Monday, July 14, 2014

Its a terrible thing when love dies: Peaches and Daddy

It is a terrible thing, when love dies.

My mother was her father's daughter.  She never had very many memories that she shared about her mother, who I adored, but she had many fond memories of her father.  I loved my grandfather, but I was terrified by him, despite the fact that there wasn't a mean bone in his body.

One of the pieces of advice he gave my mother when she moved to the big city to enter nursing school was not to become "Some Daddy's Peaches."  I learned of this in one of those moments when Mom would tell a story about when she was younger when I was a child myself.  It didn't make any sense.  "Some Daddy's Peaches?"  Was it a riddle, or code?

Well, as I learned in my teens, it was neither, but rather an allusion to the 1920s scandal marriage of one Edward Browning, a New York Real Estate Investor and Developer, to one Frances Belle Heenan.   What made it initially so scandalous was that Frances, aka "Peaches" was only 16 at the time of the marriage to Browning's age of 51.  That's an age difference of 36 years for those of you with slow calculation abilities.  

And that's not all.  Browning began courting Peaches when she was either 15, with the consent of her mother, and 37 days later, on June, 23, 1926 - Peaches 16th birthday - the couple wedded.  Nevermind that Peaches mother was about the same as the gray faced Browning.  All was well now that New York's child protective services was off his back.

One of the conditions of the marriage was that the eccentric Browning, aka "Daddy" allow Peaches mother to live with them in their luxury apartment.

And then nothing, really, nothing.  The public assumed it was wedded bliss until until Peaches surfaced in the White Plains, New York, divorce court at Christmas time, a mere six months into the whole marriage.  All Daddy wanted to do were things that Peaches, who professed to be a good girl, thought were perverse. Oh, you know, coitus and such.   And she had been aggrieved.  Yes, that too.

Had Daddy simply just bought her out and set up Peaches in a nice pad in one of his buildings facing Central Park, this would have been the end of it.

But Daddy was having none of it.  Peaches had, afterall, left him.  And Daddy really wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.  So he wasn't giving in without a fight.

This is when the New York Graphic, the Weekly World News of its time, got involved.  The Graphic was notorious for lots of enhanced (read as doctored) pictures and lurid facts.  And the Graphic sent reporters and its very own court stenographer to the divorce trial to get every juicy fact during the proceedings, and with some creativity brought the whole circus to life with images such as...

Evidently what came out was that Daddy was a sex starved pervert who fancied himself a sheik, and wanted to act out scenes from Valentino's movie of the same name as an homage to the world's great screen lover who died in August 1926.  

It also came out that Daddy had a pet goose at his home in Scarsdale and Peaches was scared to death of thing.  So the goose made the pictures as well.  Why not, right? 

But it was something Daddy said to Peaches that made him a cultural icon of the 1920s and beyond: 

That's right.  Peaches - who answered "Positively" on the witness stated that Daddy told her "Don't Be A Goof!"  And with the publication of that factoid, Daddy Browning started a 1920s fad that is still popular with children to this day.  (We are, however, at a loss to explain what a "BONK" is other than the Graphic felt the need to rhyme "HONK" with something.)

And then there was this - my favorite of the Graphic images - and the most nonsensical:

And then there was an acid attack to poor Peaches face, while she lay sleeping in her bed, a couple days before she married Daddy.  She always felt that Browning was behind it, but the only one in the house with Peaches at the time of the attack was her mother.  Odd.

In the end, the courts ended the marriage, and Peaches got $6,000 for her trouble.

For his trouble, Browning got nothing, but wealthier at an alarming rate through savvy real estate deals.  One of the brilliant master strokes of his was to sell off half his portfolio in the summer of 1929 and invest in gold.  He barely noticed the collapse of Wall Street in 1929.   Browning did, however have a serious stroke and spent his waning days rambling about his Scarsdale mansion yelling at inanimate objects, ranting about peaches being served with his meals, before finally dying in 1934.  Find A Grave erroneously notes that Peaches got everything when Daddy died, but in actuality received a token sum of $6,000, with the rest of his estate going in various directions, including one of his adopted daughters.

And Peaches?  Peaches took to the stage and played Vaudeville for a number of years.  Evidently she could sing quite well.  And she married again, divorced again, married again, divorced again - you know.  She died in the mid 1950s when she fell in her own bathroom.  And who found her?  Her mother - the only person out of the mess to survive everyone else.


  1. And there's me thinking she lived on to become a notorious punk-pop star... Jx

  2. I've always loved this story. Wheeee! Btw, I believe that bonk is the rhyming goose's way of pronouncing 'bunk', but you'd have to ask him.

  3. A goof? is that anything like a doof?

    Chandler: And then I just, you know, threw the bag of barley at her and ran out of the store.
    Monica: My God! Chandler, we said be "aloof", not "a doof".