I fell in love with this face about a week ago while hunting for something else completely on Google Images. Isn’t that always the way? She’s been sitting on my browser ever since, waiting for me to have a spare few minutes to share her with you all.
I don’t know what it is about this photograph that really caught my attention but I have a hunch that it is the astonishing modernity of her expression, which is so unusual in photos of this period. She looks vital, vibrant and ALIVE and to be honest she could be the plainest woman on earth but there’s a quality about her that suggests that she would still be the most attractive in every room that she sets foot in.
But who is she? My investigations revealed that she was born Mabelle Gilman in San Francisco in either December 1882 (according to her passport) or 1874 (according to her entry in the 1880 census – oops). I don’t know about you, but I’m going to go with the census here. After a relatively inauspicious childhood, she trained as a singer and actress and set off to New York to seek her fortune in musical comedy, appearing on stage for the first time in 1896 and quickly rising through the ranks until she was taking the starring roles by 1900 and treading the boards on Broadway and in London.
By 1905, Mabelle Gilman was a STAR on Broadway and it was at this time that she caught the eye of disgustingly wealthy multi millionaire steel magnate William Ellis Corey, who was President of US Steel and also, annoyingly, already married. Love struck them both like a thunderbolt though and within a year, Corey had been granted a Reno divorce (the ultimate in 1900s quicky divorces) by his wife (he settled $3 million on her and accepted that she should have custody of their sixteen year old son) and had faced the opprobrium of most of his family (he gave his parents $250,000 and a farm as a hush present) and high society, who shunned both he and Mabelle as a result of the terrific scandal that erupted as a result of their affair and the resultant fuss. There was even talk that he would lose his position at the head of US Steel as a result of the scandal but eventually this came to nothing.
Undaunted and no doubt with a MASSIVE rock on her finger, Mabelle packed up her stuff and headed off to Paris with one of her fiancé’s sisters to buy her trousseau. She returned to America in the spring of 1907, armed with the very highest French fashion and married William on the 14th of May 1907 in the Hotel Gotham in New York, with the groom presenting his blushing bride with $1 million, a whole host of valuable jewels and the beautiful Château de Vilgenis on the outskirts of the French capital, which was once owned by Jerome de Bonaparte and the Prince de Condé and had been decorated by Ingres, as a wedding gift.
I love this description of the wedding that appeared in the New York Times:
‘William Ellis Corey, President of the United States Steel Corporation, an office which, it may be said upon authority, he will be required to surrender, probably within a year, was married early this morning In a little improvised chapel in the Hotel Gotham, at Fifty-fifth Street and Fifth Avenue, to Mabelle Gilman, the actress for whom he had already sacrificed the wife of his youth. Mr. Corey and Miss Gilman stood beneath an arch of orchids and asparagus plumes, from the top of which was suspended a white satin marriage bell, while the ceremony, was performed.
Seated in the improvised chapel this morning were friends and relatives of both the bride and bridegroom, twenty seven in all. The couple were married by the Rev. Dr. J. L. Clark of the Bushwick Avenue Congregational Church, Brooklyn.
Mr. Corey and his brass escaped, by a margin of an hour and a half, being married upon the unlucky thirteenth of the month. It was the original intention of Miss Gilman to be married on Monday, but at the earnest request of Mr. Corey, she gave up the idea and agreed to postpone the ceremony until after midnight.
It was nearing 1 o’clock when the wedding party filed into the improvised chapel and there was some wait before the bridal couple appeared. The ceremony began at 1:28 A. M., and was over at 1:30. The bride was attended by her friend and confidant, Miss Frances E. Shaw of London, England, who accompanied Miss Gilman to this country a few weeks ago. There were no other attendants. The bride was given away by no one. There was no best man. All was simple, except the gorgeous surroundings in which the wedding took place.
An hour and a half before the guests had sat down to the wedding dinner, which was spread in one of the rooms of what is known as the Royal Suite, on the third floor of the Hotel Gotham, which is within 200 feet of a church and therefore cannot get a liquor license.
At 2:10 o’clock this morning Mr. and Mrs. Corey came down to the ground floor of the hotel from the suite of rooms in which the wedding took place. Mr. Corey carried a small handbag. Their automobile, in which they were to go to the steamer, was some distance down the street from the hotel entrance, and they had to wait until it came up. They went out to the steps of the hotel and stood for a minute or two, and then returned to the corridor of the hotel.
The wedding guests had by that time gathered in the lobby and Mrs. Corey approached them. She was laughing. “Why, there is a whole battery of cameras out there,” she said. “You had better core out with us and get in the picture.” When the automobile came to the door Mr. and Mrs. Corey said good bye to their friends and walked slowly down the steps of the hotel. When they got half way down they paused to give the photographers time to take their picture. The man in charge of the flashlight pulled his string, but nothing happened. Something had gone wrong with the mechanism.
The crowd in the street cheered derisively, and Mr. and Mrs. Corey hurried down the remaining steps and into their automobile, in which they were carried to the Kaiser Wilhelm II, lying at her pier in Hoboken, on which they will sail to-day for Bremen. They will then go directly to the Chateau Villegenis, on the outskirts of Paris, where they will reside until the middle of July. This chateau, which is one of the finest in France, was the wedding gift of Mr. Corey to his bride. It was given to her last night, just before the wedding. Its value is said to be about $1,000,000. The chateau was purchased recently by the head of the Steel Corporation. In addition to this, the bride received many handsome jewels, most of which she wore last night.
Early in the afternoon a large force of carpenters, florists, and designers set to work to convert the Royal Suite into a fit setting for the wedding, a setting which had been designed partly by Mr. Corey, and his bride. There are five rooms in the Royal Suite, which is on the third floor of the hotel. All were decorated with flowers. From the doorway of the suite a double row of palms, snowballs, and dogwood led to the bower room. It presented the appearance of a long garden walk. Everywhere in the suite was the heavy perfume of flowers.
The largest of the rooms was converted into the chapel. In the north end the canopy was built of asparagus plumes and orchids. The marriage bell suspended there from was of white satin, partly covered with ferns and of lilies of the valley. The clapper of the bell was an incandescent electric light bulb, the gays of which fell full upon the faces of the, bride and bridegroom as they knelt upon the little prie-dieu of white satin. This was also draped with orchids, lilies of the valley, and ferns.
The walls of the chapel were festooned with asparagus plumes, ferns and orchids. It resembled a tropical bower. Two long ropes of satin led from the door to the bower of asparagus and orchids, ands inside these ropes were chairs for the wed ding party, fifteen on each side.
The dinner was served in the room add joining the chapel. A great square table was spread beneath festoons of ferns and roses. Smilax and roses, intertwined, fell in long streamers from the ceiling to the table. Streamers or satin on which flowers were painted also descended from the ceiling, presenting a May pole effect. At the end of the streamers of satin were “Cupids” with arrows poised.
The centre piece was a solid square of pink roses and lilies of the valley. It had been the original plan to have two hearts of roses intertwined for a centre piece. This was ordered, and was, it fact, placed upon the table last night, but when Mr. Corey and Miss Gilman went to inspect the decorations they were not pleased with the centre piece. “Too sentimental” said Mr. Corey, and the woman he was soon to marry agreed with him.
“That will have to be changed. It won’t do,” said Mr. Corey, so the decorators had to hurry up another design. This was the only feature of the decorations that Mr. Corey and Miss Gilman did not like.
“You have certainly done this thing up to the queen’s taste,” remarked Mr. Corey to Mr. Bennett, the manager of the Gotham after the inspection. The other rooms of the royal suite were adorned with roses and other flowers.
Mr. Corey and Miss Gilman visited the royal suite many times during the afternoon. Mrs. Jeannette Gilman, mother of the bride, accompanied them on these trips. But the last inspection was at 7 o’clock just before Miss Gilman began to dress for the wedding. No one except the decorator, and the hotel chef and his men were allowed in the royal suite after Mr. Corey and Miss Gilman had paid their final visit of inspection. Outside the door stood two watchmen, who warned all persons back. Mr. Corey ordered several flashlight pictures of the chapel and the dining room. Electric fans were then set to ‘work to clear the rooms of the smoke from the flesh powder.
Early in the evening, long before the guests began to arrive, two detectives from the Central Office arrived at the hotel and stationed themselves in the main corridor near the elevators. Capt. Lantry of the Fifty-seventh Street Station sent two uniformed policemen with orders to keep a crowd from gathering on the outside of the hotel. The policemen had their hands full for a while.
In the lobby of the hotel many men and women who were not members of the wedding party gathered to look on. In the dining room on the first floor the orchestra played as one selection the Wedding March from “Lohengrin”. This was the only wedding march which was heard in the hotel last night, because there was no music at the wedding. Most of the diners recognized the significance of the march and there was a faint ripple of applause when the strains ceased.
Early in the evening there was a rumor that the first Mrs. Corey, from whom W. E. Corey was divorced some time ago, had come on from Pittsburg, and would reach the hotel shortly before the hour set for the wedding. This was learned by the Central Office men. It was understood that if Mrs. Corey did arrive at the hotel she would not be admitted. Most of the hotel attendants knew of this rumor, and watched for her arrival with intense interest. But Mrs. Corey did not appear.
The guests sat down to dinner at 11 O’clock. The menu follows:
Puree St. Germain en tasses.
Terrapene a la Gotham.
Cassolettes de Ris-de-Veau a la Parisienne,
Pigeonneaux Royeaux sur canapes.
Gelee aux Cerises,
Dry Monopole 92.
When the dinner ended the wedding party filed into the reception room, and then the Rev. Dr. Clark led the way to the chapel. After all the guests were sated there was a little wait. Then Mr. Corey and his bride entered the room and walked slowly to where Dr. Clark was awaiting them beneath the march.
The bride wore an empire gown of white crepe de chine, trimmed with garlands of embroidered wild roses. The bodice was trimmed with point d’Aiguille lace caught up With trails of embroidered roses, The bridal veil was hand-made tulle four yards square, edged with Point d’Aiguille lace. The material for this gown was purchased in Paris and made there several weeks ago. It is said to have cost $5.000.
Miss Shaw wore a gown of white tulle with panels of point de Venise lace, the corsage being trimmed with gold and roses.
Directly after the ceremony the guests repaired again to the reception room, where they waited for the arrival of the automobile which was to convey Mr. Corey and his bride to the Kaiser Wilhelm II. They inspected the wedding presents which had arrived earlier in the evening and which were displayed upon a large table in the reception room. Many of, these gifts were jewels. There were also pieces of silver and gild ornaments for table and parlor.
There was a small crowd outside the hotel when the wedding party broke up this morning. A big automobile was wilting at the Fifty-fifth Street entrance of the Gotham when Mr. and Mrs. Corey came downstairs. Into this they got and were quickly taken to the ferry, then across to the North German Lloyd piers in Hoboken. On the trip across they will occupy the Captain’s suite. Mr. Corey had wished to engage the Imperial suite, but it had already been taken when he communicated with the steamship agents. Two wealthy Westerners had engaged it ahead of him. The Captain’s suite has been especially fitted up at the order of Mr. Corey. A valet and a maid will accompany them to Europe. The other servants await them at the Château France. Four ships’ stewards will attend to the wants of Mr. Corey and his bride during the voyage.
The Coreys will dine in theft own private dining room. Arrangements have been made by which they will not be obliged to mingle with other passengers on the Kaiser Wilhelm II, unless they so desire.‘
Wow – a possible dramatic appearance by the estranged wife, ‘derisive’ laughter from the crowd, overly ‘sentimental’ centrepieces, a $5,000 wedding dress, no hobnobbing with other passengers and all manner of fuss. What a GREAT wedding!
The couple then moved into a mansion at 803 Fifth Avenue before buying their own palatial residence at 991 Fifth Avenue, where they lived in very high style indeed. Despite the dire warnings about the couple becoming social pariahs, the Coreys were apparently wealthy and glamorous enough to supersede any remaining public outrage about their union and were for the next few years to be found hobnobbing with the great and good of both America and Europe, rubbing shoulders with aristocracy, millionaire businessmen, artists, performers and royalty alike and entertaining lavishly both at their Fifth Avenue mansion and their beautiful French château, where it was rumoured Mabelle was in the habit of riding naked around the park. At the same time, Mabelle in what was perhaps a predictable move for a by now ageing Broadway star had aspirations to be taken seriously and had begun training for opera roles and more serious theatre, aided in this by her doting husband although, equally predictably, it all came to nothing as her career as a dazzling socialite took up far too much of her time.
However, by 1912, cracks were beginning to develop in this fairytale match of showgirl and millionaire with Mabelle telling an avid clutch of reporters who mobbed her when she arrived back in New York for a flying visit that Christmas that ‘I think really that the ideal husband would be a composite of the husband of France and America. Each excels in one way. But the American gives all his time to his business, and when he kisses his wife it is likely that he is thinking of stocks and bonds or accounts receivable. With the French husband it is different. He so apportions his time that he gives half of it to his affairs and the rest he devotes to his wife.‘ She also declared that ‘I love this country, but I can never live here again because the noise would drive me mad‘. More tellingly she added: ‘I have a chateau about thirty minutes by automobile from the city, and there I find peace and quiet. My only disappointment is that I cannot persuade Mr. Corey to give up his business and live abroad. That is the way with the American husbands.’
The marriage rattled on for a few more years before ending with the perhaps all too predictable divorce in November 1923, after which Mabelle took up more or less permanent residence in France and swiftly added an even more prestigious suitor to her collection – the Infante Luis Fernando de Bourbon, a decidedly shady but nonetheless charming and highly entertaining prince of Spain who was well known to be a promiscuous homosexual, have issues with illegal drugs and have a liking for wearing women’s apparel amongst other things. However it was his involvement in the smuggling of drugs which resulted in him being stripped of his princely status by his scandalised cousin King Alfonso XIII of Spain and banned from ever entering France again. He and Mabelle had been friends for ages but things took a decidedly odd turn after her divorce when this unlikely couple were widely reported in March 1929 to be engaged.
Even more surprising was the fact that this match apparently had the full approval of the Infante’s formidable mother, the Infanta Eulalia of Spain, who was also something of a persona non grata within the Spanish royal family due to her authorship in 1912 of a book vaunting her enthusiasm for the liberation of women and her progressive views on other matters pertaining to education, socialism, religion and the class system. The Infanta officially announced her son’s engagement, which if his ‘fiancée’ is to believed, she had had quite a hand in arranging, probably thinking that this was her best chance of seeing him married off and telling family members that her errant son would ‘settle down and be a good boy after he marries‘ and that, perhaps even more optimistically, he had been in love with Mabelle for over two decades, which caused the clearly bemused bride to be to rather wryly comment that: ‘This twenty-year-old romance certainly shows I am not impulsive‘.
There was still the matter of Luis’ ban from France to be dealt with however, with Mabelle declaring that she would not marry him until it was revoked as she herself refused to leave her adopted country and his mother insisting that all would be well in time for the wedding, while at the same time urging Mabelle to convert to Roman Catholicism, which she duly did. However, as the months ticked by with no sign of an actual wedding take place, everyone began to get distinctly restless – was it on or off?
It was off. Infante Luis refused to leave San Remo and failed to get permission to re-enter France, while Mabelle for her part refused to leave her château and go to him. There was also the usual matter of finances, with Luis informing friends that his bride to be had rejected his demand for a $200,000 ‘dowry’ as well as a $1,000 a month allowance, this sum being deemed not at all up to scratch for a prince of the blood. The couple had clearly reached an impasse and to the no doubt great disappointment of his matchmaking Mama, the wedding was finally off. Luis would eventually marry the fabulously wealthy seventy two year old widowed Princesse Amedée de Broglie, who was thirty one years his senior and had children older than him. He leeched off her shamelessly, entirely dissipating her enormous fortune and forcing her to sell most of her property before dying in the usual ignominious squalor.
Mabelle no doubt thought that she’d had a close escape from Luis’ clutches although she would never again reach the heady pinnacle of being engaged to an actual bone fide prince. Instead she lived in France in quiet obscurity until the German Occupation in 1940, when she was taken prisoner and placed in the Vittel Internment Camp until 1942, when she was allowed to leave and vanished into total obscurity before reportedly dying in March 1966, having long since lost her beautiful château and her fortune.
Blood Sisters, my novel of posh doom and iniquity during the French Revolution is just a fiver (offer is UK only sorry!) right now! Just use the clicky box on my blog sidebar to order your copy!