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Authors: Colin Evans

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After graduating the following year, he declined several offers to play professionally, instead taking on the role of head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers football team, where he compiled an impressive 8–1–1 record. But the restlessness that hallmarked his life soon grabbed hold, and he abandoned the gridiron in favor of a career in real estate. He went into business with former New York senator William H. Reynolds, putting together companies to build hotels and cottages on the boardwalk at Long Beach on Long Island. That Jack’s cousin George McClellan happened to be mayor of New York at the time certainly helped grease the bureaucratic wheels. Another cousin, art collector Philip M. Lydig, married to the famed beauty Rita de Acosta, acted as a useful conduit to deep-pocketed clients.

Señora Errázuriz-Vergara absorbed all of this information approvingly. She could find no faults in Jack’s pedigree, but another hurdle remained. At sixteen years old, Blanca was exactly half Jack’s age. Even given Blanca’s sophistication and the Chilean tradition of young brides, it was still a talking point. But de Saulles had a youthful vigor and, above all, immense charm, so before long he swept all her concerns about the age gulf entirely under the carpet. Later, when psychologists took turns dissecting every aspect of Blanca’s baffling character, they speculated that, in Jack, Blanca was seeking the father figure that she never had.

Whatever her motivation, the couple became inseparable. An accomplished equestrienne, Blanca introduced Jack to the joys of horseback riding, and before long he was matching her, stride for stride, as they galloped along Reñaca Beach, treading mile after mile of shimmering golden sand. They took long, dreamy walks along the Avenida Peru, Viña del Mar’s main shoreline boulevard, near which the mighty Pacific rollers crashed onto shore, sending plumes of spray into the brilliantly clear sky. In July 1911, as the southern hemisphere grew chilly, Blanca realized that she was in love. Jack, too, was besotted. Friends had never seen him so spellbound.

The following month Jack formally approached Señora Errázuriz-Vergara and asked for her daughter’s hand in marriage. Blanquita, as he called her, was, in his words, “a trump.”
The señora, however, still had misgivings. Friendship was all well and good, but marriage demanded closer scrutiny. She questioned Jack on his intentions. He declared his readiness to set up permanent home in Chile, where he would purchase a large estate, one guaranteed to keep Blanca in the manner to which she was accustomed, and he gave a solemn assurance that they would never return to America to live. Comforted on this point, Señora Errázuriz-Vergara broached an even thornier topic: religion. Blanca had been raised a staunch Catholic, while Jack de Saulles was Episcopalian. The marriage could not proceed, declared Señora Errázuriz-Vergara, unless the Vatican issued a special dispensation. That said, given the family’s generous financial support of the Church—and that her cousin Rafael Errázuriz had been Chile’s ambassador to the Vatican since 1907—she had no reason to believe that official permission would be withheld. Rome would soon forget a few ruffled feathers.

Pending a satisfactory papal response, the señora gave her blessing to the union and even offered the couple a house that she owned adjacent to the family estate. Such an offer came as a huge relief to Jack, whose ambitions always ran considerably deeper than his pocketbook. Although his mother was the niece of August Heckscher, the fabulously rich German-born industrialist, said uncle had announced publicly his determination to bequeath most of his fortune to charity. Hardly any of the Heckscher millions would filter down to the in-laws.
This marooned Jack financially; he was on his own, and since leaving Yale he had struggled to make ends meet. Nobody doubted his business acumen—the real estate deals on Long Beach having generated sizable profits—but de Saulles ran through money like air. Sure, hobnobbing with the Winthrops, Whitneys, and Vanderbilts did wonders for his social standing, but it made his bank account buckle. Now, though, the señora’s generous gift of not just plush but
accommodation changed the game. After years of almost drowning in a sea of red ink, de Saulles had caught a financial lifeline.

He and Blanca made tentative plans to marry in Paris at the end of the year. Before that, though, Señora Errázuriz-Vergara told Jack that she intended on visiting New York, and could he smooth her entry into the right circles? New York, he warned, was a “rough and uncouth place,” where a woman traveling alone was in “great danger.”
Far better to go straight to Paris. So grim was Jack’s description of day-to-day life in Gotham that, in October 1911, mother and daughter caught the steamer to Europe while Jack remained in Chile to tie up some loose ends.

As he watched the liner slip its moorings, Jack must have heaved a sigh of relief. The last thing he needed was a prospective mother-in-law asking awkward questions in New York. In Manhattan, the talk concerned less of Jack de Saulles’s business ventures and more of his bedroom escapades. He was a notorious rake. His preferred hunting grounds were Broadway dressing rooms and round-the-clock nightclubs, where he could take his pick of the latest ingénues and chorus girls only too eager to throw themselves at the glamorous former football star with the ever-open wallet.

At times his sexual excesses threatened him with banishment from New York’s notoriously brittle social scene. The first real doubts about his character emerged publicly on January 8, 1907, when the parents of heiress Marie Elsie Moore took the extraordinary step of issuing a statement that, contrary to published claims, their daughter was
engaged to Jack de Saulles. The original announcement, huffed millionaire machinery maker Mr. Charles A. Moore, had been a “practical joke.”
Those familiar with de Saulles’s reputation as a ladies’ man gave a knowing wink. It sounded like “Handsome Jack” had been up to his tricks again, dangling the carrot of matrimony to some gullible gal in return for a quick tumble between the sheets.

Then, bizarrely, it happened again just three years later: another phony engagement announcement—to New York socialite Miss Eleanor Granville Brown—followed closely by another embarrassing retraction. This time, the affronted father, wealthy banker Waldron T. Brown, announced his intention of getting hold of Jack and giving him “a dressing down.”
Jack, on business in Albany when the story broke, loudly protested his innocence, proclaiming himself the victim of a setup. For once he got it right. When reporters began digging, they discovered that the fake announcement had been planted by a woman, one of Jack’s castoffs, reportedly jealous of Miss Brown. It had been a close call, but Jack had dodged the bullet successfully. Still, the incident didn’t reflect well on the ambitious realtor. One such episode might be considered careless, but two within three years added fuel to the view that Jack de Saulles was nothing more than a “light o’ love.”

In the meantime, blithely unaware of her future husband’s past indiscretions, Blanca soaked up the sights in Paris and readied herself for the big day . . . if that day ever came, that is. Unexpectedly the Vatican was dragging its heels over the special dispensation, and Blanca was fuming. Convent-educated, maybe, but her allegiance to Rome was flexible at best, and she wouldn’t tolerate papal interference in her future happiness. She was young, willful, and determined to marry the man she loved. But she had to overcome her equally iron-willed mother. Without papal approval, said the señora, no wedding would take place.

On November 4, Jack left Valparaíso aboard the SS
bound for England. There he caught the boat-train to Paris, where bad news awaited him—still no word from Rome. Tensions between mother and daughter reached a fever pitch, catching Jack in the middle. Several nail-biting days passed before that all-important telegram arrived on December 13, 1911. It declared that the Vatican had issued the dispensation that Señora Errázuriz-Vergara craved, and the formal paperwork would follow by mail. But Rome had one condition: Any offspring of the marriage had to be raised in the Catholic faith. Jack made no quibble and wasted no time. That same day, he and Blanca appeared before the mayor of Paris and, in a civil ceremony, became husband and wife. A day later, on Thursday, December 14, the English Church on Avenue Hoche solemnized their union.

Despite the rush, the arrangements were sumptuous. The church hosted a riot of white lilies and palms that haloed Blanca as she stood at the altar, angelic in a magnificent creation of white liberty satin and rare old Spanish lace. The Chilean minister to France gave away the bride, and Jack’s old sparring partner from the Andes, Edward P. Coyne, served as best man. On the other side of the aisle, the Chilean expat community in Paris had turned out in force for one of the social highlights of the year. Señora Errázuriz-Vergara nodded regally as she received the congratulations of everyone present, but the event surely held bittersweet memories for her. It was in Paris where she had married her darling Guillermo, and it was in Paris where her husband, emaciated and coughing blood into a handkerchief, finally succumbed to tuberculosis on that awful day in 1895. But life moves on, and Blanca looked radiant. Jack, too, seemed ecstatic. In a letter written shortly after the marriage to a friend in America he poured out his feelings: “Until I went to Chile, all it meant to me was a long pink strip on the map in my geography. Now it means the whole world and all there is in it.”

Originally the couple intended to honeymoon in America, but at the last moment they decided to remain in France for a few weeks, motoring south to visit Jack’s older sister, Georgiana McClintock, who lived in Pau, close to the Pyrenees. From there they journeyed to England, and in Liverpool on January 1, 1912, they loaded their trunks onto the RMS
and sailed for America.

They docked in New York six days later. The weather was frigid, with the mercury struggling to just twenty degrees. Thick snow flayed the quayside as Jack strode down the gangway, determined to show off his seventeen-year-old trophy wife. Four days later he presented her on Society Day at the Twelfth National Automobile Show at Madison Square Garden, where “prominent members of the Four Hundred”
—the top members of the social scene—were out in force. Blanca became an instant hit. So great was the crush to see Jack’s new bride that he had to hold an impromptu reception at one of the booths. Among those who came to toast the “Chilean belle”
was twenty-nine-year-old Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Then it was back to another glittering party at the Plaza Hotel, just off Central Park, where they had taken rooms.

Jack’s triumph received coverage across America. The
Chicago Daily Tribune
ran a long piece, “How a Young American Wooed and Won the Richest and Most Beautiful Girl in All South America.”
It read like a Harlequin romance novel, but it got most of the facts right, even if it did conclude that Jack had gone “down to South America as a plain-business amateur, and carved out a richer prize than the handsomest little fiction hero who ever tramped the tall grass with revolver and saber.”
Other papers indulged in similar euphoria. One splashed the headline J
spicing up the tale with an account of how Jack had battled on the polo field with a mysterious character named Juan—none bothering to record his surname if in fact he ever existed—who was also pursuing Blanca. Apparently, Jack “played like a man possessed”
and won Blanca’s heart. It was stirring stuff and almost certainly the product of Jack’s prolific imagination. As a self-promoter, he was fearless and peerless. On his return to America, he told one reporter, without any trace of irony, how “scores of suitors” had pursued his wife, “so to gain her hand in marriage was the task of a hero.”
Another heard how, on discovering that Blanca had gone to Paris, our hero had grasped the nettle: “There just wasn’t anything for me to do but follow her. . . . I took the next steamer for France, just two weeks after she sailed. I found her in Paris, asked her mother’s consent, got it, asked the daughter, found her willing, and then it was all right.”
Again, this highly romanticized version played fast and loose with the facts because subsequent events made it plain that Jack proposed to Blanca long before she left Chile.

Jack’s door at the Plaza always stood open to the press. When one journalist came knocking in search of the gilded couple and Blanca happened to be out shopping, Jack invited the man in anyway and insisted that he wait until she returned. “You’ve just got to stay and see her,” he said. “She’s a wonder.”
In other encounters with the press, he expounded his views on Chile-American relations. “The last 18 months have seen a great improvement in the feelings of Chileans toward Americans”—mostly because—“we have a better class of Americans down there.”
The rest of the interview staggered into a name-dropping extravaganza, with Jack claiming close personal contact with just about the entire Chilean politico-military machine.

BOOK: The Valentino Affair
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