Tag Archives: marriage

Searching The Sky

Irene Rich stands like a subdued bride.

She holds a silken bouquet behind her, drooping yet hopeful. The coat she wears is of white mink, and there are three rows of severed tails at the hem, decorative and barbaric.  Hidden shoes – satin, undoubtedly, with curving Cuban heels – tap the floor with delicate impatience.  The floor bearing the brunt of Irene’s disquiet bears the terse design that typifies the beginnings of Art Deco.

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The photo must therefore date before 1925, before L’Exposition Internationale Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes.  This was Paris’ months-long introduction of the new symmetries to a world still dreaming in the Ophelia-like embrace of Art Nouveau.  The old sentimentality and weak femininity had expired on the killing fields of Europe and the Middle East, and in the choking factories of the home front.

Irene has not cut her hair – not yet – but the curls have been piled into a soft volcano, until neck, back and shoulders show white and bare, an anthem to the new exposure of the 1920’s. She is not a beauty – there is a thickness to the neck, and a suspicion of fullness to the torso which might have been harbored within a corset in her younger days.  For Irene was born in 1891 and her body would therefore have known fashion’s shackles as well as its liberation.  She would be in her late 20’s when she stood for this photo and an actress for almost 10 years.  Later she worked in talkies, in radio, on the stage.  Her acting career would span three decades.

But Irene had another career, albeit a more emotional one. She had a marital calling; one that was more lengthy than her dramatic one.  Her first marriage was in 1909, a pre-emptive jump to the altar to presumably escape the plans of boarding school which her parents had for her.  One daughter and two years later, she divorced.

There quickly followed another wedding, in 1912. The end of this marriage led to Irene seeking work in the new frontier of Hollywood in order to support her family.  This fortuitous decision would promise that bauble in southern California a future of selfish hostesses, gallant frontierswomen, and strong-willed housewives.

When this curiously bridal photograph was taken, Irene stands waiting for her third husband, whom she would wed in 1926. Once more, it would not last long.  But finally, in 1950, she married a New York business executive; a union that lasted until the end of her life, in 1988.

But shortly before this final, stolid relationship; there was one more – a volatile and deadly one.

In 1949, secretary Agnes Elizabeth killed her employer: politician and business owner John Edwin Owen.  According to the sheriff’s report Garnier shot Owen and blamed Irene Rich for coming between them.  According to Garnier’s story the gun had gone off accidentally, as she took the gun from an intoxicated Owen as he was going to bed.  Rich claimed an innocent friendship, Garnier plead innocence.  In the end, Garnier was convicted of manslaughter, serving one and a half years out of her “one-to-ten” year sentence.  And Irene by then was very happily married.

I had found Irene some time ago, I forget where. I was taken with her face, her slightly debauched cloak, her sprite’s modesty.  So I bought her and framed her, and so she has hung in sepia glory in my hallway for many years.  Her photo was one of a few that I own where the image comes with an autograph – a key ready-made for any owner to use who is willing to research the past of a new possession.

So I had only recently decided to find where her name led me: a history of unions – most unsuccessful – one calamitous relationship based on conflicting stories, explanations and affections…and a body of work in television and radio which led to her two stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

In a way, I think, such research is like looking into the sky – the things that suddenly come into view when you look into vistas that most people will ignore.

 

All The Pretty Pirates

"…but American girls are pretty and charming – little oases of pretty unreasonableness in a vast desert of practical common-sense."
– Oscar Wilde

The England of Victoria was scattered with the bones of their disappointment.  They foundered on society's unforgiving landscape and were held fast, like sparrows caught on barbed wire.  They swooned, jeweled wraiths, across a countryside of regret.

These were the daughters of America, bred from the new, raw, ricih.  Vanderbilt.  Morgan.  Whitney.  Jerome.  Thjeir fathers were the barons and the bankers, dirty from railroads, mines and Wall Street.  Their mothers were coarse and pushy – seeing their future in the calling cards accumulating in the salverby the door.

They had the money.  But the family name needed something beyond wealth, it needed dignity, it needed respectability.  So it was the responsibility of their dainty – if doomed – daughters to wash their fathers' hands and smooth their mothers' silhouettes and manners.

These nouveau riche had made their names.  But they also needed titles.  So they groomed their daughters, pressing them like flowers between the intolerant walls of behavior and decorum.  They were being prepred for adventures across the sea, and England was ripe for plunder.

Waiting to be claimed by these "dollar princesses" were the impoverished sons of the peerage, languishing in ballrooms like dying wolves.  English girls, steeped in tradition and hooded eyes, had no chance against the audacious competitors which invaded their country.  There was a type of charm in their impudence and fresh faces.  They flirted and teased with a rapier-like modesty.  Like pirates they ransacked the aristocracy until their accents rang in every large house in the country.

But the Victorian aristocracy had been growing tired and decadent.  The husbands who had married American money bore hidden depravities and resentments like coiled diseases.  Their country houses were dank and moldy, chilling their golden brides.  The romantic wistfulness, the daring hand on an ungloved arm, were all for show at the Mayfair parties.

So many times after the marriage, the heiress would fade away, her fine dresses never unpacked, her jewels clouded and tangled.  When Consuelo Vanderbilt wed the Early of Marlborough, her tears made a diamante pattern across her wedding veil. 

Maud Cunard sacraificed her bohemian mentality for a cold, bitter life in her husband's Northern lands. 

Jennie Jerome's husband was a brilliant parlimentarian, and would die of syphilis. 

Mary Leiter worshiped her parents' visits:  "I love the chairs you sat on, and try to see you there, and my eyes fill with tears." 

This was the Gilded Age, society's golden veneer, the false, desirable beauty.  It only took a false word, the image of a young bride in a locked bedroom, to scrape the paint away – to reveal the terrible depths of a dark heart, its cruel, hidden realities.

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Planned Childhood

At first, the painting is confusing.  The room is crowded.  You feel as if you're crashing a party.  There is a flood of faces; shadows flow across the walls and pool in the corners. 

But then as you continue to look – as you do, held by the still, yet animated life within it – the composition seems to resolve itself.  And you can make out three subjects:

There is the tiny ball of light, surrounded by her maids of honor, the infanta Margarita, small and grim, crushed inside her laced bodice.  Her voluminous skirts obscure her feet, so she appears to hover over the ochre floor.  Her farthingale is in the Spanish style, extended and clumsy.  This style made the lives miserable for sensitive infantas living in foreign courts – their skirts were considered ugly and outlandish, and they were the subjects of many cruel taunts whispered behind the hands of their attendant ladies.

There is the painter himself, Diego Velasques, in a self-portrait that exudes an almost military confidence.  He stands at attention in front of the towering canvas:  chest out, moustache spiked, one arm holding his palette like a shield, the other holding his paintbrush like a knife, delicately but threateningly – ready for one more stab into color.

Then, there is the final, stunning yet subtle effect:  the mirror hanging on the back wall.  Though its edges are fogged, the center has been rubbed clear, revealing two faces:  Philip IV and Marianna, King and Queen of Spain.  Seeing this bruises one's ego, since the characters of this painting – Margarita, Velasquez, the maids, the dwarf Maribarbola, the courtier Jose Nieto de Velasquez pausing at the open doorway – are in reality gazing at the royal couple and not at the viewer trespassing into a foreign century and an unfamiliar dimension.

This painting is known as Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) and was done in 1656.  I have always loved it for its wayward reality, its many centers of gravity.  I loved its roundabout approach towards portraiture.  I loved how easy it was to imagine standing inside that cavernous room, possibly even to the side of the sumptious couple.  One shivers to think of living inside the unhealthy, stifling climate of the 17th century Spanish court:  weak, defeated; crippled by tradition.

So much has been written – and rightfully so – about this painting.  It is a lesson in light and composition; a study in human contact.  But what about its royal subjects?

In 1646, Philip IV married his 14 year-old niece, Marianna of Austria.  A cheerful, happy girl, as a married woman she became cold and distant, her sunniness dimmed by responsibilites undeserved.  The Hapsburg family of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire had a history of inbreeding and Marianna's only son – Charles II – bore the full brunt of this ignorant coupling.  He was called "The Bewitched", he was said to be cursed by sorcery – rather than abused chromosomes – he was treated by the kingdom's must devout exorcists.  A youthful portrait of Charles is one of a miserable, yet knowing, child:  a damaged intellect trapped behind a pale face, staring through hooded, haunted eyes.  In the words of a contemporary historian, he "repeatedly baffled Christendom by continuing to live."

Marianna must have believed that it was her fault.  She finally died – of breast cancer – in 1696, during a total eclipse of the moon.  After the funeral, a white dove flew over her coffin, eventually melting into the heavens.  It was considered to be a sign of miracles to come:  a nun who had waited on Marianna begged for her cloak as a momento.  She slept in it and in the morning was free of a life-long paralysis.  However, a woman living at court, not afraid to be known for her sharp tongue, said, "the Spaniards don't deserve miracles from her, since they embittered her existence."

Marianna's daughter – and Charles' sister – little Margarita, somehow escaped these genetic threats.  She was her father's favoarite, who referred to her as "my joy" in his private letters.

When she was still a child – possibly even as she stood for this painting – she was betrothed to her uncle, the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I.  Leopold was slow and grim, with a Hapsburg underbite that was so excessive, he was called "The Hogmouth".  As he waited for his fiancee to grow up, he was fed a steady stream of portraits from Spain, and was soon in love with the bright, innocent girl.  These images of childhood, so soon to be lost within the sad dignity of a princess, were irresistible.

They wed in 1666, when she was 15, and he 26.  She bore him six children, and died at the age of 22.

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The Mother Lode

I choose this name for my Mother's Day post because with my mother I have indeed struck it rich, receiving a wealth of love and happiness I honestly don't think I deserve, and which I'm sure I stumbled upon out of sheer stupid, blind, dumb, birthing luck.

I knew this when I was eight:

And I know it now.  I always will.

And to honor the gratitude I feel for my mother, I would like to present a Mothering history, starting at the beginning, when she was curly-haired and chubby (and apparently easily hypnotized) in Stelton, New Jersey:

As a young woman, the world of music pulled like a magnet, inspiring her to study her craft and to learn – in several punishing courses – how to play the maracas: 

In early married life, she chose to lay down the maracas – I tried to continue the tradition, but was never able to master their complexity – to pick up the instruments of the housewife:

Every Christmas she received her pay via a richly endowed Money Tree:

The proceeds of which went towards numerous expensive trips to Las Vegas.  Mother actually knew several key people at Ceasar's Palace personally:

And now, having raised a rather marvelous family, she remains as beautiful, as mad, as clever, as funny as ever:

I love you, mom.  Happy Mother's Day.

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Wedding Bell Ruse

 

 

Things got a little weird on CuteOverload.com today.  I don't want to give away the thrilling finish, but let's just say that on CO I've had more marriage offers than I would every hope to receive in real life.  Cuteologists are pretty bold.

You know how it is – first you're looking at a photo of a kangaroo; the next thing you know, you're fighting off suitors, having your heart ruthlessly broken while at the same time being reminded of past wrongdoings, thank you verymuch AMY. 

Anyway, all I'm saying is, somebody owes me a dinner.

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