Many young men from aristocratic families fought, and in many cases gave their lives, in the First World War. A remarkable fact that arose from the experiences of those young men was that those who had taken actresses for wives appeared to distinguish themselves in battle far more than those who had taken wives from amongst their own social class. Reproduced below is a period article investigating this phenomenon.
The Washington Post: Sunday, June 20, 1915.
ACTRESS WIVES WHO HAVE TURNED LORDS INTO HEROES
Aristocratic Society of England Amazed by the Startling Influence Which Has Enabled Noted Stage Beauties of the London Stage to Transform Gilded Idlers Into Brave and Capable Soldiers Fighting for King and Country. Striking Examples of Noblemen Who Have Married Gaiety Girls and Made Good on Battlefields.
London, June 19 - England has been literally astonished by the splendid services in the war of young lords and heirs to peerages married to actresses. The significant fact is that noblemen with actress wives have distinguished themselves very much more than noblemen married to girls of their own class. Practically every one of those with theatrical helpmates has been mentioned for distinguished service, while of the other members of the peerage not more than 5 per cent have been so distinguished.
It seems to be established that marrying an actress gives a young idler ambition, inspires him with patriotic enthusiasm and changes him from a lord into a real hero.
Marquis Spanked When He Married
The Marchioness of
Many of these men have already bravely given their lives for their country, but others are being mentioned almost daily in the reports from the war. A very striking example of this interesting phenomenon is the young Marquis of Headfort who married Miss Rosie Boote, of the Gaiety Theater. When the marquis first announced his intended marriage there was consternation in society.
He is the head of one of the oldest Anglo-Irish families and one of the largest landowners in Ireland. He had not done anything to win fame before that but still it was thought shocking that he should marry a girl who had entertained the public in a very successful manner.
The marquis was barely 21 at the time and an officer of the Life Guards, the first regiment of the British army. Report has it that his brother officers were so displeased with his conduct that they spanked him in the old-fashioned way.
Wrote to the King
His mother is even said to have locked him up and sequestered his clothes in order to prevent him from wedding. With remarkable determination he overcame all these obstacles. When he was warned by his immediate superior in the army that he should not make this marriage, he boldly wrote to the late King Edward, who was titular colonel of the regiment, saying: "I am about to marry Miss Rosie Boote, of the Gaiety Theater, whom your majesty doubtless knows."
Rosie Boote was a charming girl, not only handsome, but endowed with splendid health, good spirits and good nature. While the marriage was still in doubt she sang with brilliant verve a song entitled, "Maisie Will Get There All the Same" in "The Messenger Boy," at the Gaiety Theater.
The marquis and the actress ran away one fine day and were married by a "registrar," who performs the humblest kind of marriages In England. The marquis was then forced to resign from the army and everybody said that he and his wife would be quite social outcasts. A few months after the wedding the Duchess of Westminster, who is related to the Headfort family, met the new marchioness at a charity bazaar and found her charming. Then King Edward saw her at the races and put the seal of his social approval on her, just as he had recognized her theatrical talent before.
Instead of being boycotted, the new marchioness became a brilliant success in society. She proved herself a fine rider to hounds, was good at tennis and all kinds of sports. Of course, she knew a good deal more about singing and dancing than the other society women, but she didn't parade the fact unduly.
Astonishing Change in the Marquis
But the most astonishing change occurred in the marquis. Instead of being a reckless young spendthrift he became a dignifled member of society, a successful landowner, a conscientious justice of the peace and everything that a British nobleman ought to be. The climax of this transformation of character occurred only recently. The marquis was reinstated in the army, and, after doing some useful work in raising new regiments at home, he was appointed an officer on the staff of Gen. French at the front.
He has distinguished himself in this important and dangerous work. While carrying dispatches in a light motor car he was surprised by a party of uhlans during the German attack on Ypres and had a narrow escape from capture or death. His car was riddled with bullets.
Married a "Pink Pajama Girl"
Another young nobleman who has become a heroic figure, with the help of an actress wife, is Lord Edward Fitzgerald, who is the second brother of the young Duke of Leinster. Lord Edward was only 23 when he startled society by running away with Miss May Etheridge, who was exciting warm admiration as the pink pajama girl of "Princess Caprice" at the Shaftsbury Theater.
It was generally admitted that she made pajamas more attractive than they had ever seemed before, but this was not considered a qualification for the sister-in-law of a duke. The ducal family showed their anger by putting the young lord on a very scanty allowance. He was forced to resign his commission in the Irish Guards. His clever wife was obliged to go on acting to enable him to keep up some kind of social position.
Since the war began Lord Edward Fitzgerald has been restored to the army, for they need every officer they can get. He has just been mentioned in dispatches for storming a German trench, while his brother, the duke, though an officer in the army, has never been mentioned.
Lord Ashburton's Transformation
America has had a hand in this interesting movement to reform the peerage. Lord Ashburton, one of the principal members of the very wealthy and influential Baring family, married Miss Frances Belmont, of New York, who was then entertaining the London public in "The Girl From Kay's." Lord Ashburton was of no particular importance among his own class before that and held no public office.
Since his marriage he has rapidly forged ahead, and his distinguished cousin, Lord Cromer, considers him an honor to the Baring family. Lord Ashburton is now colonel of the Hampshire Carabiniers, a fine cavalry regiment. He was reported as leading a gallant charge during the fighting along the Yser River.
Saved Guns by His Bravery
Then there is young Earl Poulett, who only secured his title after some remarkable litigation in which his father's early matrimonial adventures involved him. The young earl married miss Sylvia Storey, who was a very popular figure at the Gaiety Theater and other emporiums of light amusement. She once made a great hit attired as a mermaid.
Before his marriage the earl was Just a "willie boy," or a "knut," as the English say, but since that event he has become a dignified member of society and a good soldier. He has gone to the war as a captain in the Royal Horse Artillery, and during the critical period of the retreat from Mons at the beginning of the war he saved the guns from capture with great bravery and determination.
Among the many other actresses who have helped their husbands to rise to distinction in the war is Denise Orme, the handsome comic opera star, who is married to Captain the Hon. John Yarde-Buller, heir of Lord Churston.
Camille Clifford a Hero's Widow
Then there are several noblemen who have lost their lives and left widows of theatrical antecedents. Some of them have already been mentioned in these column's. Camille Clifford, the statuesquely beautiful American girl, lost her husband, the Hon. Henry Lyndhurst Bruce, son and heir of Lord Aberdare. When he married her his father was furious and cut off relations with him for a time, but Camille Clifford won his respect. Her husband improved enormously after his marriage and was a credit to his family instead of the reverse. He went to the war as a captain In the Royal Scots Fusiliers. After being repeatedly mentioned for gallant actions he was killed while leading a desperate charge of his company.
Sir Richard Levinge, a great sportsman and irish landowner, who married pretty Irene Desmond, of the Gaiety, was killed while bravely fighting with his regiment, the Eighth hussars.
Mating a Matter of Impulse
Prof. Warburton Headley, of the University of London, says that there is a valuable lesson for society in the heroic conduct and elevation of character observed in young noblemen and millionaires who have married actresses.
"It means" says the professor, "that the man who marries the prettiest girl he sees without stopping to think or meditate is, after all, the best member of society. Mating should be a matter of impulse. The man who cautiously hunts for a great heiress or a girl of suitable social position is not the one who will do great deeds or heroic deeds.
War a Test of Elemental Virtues
"It is most natural that these young men who have bravely thrown convention or fortune to the winds for the sake of a beautiful face should prove our best soldiers. War is the test of the elemental virtues. "Those who are studying the science of eugenics and thinking seriously of the future of our population should pay close attention to these interesting cases. They suggest that we cannot secure an improved race by coldly picking out perfect physical specimens, but must rather give unhampered play to the forces of attraction and sentiment. I observe that in nearly all these unions there are several very fine children, which is what I should expect.
"When a man has married the woman he desired most ardently he is naturally happy and enjoys increased powers of mind and body in spite of some apparent unhappy exceptions. In addition to this, the fact that his wife had been fitted by nature and trained to charm and entertain would great increase the happiness of his domestic life.
"The lesson, in short, is that a man should marry the girl he loves without regard to conventions or material conditions. I do not say that he should start out with a preconceived ideal of marrying a pretty actress. Let him marry a pretty salesgirl or a pretty factory girl, as long as she pleases him. Freedom of choice in marriage should never be hampered by thoughts of wealth or social position. A woman also should be unrestricted in her choice, but it is most vital that the man who possesses wealth or ability or exceptional gifts of any kind should enjoy this freedom."