Read The Valentino Affair Online
Authors: Colin Evans
In letters and in admissions to other people, Blanca acknowledged deep underlying problems in the marriage and that her own distaste for physical intimacy might have helped drive her husband away. One of the few friends she had made since moving to America was the wife of Jack’s cousin and business partner, G. Maurice Heckscher. During one heart-to-heart with Louise Heckscher, Blanca confessed that, had she known what the physical side of married life entailed, she never would have walked down the aisle. It’s also possible that Blanca’s abhorrence of sex stemmed from a fear of a second pregnancy. Subsequent medical problems suggest that the birth of Jack Jr. had proved difficult physically. But the real damage was emotional. Something inside Blanca snapped; she still loved her husband deeply, but henceforth she would do everything in her power to keep him at arm’s length.
For a red-blooded alpha male like Jack de Saulles this was intolerable. When it came to a woman’s marital responsibilities, he was an unreconstructed Victorian, and he began grouching to family members and friends alike that Blanca was neglecting her conjugal duties. Word soon spread that “Broadway Jack” was back. Secretly, Blanca was relieved, telling Louise that her husband could run around with other women all he liked—so long as he left her alone.
In the aftermath of this breakdown, Jack’s visits to South Bethlehem became ever more sporadic. Blanca grew used to plans being made for a lengthy stay only for Jack to change them at the last minute to yet another of those galling lightning visits. Sometimes he didn’t even bother to show up at all. On one particularly poignant occasion, Blanca dashed to the railroad station in excited anticipation of Jack’s arrival only to find that he had missed the specified train. Stemming her disappointment, she waited for the next train . . . and the next . . . and the one after that. Each new arriving train first raised her hopes then dashed them as her wayward husband failed to show. After several torturous hours spent pacing the windswept platform, Blanca returned to her in-laws, red-eyed with disappointment. Ethel tried to console her but could do nothing. She watched helplessly as Blanca went to Jack Jr.’s room, knelt by the baby’s cot, placed both arms around the infant, and said, “Oh, Toodles, Daddy doesn’t love us anymore.”
It certainly looked that way, but Jack was a pragmatist. His lackluster interest in his wife always magically sparked back to life when he thought her well-connected presence might benefit his career. This was especially true when he visited Washington in pursuit of that maddeningly elusive diplomatic post. On one such mission, in May 1913, he summoned Blanca to join him at the Powhatan Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, just a couple of blocks west of the White House. Ethel went, too, and witnessed firsthand the gulf that had opened between Blanca and her husband, a gulf that was widening with each day.
In the hotel suite, Ethel was helping Blanca unpack when Jack dropped a photograph. Before he could retrieve it, Blanca snatched it from the floor. It was a professionally taken portrait of a very attractive young woman. On it was inscribed, “To Jack, with love.”
Blanca’s blood ran cold; she recognized the woman as a well-known actress.
She wheeled around and thrust the photograph into her husband’s face. “What business has a married man with another woman’s picture?”
Jack batted away her concerns. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” he laughed, slipping the photo back into his pocket. “She’s a nice girl.”
Red with embarrassment, Ethel lowered her gaze. It was terrible watching two people tear each other part. Jack’s emollient excuses temporarily defused the overheated situation, but Blanca remained wary. Since arriving in America, she had heard whispers about her husband’s former fondness for the good-time girls of Broadway. Now she had hard evidence that he had returned to his old ways. As noted, while she allowed herself to tolerate Jack’s dalliances, she didn’t want his affairs flaunted in her face. Such social crassness was entirely unacceptable.
After this incident, Jack returned to New York and Blanca reluctantly caught the train back to South Bethlehem. This time she had to battle the stony-faced Mrs. de Saulles alone, without Ethel to comfort her. The nursemaid had secured a new position in Philadelphia, her hometown, and one Anna Mooney, a thirty-four-year-old from Ireland, took her place. At first Blanca despaired of Boobie—as Jack Jr. called her—ever making the grade; after Ethel’s smooth efficiency, Anna seemed gauche and ill at ease. It was a thoroughly miserable time for Blanca, made worse by Jack’s erratic behavior. When, in the middle of June, he once again failed to make an appointment, Blanca unburdened herself in a letter to him:
Darling Precious Dada: I feel so sad tonight, as I had been looking forward with so much eagerness to your coming. It is ages since you left, and I am wondering whether you have forgotten your little wife who awaits you anxiously, and your darling baby boy. I had ordered the runabout for this evening, thinking we would have a delightfully quiet and old fashioned drive during which we could tell each other all the many things we have to say. But however much I was longing to see you, it is much better that you save yourself this unpleasant trip which in the end would only allow us a couple of hours together.
I do hope that you are well—I am so afraid that you don’t take the proper amount of rest. You must not worry about Toodles or me. We are both doing remarkably well. He has taken to the bottle like a duck to water, and I am not having any trouble as we had anticipated. If we are having a hard pull, we have still a great many things to be thankful for. It really is wonderful how well Toodles is doing and how little cause for anxiety he has given us. . . . I, thank God, have not felt any pain nor feeling of uncomfort.
Don’t disappoint me again, darling, and please come Tuesday without fail. It’s so lonesome without you and quite discouraging at times.
May God bless you and grant you success.
All the love in the world from Babyboy and me
In his reply Jack blamed his prolonged absence on the fact that that he was still “pulling wires”
to get the ministerial post in Chile, and he promised to hurry back to South Bethlehem as soon as possible.
The following month saw his pledge redeemed and the couple reunited. But even then Blanca was like a stranger to her husband. Jack spent most of his time playing with his son, whom he adored, or in deep discussion with his parents. Blanca’s resentment at being sidelined began to fester. Eventually her frustration bubbled over one day when she caught Jack whispering to his mother in the living room. She demanded to know what they were discussing. Jack spun around. “Go to your room!”
he barked, dismissing her like some naughty infant. Blanca was too dumbfounded to stay and argue. Never in her life had anyone addressed her so rudely. She stamped off to her room, furious. That Jack departed immediately for New York, without offering any word of explanation, only compounded her humiliation.
A couple of days later, Blanca again put pen to paper, fearing that Jack was having regrets about their getting married. Her letter bitterly mixed indignation and sarcasm.
I have had a great big heartache ever since you told me to “Go to your room,” and I had made up my mind that I would not write to you until you wrote to me or else spoke one sweet word through the ’phone, but I have relented and instead am going to tell you how harsh and unkind you were.
I did not think that ever in your lifetime, even if you lived to be 100 years, would you have ordered me out of that room, much less gone away without saying “good-bye” or where you were going to stay. That after a thousand and one professions of love! Well, I suppose everyone’s ideals are shattered, and yours probably also, although I have tried not to shatter yours even when things did seem so hard.
I hope you are having a good time in New York. It must be such fun to play bachelor again. In fact, it must seem quite natural, and the last two years surely are but a horrid nightmare. Then so inopportunely the wife’s letter comes. Why don’t you race with Maurice and enjoy yourself! You will only get nervous and bored in Bethlehem and lose your appetite.
Shortly after writing this, Blanca fell ill and took to her bed. Ever since the birth of Jack Jr., her health had been precarious. “I feel as weak as a cat who has been drowned 8¾ times, and has but one quarter life left,”
she wrote to Ethel.
Blanca needed some kind of tonic, anything to lift her spirits, and just over a week later it duly arrived. On Friday, August 1, Blanca received a phone call from Washington insider Lester Jones, an official at the Bureau of Fisheries, who told her that the president’s private secretary,
Joseph Tumulty, wished to meet Jack “either Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday”
of the following week to discuss his future plans. A wire from Tumulty to this effect reached South Bethlehem later that same day. Overjoyed at the prospect of returning to Chile, Blanca immediately phoned Jack at the Yale Club—but he wasn’t there. Several more fruitless calls failed to establish his whereabouts, leaving Blanca no alternative but to send the wire by mail, with a covering letter explaining this exciting development.
She also told Jack that she was feeling “so much better . . . [and] looking forward with great pleasure to your return.”
She urged him to catch the Black Diamond Express—the Lehigh Valley Railroad’s flagship passenger service—and stay for the weekend, after which they could return to New York together on Monday. From there Jack could travel to Washington while she remained in Manhattan for a few days. On the back of the letter, evidently refering to his absence when she called the club, she wrote “Where were you!!!”
In those supposedly slower times, the mail, which came and went several times a day, moved with astonishing haste. Jack received the letter that same day. In the evening he phoned Blanca with a suggestion: Instead of his traveling to South Bethlehem, why didn’t she join him in New York for the weekend? Blanca’s euphoria shattered, however, when her physician, Dr. Butler, advised that it would be “foolish”
to undertake any kind of journey in her debilitated state.
Feeling more trapped than ever in South Bethlehem, Blanca poured out her feelings in a letter to Ethel. It began on an upbeat note with news that “Toodles has cut a tooth today! The darlingest, weeniest, sharpest, whitest little tooth you ever saw. . . . You have no idea how excited I got when I saw it.”
But her tone darkened as she described the day-to-day existence in South Bethlehem. “This last week has been purgatory in the worst form. If I were a man I should say ‘hell’ a million times over.”
She went on to rail bitterly against her mother-in-law: “Mrs. De Saulles has almost got me frantic. I have to use the utmost strength of mind not to pull her hair; really I’ve been so patient and put up with so much that now my patience has turned into hate. Isn’t that perfectly frightful. She is worse and worse from day to day.”
Then came a lengthy harangue about how Mrs. de Saulles seemed intent on driving her from the house—“as if it were a pleasure for me to stay in a place which is exactly opposite in every way to the home I was brought up in.”
It was an ever-present thorn in Blanca’s side, the perceived gap in social status between her family and that of her husband. In Blanca’s mind, she was descended from Chilean aristocracy, practically making her an Andean princess. By contrast, her husband came from mere commercial stock. The de Saulles’s family house in South Bethlehem emphasized this gulf; comfortable enough, maybe, but hardly the kind of glittering mansion that Blanca was used to. She amplified her resentment with yet another blast against her hated mother-in-law: “She ought to be thankful that her son has married a woman who has stood everything without saying a word, just for his sake, and for their sakes has never mentioned the immeasurable distance which separates them from her!”
The letter ended with a terrible cry from the heart: “Oh, how much I want to be happy!”
In early August, Jack announced, to Blanca’s enormous relief, that he had taken a bungalow at Deal Beach on the New Jersey shore, about sixty miles south of Manhattan. The new arrangement not only got Blanca out of his mother’s hair, but he could travel home to see her and Jack Jr. much more frequently. Further good news—as far as Blanca was concerned—was that Anna Mooney needed an operation. Blanca contacted Ethel, pleading for her to return to help her get out of “this disgusting town.”
But Blanca’s hopes for a reunion with her favorite nursemaid died quickly. Work commitments in Philadelphia prevented Ethel from coming to Blanca’s aid, leaving her to organize the move without any assistance from a maid.