Read The Valentino Affair Online
Authors: Colin Evans
The gossip began to mount. A stark indicator of Jack’s fading reputation came in early fall when his mother, of all people, contacted Blanca and urged her to persuade her husband to put some distance between himself and the duke. This puzzled Blanca. Ordinarily her mother-in-law would barely give her the time of day; now she was trying to enlist her assistance. She asked why. Mrs. de Saulles stalled for a moment then asked if she had seen the September 24 issue of
Blanca paled. Despite her brief time in America, she knew all about New York’s raciest scandal mag.
had begun life as a highbrow, low-circulation journal that covered music and the arts, until it was bought by Colonel William d’Alton Mann. Thereafter it switched focus to the sexual peccadilloes of upper-crust society members. As a result, circulation soared. “New York,” Mann once famously declared, “is inhabited by jackasses, libertines and parvenus.”
He might well have included himself on the list of culprits because Mann was a journalistic highwayman who set about emptying the pockets of his subject matter. It worked like this: His editorial staff crafted carefully worded articles that slavered over the latest hot gossip or scandal without actually mentioning any of the guilty parties by name. However, any reader eager to discover these identities—and most were—had only to turn the page, where a second, this time quite innocuous article just so happened to mention all the names that were missing overleaf. The reading public quickly caught on. And they lapped it up. Provided, of course, that the article actually appeared in print, because many of the magazine’s juiciest stories never saw the light of day, thanks to the ever-inventive Mr. Mann. Whenever a particularly scandalous piece was in the pipeline, Mann’s reporters would contact the unfortunate subject and inform them of impending publication. Such a call generally turned spines to jelly, but it was made clear to the quaking victim that any hint of embarrassment could be avoided if they agreed to purchase a chunk of overpriced advertising in that particular issue, thus ensuring that the offending article would be spiked. Hundreds succumbed to this blackmail until
went, unlamented, to its grave in 1937.
Blanca rushed out immediately and bought the latest issue. She thumbed through it until reaching the magazine’s most eagerly read column, “Saunterings.” To her horror it contained a lurid account of a shindig thrown by the Duke of Manchester
at a venue overlooking Long Island Sound, which was described as “some party.”
The article referred to a “horde of weird males and females,”
one of whom “did the Lady Godiva stunt by a sans clothing plunge into the ocean,”
a recklessness that nearly cost the woman her life, as other guests had to dive in to save her. She was pulled from the water “much subdued in spirit.”
Among those partygoers named in the article was the duke’s business partner, Jack de Saulles, whom it called that “white light luminary,”
a clear reference to Jack’s hell-raiser reputation on Broadway.
When Jack returned from his horse-buying trip to Canada, Blanca tore into him for his stupidity. He professed his innocence; it was just sensationalist reporting of ordinary high jinks, he said. To help cool Blanca’s temper, he threw in a sweetener—allowing her to move into the apartment on 78th Street. This had the desired effect. She always had preferred big-city bustle to dreary rural life on Long Island; but any hopes that Blanca entertained about settling down with her husband were quashed when Jack announced that he was off again, this time to Britain to finalize a deal with the Canadian government. And to prove his charm was still intact, he wheedled another thousand dollars out of Blanca to finance the trip and promised that he would be gone only for a couple of weeks.
Although Europe was at war, the high seas were still relatively safe for passenger ships, especially those on the high-profile North Atlantic run. For now, at least, the trip posed few dangers for Americans. Before leaving, Jack told Blanca that he intended to decorate the new apartment with furniture from a business acquaintance named George Young. The furniture would be in lieu of a debt that Young owed Jack. Within days of Jack’s departure, Young did come to the apartment. He didn’t bring any furniture, however; instead he brought a promissory note for money that Jack owed him, and, twisting the knife into what was now an ugly open wound, he showed Blanca a cable from Jack in England, in which he had instructed Young to collect the debt from his wife. Blanca bit back her frustration and settled the obligation.
These were lonely days for her. She needed company, and she found it in Jack’s sister, Caroline Degener. Despite a ten-year gap in their ages, the two women had always hit it off, and in October they joined the society rush for the hottest ticket in town: the murder trial of Florence Carman.
Few events agitate upper-class ennui more than a juicy scandal—especially if it involves one of their own. Mrs. Carman was the wife of Dr. Edwin Carman, a well-to-do physician of Freeport, Long Island, and if the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office was to be believed, on the evening of June 30, 1914, at about 8:30 p.m., she smashed the window of her husband’s surgery and fired a single shot that ended the life of thirty-six-year-old Lulu D. Bailey. Mrs. Bailey, the wife of a prosperous hat manufacturer, had been closeted with the doctor for some considerable time before being shot. According to Dr. Carman, he was treating her for malaria, though why Mrs. Bailey would travel five miles to see a gynecologist, whom she had never before consulted, about some tropical disease was puzzling to say the least. Especially when an autopsy revealed that Mrs. Bailey was in the early stages of pregnancy.
Much the most damaging evidence came from the Carmans’ African-American maid, Celia Coleman. She told the police that immediately after the shooting Florence Carman appeared in the kitchen and said, “I shot him—see,”
drawing a gun from beneath her shawl and flaunting it. Further investigation led state prosecutors to believe that the intended victim had been Dr. Carman and that Mrs. Bailey had been shot by mistake. Florence, they theorized, had suspected her husband of exceeding his professional interest in many of the women who visited his surgery, a premise borne out by the discovery of a Dictograph
that she had hidden in her husband’s surgery. Mrs. Carman professed her total innocence of the crime.
Largely thanks to Celia Coleman’s evidence, Mrs. Carman was hauled off to the Mineola jail to await her trial. It began on October 19 and swiftly became a highlight of the social season. The spectators in the packed public gallery—mostly female—brought well-stocked picnic hampers to ensure that they wouldn’t lose their seats during recesses, and some even knitted to while away the more tedious interludes. The defense gave Celia Coleman a savage time on the stand, but she withstood everything they threw at her, remaining firm in her insistence that the defendant had confessed to the shooting within minutes of its occurrence.
Among those listening to Celia’s testimony that day was Blanca de Saulles. She had driven Caroline Degener to the trial, and the two women had soaked up every titillating detail. Like most in the fashionably dressed public gallery, Blanca was repulsed by the notion that anyone could accept the word of a black maid over that of a wealthy white gentlewoman, and it was confidently predicted that the statuesque Mrs. Carman would be acquitted. But it didn’t work out that way. The jury deadlocked, and Florence was freed on twenty-five thousand dollars bail to await a second trial.
Blanca found the trial a welcome diversion at a time of unusual stress. For the first time in her life, she had money worries. Jack had already frittered away large chunks of her hundred-thousand-dollar dowry, and, as Blanca dug deeper into the accounts, she discovered further cause for alarm: The apartment had cost not twelve thousand dollars, as Jack had claimed, but rather seventy-five hundred dollars. The balance had disappeared into his pockets.
While Blanca smarted, Jack played the goat in London. His intended two-week stay in England began to stretch out. When conscience finally got the better of him, he cabled Blanca and suggested she join him. Her protest that she was strapped for cash was countered by his insistence that she come anyway. Blanca found the fare and set sail for England alone, leaving Jack Jr. in the care of Anne Mooney. When Blanca reached London at the end of November, she took a cab to the Berkeley, Jack’s hotel in Knightsbridge. If she was expecting a blissful reunion, she was gravely disappointed. Jack almost burst a blood vessel, furious that she had interrupted him at the hotel. The Berkeley, he snapped, was his business address, the headquarters for the company he had founded to handle the shipping of horses to England, and he was determined not to mix business and domestic life. Besides, he added petulantly, the Berkeley was full and didn’t have any spare rooms. He ordered Blanca to stay with her aunt, Mrs. Munoz Hurtado.
Blanca meekly did as she was told. But her humiliation became the talk of the Chilean expat crowd in London, and further embarrassment lay in store. For seven consecutive days Blanca dutifully reported to the Berkeley and asked to see her husband. After a brief audience he invariably shooed her out the door and told her to go shopping. Then one day, when she went to the Berkeley, a strange face greeted her at the check-in desk. When Blanca asked for Jack, the clerk asked who she was.
“I am his wife,” she replied.
Like most of the alleged incidents between Blanca and Jack, we have only Blanca’s word that this occurred, but Jack does seem to have been remarkably difficult to track down on this trip. The couple did manage to coordinate schedules one lunchtime when Jack entertained the private secretary to the American ambassador, Harold Fowler.
Over dessert, Jack invited Fowler to dinner that night at the Carlton Hotel on the corner of Pall Mall and Haymarket. Fowler agreed. However, that evening, just minutes before the appointed time, Jack phoned Blanca to say he had been delayed and would be arriving late at the Carlton. Blanca kept the dinner date with Fowler and then had to make a string of apologies as Jack pulled another of his notorious no-shows. After dessert, Blanca ran into the lobby and got Jack on the phone. He was up to his eyes in work, he explained, and suggested that she accompany their guest to the theater, after which he would meet them back at the Carlton. Blanca did as requested. But when she and Fowler returned to the Carlton, they still found no sign of her missing husband.
Blanca excused herself and took a cab to the Berkeley, determined to confront her uncaring husband. He wasn’t there. Midnight came and went. Still no sign of him. Exasperated beyond belief, she made her way back to her aunt’s house. The next day Jack was as effusive as ever with his apologies; he had been busy, he said, and spent the night with his old friend Judge Coyne. When Blanca chided him for his selfishness, Jack scoffed that she was “silly to take it that way,”
blithely ignoring the fact that he had expected his wife to entertain a complete stranger for several hours.
More heartache dogged Blanca during her London stay. On the one occasion when she did manage to see Jack alone for an extended period of time in his hotel room, he was leafing through some mail when he happened to drop a card. Blanca picked it up and froze. It came from a woman, and the address was Maida Vale. She expressed surprise that he knew anyone living in such a “fast section of London.”
He replied that she was “a very charming woman and had donated an automobile to the Ambulance Corps.”
After more questions, according to Blanca, Jack declared himself “crazy about her.”
“Have you ever kissed her?”
came the offhand reply.
Blanca took off at once for Paris for some hard-core retail therapy.
Nowadays her decision might seem bizarre, reckless even, in light of the bloodshed occurring in Flanders, just sixty miles north of the French capital. But throughout the war Paris remained oddly immune to the horrors of the Western Front, and the city was never occupied by German troops.
When, on September 12, the German army did make a major push toward Paris, they were thwarted at the Battle of the Marne—at a cost of 263,000 Allied casualties. Keeping the Champs Élysées safe for the dedicated shopper was an expensive business.
Blanca found life in the capital pretty much unaffected. She renewed old acquaintanceships, dined out in bistros and restaurants, attended parties, and bought racks of clothes. Despite later protestations of relative penury throughout her married life, her wardrobe never suffered. After a couple of hectic weeks in Paris, she returned to London and the news that Jack now intended traveling to Paris on business. She brightened up. She would go with him. Far too dangerous, he insisted, no place for a woman, better off returning to America. Blanca protested that Paris’s enchanting boulevards hadn’t seemed that perilous a couple of days earlier, but Jack put his foot down. He insisted that she return to America. Glumly, Blanca made arrangements to leave. She traveled with a heavy heart to Liverpool where, on December 16, she boarded the RMS