01 September 2009

Scandal: Peaches and Daddy

By Delia DeLeest

If you think the actions of tabloid fodder like Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton are a twenty-first century phenomenon, think again. New York Daily News, the first of America's tabloids, hit the stands in 1919, and within five years it had the nations highest newspaper circulation. Unlike mainstream newspapers, tabloids served up lurid stories of sex and violence not seen previously. One of the most famous of these was the story of Peaches and Daddy.

In 1926, New York real estate tycoon Edward "Daddy" Browning was a 51-year-old millionaire when he met fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, Frances "Peaches" Heenan. Thirty-seven days later, on her sixteenth birthday, they were married. They were seen around town, at the theater, and going on massive shopping trips. Daddy's car bulged with new clothes and fur coats for Peaches. Ten months later they were in divorce court, and in typical roaring twenties fashion, their trial was larger than life and the subject of the New York Graphic's notorious falsified photographs.

Peaches: People say I married Daddy for his money, but that's not true. I had dreams of love, wife and motherhood. Instead, my dreams have turned into a nightmare. Daddy's unnatural urgings have left me suffering from seizures. My dreams are shattered. I thought he married me for love also, but instead, I discovered that there had been investigations started regarding Daddy's relationship with young girls. He simply married me as a distraction to protect himself. Everything he did, he did for show. He was a ruthless man and a tighwad. I was just a bird in a gilded cage. (**At this point, we imagine Peaches burying her face in her $10,000 mink coat and crying her pretty little eyes out.)

Daddy: When I married Peaches, I wanted to become a father, but that wasn't to be. (**This is true. Before meeting Peaches, Daddy had put an ad in the paper looking to adopt a "pretty, refined girl to be brought up as my own child." Uh...yeah!) My marriage to Peaches was in name only. Her mother lived with us and, many time, slept in the same room. I couldn't even whisper sweet nothings to my darling without waking her mother.

Peaches: That's not true. My mother didn't always sleep in the same room. She didn't come along on our honeymoon, though now, I wish she had. Maybe she could have protected me from Daddy's bizarre imaginations. My innocent sensibilities were astonished when he came lumbering into our bedroom dressed as a sheik and growling "woof woof" at me like a bear. Naturally, I went into a swoon. Besides, I feel that if he got to bring his pet duck along on our honeymoon, I should have been able to take my mother. The nasty thing has free reign of the house, just honk, honk, honking all day long. (**The duck, not the mother.)

Daddy: Peaches and her mother would lock me in my room and treated me like the hired help. I was there only to fix the shades and keep them supplied with hot coffee. I thought she was the love of my life, but instead, she was a vicious golddigger.

And you thought Michael Jackson was strange!

America was riveted to the story of the breakup of this bizarre May-December romance. The tabloid press and wide-eyed public filled the courtroom during the five day divorce hearing, listening to Peaches allegations of "depraved tastes" and "abnormal activity," while Daddy Browning denied all and claimed to simply be a man deprived of having a happy marriage with the woman he loved.

Despite the strange twists and turns of Peaches and Daddy's relationship, the court of New York refused to grant Peaches her sought after divorce, agreeing with Daddy that she was a golddigger. The court denied Peaches the $4000 a month alimony she requested (about $48,000 in today's dollars--a girl has a lot of expenses, you know!). Instead they granted the couple a legal separation and cut Peaches off without a cent.

Peaches used her newfound notoriety to become a vaudeville performer. There was never a divorce and because of subsequent court actions filed when Daddy died in 1934, Peaches claimed enough money from his estate to keep herself out of the poorhouse until her death in 1956.