Silver Spoons & Syringes

by Sally Steele

It’s high time to pull my head out of the dark clouds and celebrate Boulevardiers, flâneurs,  strollers, loungers, saunterers, loafers, and of course, Faire du Lèche-Vitrines everywhere.

I’m smiling inside and floating away thinking about Gwynnes, Vanderbilts, socialites, and princes…

The Federalist: “The Boulevardier cocktail has a romantic origin tied to a particularly heady period in cocktail history. According to most sources, it was invented in the 1920s by American expatriate Edward Erskine Gwynne, Jr. Gwynne was a sort of Prohibition-era Kardashian who ran off to Paris to gad about, be mistaken for the Prince of Wales, get into fights in cabarets, and start a literary magazine to ape The New Yorker. It’s not clear that his Boulevardier magazine had any lasting impact on the world of literature, but Gwynne did lend the name to the fantastic drink he shared with Harry McElhone (of Harry’s New York Bar, located in Paris), who recorded it in his book Barflies and Cocktails. Gwynne went on to die a broken and forgotten man, but this drink, his true legacy, is by my lights the most enduring success he might have hoped to achieve.”

Edward Erskine Gwynne Jr., Boulevardier, on the right

theesotericcuriosa: “Young Mr. Gwynne is a member of the rich Vanderbilt clan by marriage, his mother being a cousin of Cornelius Vanderbilt.  For many years he has made his home with his mother in Paris and has become one of the best known and best liked figures in the large American colony which plays such an important part in Parisian life.

“Although possessed of considerable means Gwynne ostensibly works for a living.  His job is that of right hand man to Henri Letellier, the immensely wealthy French newspaper publisher.

“But the duties of his position are not arduous or confining enough to keep Mr. Gwynne from being nightly at the fashionable clubs and the most exclusive restaurants and dancing resorts.  Nobody knows better than he the proper hour for dropping into Ciro’s for a cocktail or when the correct time is for ordering dinner at the Ritz.

“Everybody likes this good looking young blond man – except the loud mouthed South American whom he knocked out the other evening, and doubtless that gentleman will when he becomes better acquainted with his fistic conqueror.  In spite of his youth Gwynne is already famous in Paris for his wit and for the spirit of gayety which he breathes into every party he attends.”

ca. 1925, Deauville, France, left to right, Jack Pickford, Erskine Gwynne, Mrs. Pickford (Marilyn Miller) and Mrs. Frieda Rossen, on the sands at this most fashionable summer resort. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

The family is one of nature’s masterpieces… George Santayana


Paul-César Helleu, Portrait de Kiki Preston (Alice Gwynne), 1900, pastel drawing on wove paper


Kiki Gwynne




theesotericcuriosa: “Alice Gwynn, Edward Erskine Gwynne Jr’s sister, was described as a rich, charismatic beauty all shot through with scandal who even seduced the anti-American snob, Evelyn Waugh (and Rudolph Valentino).

“Society traces kicker extraordinaire, Alice “Kiki” Gwynne, who was later more commonly known as “Kiki Preston,” was born in 1898, in Hempstead, Nassau County, Long Island, New York.  Alice was the daughter of Edward Erskine Gwynne, Sr. (1869 – 10 May 1904) and his wife, the former Helen Steele (d. 4 January 1958).”

Prince George, Duke of Kent

Wikipedia: “Alice Gwynne…the alleged mother of a child (Michael Temple Canfield (1926 – 1969) born out of wedlock with Prince George, Duke of Kent, fourth son of King George V. Known for her drug addiction, which earned her the soubriquet “the girl with the silver syringe,” she was a fixture of the Paris and New York high social circles, and a relation to the powerful Vanderbilt and Whitney families. Her life was marred by several tragic losses and her own mental problems, which eventually led to her suicide at 48.”

Michael Canfield (with Jacqueline Kennedy), son of Alice Gwynne, and alleged son of Prince George, Duke of Kent








theesotericcuriosa: “Born far out upon the fringes of American royalty, Alice’s father Edward Erskine Gwynne, Sr., was the nephew of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife, socialite Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt, more commonly known as “Alice of the Breakers” the name sake of the younger Alice Gwynne. Although far from what would be termed American gentry, the Gwynne’s themselves were a firmly placed, comfortable upper middle class family, Edward’s father, Abraham Gwynne of Cincinnati, was a lawyer and judge, while his mother Rachel “Cettie” Moore, née Flagg, was known as a very pious home maker.  Rachel was descended from the Trowbridge family, one the first English families to land in the new world. The Trowbridge’s first arrived in America in 1636 when Thomas Trowbridge, a wool merchant from Taunton, England, and his family settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts Bay colony. However, Thomas, finding the political and religious climate intolerant, moved his family to New Haven, Connecticut Colony, a few years later. Following the death of his wife, Elizabeth Marshall, he returned to England in the 1640s, where he would later participate in the English Civil War, on the side of the Parliamentary forces known as the “Roundheads” against King Charles I of England.

Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt–“Alice Of The Breakers!”


“One of the more glaring falsehoods about Alice Gwynne, is that even today she is often mentioned as a “Whitney heiress,” a point that is patently not true since she was not a Whitney by descent, only by marriage and distant at that.

“Greatness tended to blossom more on the maternal side of her family tree.  Alice’s mother, Helen, was a great-granddaughter of Justice Samuel Chase, one of the signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence, as well as a granddaughter of Joshua Barney, Commodore of the United States Navy during the American Revolutionary War. Further down the trunk, her Dutch roots were more apparent with her descent from Jean Paul Jaquett, the second Dutch governor of Delaware. Jaquett was a French Protestant who had fled from France to Holland to avoid religious persecutions; before his arrival in Delaware, however, he had resided in Brazil. The Jaquett’s lived on a farm, holding it from Jean Paul Jaquett, the first ancestor until the time of the celebrated Major Peter Jaquett, the last surviving officer of the revolution belonging to Delaware. This land was granted to Jaquett soon after the capture of Delaware by the Dutch, and it is now called Long Hook.

“On the surface of things and according to appearances, when Edward Erskine Gwynne, Sr., and Helen Steele were married in Washington D.C., on March 25, 1896 both families seemed pleased with the match. Married from her parent’s home, there were but few guests, with a cousin of the bridegroom, Archdeacon MacKay Smith officiating. The bride was attended by her sister, Miss Annie Steele in the role of maid of honor, while the groom was supported by his friend, Mr. Carroll Brown, of Baltimore. Helen wore a Parisian gown of ivory and white satin.  At her throat she wore a magnificent sunburst brooch of diamonds, a gift of her husband’s Aunt Alice.  Atop her golden hair, was a beautiful diamond tiara, a gift from her new husband.  After the ceremony and wedding breakfast, attended by various Vanderbilts, Gywnnes and Shepards, the bridal couple left for a year of foreign travel, which included a journey to the Far East, before they made their home in Paris.

However, it was not long after that it became apparent all was not well. In fact, the marriage soon became a rocky one; with Edward and Helen quickly disillusioned with the other, separating at some point, before eventually reconciling.”

“Putting aside their differences and misunderstandings long enough they began to raise a family. Besides Alice, the Gwynne nursery also consisted of two sons, one being Edward Erskine Gwynne, Jr. (1899 – 5 May 1948). Erskine Jr., the publisher of the magazine Boulevardier, and a columnist for the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune. Their other son, Edward C. Gwynne, joined the U.S. Air Force in his early youth, and was killed when his plane was shot down. As was typical for their time and position, Alice and her family resided at different times in Paris, France, Lawrence, Nassau County, New York and Park Hill, Yonkers in New York, especially between the years 1898 to 1904.

“As it turned out, although related by blood to many of the wealthiest families in the nation, Edward Gwynne was a socialite without regular employment.  Never a good position to be in, especially if you were Alice’s father, whose apparent lack of a steady income, coupled with him being described as a man that “had extravagant tastes, expended money lavishly and was without business employment,” produced disastrous results which led his family to legal troubles.  Whereas he might be known as a famous cross country rider, an expert golf player, member of the Calumet and Rockaway Hunt Clubs of New York and general social favorite, cash poor was cash poor!

“At the close of the century, the family’s financial situation started to unravel when in 1899, while in Paris, Gwynne obtained a loan worth several thousand dollars from Perry Tiffany. In February 1901, Gwynne transferred the interest in his property to his mother, Louise Gwynne. Sensing a ruse, the Parisian money lender filed suit against Gwynne in the fall of 1901 for an unpaid loan of nearly $50,000 for diamonds. Shortly afterwards, with his mother’s untimely death in June 1902, Edward Gwynne was forced to file a petition in bankruptcy, with liabilities of over $56,000 and assets of $57.00.”

The New York Times reported on June 4, 1902:


Nephew Of Mrs. C. Vanderbilt
Has $56,403 Liabilities & Assets of $57

“Edward E. Gwynne of Park Hill, Yonkers, who formerly resided at Lawrence Long Island, until May 1, has filed a petition in bankruptcy, with liabilities of $56,403 and assets of $57, due him by Perry Tiffany for money loaned. Mr. Gwynne is a nephew of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt.

“The petition was filed chiefly to get rid of a judgment which was obtained against him by Leopold Grinberg for $47,911 in Nassau county on September 18, 1901 on four drafts made by A. Reinac, a Paris jeweler, on November and December 1897, which were accepted by the petitioner and guaranteed by his wife Helen, when they were in Paris. Mr. Grinberg also obtained another judgment against Mr. Gwynne for $1,182 on a similar draft. Mr. Gwynne it is said purchased diamonds, pearls, and other jewelry from Mr. Reinach and the drafts were given in payment. Mr. Reinach was unable to collect the money in France, and the claim was assigned to Mr. Grinberg, who brought suit in Nassau County and obtained judgments.

“Mr. Gwynne owes the Baron St. Aubanat of Paris $4,000, balance on a note made in Paris in May, 1899. He owes $384 to four doctors for medical services; for shoes, $248; board, $141; food and drink, $100; wines $28; harness, $296; clothing, $750; haberdashery, $60; riding habits, $80; trunks, $30; coal, wood and hay, $317; and plumbing, $34. Mr. Gwynne,  farms at Bellefontaine, Ohio and Linneua, Mo. and some land in Cincinnati, the value of his interest being unknown.

Edward Erskine Gwynne, Sr. obituary

“Two years later, on May 10, 1904, Gywnne died of acute kidney problems at the age of thirty-five, ironically on the very day that the case of the suit was to be brought upon the court. Alice was only five at the time of her father’s death.”

The Cincinnati Star Times Reported: “The news of the death of Edward Erskine Gwynne, a nephew of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt and a grandson of Judge Abraham E. Gwynne, one of the prominent attorneys of Cincinnati years ago, reached this city Tuesday. Mr. Gwynne, who was married in 1896 to Miss Helen Steele in Washington, had a rather strenuous career, having been at one time separated from his wife and passing through bankruptcy proceedings, in which he alleged that his liabilities amounted to $56,403, while his only asset was a loan of $57 to Perry Tiffany. His grandfather, Judge Abraham Gwynne, was one of the prominent lawyers of the West at one time and lived on Pike street in this city. He was the author of a work reference, Gwynne on Sheriffs, which was for years a standard. Mr. Gwynne was about 35 years of age. He had a small reversionary interest in property at Fourth and Main streets in this city and other property in Missouri, along with other heirs.”

Edward Erskine Gwynne, Jr., Boulevardier & musician

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