"The Most Fantastic Woman of Her Age"
Even More Astonishing Than Aimee Crocker Gouraud's Incredible Autobiography Are Some of the Adventures Omitted From Her Book
Aimee, in an Oriental dress, beside a Buddha
Once again Aimee Crocker Ashe Gillis Gouraud Miskoff Galitzine seems to have proved her right to be called “the most fantastic woman of her age.” For once again the portly white-haired Princess Aimee has changed her mind.
Not long ago she took an entire house in East Ninety-second Street in New York with the announcement that she intended to spend her remaining days in the country of her birth. Now suddenly she has gone to Paris—because Paris, she says, is “better for her health.”
Besides, there are memories in Paris. Many memories, as her recently published autobiography attests. For though the Princess Aimee is now well past her span of three score years and ten—as she herself regretfully puts it—“too old to play,” there are those who regard her own history of her life as a final fling at Madame Grundy and as the most outrageous of the escapades with which, for nearly half a century, she set the world gasping.
“And I Would Do It Again,” brought out by Coward-McCann, Inc. is the astonishing story of an astonishing woman. But it is no the whole story, for the Princess Aimee, in her book at least, has not told it all.
The daughter of the late Judge E. B. Crocker, enormously wealthy and socially prominent Californian, who, with her sister, Jenny, the wife of J. Sloat Fassett, shared a heritage of fifteen million dollars and who began at fifteen her exploration of the bizarre, offers pen-pictures of events certain to strain the credulity of her readers.
She tells with sometimes alarming frankness of her lovers, among them a toreador, a half-savage kind of the Sandwich Islands, a young English officer from Oxford, a Japanese baron, a Maharajah, a Chinese prince, a partially tamed Dyak head-hunter.
“Incredible!” you think as you read of these adventures, but the adventures Aimee didn't put into her autobiography are the incredible ones.
The California heiress, for example, had five husbands—or twelve, according to your method of counting—but she barely mentions any of them in her recital. However, she explained the extra seven in an amusing manner a few years ago when she turned up in America with Prince Alexandre Galitzine whom she just has married secretly in Paris.
The Prince was a dashing dark-eyed youngster of twenty-five and Aimee was more than sixty; furthermore, she continued to call herself Mrs. Crocker Couraud, a fact which greatly puzzled her friends.
One of them, a Princess Margaret Orlova, finally ventured to inquire if the one-time Miss Crocker were married to the Prince.
“Certainly not,” was the reply. “It is he who is married to me. And Aimee Crocker Gouraud is my perpetual name by which I shall be known as long as I live, no matter how many more husbands I may have.”
“And is the Prince your fifth or sixth?” pursued the Princess Orlova. Whereupon she received the shock of her life.
“The Prince,” answered Mrs. Gouraud, “is my twelfth if I include in my matrimonial list seven Oriental husbands not registered under the laws of the Occident.”
Upsetting as all this was to society, it proved no more revolutionary from the standpoint of accepted standards then did Aimee's other marital adventures throughout her spectacular career.
A case in point was her first wedding to Richard Porter Ashe, a nephew of the illustrious Admiral Farragut. A girl of seventeen, Aimee had been snatched by her worried mamma from a visit to Spain and an affair with the toreador Miguel, but at the same time when she met Ashe, well known through his string of racing stables, she met Henry Gillis, who had founded an American bank in London, and this second meeting complicated the situation, for Aimee fell in love with them both. And since both wanted to marry her and she couldn't make up her mind, she suggested a friendly game of stud poker to settle the matter, according to gossip.
Ashe, it was said, held four aces against Gillig's pair of deuces and the marriage accordingly took place in 1882 when the bride, who was beginning to pamper her love of adventure, persuaded her bridegroom to elope. As a result, Aimee was catapulted into the headlines where she was to remain almost continuously for five decades.
Despite the fact that Aimee's only child, a daughter whose name was changed from Alma Ashe to Gladys Crocker, was born of this first marriage, she divorced Ashe and married Gillig after living for a time in a grass hut on the as yet unpopularized Hawaiian Islands. There as the guest of King David Kalakaua she was said to have so socked missionaries when she swished a quite inadequate grass skirt through the hula at a court ball that some of them left the islands, never to return.
Gillig went the way of Ashe and Aimee sailed for the Orient and the series of romances which she described exultantly, with a sort of nostalgic triumph. There was the British officer who furnished her “English Episode in Japan,” and the Baron who provided a “Japanese Episode” when she settled down to domesticity with him in a suburb of Tokio. There was the rare-for-her-experience of a rival, a flower-like English girl whom, no doubt, the Baron found soothing after the high-coltage of the American.
There was also the “Chinese Episode” with Prince Huan Kai Chan, from whose house Aimee escaped slightly ahead of a knife meant to cut short her incipient interest in a Russian officer. There was the “Indian Episode” when she enrolled in the harem of the Maharajah Bhurlana. Finally there was Djoet-ta, the Dyak headhunter who went native one night and carried her, unprotesting, into the jungle.
“Matchless!” you say, But wait.
Aimee, who long had considered herself a femme fatale and a mystic, embraced Buddhism. She returned to New York and in her apartment on West Fifty-sixth street which she furnished after the exotic manner of the Orient, opened a Buddhist temple. And here the strange and unusual of all nations, creeds, kinds and kindreds gathered to participate in wierd rites and entertainments.
Aimee, who often has been called the most surprising of America's millionaire daughters, named this rendezvous her “House of Fantasy” and explained she believed few were so well fitted as herself to maintain such an establishment since in it she, and American born and bred, knew how to combine with the mysticism of the East the practical materialism of the Western World.
Aimee had brought back from India a liking for snakes, and these figured prominently in her entertainments. At one affair held in the “House of Fantasy” for Odette Valery, the dance, like snakes were worn for ornaments and some of the guests took home these wriggling souvenirs.
At another of the startling fetes to which all Bohemian circles eagerly sought invitation, the hostess offered as the feature of the evening the Igorotte maiden Dogmeena in native dances. Dogmeena's costume was picturesque if not copious. It consisted of a red silk sash.
A visitor to Aimee's temple was Jackson Gouraud, a man-about-town and songwriter, who found her flame-like attraction irresistible. They married eventually, and the result was a curious set of family complications. Gladys Crocker, her daughter, had married Powers Gouraud, a brother of Jackson: this Aimee became the sister-in-law of her daughter and the mother-in-law of her brother-in-law!
The Gourauds moved on to Paris and plunged into another series of weird entertainments. One of the most remarkable of these affairs took form of a masked ball at which the host and hostess and all the guests were costumed to represent various birds, beasts and reptiles. For one long, delirious night the new “House of Fantasy” was transformed into ta menagerie. Polar bears, monkeys, tigers and the great serpents of the jungle were represented with a realism which only reckless expenditure made possible.
The high point of the evening occurred with the serving of supper when the maskers were seated by pairs in gilded cages with real bars through which servants passed food and wines.
Gouraud died not a great while after his marriage to Aimee, a victim, it was believed by many, of the rapid pace at which she traveled with his imaginative wife. She was plunged into grief for a time, but eventually found consolation in a new daughter and son whom she adopted.
Yvonne was a pretty, sophisticated French girl of fourteen who set about assimilating the philosophy of her foster mamma with a facile diligence which must have been gratifying to Aimee. Reginald, the boy, who once had been a dancer in Broadway shows, afterward became organizer of the Radio Clud of Paris. In London, where he lived for a time, his chambers were reputed to be headquarters for a fast-stepping, hard-drinking crowd. Billie Carleton, the attractive actress who met a tragic end through the use of drugs, was said to have been a habitúe fo the place.
Cheered by these new relationships, Aimee decided to marry again, and picked for her fourth husband Alexandre Miskinoff, a personable young Russian who called himself “Prince.” Like Aimee's fifth husband, he was barely half her age, but she was not averse to setting a new marriage vogue. She had, it turned out, further reasons for wishing a boy husband which she explained to enquiring friends: “I married a man young enough to be my son,” said Aimee, “because I know I must have the stimulation companionship of youth to maintain my emotionality and vitality. It is always food for a woman old in years to have a young husband, for he can keep her youthful in spirit.
“As an adept of the Hindoo mystics, I have learned to appreciate the value of the vibratory forces that emanate from young bodies and young minds. Long ago I discovered the secret of eternal youth, and this is why I feel as young today as I did years ago.
“Love, quite as much as youth, is all a matter of invisible waves. Two perfect lovers must have vibrations of equal wave lengths. My training has taught me how to increase of lessen the wave lenghts of my emotions so that they correspond with those of my admirers, and this explains why men have fallen in love with me so easily.”
Almost before the honeymoon was over, however, it became apparent to everyone that something had gone pftt! with Aimee's wave lengths. She had packed up Yvonne and her boy husband and moved them from Paris to a New York hotel where, according to gossip, she was puzzled by the separate apartment Alexandre maintained a few doors from their mutual quarters, and particularly by a young attractive figure in pajamas she frequently saw at his side.
Aimee, who had begin to suspect that the wave lengths of this mysterious love were more in tune with Alexandre's than her own, filed suit for divorce which did its share toward establishing her as the most fantastic woman in the world. For what was the surprise of everyone when she named as co-respondent her own Yvonne, despite the fact that the two women continued to live together in the most amiable relationship.
It was reveal at the trial that Aimee wished her foster daughter and “Prince” to marry, and this they did after the decree was granted, while she stood by with a “bless-you-my-children” smile. She gave them a house on Long Island and funds to live on, and years later when they died during a influenza epidemic in Paris, Aimee brought their bodies to Americal for burial.
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