It’s been almost fifty years since Tommy Manville departed this mortal coil. You’re probably thinking Tommy who? In his day, he was a celebrity, though not because he was exceptional at anything creative or athletic or political or entrepreneurial. Yet in his own way, he was quite an achiever, and he remains a person of interest in the modern manosphere. So let’s resurrect him, even though he had way more than 15 minutes of fame during his lifetime.
Thomas Franklyn Manville, born in Milwaukee on April 9, 1894, was the grandson of C.B. Manville, founder of the Manville Covering Company, which merged with H.W. Johns Manufacturing in 1901 to form the Johns-Manville Corporation. The company is almost synonymous with asbestos products, so perhaps Tommy Manville’s behavior can be explained away as the result of too much proximity to toxicity. In fact, he was often referred to as the “asbestos heir.”
As the heir to the Johns-Manville fortune, Tommy Manville had an unusual upbringing. Buy age 12, he was thrown out of more schools (eight) than most people attend by that age. He then embarked on a peripatetic life of odd jobs and bumming around.
He first married in 1911 at age 17. His first wife, Florence Huber, was a Ziegfeld Girl, in other words a showgirl or chorus girl who appeared in the famed Ziegfeld Follies, a variety revue somewhat classier than burlesque or vaudeville, but just as dependent on pulchritude. Most of the performers were just window dressing, but for those with talent, being a Ziegfeld girl was often a stepping stone to a more prominent show business career. Among the better known Ziegfeld alumnae were Billy Dove, Barbara Stanwyck, Ruby Keeler, Fanny Brice, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Louise Brooks, and Nita Naldi.
At the time Manville married Huber, she was six years older than he was. Somehow the marriage lasted ten years, even though the couple had separated halfway through the marriage.
In 1925 Manville embarked on his second marriage. He married Lois Arlene McCoin, his father’s secretary. Whether or not this caused his father’s heart attack is debatable, but at any rate, the old man died soon after and left Tommy with a trust fund and oodles of company stock. Manville divorced his second wife in 1926 and then he really went to town.
Manville lived a classic socialite playboy lifestyle. Women played a major role in his life story, but he did not pump and dump them. Wed them and bed them (not the other way around) was his modus operandi….lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseam. In fact, Manville earned a niche in the Guinness Book of World Records for most marriages: 13 times to 11 women. As he put it, “When I meet a beautiful girl, the first thing I say is ‘will you marry me?’ The second thing I say is, ‘how do you do?’”
For readers keeping score at home, let’s document wives 3-11 (not sure which ones he married twice):
3. Avonne Taylor (another Ziegfeld girl), 1930-1931 (34 days total);
4. Marcelle Edwards (another showgirl), 1933-1937;
5Bonita (Bonnie) Edwards (dancer/showgirl), divorced after 17 days on December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy!
6. Wilhelmina “Billie” Connelly Boze (actress), 10/11/42 – 10/12/42…talk about a quickie!
7. Macie Marie “Sunny” Ainsworth (chorus girl), 7 hours, 45 minutes. And they said it wouldn’t last!
8. Georgina Winifred Grant Campbell (reporter), married in 1945, died in an auto wreck in 1952; this was the first time Manville did not have to hire a divorce attorney;
9. Anita Frances Roddy-Eden (dancer/songwriter) – 1952-1955;
10. Pat Gaston (Texas dancer/showgirl), May-Nov 1957; and
11. Chrstina Erdlen (20-year-old German socialite) – January 11, 1960; as with Wife No. 8, the marriage did not end in divorce. For the second time, it was till death do us part, but this time it was Tommy doing the departing (he clocked out on October 18, 1967). No divorce attorney got rich when this marriage ended, but whoever handled Manville’s estate probably came away with a bundle.
Interspersed with these wives were numerous girlfriends, almost all blond. Manville was an incurable stage-door Johnny, so most of his lady friends were show biz types. They included Greta Thyssen, Miss Denmark of 1952 and a marginal actress; Madge Lowe, a Canadian Dancer; Elinor Troy, a 6’2″ actress; Nancy Carroll, an American actress; and Claire Windsor, a silent film star; the last two have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Guess that last marriage was the lucky 13th. Of course, by that time Manville was a senior citizen, so he had likely mellowed. He had plenty of dough for health care, so he surely wasn’t looking for a young woman to take care of him in his old age.
Now that we’ve outlined Manville’s love life, we can speculate on his motivation. After all, he had more wives than Bluebeard. Was he a hopeless romantic? A womanizer? A glutton for punishment? A lunatic? How could he explain his obsession? Too much time on his hands?
“I couldn’t compete with my father,” he explained. “When he died I had nothing but money. The only field of competition open to me was love.”
Now there’s no doubt that Manville’s money facilitated his marriage merry-go-round. If he’d had a more modest income, there is no way in hell he could have convinced so many women to marry him, or that he could have afforded to marry so many women. He was overwhelmingly gynocentric, and since he was rich and famous (and intermittently available), he stimulated the hypergamy gland in women.
Despite spending big bucks on divorce attorneys, he still had enough money for an impressive mausoleum (imagine Fort Knox as a Greek temple) in the Kensico Cemetery in Westchester County, New York. It’s an exclusive neighborhood, so Manville is sleeping the big sleep with a number of celebs representing a wide array of human endeavor. Among them are Anne Bancroft, Tommy Dorsey, Lou Gehrig, Danny Kaye, Sergei Rachmaninoff, David Sarnoff, and Soupy Sales.
Appropriately, given Manville’s taste in showgirls, Flo Ziegfeld is also planted in Kensico Cemetery. (Attention, objectivists: Ayn Rand’s final resting place is at Kensico. If you are so inclined, this cemetery offers an architecture tour, though I wouldn’t look for any of John Galt’s designs there.)
So what’s the lesson to be learned from the life of Tommy Manville? In the MGTOW rising era, when men are increasingly reluctant to tie the knot even once, it’s hard to conceive that anyone would go to the well 13 times. I concede that he was a pathetic figure, but it’s hard to feel much sympathy for someone who squandered his patrimony on matrimony.
Had he wanted to be a pick-up artist, he certainly had the time and resources to compile a long list of conquests. Had he desired, he could have visited every top-rated call girl and world-class whorehouse. Hell, he probably could have kept a harem. He could have customized his sex life in ways most men can’t even imagine. Yet he chose marriage…over and over and over.
Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, we could say:
Never in the field of human relationships has a man so wealthy done so little with so much.