2014-09-15 13:23:21 UTC
Catherine Alexandra Marshall, an artist, model and native Washingtonian,Catherine Alexandra Marshall was my mother. I am George Marshall Price. Everybody knew her as Cam. She was born September 5, 1921, and turned 80 in 2001. She was extraordinarily tall and beautiful and unquestionably a remarkable genius. Before she went to school, she'd already read over forty books, most of them classics, not written for children. Later, she usually read about six books and three newspapers a day, and loved magazines, particularly "The New Yorker", "Scientific American", "American Heritage", etc., and academic periodicals. She played bridge often since childhood, but it wasn't until quite late in life that she discovered that she had a chance to become a life master, and set about assiduously to attain the necessary credits. I remember her delight at attaining the degree of bronze life master. She had two copies of the bridge encyclopedia, and read everything about bridge she could lay her hands on. She played in bridge clubs three or four days a week in Florida, charging $10 for individual tutoring, for which she was in great demand. While an interesting game, bridge is much more important as a social activity, of course, and partly explains how she came to meet and interact with numerous intelligent people.
died June 9, 2002, at North Shore Hospital in Miami, Florida, at the age
of 89, from Alzheimer's disease.
died June 9, 2002, at North Shore Hospital in Miami, Florida, at the age
of 89, from Alzheimer's disease.
Her early life was much more interesting. Her father owned the local professional football team in Washington, DC, and was the toast of the town. He was very tall and handsome, handled his liquor well, did almost anything, good or bad, to get into the newspapers, including establishing his reputation as a womanizer, one whom women couldn't resist, even though he was known to treat them quite roughly. His first wife was my grandmother, Elizabeth Mortenson, who won prizes for her beauty before the age of beauty pageants. At the age of seventeen, Florenz Ziegfeld recruited her into his Ziegfeld Follies, and she was proud to say that she wasn't required to sing or dance, not a member of the chorus line. I suspect there was a good reason for this; perhaps there was a limit on how much flesh could be exposed by the singers and dancers which she, who simply posed, was permitted to exceed. Usually, she was embellished with an elaborate headdress and surrounded by a thematic stage setting, with three other young beauties. The orchestra would play a song on the theme, the curtain would rise, they would pose stock still while an announcer read a poem on the subject, and then the curtain would descend again. It was quite an audience pleaser, called (I think) a "tableau". Ziegfeld, amid much fanfare, announced that he would assemble a panel of twenty artists to judge who were the most beautiful women in the world, and Grandmother was among the winners. Eddie Cantor wanted to marry her. So did many celebrities and wealthy men, but it was George Preston Marshall who won her hand, perhaps because she was impressed by his charismatic personality.
He made a devastating mistake in his first appearance on Broadway. He'd always wanted to be an actor and a Broadway star, but when he was expected to catch a famous actress in a chair as she fainted onstage, the chair fell over, she was furious, and he was blacklisted forever. He had to find a different career. His father was a newspaper publisher in West Virginia who received ownership (to settle unpaid advertizing bills) of one or two Washington, DC laundries. He gave them to George, who revolutionized the industry and wound up owning 57 laundries in the city, with astonishing alacrity. It was a combination of efficiency and showmanship.
After marrying Elizabeth, he traded in his laundry empire for part ownership in a basketball team. It didn't succeed, and the other partners, one by one, sold him their shares. He reasoned that basketball wasn't going to be profitable, and exchanged his basketball team for a football team. At the time, professional football wasn't much of an industry. They played by college rules and cared little for pleasing crowds. Grandfather went through the rule book and made many changes, each designed to make the sport more appealing to the spectators, and standardized the game, while getting the league better organized and fan-oriented. He practically invented the sport of pro football single-handedly.
Elizabeth stuck with the marriage rather a long time, despite George's egotism, philandering, and brutal bad temper, but they separated. My mother Cam was born in 1921, her brother George, Jr., in 1925, and the three of them lived in very posh hotels on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, while George Preston Marshall pursued the high life of a sportsman, gambler, socializer, and big spender.
Elizabeth was just the opposite; when Grandfather discovered she was a Ziegfeld girl, he assumed she was fast, easy, and experienced. Actually, she was a virgin, a prude, and very strait-laced, prim, well mannered and decorous. When my uncle, George, Jr., was a baby, his nurse used to take Cam and him, in his perambulator (baby carriage) for walks early in the morning. They often encountered ex-President Taft, at that time a Supreme Court justice, who enjoyed holding hands with Cam while telling her stories, including secrets he wasn't supposed to discuss with anyone, and which Mom (Cam) never revealed. Gore Vidal lived around the corner, and he and my Uncle George became best buddies, often retreating into his large bedroom, where Gore had an amazing arrangement of model trains.
Cam received excellent schooling, but had little regard for education. She often found she'd already read books she was assigned, and English composition was second nature to her. She found school, including Skidmore, boring. She arranged for an appointment with the dean and her adviser, and discussed the curriculum they'd planned for her. Since there was little she hadn't already covered on her own, she dropped out. She was more interested in theater, dancing, culture, conversation, high society, etiquette, travel, etc., than in the dry subjects they intended for her. There was little they could teach her about history she didn't know already.
Growing up, she was always tall for her age, and embarrassed about it. She stooped to try avoiding attention. But late in her teens, she went through a growth spurt, and there was no avoiding her exceptionalism. This was the age of the "bathing beauty", and she found that, among models, her height was considered advantageous. A friend persuaded her to stand as erect as possible, and she abandoned that stooping for good. She moved (from New York City, where she studied ballet, acting, secretarial skills, and modeling) to Florida, working as a salesgirl in high-class department stores to supplement her income from modeling bathing suits and sun hats.
A friend invited her to the tennis courts at the Roney Plaza resort hotel, where she spotted my father playing tennis, and fell in love at first sight. Georgie Price, born 1901, was a famous recording artist and radio personality. Like many of his peers, he was multi-talented, especially as a mimic, dancer, comedian, song- and gag-writer, singer of popular music and opera, interviewer and interviewee, etc., etc. He could mimic anybody he ever met, and was endlessly fun and funny. He was rich, too, and a member of the New York Stock Exchange. It wasn't widely known, but he was also Jewish. George Preston Marshall was famously bigoted. Georgie was everything Marshall was not, and the toast, not of Washington, but of Broadway.
For him, too, it was love at first sight, and he hired her immediately to be his publicity agent. This was in 1939, and it wasn't until 1942, on Halloween, that they were married, in a fancy apartment on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park, in New York.
Dad, like GPM, was a gambler, but with a difference. The man in whose apartment he got married was Ken Kling, a cartoonist and horse-racing tipster. He hid hints in his daily cartoon strips which could be deciphered according to a little booklet sold (furtively?) at the race tracks. So Dad, in the long run, came out ahead in his betting.
There was good money to be made in entertainment, but Dad always knocked himself out doing it. So he preferred to take it easy, managing other people's money, and his own, by gambling on the stock market, where he said any fool could make 20% a year on his investments, as long as he didn't have to pay commissions (which NYSE members don't) and kept his ears open. His celebrity and personality stood him in good stead, and Wall Street, for him, was a lot of fun.
During World War II, Dad received an award he couldn't discuss. I think it was from the government of France. It was shown by a tiny tricolor decoration he wore on special occasions in his lapel. He was a Freemason for a while. He joined numerous clubs, was an officer in some, and "shepherd" of The Lambs Club for a dozen years. He was the president of AGVA, the American Guild of Variety Artists (for Vaudevillians and nightclub entertainers) and another union, too, I think.
He negotiated with Ronald Reagan, the president of the Screen Actors Guild, mainly over the treatment of Vaudeville entertainers, who spent years polishing their acts, expecting to perform them repeatedly in different theaters, but once filmed, would lose their value. The two of them went into a room together, and after Reagan left, Dad said, "That man ought to go into politics. I think he just screwed me, and left me feeling I'd gotten the better of him!"
Cam and Georgie loved to travel, and when I was a baby, often took me on tours with them. I slept in dresser drawers. Dad washed out his own socks and handkerchiefs every night. He left a wet handkerchief on the mirror before going to bed, and by morning, it was perfect. He'd started entertaining with a handkerchief at the age of two, thanks to a parody of "I Have a Little Shadow" by Robert Louis Stevenson (I think), written by his mother. It went, "I have a little handkerchief...."
They went to Cuba twice a year and Europe, at least once. I went to Europe three times, though without Dad. He was especially popular in England, and played all the most prestigious venues.
They bought a nice house in Bay Shore (Long Island), New York. It was on a "creek" leading to the Great South Bay, and had a tennis court, fruit trees, beautiful gardens, and a nice dock with berths for three boats. It was three stories tall, but what I liked best about it was the huge copper beech tree, which was the best sort of tree for climbing, and which I could climb quite a bit higher than the house itself. Behind the tennis court were marvelous old woods, containing all sorts of wildlife, fallen trees, mosses and fungi, worms, bugs, snakes, mice, and so on, a source of endless daydreams and diversions. When I turned eight, Dad bought me a marvelous varnished teak sailboat. Men of the sea tell me teak should never be finished with anything, not even oil, but that boat was so gorgeous I even loved polishing its brass.
Cam's brother George, after the family moved to Brightwaters, NY (next to Bay Shore), built a sulky for his dog, which, he claimed, loved to transport him, not only around the village, but to Bay Shore and other nearby towns as well. There was a rather sad occasion on which he had to kill a swan which attacked him, and for which nobody entirely forgave him. (My mother adopted the emblem of a swan as her personal emblem. She named our estate, too: "Caprice Landing".) He built boats, and became renowned as a young sailboat racer. He won a swimming race across the Great South Bay, a distance of about twelve miles. Both Cam and George were very popular in Bay Shore High School, where Mom got her introduction to the stage. George went on to join the very first class at the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, where he graduated first in his class. It being wartime, the merchant marine was enlisted in the war effort, and he was sent immediately after graduation to Mermansk, Russia, where he fell very ill. He went home to his mother, who nursed him, and soon discovered that he had developed a very serious case of Type I Diabetes. His life was never the same.
He married a pretty, fun-loving girl of whom his mother didn't approve, and built a most extraordinary boat with her assistance, after a design by L. Francis Herreshoff, taking the largest boat in "Sensible Cruising Designs", and scaling it down from 52 feet to 36. It was a ketch, and though Herreshoff offered a very admirable 34-foot ketch design, Uncle George was fascinated by the bigger boat. He wrote Herreshoff numerous letters asking for advice, and Herreshoff answered every one, exercising his remarkable design skills and draftsmanship, always insisting that it was a ridiculous enterprise. Many years passed before George conceded the point. It looked strange, didn't sail well, and was utterly impractical. A gasoline engine sat right in the middle of the cabin sole, the berths were much too small, and except for looking, in the distance like a glorious ship, it served no purpose whatsoever. But it kept George busy at a rewarding hobby for about five years. He'd been inspired by Captain Joshua Slocum's "Sailing Alone Around the World" to do just that, but never got around to it. Instead, he moved to Fort Lauderdale, FL, and raised daughters, making his living as a yacht captain.
Cam was a talented artist. She set up her studio on the third floor at Caprice Landing, and went through about three periods. She started out decorating furniture, mainly following styles she found in books. She did cartoons in pencil, then still lifes, landscapes, and portraits in charcoal and pastels. She went through a prolonged period of painting on Masonite in lacquer, evolving from fashion designs to abstract cubism with deep religious and psychological messages, and much later in life (after studying classical oil painting, and later, jewelry design at the Gemological Institute of America in New York) made very beautiful designs of jewelry. She also illustrated cook books.
She and Georgie agreed upon having an open marriage, though for her part, she was very discreet. In fact, Georgie forgot all about it, and was rather miffed when he learned she'd had numerous affairs. He even hired private detectives to see what she was up to, but they never discovered any "cheating". He, of course, thought nothing of cheating on her, since the double standard was quite the norm in the Fifties.
She wasn't attracted to ordinary men, though. She appreciated poets, novelists, inventors, colonels, race car drivers, actors, artists, etc., and even a few ladies. All her lovers were very attractive, though some were bizarrely eccentric.
One such was the maharaja of Sarila, not Narendra Singh, but his father, who wanted to marry her. For some reason, she was afraid he wanted to add her to a collection of wives, and it wasn't until long after she'd rejected him that she discovered she was wrong. It might have made a good match, except for the fact that his son Narendra was closer to her age, and she found him very tantalizing. She'd have been a royal, of sorts, quite wealthy, and might have had a happy life, the maharaja being not Muslim, but Hindu.
She may always have wanted to marry into aristocracy, out of romantic sentiments, but when she met a prince, she may have had aspirations to royalty. His name was Prince Igor Andreiovich (?) Mestchersky, and he was the eldest son of his father, prince in Kiev. I'm not sure whether princes in Kiev are very important, especially after the Russian Revolution, or how many there are in the city, but his coat of arms bore a cross, an eagle, ermine, and a crown. She did marry him, and became Princess Catherine, though it was rarely mentioned. Later, his name went to good use as the titular head of "Prince Igor Gems, Inc.", which was financed by my money and kept entirely out of my hands.
Igor's father made heavy agricultural equipment in factories both in Russia and Germany. During World War II, all the factories were confiscated, and Igor always claimed that Germany owed him about thirty million dollars in war reparations. From time to time, he would say that the Germans acknowledged the debt. He was one of four brothers, and once, two of them came from Russia to visit. One was a bus dispatcher in Kiev. He was rather well off. The other was a very high ranking military man and had lots of respect and privileges, but couldn't aspire to the bus dispatcher's income, which was shady, I suspect.
Mom had studied Russian in night school, and I studied it a bit on my own, and it was remarkable how well we got along speaking more in Russian than in English. She also spoke French, Portuguese, and fairly, Italian, Spanish, German, and Danish. Her mother Elizabeth was born in Brooklyn of Danish parents and spoke it with her Danish friends all her life.
Mom had two children. My sister Elisabeth Harrison Price was born in September, 1948. She had a very brief marriage early in life, and a permanent one much later. She tried her hand in a number of enterprises, as my mother did. None were dismal failures, but none brought lasting success. One of her earliest boyfriends became somewhat famous when he wrote a book, "Homeboy". He was Seth Morgan, who was disinherited by his father Charles for very naughty behavior. In Switzerland, he arranged for trysts between American private-school students, traveling between girls' and boys' schools. He also bought recreational drugs for them, and wound up not needing his father's fortune, gained, I think, from Ivory Soap. Charles was the famous editor of the Hudson Review. Seth became a full-time fun-lover and minor drug-dealing thief. I remember him well and always liked him very much. Elisabeth ("Lisa") had a falling-out with Cam, who said she could leave when she turned 18, and she did. From the time I left for boarding school at age nine, when she was six or seven, we've hardly met, and we were both separate from our mother Cam for many years.
The skill for which Cam was most remarkable was one she shared with Georgie, namely, conversation. Dad could entertain an audience endlessly in a variety of moods and on many subjects. One of his talents was double-talk. Unlike other practitioners, who rehearse lines assiduously, he could spout it without preparation, and "in any language". Having grown up on the Lower East Side, he was exposed to them all! He also had an astonishingly loud voice, which is why he got the first non-classical long-term contract with Victor (later RCA Victor). He recorded before electronic amplification was possible, directly to wax. Mom, being very well-read and sociable, was Dad's equal at conversation, and memories of the evenings I spent listening to them at the dinner table and afterwards, especially at parties (We had lots of great parties!) are among the greatest treasures I own.
When I was young, I always had to dress properly for trips to the city. I couldn't wear long pants until I was about seven, and I always wore gloves. We usually went to a restaurant or two, where my parents were likely to be recognized, and they were likely to be recognized almost anywhere. Once, at Sardi's, a radio interviewer came to the table to speak, on air, to my father. I hid under the table, but was soon invited out and asked whether I intended to follow in my father's footsteps. I was non-plussed. I knew that my father was one of the world's most talented people, and that he wasn't lifting a finger to teach me a darn thing. I said I doubted I could, and that was that. Sometimes Dad would invite me onto a stage while he sang a song directly to me. I was always non-plussed. I never knew how he expected me to behave.
But Cam and Georgie in public were always in top form and in high spirits. Unlike me, who became a professional singer but hate to sing for my friends, Dad never refused a request.
Cam and Georgie were together for about twenty years, and pro football never came up.
Late in life, Cam was at a bridge club when she overheard a lady at a nearby table say, "I just met Pam Marshall, the daughter of George Preston Marshall, the owner of the Washington Redskins." Mom said, "That's impossible. I'm George Preston Marshall's daughter, and my name is Cam, not Pam." It turned out that GPM married twice again, and that everybody had forgotten all about it. One of those marriages produced Pam, and her sister, who'd been abandoned by their father, but were both living happily without him, married, in California. Cam was thrilled to discover she had sisters, and went to visit them. They became best friends.
Another trait my parents shared was philanthropy, which they kept (almost entirely) secret. Dad gave large sums to absolute strangers and to causes, such as Zionism, with which he was not even in accord. Much of it went to his brothers and sisters, especially when he was young, and much to poor Vaudevillians and retirement homes for them. He started the Variety Children's Hospital in Miami, which has since dropped the "Variety", a synonym for Vaudeville. A man approached my sister once and told her that when he was a newcomer on Wall Street and had no money to invest, Dad gave him thousands of dollars -- fifty, I think. Mom's charity, when she had little money, extended to benefits and volunteer work. She tried to build roads, schools, and hospitals in Brasil (where she owned a large coffee plantation), but was thwarted by local politicians. She spent many years working without pay for the public defender's office here in Miami, FL, and many more at Jackson Memorial Hospital. She was quite active in the local Episcopal church wherever she lived, and fed, clothed, and sheltered people on numerous occasions.
By any standards, Cam lived a full, engaging, marvelous life and benefited the world quite well by her participation in it. Neither of her children are likely to produce offspring, but her jewelry and paintings, wherever they are, live on.