Famous 1920s Brides

In this post I will be taking a look back a hundred years ago to discuss four famous brides of the 1920s ranging from a Hollywood film star to a literary muse that married a famous American author to an American beauty that married an English aristocrat and lastly an American heiress who later abandoned her family to live in Europe. 

But before I start let’s briefly discuss what prompted the dramatic changes to women fashion styles during that decade.  It was just after World War I had ended and women were undergoing many changes as they moved out of their domestic roles to become factory workers, sales clerks in department stores and secretaries in various corporate businesses.  This sense of financial freedom and independence during this time resulted in many new fashion trends as the modest and restrictive clothing of the Victorian and Edwardian Era was evolving into more revealing and looser fitting clothing of the 1920s.

Starting with the undergarments, women in the 1900s wore uncomfortable tight corsets, bulky knickers, thick wool stockings and several layers of petticoats underneath their long dresses.  By the end of the 1920s women wore less undergarments made of lighter satin or silk and these brassiere, panties and slips were worn underneath dresses that had much shorter hemlines that reached scandalously to a lady’s mid-calf! 

Ready-made fashions became more affordable to the middle class working women and for the first time they were able to purchase the latest stylish dresses and accessories.  The 1920s became associated with the “flapper girl” that wore her hair short in a bob cut to the chin and she wore tailored dresses of tweed during the day and for the evening she wore beaded dresses made of silk and satin. 

To illustrate these fashion changes a perfect example is the costumes of the Downton Abbey television series.  As the Crawley sisters moved from 1912 pre-World War England as the series began to 1926 in the middle of the Roaring Twenties when the series ended their clothing reflects these new fashion trends.  If you are interested in more detailed information regarding the Downton Abbey Fashions, please click on the links to my other blog theenchantedmanor.com and Part One features a general discussion on the costumes worn during the six seasons of the series and Part Two details the wedding fashions of the Crawley sisters and a few of the other supporting characters.

Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford (April 8, 1892 – May 29, 1979) was a Canadian-born American actress; her birth name was Gladys Louise Smith.  As a young woman she began her film career in silent movies playing numerous ingénue roles and she became known as “America’s Sweetheart”.  She was the co-founder of the United Artists film studio in 1919 with D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks.  Later she became one of the first members of the Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when it was founded in 1927.

Mary Pickford – “the girl in curls”

Mary Pickford signing the United Artists Studios contract
(she is seated with Douglas Fairbanks on the far left)

Pickford was married three times, her first husband was Irish-born film actor Owen Moore who she married in 1911 and her third husband was band leader Buddy Rogers who she married in 1937 and they adopted a boy and a girl. 

Perhaps her most famous marriage was to her second husband the swashbuckling hero actor Douglas Fairbanks.  The couple first met in 1917 in New York while they were both married to other people and within a year their friendship soon turned into a romantic affair, Pickford and Fairbanks eventually divorced their respective spouses. 

On March 28, 1920 Pickford and Fairbanks were married secretly at the home a local Nevada Baptist pastor; the bride wore a dress of white tulle over white satin and trimmed with green flowers at the waist.  The couple later had a delayed wedding reception at their new home in Beverly Hills.  The house became known as “Pickfair” (a combination of their last names) and was purchased by Fairbanks as a wedding present for Pickford; it had 22 rooms and boasted the first in-ground swimming pool in the area!   

Newspaper article announcing the wedding of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks on their honey in Europe

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks at their home – Pickfair

Sadly, as the silent movie careers of Pickford and Fairbanks began to fade with the new “talkie” films, the marriage came to an end and the couple divorced in 1936.    

Zelda Sayre

Zelda Sayre (July 24, 1900 – March 10, 1948) was born in Montgomery, Alabama.  Zelda met F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1918 at a country club event when he was in the army and stationed at the nearby Camp Sheridan.  Fitzgerald became enamored with the vivacious and fun-loving Zelda and would visit her often during his time there and then exchanging letters when to be stationed at Camp Mills near Long Island, NY.  He shared with her his dreams of becoming a great author and even included a character that very much resembled Zelda in the first book that he was writing, “This Side of Paradise”.  In another one of his novels, “The Great Gatsby”, Fitzgerald fictionalized his feelings of his first meeting with Zelda in describing when the character of Jay Gatsby meets Daisy Buchanan but changing the place of their meeting instead to a train.

Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald

When Fitzgerald was discharged from the military in 1919 he moved to New York City to establish himself as a writer.  In an unusual proposal, Fitzgerald sent Zelda his mother’s ring in a letter and they were officially engaged.  By early 1920 Fitzgerald had completed his first novel and it was soon published, shortly thereafter Zelda arrived in New York for the wedding.  The couple was married on April 3, 1920 in a very small ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral; they spent their honeymoon at the Biltmore in New York City.      

Newspaper article announcing the wedding of Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald and Zelda had one daughter, Frances Scott “Scottie”, who was born on October 26, 1921 in St. Paul, Minnesota; the couple had briefly moved to Fitzgerald’s former hometown so that Zelda could give birth to their baby girl there.

The couple returned to New York City in the midst of the “Roaring Twenties” which was the decade after World War I when there was economic prosperity and social values were less restrictive while cultural changes came about as new nightclubs opened within the cities.  It was also the “Jazz Age” which is a term that has been credited to Fitzgerald who had written about this decadent time in his 1922 “Tales of the Jazz Age” book.  Zelda had become Fitzgerald’s literary muse and was the iconic “flapper ”, a definition given to women of the 1920s that wore short skirts, bobbed hair, listened to jazz music and flaunted their unacceptable behavior by wearing excessive make-up, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes and flouting their inappropriate sex lives.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald

The couple later spent part of their time living on the French Riviera and socializing with friends such as Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that they were parents of a young child, the couple’s lifestyle was very turbulent with excessive drinking, numerous infidelities and almost constant quarreling.  Zelda was perhaps the more noticeably affected with her outlandish careless behavior resulting in a diagnosis as a schizophrenic and she spent time in the many different hospitals and sanatoriums in Europe and America.  Sadly, after years of living their hedonistic lives, the couple had separated and Fitzgerald was living with his mistress in Hollywood at the time of his death in 1940, cause of death was listed as a heart attack.  Zelda, never fully recovering after the loss of her husband, died several years later in 1948 in a horrible fire while she was a patient at a hospital in Asheville, NC.         

F. Scott and Zelda with their daughter, “Scottie”

Catherine Wendell

Catherine Wendell (November 29, 1900 – April, 8 1977) was an American beauty who was born in New Hampshire into an upper middle class family and she later moved to England in 1911 with her widowed mother and siblings after the death of her father; her birth name was Anne Catherine Wendell.  Catherine was destined for unhappiness and she married three times, her second husband was Geoffrey Grenfell who she married in 1938 and her third husband was Stuart Mommand who she married in 1950.

Catherine Wendell

Catherine is perhaps best known through her marriage to her first husband Henry Herbert (Lord Porchester “Porchey”), their wedding took place on July 17, 1922 in St. Margaret’s Church in Westminster, England.  The couple were only married a short time when Porchey’s father died while in Egypt in 1923, his father had been there because he was funding the famous archeologist Howard Carter who had recently discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. 

Lord Porchester “Porchey” and Catherine Wendell on their wedding day

After his father’s death, Porchey became the 6th Earl of Carnarvon and Catherine became Lady Carnarvon and they lived at Highclere Castle (best-known as the filming site of the popular television series “Downton Abbey”).  The couple went on to have two children, Henry born in 1924 and Anne Penelope born in 1925.

Lady Carnarvon with her two children,
Henry and Anne Penelope

Initially, for a short time, the marriage appeared to be fine and the couple had a busy social life with the aristocratic and royal set, entertaining frequently at Highclere and going to horse races and attending other events in London. Unfortunately, Catherine was very unhappy since Porchey proved to be unfaithful, had numerous affairs and at times he was very abusive.  This situation left Catherine very shaken and she began to drink heavily, she was not completely the victim in this marriage and she also had affairs.  Finally, after thirteen years of mental and physical anguish, the couple divorced in 1936. 

Cornelia Vanderbilt

Cornelia Vanderbilt (August 22, 1900 – February 7, 1976) was an American heiress and the only child of George Vanderbilt II and Edith Stuyvesant Dresser; she was named for her paternal great-grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt.  Her father died in 1914 and at the young age of fourteen years old she inherited the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, the 250 room mansion is considered the largest privately owned home in the United States.  She received an annual sum of $2,000,000 when she turned 21 years old and then the full inheritance of $50,000,000 at the age of 25 years old.   

Cornelia and her mother Edith had spent time in Washington D.C. after the death of her father.  It was there that she met the British aristocrat, John Cecil, who was then the secretary to the British Embassy.  At the time Cecil was named one of the most eligible British bachelors and he had been raised in Norfolk and he attended Oxford College where he studied history and international law before becoming a member of the British diplomatic corps.  In anticipation of their upcoming wedding, Cecil resigned his post and planned to work full time managing the Biltmore Estate.    

Cornelia Vanderbilt and John Cecil

Cornelia and Cecil were married on April 29, 1924 in a lavish ceremony held at the All Souls Cathedral in the Biltmore Village followed by a grand reception at the Biltmore Estate. 

Cornelia on her wedding day standing near the Grand Staircase inside the Biltmore
photo from the Biltmore Estate website

Cornelia’s beautiful wedding dress was made of white satin and featured a long straight column silhouette with long sleeves; her satin shoes were trimmed with orange blossoms.  Her bridal veil of tulle and lace was four yards long and she carried a bridal bouquet which featured orchids and lilies of the valley and was made locally by a florist in Asheville.   

Cornelia and John Cecil at the All Soul’s Church in the Biltmore Village in Asheville, NC
photo from the Biltmore Estate website

Cornelia and her bridesmaids and flower girls in possession into the church
(Cornelia’s mother, Edith, is seen walking her down the aisle)
photo from the Biltmore Estate website

Cornelia and John Cecil with their large wedding party
in the Tapestry Room at the Biltmore
photo from the Biltmore Estate website

The wedding reception of Cornelia and John Cecil
which took place in the Garden Room inside the Biltmore
photo from the Biltmore Estate website

The couple lived at the Biltmore and continued the traditions of entertaining on a grand scale while managing the Estate property and farming operations.  Cornelia and Cecil had two sons, George born in 1925 and William born in 1928.  But after several years Cornelia became bored with her life at the Biltmore and in 1932 she moved to Greenwich Village in New York City to study art to live a bohemian lifestyle and eventually she moved to Paris and then England, she never returned to North Carolina.  Cornelia and Cecil divorced in 1934; Cecil remained living and managing the Biltmore Estate although during World War II he was briefly stationed in England before returning to North Carolina after the war.

Cornelia (now assuming the name of Mary) went onto marry twice more, her second husband was Captain Bulkeley- Johnson and they were married in 1949 (he died in 1968) then she married her third husband William Goodsir in 1972.  Cornelia died in Oxford, England on February 7, 1976 at age of 75 years old.

Also, for information regarding another famous 1920s bride, please click on the links to the Wedding of Prince Albert and Lady Elizabeth (the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) and also A British Bride – Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.

For additional information about 1920s brides depicted in television and movies, please click on the links to Downton Abbey Weddings and It Happened One Night.