|Born||Blanche Marie Louise Oelrichs
October 1, 1890
Newport, Rhode Island
|Died||November 5, 1950
|Spouse(s)||Leonard M. Thomas
(m.1910-1919; divorced) 2 sons
(m.1920-1925) 1 daughter
|Partner(s)||Margaret Wise Brown
Life and career
Born at her uncle's Hermann Oelrichs' opulent mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, designed by renowned architect Stanford White, Blanche Oelrichs spent summers amidst the Astors, the Vanderbilts and numerous other wealthy elites of American society and the Gilded Age. Her parents were Charles May Oelrichs and Blanche de Loosey (whose sister was Emilie de Loosey, later Mrs. Theodore A. Havemeyer). Her sister Natalie, always known as Lily, became Mrs. Peter Martin of San Francisco, and after Peter Martin's premature death, later married Heinrich Borwin, Duke of Mecklenburg, but they later divorced.
On January 26, 1910, Blanche Oelrichs married Leonard Moorhead Thomas, the son of a prominent Philadelphia banker, with whom she had two children, Leonard Jr. (1911–68) and Robin May Thomas (1915–44). A Yale University graduate, her husband had worked in the diplomatic service in Rome and Madrid and served with the United States Army in Europe during World War I, earning the Croix de Guerre from the government of France. Blanche Oelrichs involved herself as an activist for women's suffrage; but her love for literature and poetry, especially the works of Walt Whitman, saw her begin writing verse of her own. Using the pen name Michael Strange, she had her first collection of poems published in 1916.
Through her social activities, Blanche Oelrichs-Thomas met renowned actor John Barrymore. They had been introduced by actress Cathleen Nesbitt, Barrymore's leading woman in the 1916 play Justice. Blanche continued seeing him for four years; and, after divorcing Thomas, she married Barrymore on August 5, 1920, when she was already several months' pregnant with their only child, Diana Blanche Barrymore, who was born on March 3, 1921. With drawings provided by John Barrymore, Blanche Oelrichs published a book in 1921 titled "Resurrecting Life." She then turned her writing skills to the creation of theatrical plays including a 1921 Broadway production titled "Clair de lune." Based on "L'Homme qui rit" by Victor Hugo, her play starred her husband and his sister Ethel Barrymore. It was made into a 1932 movie of the same name in France by director Henri Diamant-Berger.
Frequently apart from her husband due to his performing in New York and London, England, Blanche Oelrichs spent a great deal of time in Paris, France during the next few years. After returning to live in New York, she began acting in live theatre. After her marriage to John Barrymore ended in May 1925 she performed on stage with a summer stock company in Salem, Massachusetts and appeared in two Broadway plays in 1926 and 1927.
Another book of Oelrichs' poetry was published in 1928 under the title "Selected poems, by Michael Strange" and the following year she married a third time to the prominent New York attorney Harrison Tweed who later became Chairman of Sarah Lawrence College. During the second half of the 1930s Oelrichs hosted a poetry and music program on New York radio station WOR that gained a strong audience. In 1940, Blanche Oelrichs published her autobiography, "Who Tells Me True." In 1942 she and Harrison Tweed divorced and in 1944 her son Robin died at the age of twenty-nine.
Starting in the summer of 1940 until her death, Oelrichs was in a long-term relationship with Margaret Wise Brown, the author of many children's books. The relationship began as something of a mentoring one, but became a romantic relationship including co-habitating at 10 Gracie Street beginning in 1943.
In 1960 her daughter Diana Barrymore died at age thirty-eight after several years of drug and alcohol addiction. Her older son Leonard was married to painter Yvonne Thomas née Navella. Two daughters were born to Leonard and Yvonne and are the only grandchildren of Blanche Oelrichs.
Broadway productions, under the pseudonym Michael Strange
- Miscellaneous poems by Michael Strange (1916)
- Poems, by Michael Strange (1919)
- Resurrecting Life (with drawings by John Barrymore) (1921)
- Selected poems, by Michael Strange (1928)
- Who Tells Me True (1940)
- Leonard Moorhead Thomas, Jr. RASH'S SURNAME INDEX
- [NY Times Nov. 6, 1950]
- "JOHN BARRY MORE WEDS MRS. THOMAS: While Their Engagement Had Been Rumored, the Marriage Now Comes as a Surprise. CEREMONY IS INFORMAL Actor, Who Recently Suffered a Nervous Breakdown, Will Not Resume Work Till Fall." (1920, August 6). New York Times, 9.
- "WIVES DEBATE RIGHT TO MAIDEN NAMES: Elsie Ferguson Learns From Ruth Hale That She May Have Her Own Checking Account. BARRYMORE'S WIFE ATTENDS Lucy Stone League Told Woman May Register at Hotel With Husband Under Separate Name. Barrymore's Wife Attends. Validity of Names Discussed." (1921, May 18). New York Times, 27.
- "MICHAEL STRANGE MARRIES IN LONDON: John Barrymore's Former Wife Weds Harrison Tweed, New New York Lawyer. IN REGISTER'S OFFICE Third Marriage for Bride, Poet and Dramatist—Bridegroom Divorced In Paris Last June." (1929, May 24). New York Times, p. 30.
- Marcus, Leonard S. Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. 167–178, 251. ISBN 978-0688171889
- Obituary of Blanche's daughter-in-law, Yvonne Thomas(1913–2009); AspenTimes.com September 4, 2009
- Works by Michael Strange at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Michael Strange at Internet Archive
- Blanche Oelrichs at the Internet Broadway Database
- Blanche Oelrichs at Find a Grave
- Michael Strange papers, 1917–1925, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- newspaper clipping announcing wedding of Blanche Oelrichs and first husband Leonard Thomas
- Blanche Oelrichs with her second husband John Barrymore on board the S.S. Mauretania 1922
- John and Blanche aboard the Mauretania different pose, 1922
- Blanche Oelrichs in 1929 aboard the SS France
- Blanche Oelrichs giving speech, 1932
- Blanche Oelrichs in group photo with literary friends, lower left of picture
- Passport photo 1923
- Blanche Oelrichs(wearing specs) some time in the 1940s. The other woman may be her daughter-in-law Yvonne Thomas who was married to Blanche's son Leonard Thomas(courtesy of NYCTreeman, flickr)