Read The Valentino Affair Online
Authors: Colin Evans
Blanca likely didn’t hear anything of it because Jack always kept a lid on his business deals, and, on the few occasions when he was at home, talk centered mainly on his ever-widening circle of contacts within the Social Register—which delighted Blanca. After a rocky start, she was sure that the marriage was now on a much more stable footing.
After each brief visit to Larchmont, Jack kissed Blanca good-bye and returned to his rooms at the Yale Club in Manhattan. With the presidential campaign building to a climax, he was working around the clock. In a brave move—given his shaky track record in financial matters—the organizers named de Saulles league treasurer. But there was no doubting his effectiveness. Membership of the Woodrow Wilson College Men’s League eventually topped seventy-five thousand, much of that number due to Jack’s untiring efforts. A world-class PR man, he squeezed even the most seemingly insignificant snippet of news into the papers. For instance, on September 11, 1912, de Saulles proudly announced to the press that the campaign had received a cable from Punta Arenas, Chile—the “southernmost town in the world,”
—authorizing the transfer of eighty pesos (approximately one hundred dollars) to the Wilson fund. The cable came from Enrique Balmaceda, one of Jack’s classmates at Yale and the son of José Manuel Balmaceda, president of Chile from 1886 to 1891.
In terms of financial impact, it represented little more than a drop in the ocean, but the symbolism loomed large. It reinforced the view that Jack, through his marriage and his business dealings, had his finger on the South American political pulse, surely putting his name at the top of the list of contenders when it came time to dole out coveted ministerial jobs to South America.
In the run-up to election day, the bookmakers placed Wilson as a strong favorite over his rivals, the incumbent William Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt, who—having lost the Republican nomination to Taft, his successor—was running under the auspices of the Bull Moose Party. Not that there was much betting. By splitting the Republican vote, Roosevelt all but handed the election to Wilson, and the press was reporting that the odds on Wilson were so cramped that the only wagers being laid were whether Roosevelt would pip Taft for second place.
Glowing news reports ensured a buoyant mood at the Hotel Astor on the night of September 28 when Jack attended a dinner to honor William F. McCombs. Outside, in Times Square, hundreds of supporters bellowed their appreciation as the evening’s featured speaker, the Democratic nominee himself, arrived. Inside, though, a strangely subdued mood prevailed. The dinner had been organized to celebrate McCombs’s recovery from a bout of ill health, but the celebrations were looking a tad premature, word coming at the last moment that the guest of honor had been confined to bed in one of the hotel rooms. Downstairs, in the grand ballroom, the thousand guests raised toast after toast to impending victory, but the biggest cheer of all came when thirty-six-year-old McCombs, looking frail indeed, made a belated appearance. “Here’s to the grand young man of America,”
shouted one of the guests.
Women in the gallery applauded, while men rose from their tables, waving napkins above their heads and giving the Princeton, Yale, and Harvard yells. The demonstration of affection lasted fully ten minutes. Eventually McCombs waved them to silence. “I said I would come if I had to come on a shutter,”
he laughed weakly, leaning against the table for support. Further cheers drowned out the rest of what he had to say. In anticipation of a resounding victory, a Democratic Parade Committee was formed, and high on the list of participating committee members was the name of John L. de Saulles.
Before that, though, there was another parade to organize. On election eve, Margaret Wilson, the candidate’s daughter, reviewed a parade of the Wilson College Men’s League. At 8:30 p.m. a red flare lit up the night sky, and then a squadron of mounted police led the parade as it marched up Fifth Avenue. An estimated seventy thousand spectators jammed the sidewalks to see city commissioner and Princeton football great William “Big Bill” Edwards lead the pageant. Alongside him was Jack de Saulles. Many in the crowd recognized the former Yale quarterback from his college days, and cheers met him every step of the way. It took forty-five minutes for the six-thousand-strong parade to pass the Hotel Imperial, where Miss Wilson stood brandishing an American flag that she waved enthusiastically every time a float caught her eye.
The next day—November 5—delivered the expected landslide. With the Republican vote hopelessly split, Wilson steamrolled into the White House with a whopping 435 electoral votes, almost four times more than Roosevelt and absolutely swamping Taft, who could muster only a dismal 8 electoral votes, the worst performance in history to date by any incumbent president seeking reelection.
De Saulles celebrated victory with even greater relish than most of his Democrat companions. He knew and expected that those long arduous months of loyal service would reward him in some way. Already his name was being mentioned in diplomatic terms. On December 3, the
confidently predicted that following Wilson’s inauguration Jack would be named the minister to Chile. But that lay in the future. Just now, Jack had more pressing matters at hand. Blanca had entered the final month of her pregnancy. She had expected to give birth at the family home in Larchmont, but Jack dropped a last-minute bombshell: He wanted the child born at his parents’ house in South Bethlehem. No matter how much Blanca pleaded, nothing would budge him from this directive.
Blanca was appalled. From their first meeting she had abhorred being around her in-laws—especially Catherine de Saulles, whom she cordially loathed. What made her ordeal doubly onerous was that she was obliged to deal with the cantankerous Mrs. de Saulles on her own. True to form, Jack dumped Blanca on his parents and then departed for New York as fast as possible. What should have been one of the happiest times of Blanca’s life plummeted into a nightmare. She was still just seventeen years old, on her own in a foreign land, and she saw her husband only on weekends, when he paid fleeting visits and then dashed off as quickly as possible. Jack did make it home for the holidays, however, and he was there on December 25 when Blanca gave birth to a healthy boy.
A boy born on Christmas Day in (South) Bethlehem—for a devout Catholic the occasion couldn’t have been more auspicious, and Blanca prayed that the birth of her son would cement the family back together. For his part, while Jack might have been a careless and even callous husband, everyone agreed that he was utterly devoted to his son.
On February 14, 1913, Jack de Saulles kept at least one promise to Señora Errázuriz-Vergara when his son, John Longer de Saulles Jr., was baptized at the Holy Infancy Church in South Bethlehem.The Reverend Father Chambers of New York conducted the Catholic service. Pride of place in the packed congregation went to the boy’s godfather, Charles M. Schwab, owner of Bethlehem Steel, the second-largest steel maker in the world, and a longtime friend of the de Saulles family. The steel magnate was feeling especially ebullient as he congratulated the new parents in the church that Friday. He recently had secured the operating rights to the El Tofo mine on the Bay of Cruz Grande in Chile, estimated to contain forty
tons of 67 percent pure iron. Mining engineers gaped at the quality as they extracted ore samples that Schwab called “the richest in the world.”
If the Washington rumors proved true, and Jack did receive the ministerial posting to Chile, he and Schwab would be doing a great deal of talking over the next couple of years. For the time being, though, as soon as the service ended, Jack hightailed it back to Manhattan, leaving Blanca in the icy hands of her hated in-laws.
A little more than two weeks later, on March 4, 1913, Woodrow Wilson was sworn in as the twenty-eighth president of the United States. Standing at the president’s shoulder in the Washington sunshine, de Saulles added his cheers to the swelling acclaim. Blanca was present, too, accompanied by a new addition to the family circle, a nurse from Philadelphia named Ethel Whitesides. Later that evening, Ethel looked after little Jack Jr. while his parents made the rounds of the post-inauguration parties. It was a time to see and be seen, and Jack was determined to wring every last drop of kudos from his campaign efforts.
The following night, he and Blanca hosted a dinner at the newly refurbished Shoreham Hotel on 15th Street in honor of Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels. It was a lavish affair. Three large arrangements of spring flowers decorated the main table, and the women wore corsage bouquets. In between the toasts and the celebrations, Jack renewed his acquaintanceship with the president’s daughter, Margaret Wilson, and schmoozed with Henry du Pont among others, all the while advertising his credentials for that diplomatic posting to Chile.
A few weeks later Jack and Blanca returned to the nation’s capital to attend yet another society dinner, this one thrown by lawyer Perry Belmont, whose brother, August Belmont Jr., had built the eponymous racetrack on Long Island in 1905.
The guest of honor on this occasion was the German ambassador, Count Johann von Bernstorff, and his wife. Jack was meeting all the right people, and, as the post-election season in Washington drew to a close, he and Blanca returned to New York in confident moods.
Upon their arrival, it was Blanca’s turn to shine. That Easter she attended a fund-raiser at the Waldorf Astoria in aid of the Loomis Sanitarium, a home for consumptives in the Catskills. The intention was to raise enough money to provide free beds for children with tuberculosis. Blanca didn’t just attend, though; she posed in various
that gave her the chance to flaunt her already celebrated beauty.
But her time in the limelight was fleeting. Jack was growing impatient. Citing work pressures, he banished Blanca and the baby to another miserable spell at his parents’ house while he caroused with his drinking buddies at the Yale Club. His constant absence from South Bethlehem continued to cause problems. Throughout the ensuing weeks, the antipathy between Blanca and Mrs. de Saulles—hitherto thinly camouflaged by social niceties—exploded into the open, the older woman constantly demanding to know when Blanca intended on leaving. “Ask your son,” Blanca snapped back.
During this dark period, Blanca’s only beacon of light was the close friendship that developed between her and Ethel Whitesides. Ethel acted as far more than just a nursemaid to Jack Jr.; she became Blanca’s closest confidant and ally in America, an ever-present shoulder on which to lean. Over the years she gained an unrivaled insight into Blanca’s troubled mind and marriage. For the moment, though, her main role was that of peacemaker, acting as a bulwark between a bitterly resentful mother-in-law and a despondent teenage mother who felt abandoned and distraught.
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away in New York, Jack couldn’t have been more relaxed and happy as he sat back, confidently awaiting the diplomatic summons from Washington. But he waited . . . and waited.
Jack de Saulles Jr., the innocent cause of a terrible tragedy
The Wayward Husband
RESS PREDICTIONS THAT
ACK WAS A SHOO-IN FOR THE POST OF MINISTER
to Chile were falling wide of the mark. He had returned to New York, confidently anticipating an early summons from Washington only to endure an ominous silence. He grew anxious. Something wasn’t right. Were his past exploits catching up with him? Had someone resurrected those phantom engagements and questioned whether Jack de Saulles was the kind of solid citizen suitable for representing America on the international stage? Whatever the reason, as April rolled into May and still no word from the White House, it was an increasingly frustrated and fractious Jack de Saulles who visited South Bethlehem that spring.
He rarely showed up midweek, preferring to breeze in on a Sunday, play for a few hours with Jack Jr., then scuttle back to New York that same night. Clearly the first bloom of matrimony had dulled. It’s easy enough to blame Jack’s neglect of Blanca on political frustration or work pressures, but other forces were at work. After barely sixteen months of wedlock, the couple’s sex life had shriveled to nothing. In any marriage, only the two participants can ever know the true dynamic of their relationship, and years later Blanca swore that Jack had lied through his teeth when accusing her of having “refused to live with me as my wife,”
but the facts tell a different story.