Joe Millionaire, 1921: Week of May 28th, 1921

Sid Grauman, 1930

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley included a story that shows people did really stupid things in public back then, too:

“For a sensational method of selecting a bride, there’s a young man in town who makes Lochinvar* look like a pike, tenderfoot, lounge lizard. He’s from Arizona, his name is John Edington, he’s a rich miner and good looking in the bargain. And he wants to choose a wife from among the fifty beauteous girls who are to appear at the Actors’ Fund Festival, in Sid Grauman’s act, at the Beverly Hills Speedway Saturday.

It happened this way. Mr. Grauman was rumpling his hair and wrinkling over the details of his big future movie star contest, which he is arranging for the Actors’ Fund Festival, when the door opened to admit a stranger, tall and handsome.

“My name is John Edington,” stated this intruder, “and I came to Los Angeles to get a wife, because I think the most beautiful girls in the world are right here. I have read something of the fifty beautiful girls you are picking for your gigantic act, and I have a proposition to make you. I am rich and I believe I amiable. At any rate even a collar button at its most rampageous and cussedest moment cannot upset me. I am willing to marry the girl who will make me the best wife.”

The outcome of the matter is that Mr. Grauman is turning his act into a marriage market. A huge pedestal has been erected at the Speedway, and on this will be seated the fifty girls, with the wife-seeking miner at the center. At the big show, each girl is to give her reasons for believing that she will make him the best wife. The audience, after listening to the pleas of each girl, will vote on the one they believe will be best suited to the handsome miner.

And here is the big kick: the miner has absolutely agreed to marry the girls selected by the audience! Of course, the girl remains to be heard from, and in case of any hitch, the audience may vote again.

The story was so absurd that Kingsley had to say, “Sid Grauman declares that every word of the story is true and vouches for the fact that the man was sane, sober and with nothing on the hip at the time he made the offer.”

Map of the Actors’ Fund Festival, June 4, 1921

So Married at First Sight, Ninety Day Fiancé, etc. are not the harbinger of civilization’s decline: we’ve always been ridiculous. Kingsley didn’t comment about what an atrocious idea marrying whoever an audience who’d been out all day eating fair food and watching rodeo told you to was. But that’s exactly what happened, according to the L.A. Times report after the festival (Grauman had gotten his name wrong: the prospective groom was George Endres).

Sid Grauman offered a beauty show and matrimonial contest. He displayed fifty girls of all ages, arrayed in all their beauty, and who were contending for the hand of a love-sick swain—name, George Endres—who had promised to marry the girl who gained the largest number of votes. All of them wanted him—and his money—but he didn’t seem to get such a kick out of it.

The reporter didn’t describe the winning speech, but he couldn’t have known which woman would win. The next day, the paper had a follow-up:

As an aftermath to the festival, Justice Handy put the finishing touches to an unusual romance when at midnight Saturday he united in marriage Miss Marion Breakwell and George Endres, the Arizona miner who appealed to Sid Grauman to help him find a wife. Mr. Grauman’s response to the plea was the “Matrimonial Market,” in which fifty girls, who had agreed that the one chosen by the public should marry Mr. Endres, appeared. Miss Breakwell was selected and the wedding followed.

L.A. County marriage records back up that report, with the wedding being officially recorded on the following Tuesday:

But here’s the shocking part: their marriage lasted until George Endres died in 1948. My goodness! However did they manage that? A little more searching in the vital records solves that puzzle: Endres and Breakwell had been married since 1915.

Endres lied a little about his age: he was only 19 as well

Oh Sidney Patrick Grauman, you great big liar. He must have decided that a parade of pretty girls who wanted to be movie stars wasn’t entertaining enough, especially since he was competing with a harem show three buildings over. Nevertheless, even 100 years later I’m relieved two strangers didn’t marry based on a vote from overheated fairgoers. So it seems that people in 1921 were much smarter than reality show contestants are now. I hope Grauman paid the couple well.

George Albert Endres wasn’t actually a miner from Arizona–Grauman lied about that, too—but at least he was young. He was born on October 5, 1895 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He married Miriam (she preferred Marion) Hodgin Breakwell (born November 24, 1895) on May 1st, 1915. By the 1917 draft registration, he was an assistant stock keeper for the Globe Wernicke furniture company in Cincinnati. They moved to Long Beach, California sometime after that. By 1930, he’d become the manager of a clothing store and in 1940 he was the credit manager at a department store. They had a daughter, Barbara, in 1942. He died in 1948 and Marion died in 1980 and they’re buried together in Forest Lawn, Long Beach.

The Actors’ Fund Festival was quite something. Kingsley called it “the greatest event of the sort ever staged in the West, with the hundreds of famous names on the program,” and she wasn’t exaggerating. Here’s the ad for it, from the Los Angeles Herald:

The Times reported that it was a big success; on June 5th they said, “from early morn until late last night dollars by the tens of thousands flowed like rivers into the fund that will relieve the sick and destitute of the profession for the year to come.” On June 6th, they quoted the man in charge, Daniel Frohman, who estimated that they’d made $100,000 for the Actors’ Fund. However, it took quite a while to give it to the people who needed it. They didn’t form the committee to oversee the disbursement until September 21, 1921 and they planned to have weekly meetings to review all of the applications for assistance. The Actors’ Fund is still helping people in the entertainment industry, and it looks like nowadays they’re much more efficient at providing emergency assistance.

* Lochinvar was the hero of Sir Walter Scott’s poem, Marmion (1808). He swoops into his beloved’s wedding feast, saving her from a dastardly groom.

“Actors’ Benefit Fest to Thrill,” Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1921.

“Add Hundred Thousand to Actors’ Fund,” Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1921.

“Frohman Names Charity Body,” Los Angeles Times, September 22, 1921.

“Raise Pleasure Palaces,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1921.

Otis M. Wiles,” Stream of Gold Pours into Thespians’ Fund,” Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1921.

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