James Worth Thornton

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For other people named James Thornton, see James Thornton.

James Worth Thornton (September 19, 1906 – February 6, 1983, Virginia)[1] was a businessman and scion of the politically and socially connected Thorntons of Indiana. Thornton was the son of Sir Henry Worth Thornton and Virginia Blair,[2] daughter of banker and steel magnate George Dike Blair. Also, Thornton appeared in the journals of Edmund Wilson, the noted essayist.

Thornton was born into a prominent family in the railroad business and enjoyed a privileged childhood. After graduating from the Royal Military College of Canada, Ontario, while working in Europe, Thornton earned a reputation as an international playboy:[3] he was reportedly an excellent polo player and prominent in social circles. While working for a firm in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1931 Thornton married Helene-Marthe (Elena ) Mumm von Schwarzenstein,[4] a German-Russian-French aristocrat and partial heir to the Mumm champagne fortune.[5] Her maternal relations (the de Struve family[6]) were prominent Russian diplomats and astronomers. After marriage, Thornton served as Vice-President of the Mumm family’s American Incorporation.[7] Thornton and Elena had one son: Henry Hermann Mumm Thornton,[8] born 1932.


Shortly after marriage, James and Elena Mumm Thornton moved to Montreal and, then, to New York City, where Elena served as an assistant editor for Town & Country (magazine). While working as an editor, Elena met Edmund Wilson, the prominent author and critic, and fell in love.[9] In 1946, Elena and Edmund fled to Reno, Nevada, divorced their respective spouses, and married, creating a minor media sensation. Elena Mumm Thornton was Edmund Wilson’s fourth wife.[10]


James W. Thornton joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1950, retiring in 1958 upon marrying Martha Florence Armstrong, granddaughter of the 1st Baronet Armstrong.[11] Until his death on February 6, 1983, Thornton moved frequently, living in New York City, Spain, Bermuda, Florida, and northern Virginia.[12] Thornton's grandchildren include Dr. Sandra Christine Thornton-Whitehouse, wife of Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator from Rhode Island; Elena Thornton Kissel, wife of musician and producer, Michael Case Kissel, 3rd great grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt; Nina Rosalie McMann; and James Speno Mumm Thornton. His great-grandchildren include Mary Whitehouse, Alexander Whitehouse, Siena Kissel, Lucy Kissel, Rosalie Kissel, Keely Russell-Thornton, and Henry Russell-Thornton. He was a second cousin of silver screen actress Edna Goodrich and Elcar Interim President Arthur Martin Graffis. His cousin, Helen Thornton Geer, was a prominent librarian and researcher.

Through his maternal line, he was related to the powerful Cox family: billionaire heiresses Anne Cox Chambers and Barbara Cox Anthony were his second cousins.[13]


  1. ^ Kussart, S. The History of the Fifteenth Ward of the City of Pittsburgh. Suburban Printing Company, Bellevue, PA; 1925.
  2. ^ Barriger, John Walker. “Sir Henry Thornton: Pioneer.” (speech) Delivered During The 1944 Maine Dinner Of The Newcomen Society
  3. ^ Castronovo, David and Janet Groth. Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson. Shoemaker & Hoard Publishers, 2005
  4. ^ Society listing. TIME. Monday, Sept. 14, 1931
  5. ^ See Cape Cod History site: capecodhistory.us/genealogy/wellfleet/i2154.htm
  6. ^ See 1912 listing for Tout-Paris: Annuaire de la Societe parisienne (Names and addresses of ‘society’)
  7. ^ The Trade-mark Reporter by The United States Trademark Association 1936. (see page 373)
  8. ^ Elena Wilson Papers. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
  9. ^ Kiernan, Frances. Seeing Mary Plain: A Life of Mary McCarthy. W.W. Norton & Company. 2000.
  10. ^ Meyers, Jeffrey, Edmund Wilson: a biography, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995
  11. ^ See listing at The Peerage.Com: http://www.thepeerage.com/p12531.htm
  12. ^ See obituary at the Washington Post
  13. ^ Kussart, S. The History of the Fifteenth Ward of the City of Pittsburgh; Suburban Printing Co., 1925