I’ll get back to it.

In researching the story I again stumbled upon a character I found far more interesting.

The oldest of nine children, Polly Adler emigrated from Russia to America at the age of 12.  On the way, near the Polish border her journey was stalled by World War I.  Eventually she was able to travel on, but her parents were forced to stay.

Imagine 12 years old, alone, on your way to America.

When she arrived, she stayed with friends in Massachusetts.  She cleaned house, attended school, and at the age of 14 began working in a paper mill.

At 15, she headed to Brooklyn, settled with cousins, and looked for work.

Right here I could go on a tangent as to just how ashamed we should be that this type of life for a child is in our past, but I’ll refrain.  I think you know how I feel.

Polly worked as a seamstress at clothing sweatshops and on occasion attended school gaining enough education to “get by.”

At 19, she discovered the theater and “theater people.”  She moved in with a chorus girl.

Polly, a vivacious, outgoing, and charming girl attracted all kinds of people.  Good people and bad people.

Through the roommate she met a local bootlegger who offered to supplement her income if he and his girlfriend could use her place for assignations.

It was at this moment she became a madam.

Realizing there was money to be made and there was a way out of the sweatshops, she opened her first bordello in 1920.

Her backer and protector was Dutch Schultz, a mobster and associate of Lucky Luciano.

The bordello was in the Majestic at 215 West 75th Street and had been designed by Schwartz and Gross who designed apartments in Morningside Heights and 55 Central Park West, which you would know if you saw it;  it’s the Ghostbusters Building.

215 had hidden stairways, hallways, and escape routes.  It also had a slew of famous patrons:  Peter Arno, Desi Arnaz, George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker !!, Milton Berle, and Hizzonor, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker.

Some believe that Judge Crater, mentioned at the beginning of this increasingly enthralling post, died at Polly’s Majestic Bordello.

Polly, believing that any press was good press, worked to attract publicity!  She dressed flamboyantly, made grand appearances at clubs while she was followed by her bevy of bordello beauties.

She also bribed anyone who would take it and offer protection.

In the 1930s, she was subpoenaed to appear as a witness in front of New York’s Hofstadter Committee.  Know as the Seabury investigations, it was a joint committee formed by the New York State Legislature which investigated corruption in New York City.

Polly, no patriot, and fearing for her life, headed to Florida where she hid out with “friends.”

After being ratted out by a terrified crook back UP in NY, she was taken into custody, hauled off to New York where she refused to give UP any names.

She retired from the bordello business in 1944.

At the age of 50 she went to college, wrote a bestselling book along with Virginia Faulkner.  It was called A House is Not a Home.

The book changed facts, ignored facts, and rearranged facts.

You might say, it was full of alternative facts.

Either way, it was a hit.

And it later became a movie starring Shelly Winters as Adler.

In the book and film, Adler is a poor Polish immigrant, works in a sweatshop, loses her job after her boss blames her when she’s is sexually assaulted by a co-worker, and moves in with a friend.

Her apartment is in a building owned by a gangster, he likes her friends, and he pays her to get them to go out with him.

One thing leads to another, and voila!, Polly is a madam.

Along the way, she meets Mr. Right, a musician who has no idea she’s running a whore house.  He fall in love with her, asks her to marry him, she confesses her profession telling him that she can’t drag him down, he says he can live with it, but she feels it’s for the best that they not see each other again.

The movie was bigger than the book and won an Oscar for Edith Head’s costumes.

It also produced a song we’ve all heard a million times.

A House is Not a Home was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and has been recorded by Anita Kerr, Stevie Wonder, The Marbles, Dusty Springfield, Barbra Streisand, Ronald Isley, Luther Vandross,  Lynne Arriale, Aretha Franklin, Marcia Hines, the Steps, and Japanese reggae artists, Reggae Disco Rockers.

But it was first recorded by Dionne Warwick for the film, which is of course, my favorite version since Dionne Warkick’s self titled anthology was the first album I ever bought when I got my first ever stereo!

So, from there to here…enjoy Dionne’s version…

Polly died of cancer in California.  She left behind her mother, a brother, and supposedly a little black book…but just like Judge Crater, no one’s ever found it!

Happy Monday!

Well Over 40

What is it about that magic age?

I barely remember twenty-five years later, but society for the last two or three centuries has decried 40 as the beginning of the end, the beginning of life worth living, and middle age.

40 is different things to different people.

My eyes got better at 40, but not much else did!!

Felix Yussopof, the man who killed Rasputin and Princess Irina of Russia’s husband, when speaking of her Aunt, Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna said, “Although she was well over forty, she had lost none of her high spirits; she was kind and affectionate, but her eccentric and despotic nature made her rather formidable.”

That she was.

But in Felix’s mind 40 must have been a death sentence for women.

The strong willed, independent, and unconventional granddaughter of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, grew UP in Georgia’s Caucasus mountains as her father was the Viceroy of the Caucasus.

The only girl in a family of seven siblings, she was her father’s favorite and spoiled by her brothers.

Mummy was a tougher nut; strict, minimally affectionate, and lacking tenderness, she ruled her brood with an iron hand.

Stassie was reared separately from her brothers, seeing them only on Sundays.

Side note:  not a good idea.

Before she turned 18, she was engaged to the son of one of Mummy’s friends, one Friedrich Franz.  The Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a province in Germany, he was a distant cousin as their grandmothers were sisters.

Really, it’s no big deal even though it makes their children more inbred than I.

The new husband was rich, sickly, detested by her brothers, and had an appalling skin condition as he was subject to occasional attacks of eczema which were so bad he had to be confined!

The marriage was arranged, she had no choice, and the wedding went on, and was held at the Winter Palace on January 24, 1879 in a dual ceremony, one Russian Orthodox and one Lutheran.

In royal circles, it was a “good match.”

And most of European Royalty was represented at the wedding.

When she arrived in her new home of Schwerin, she found it less than pleasing, her father-in-law a familial martinet, and the atmosphere “oppressive.”

She wasn’t allowed to re-decorate her own apartments, royal though they be.

Apparently, Freddy’s skin cleared UP long enough for her to get naked with him, and their eldest child, Alexandrine was born that December.

But, health was not long for the young father, and the couple was “forced” to find a warmer clime.

In 1880, the couple headed to Russia to attend the funeral of her Uncle, Tsar Alexander II, while there, Freddy suffered an asthma attack, and Stassie booked a trip to Italy so he could “take a cure.”

His bad health allowed the Grand Duchess to spend as little time as possible back in stuffy old Schwerin, which she detested.

Their second child was born in Palermo, which is where they were when they received the news that daddy had died and Freddy had ascended the throne.

Sadly, Freddy was too ill to make the funeral, but as soon as he recovered, they headed back to Schwerin, kids in tow, and took charge.

Stassie actually liked being the wife of a reigning Grand Duke, moved into Schwerin Castle, redecorated, and bossed everyone around.

But she still hated the place, and begged to go back to Palermo.

The citizenry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin were none too pleased with the idea of the HRHs not living at home, and that along with her bossiness – you know how those Russians can be – caused her to become “unpopular.”

Pitching a hissy and stomping her foot, she conned Freddy into a deal where she could live in Italy or France for five months a year, but had to be home for the lederhosen holidays like Oktoberfest and Christmas.

In the cold German Winter – is there any other kind? – of 1886, the Grand Duke’s health was deteriorating, so in the Spring, Stassie took him to Grasse hoping the change would buck him UP.

It did not.

While at dinner on the evening of April 10, a coachman found the Grand Duke unconscious at the bottom of the Villa’s retaining wall.  Freddy was so miserable, he had jumped in an attempt to end his life.  Still alive, they carried him back to his rooms where he died later that evening.

The official report was that he went out onto the balcony for air, and gasping for breath fell over the edge.

Back home in Schwerin, the little people were sure the Duchess had done him in.  But in reality, the Duchess at 36 a widow was heartbroken.

Nobody bought it, after all, she was now a very wealthy woman as she had inherited, if not his power, all his property and money.

See, royal women were a scoouch luckier.  They could own property and inherit.

So, this is where the story gets good.

After a period of mourning, Stassie and the kids headed to Cannes for the wedding of her daughter, Alexandrine to the Crown Prince of Sweden.

As the Dowager Grand Duchess, she spent almost no time in Schwerin or Russia, preferring the sunny coast of France that has called so many to its playgrounds.

Her “spirit of independence” caused talk, her gambling at Monte Carlo was a scandal even though the croupiers did all they could to increase her chances of winning, and her new hobbies of driving a motor car and skeet shooting – well, the Krauts back home went crazy!

But, that was nothing compared to the fact that in early 1900, Anastasia started an affair with her personal secretary, Vladimir Alexandrovitch Paltov and was promptly knocked UP!

Word on the street was she had a tumor; a tumor which after “a bout of chicken pox” which caused her to be quarantined, was named Alexis Louis de Wenden.

She brought him UP as her nephew, eventually sent him to boarding school, but wrote to him ever day.

As to her eldest son, Fredrich Franz IV, they weren’t close as she found him “willful and humorless.”

Well, he was German.

She encouraged him to marry, which he did; a German princess from Hanover.  Anastasia wasn’t popular anywhere in Germany as her sympathies were with the French, and when her youngest daughter won the heart of Kaiser Wilhelm’s son, Wilhelm, Willy (the dad) had a fit.

But the couple married anyway.

Anastasia was allowed to come to that wedding and one other, her grandson’s.  She was advised to not live near her daughter.

Anastasia went back to France unbowed, unbeaten, and ready for roulette.  She was characterized as eccentric and completely indifferent to anything other than her own desires.

Yussopof went on to say, “. When she heard that I was going to marry her niece, she took me in hand. From that day my life was no longer my own. ..I had to lunch, dine, go to the theater and supper with her almost every day. She usually slept through the first act of a play, and then woke up with a start to declare that the performance was stupid and that she wished to go somewhere else. We often changed theaters two or three times in one evening. As she felt the cold, she made her footman sit on a chair at the door of her box, holding a small traveling bag filled with shawls, scarves and furs. All these objects were numbered. If by chance, she was awake and felt a draft, she would ask me to bring her such or such a number. I could have put up with all this but unfortunately she had a passion for dancing. At midnight, now wide awake, she would drag me to a night club where she danced till dawn.

At the age of 53, she took another lover, an Argentinean, scandalizing Paris further.

Prior to WW I, in the summer of 1914, she visited her brother, Grand Duke Michael and his family in England. The war split her family; her son was a reigning prince of Germany, her younger daughter the Kaiser’s daughter-in-law, and her Russian brothers vowed to defeat the Central Powers.

Never a German anyway, she sided with her Russian homeland, but as a German princess, she could not remain in France which was at war with Germany, nor could she return to Schewerin; she chose Switzerland, moved into the Savoy in Lausanne, donated her villa in Cannes as a hospital, and waited for news of the war, which she received from her daughter, Alexandrine, Denmark’s queen.

The Bolsheviks killed three of her brothers, Germany’s defeat brought on the loss of her son’s duchy as well as that of her son-in-law’s empire.

The war over, she headed to France, but as a princess of Germany, she was denied entry, eventually sneaking in with the entourage of her cousin, Russian Princess Catherine, a refugee.

Once in France, she created a charity for Russian exiles.

In 1922, she became ill, suffered a stroke as her father had done, and died at the age of 61.

A friend eulogized her with this statement…”… she was always an Imperial highness who knew how to carry her rank but, no least, a woman who loved and who lived…”

Her funeral was the first time since the war her children were able to reunite, her tumor, Alexis, stayed on in France after her death.

Alas, she was well over 40, having been born on July 28, 1860.

If All The Girls…

Dorothy Parker, American poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, and wisecracks died on this date in 1967.

It was truly a great loss to literature.

She is responsible for some of my favorite quotes.

There are hundreds.

I’ll leave you with a few; after all, it is Wordless Wednesday! HA!

  • Of course I talk to myself, I like a good speaker, and I love an intelligent audience.
  • Never throw mud: you can miss the target, but your hands will remain dirty.
  • I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.
  • Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.
  • Time may be a great healer, but it’s a lousy beautician.
  • If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you.
  • If all the girls who attended Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

And my favorite…

Their pooled emotions would not fill a teaspoon.

 

There are more…Google her…

My sister, Zola, has been bossing me around since I was born; recently she suggested that I do a series of posts on the Vice Presidents of the United States.

I’m not so sure about that as the one post I did on Levi Morton was a – what’s the word – a bomb.

As in no one cared.

But as she generally gets her way, I am doing some research on the men who held the office and while doing so I found this little story.

Floride Calhoun was the wife of the fiery South Carolinian, John C.Calhoun.  Born in 1792, Floride was the daughter of John E. Colhoun, a US Senator from the Palmetto State.  She married John C. Calhoun (yes the names are spelled differently) who was her first cousin once removed.

Please do not make me go through that once removed bit again.

Shortly after their nuptials, John C. was elected to Congress and headed off to D.C.

Floride was left at home to run the plantation, Fort Hill. (Fort Hill is located in Clemson, SC.)  Over the next 18 years, the couple would have five sons and five daughters.

Apparently, he got home once in a while.

One of the daughters married Thomas Green Clemson a Confederate soldier who would later go on to found Clemson College the campus of which contains the Fort Hill mansion once occupied by John C. and Floride Calhoun.  It’s a great tour, and is one of the few historic homes with more than 85% of its original furnishings. Clemson believed that if the south were to revive, it would be through agriculture and engineering and was forward thinking enough to know education was key.

But, again, shiny object, and I’m off track…

Floride’s claim to fame was not her 10 children, her mansion, plantation, or son-in-law turned educator, it was a Washington D.C. scandal.

Imagine that, a southern belle with an axe to grind…well, bless her heart!

Called the Petticoat Affair, the scandal occurred while her husband was the Vice President during Andrew Jackson’s presidency.

Seems one Peggy Eaton, the wife of the Secretary of War was considered by Floride as a woman of low morals. Floride took the lead in a social sabotage of Peggy when she organized a coalition among the spouses of the Jackson cabinet.

What was so wrong with poor Peggy that Floride felt she must lead the charge against her?

Well, Floride was sure Peggy had committed adultery and was behaving scandalously in DC.

John Marszalek, a historian, puts it this way, “…she did not know her place, she forthrightly spoke UP about anything that came to her mind, even topics of which women were supposed to be ignorant…”

Marszalek goes on to say that Peggy put herself out there in a manner unacceptable for a woman of her day.  Floride, a self appointed self-righteous arbiter of behavioral standards, felt that if society accepted Peggy, then society was in danger of disruption.

#goingtohellinahandbasket.

In reality, Peggy though educated far beyond most women of her day and musically inclined and trained, was uncouth, probably impure, shockingly outspoken, forward, and worldly; and most assuredly played around on her husband with Eaton and others.

Bring someone like this into the sacred social circle of the cabinet wives, and morality and virtue were out the window.  Society’s defenses would be worthless.

Peggy as a person wasn’t all that important, it was what she represented that was a threat.

Floride felt that “proper” women had no choice but to shun and scorn this woman or morality would be threatened, and possibly destroyed.

In other words, it was the beginning of the end.

It was the beginning of the end of the Jackson-Calhoun friendship, partnership as well, and any chances of Calhoun becoming President.

As the scandal grew, Jackson’s cabinet, led by Calhoun opposed the President, and all but one resigned in 1831.

According to historian David Howe, the assault of Eaton and in reality, the President, led by Mrs. Calhoun was a birthing of feminism.

The cabinet wives insisted that the honor of all women was at stake, and a woman should never “…accord a man sexual favors without the assurance that went with marriage…”

Howe insists that this feminist spirit was essential over the next decade in shaping the woman’s rights movement.

So, what was Peggy’s sin?

She was noted for her beauty, wit, and vivacity.

A popular widow and the owner of a hotel in DC, her marriage to Eaton shortly after her 1st husband’s death was part of the crime.

Seems Floride and her cabinet wife cronies got the idea Peggy’s first husband, John Timberlake, had committed suicide while at sea upon hearing of his wife’s affair with Eaton.

Yes, Floride was convinced Peggy had taken the lid off the cookie jar for the Secretary of War sans the nuptials.

And that, my friends is the scandal.

A rumor, some gossip, no facts, no proof, no validation, and all these lives are altered!

Yes, Floride can be bad for you, it was bad for Peggy, and it was bad for Calhoun’s career.