Kiki Preston

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Kiki Preston
Born 1898
Hempstead, New York
Died December 23, 1946(1946-12-23) (aged 48)
New York City, New York
Occupation Heiress
Spouse(s) Horace R. Bigelow Allen
(m.1919-1924; divorced)
Jerome Preston
(m.1925-1934; his death)
Children 3 (1 disputed)

Kiki Preston, née Alice Gwynne (1898 - December 23, 1946) was an American socialite, a member of the Happy Valley set, and the alleged mother of a child born out of wedlock with Prince George, Duke of Kent, fourth son of King George V of the United Kingdom. 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.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Alice "Kiki" Gwynne, later more commonly known as Kiki Preston, was born in 1898, in Hempstead, Nassau County, Long Island, New York,[1] the daughter of Edward Erskine Gwynne, Sr. (1869 – 10 May 1904)[2] and his wife, the former Helen Steele (? – 4 January 1958[3]).[4][5][6] Edward Gwynne was the nephew of tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife, socialite Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt, making him a distant relation of the prominent and wealthy Whitney family. Her 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. She was descended from Peter Jacquette, the second Dutch governor of Delaware.[7]

Edward and Helen were married in New-York on May 25, 1896.[7] The marriage was a rocky one; Edward and Helen were separated at some point before reconciling.[8] Besides Kiki, they also had two sons, one being Edward Erskine Gwynne, Jr.(1899 – 5 May 1948), who later became a writer, the publisher of the magazine Boulevardier, and a columnist for the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune.[9] Their other son, Edward C. Gwynne,[10] joined the US air forces in his early youth and was killed when his aircraft was shot down.[11] Between 1898 and 1904, Kiki and her family resided at different times in Paris, France, Lawrence, Nassau County, New York[12] and Park Hill, Yonkers in New York.[13]

Family bankruptcy[edit]

A socialite without regular employment, Kiki's father was described as a man that "had extravagant tastes, expended money lavishly and was without business employment", a fact which would lead his family to legal troubles.[14] In 1899, while in Paris, Gwynne obtained a loan worth several thousand dollars from a jeweler. In February 1901, Gwynne transferred his interest in his property to his mother, Louise Gwynne.[14] In the fall of 1901, the Paris money lender filed suit against Gwynne, for an unpaid loan of nearly 50,000 dollars for diamonds. Shortly after his mother's death, in June 1902, Edward Gwynne filed a petition in bankruptcy, with liabilities of over 56,000 dollars and assets of 57 dollars.[13] Two years later, on May 10, 1904, Kiki's father died of acute kidney problems at the age of 35, on the same day the case of the suit was to be brought up on the court. Kiki was only five at the time.[2][15]

After Louise Gwynne's death, the property that had been conveyed to her by her son, was held in trust for Kiki and her siblings. However, in February 1908, the Paris money lender revived his legal attack against the Gwynnes, demanding their property on the unpaid loan of 40,000 dollars.[15] In March, following a long discussion, the suit against the Gwynnes was dismissed. The judge ruled that the realty transfer performed by Edward to his mother was not made with the intent to defraud creditors. However, he also spoke rather harshly of Kiki's father, referring to him as a man who "may have had large expectancies, but seems to have been a drain upon his mother's financial resources".[14]

Following her father's death, Kiki was mostly raised in Paris, together with her brothers, although the family would occasionally return to their New York residence for brief periods of time.[16][17] Kiki was also educated in England.[18] The money lender continued with a series of court appeals between 1910 and 1912, although the Gwynne family managed to emerge victorious from the lengthy legal battle.[19][20]

According to writers Lynn Kear and John Rossman, Preston also worked as a cabaret performer in her early youth.[21]

Marriages and Happy Valley[edit]

In 1919, Kiki married Horace R. Bigelow Allen, after he completed his service with the American army.[1] In later years, Allen would become an executive in a plastics corporation.[22] Kiki and Horace had a daughter, Alice Gwynne Allen, who later married pilot officer Geoffrey Borden Russell,[5] as well as a son, Ethan Allen.[23] Living in Paris with her husband, Kiki met and befriended some of the future key members of the Happy Valley set, such as Alice de Janzé and Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll. The Happy Valley set was a community of mainly British expatriates in Kenya, in the Wanjohi Valley close to the Aberdare Mountains, which had become known for its hedonistic lifestyle.[24] In November 1924, Kiki applied for divorce at the Paris courts, on the grounds of desertion.[1][25] Horace R. B. Allen died on December 17, 1961, in Harbour Island, Bahamas.[26]

In April 1925, Kiki married investment banker Jerome "Gerry" Preston (15 March 1897 – 28 May 1934), a Harvard alumnus from Colorado,[21][27][28] a man later described by writer Frédéric de Janzé in his memoirs as "a creature of instincts" and "untamed".[29][30] Shortly afterwards, she formed a brief but close friendship with actress Kay Francis.[31] Following travel to the British East Africa colony of Kenya, the home of the Happy Valley clique, Kiki and her husband were persuaded to permanently move there, after a friend of the couple gave them the land she had on the shores of Lake Naivasha.[29] The Prestons began to live in a Dutch-style house they built at the shores of Lake Naivasha and associated with the Happy Valley set.[31][32][33] Both she and Jerome were successful as big game hunters[34][35] and horse breeders. On their farm, they entertained several guests at times, including actor Gary Cooper on one occasion.[36] Friends of the couple in the community included Alice de Janzé, Lord Erroll and his wife, Idina (Kiki was often entertained in their mansion),[37][38] writer Evelyn Waugh[39] and aviator Beryl Markham.[40]

Kiki was a scandalous presence among the Happy Valley set, noted both for her great beauty, as well as her wild lifestyle, which included partying all night long, rising from bed during dinnertime and drug abuse.[31] Kiki had become a notorious drug addict by that point; she especially fond of heroin,[41]cocaine[42] and morphine.[32] She was nicknamed "the girl with the silver syringe", due to her habit of always carrying with her a syringe with which she injected herself.[38][43][44] She was reported to often take out the silver syringe to inject herself, oblivious to onlookers. Swedish Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke's second wife, Cockie, once wittily remarked of Kiki: "She's very clever with her needle".[43] Kiki was one of the best clients of the chief drug dealer of the Kenya colony, Frank Greswolde Williams, until his death in 1932. Whenever she was out of morphine, she would send an aeroplane to pick up new supplies.[32][43]

Kiki had many lovers during that time, including actor Rudolph Valentino[37][38] and Prince George, Duke of Kent, whom she first met in the mid-1920s. Through 1928, she introduced him to cocaine and morphine among other drugs.[31][32][45] Reportedly, Prince George shared Kiki in a ménage à trois with Jorge Ferrara, the bisexual son of the Argentinian ambassador to England.[46]

In his attempt to rescue his cocained-addicted brother from the influence of Kiki, Edward VIII of the United Kingdom attempted for a while to persuade both George and Kiki to break off their contact, to no avail.[47] Eventually, Edward forced George to stop seeing Kiki and also forced Kiki to leave England, while she was visiting George there in the summer of 1929.[48] For years afterwards, Edward feared that George might relapse to drugs if he maintained his contact with Kiki. Indeed, in 1932, Prince George ran into Kiki unexpectedly at Cannes and had to be removed almost by force.[49]

Personal losses[edit]

In the 1930s and 1940s, Kiki experienced a long string of tragic losses, as many people from her circle of relatives and friends found untimely deaths. Previously, in May 1929, her 30 year-old brother, Edward Erskine Jr., almost died of a heart attack. Kiki rushed back to Paris to be by his side, since it was believed he was close to dying. Erskine ultimately survived.[50]

On November 16, 1933, her cousin, 26-year-old socialite William K. Vanderbilt, was killed in a car accident; her brother, Erskine, was also in the car, but suffered minor injuries.[51] In August 1935, he was in another accident, when the car he was driving collided with a truck, injuring three.[52][53] He was tried and fined 50 dollars and also sentenced to a thirty-day suspended sentence.[54] On account of that accident, Erskine later suffered a paralysis in 1938.[9][53]

On May 28, 1934, Kiki's husband, Jerome Preston, died at Hotel Pierre, in New York, aged 37, making her a widow at the age of 36.[55] In February 1937, her brother-in-law (Jerome's brother), sportsman Lewis Thompson Preston also died, at age 37.[56] On January 25, 1941, her friend, 22nd Earl of Erroll, aged 39, was mysteriously murdered in Kenya.[57] Later that year, on September 30, her friend and fellow American expatriate in Paris, Alice de Janzé, committed suicide with a firearm.[58] On 25 August 1942, her former lover, Prince George, was killed in a plane accident, aged 39.[59]

On June 6, 1944, her son, Ethan Allen, was killed during the Normandy Landings. Allen was serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force.[35]

Death[edit]

After suffering from mental disorders for several years,[60][61] Kiki committed suicide on the night of December 23, 1946, jumping out of a window of her fifth-floor apartment in the Stanhope Hotel of New York City and landing in a courtyard of the hotel.[35][62] According to her companion, Lillian Turner, Kiki had been in poor health, depressed and nervous.[35] Turner had just given Preston a glass of milk and then went into the living room of the apartment to read. When she heard no sounds coming from Kiki's bedroom, she entered it, only to find a window open and Kiki gone. Kiki's pajama-clad body was soon discovered in an areaway behind the hotel.[62][63] Preston's mother, Helen Steele, was also living at the same hotel at the time.[63] Today, Kiki's home on Lake Naivasha is inhabited by the 7th Earl of Enniskillen.[64]

Illegitimate child allegations[edit]

It has been alleged for years that American publishing executive Michael Temple Canfield (1926 – 1969) was the illegitimate son of Prince George and Kiki Preston. According to various sources, both Prince George's brother, Duke of Windsor and Laura, Duchess of Marlborough, Canfield's second wife, shared this belief.[65][66][67][68]

Canfield was born in 1926 and was the adopted son of Cass Canfield, American publisher of Harper and Row.[69] Michael Canfield served in the US Marine Corps in World War II and was wounded at Iwo Jima. He graduated from Harvard University in 1951 and worked as London representative of Harper and Row. He married twice, first to Lee Radziwill, younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy, in 1953 (divorced in 1958) and then to Laura, Duchess of Marlborough, in 1960. Canfield died on December 20, 1969, of a heart attack, while on a New York-London flight, at the age of 43.[70]

Dramatizations[edit]

Preston is referenced in James Fox's best-selling investigative non-fiction book White Mischief (1982). Together with other personalities of the Happy Valley set, she appears as a fictional character in Paul Di Filippo's short story "A Happy Valley at the End of the World", included in the author's collection of short stories Lost Pages (1998).[71] She also appears as a character in Clint Jefferies' play African Nights. The play is set in the Happy Valley community in Kenya, in the year 1928 and portrays, among other things, the romance between Kiki and Prince George.[72][73] From May to June 2004, the play was performed on the Wings Theater in New York. Kiki was portrayed by actress Karen Stanion.[74][75]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Americans In Divorce Court", The Evening Independent, November 7, 1924
  2. ^ a b "Obituary of Edward E. Gwynne", Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1904
  3. ^ "Obituary for Mrs. Edward E. Gwynne", New York Times, January 5, 1958
  4. ^ "Recent Deaths", Boston Evening Transcript, May 10, 1904
  5. ^ a b "Miss Alice Gwynne Allen to Become Bride of Pilot Officer Geoffrey Russell, R.C.A.F.", New York Times, June 6, 1943
  6. ^ "New York Attracts", Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1941
  7. ^ a b "A Day's Weddings", The New York Times, May 25, 1896
  8. ^ "Judge Gwynne's Grandson Dies Suddenly", The Cincinnati-Times Star, May 11, 1904
  9. ^ a b "Erskine Gwynne, 49, Wrote Book On Paris", New York Times, May 6, 1948
  10. ^ Reports of cases decided in the Court of Appeals of the state of New York, Volume 201 (1911). Banks and Brothers
  11. ^ McIntyre, O. O. "The World Has Changed", Reading Eagle, January 3, 1947
  12. ^ "Suit on Notes for $40,000", The New York Times, March 17, 1901
  13. ^ a b "Edward E. Gwynne Bankrupt", New York Times, June 4, 1902
  14. ^ a b c "Vanderbilt Nephew Absolved by Court", The New York Times, March 22, 1908
  15. ^ a b "Sues for Gwynne's House", The New York Times, February 19, 1908
  16. ^ "Youth and Jollity Will Have Their Day Despite the War", Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1914
  17. ^ "Pageantry of Weddings and Debutante Affairs", The New York Times, October 25, 1914
  18. ^ "Obituary", Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1946
  19. ^ New York Appelate Division Reports: Riker Jr. v Gwynne, July 7, 1910; Riker Jr. v Gwynne, April 1912
  20. ^ New York Appelate Division Reports: Riker v Gwynne, February 28, 1911
  21. ^ a b Kear, Lynn & Jossman, Ross (2006). Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, p. 27. North Carolina: McFarland & Company
  22. ^ "Manhattan Suites Draw Executives", New York Times, July 16, 1942
  23. ^ Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1938
  24. ^ "Trzebinski, Errol" (2000).The Life and Death of Lord Errol: The Happy Valley Murder, p. 49 Fourth Estate.
  25. ^ "Seven Seek Divorces in Paris Court", Los Angeles Times, November 7, 1924
  26. ^ New York Times, December 19, 1961
  27. ^ Harvard Alumni Bulletin, Vol. 36, Issue 34 (1934).
  28. ^ Picknett, Lynn, Prince, Clive, Prior, Stephen & Brydon, Robert (2002). War of the Windsors: A Century of Unconstitutional Monarchy, p. 58. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 1-84018-631-3.
  29. ^ a b The Life and Death of Lord Errol: The Happy Valley Murder, p. 79
  30. ^ De Janzé, Frédéric (1928). "Vertical Land", Chapter VII
  31. ^ a b c d Lynn Kear and John Rossman Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, Jefferson: NC: McFarland & Company, 2006, p. 28.
  32. ^ a b c d Farrant, Leda (1994). Diana, Lady Delamere and the Lord Erroll Murder, p. 77. Publishers Distribution Services.
  33. ^ Osborne, Frances (2009). The Bolter, p. 162. Knopf
  34. ^ "My Biggest African Thrill", Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1932
  35. ^ a b c d "Kin of Vanderbilts Plunges to Death", The Milwaukee Journal, December 24, 1946
  36. ^ Swindell, Larry (1980). The Last Hero: The Biography of Gary Cooper, p. 138. New York: Doubleday
  37. ^ a b Osborne, Frances (2009). The Bolter, p. 161. Knopf
  38. ^ a b c Fox, James (1983). White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, p. 34. Random House
  39. ^ Waugh, Evelyn, Cooper, Diana & Cooper, Artemis (1992) The Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Diana Cooper, p. 55. Ticknor & Fields
  40. ^ Lovell, Mary S. (1987). Straight on Till Morning: The Biography of Beryl Markham. Hutchinson
  41. ^ Grant, Nellie & Huxley Elspeth (1981). Nellie's Story. Morrow
  42. ^ Hastings, Selina (1994). Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, p. 239. Houghton Mifflin
  43. ^ a b c Straight on Till Morning, p. 129
  44. ^ Petropoulos, Jonathan (2006). Royal and the Reich: The Princes von Hessen in Nazi Germany, p. 73. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  45. ^ McLeod, Kirsty. Battle Royal: Edward VIII & George VI, Brother Against Brother, p. 122. Constable
  46. ^ Nicholson, Stuart (1999). Reminiscing in Tempo: A Portrait of Duke Ellinson, p. 146. Northeastern University Press
  47. ^ Ziegler, Philip (2001). King Edward VIII, p. 200. Sutton
  48. ^ Williams, Susan A. (2004). The People's King: The True Story of the Abdication, p. 31. New York: Palgrave Macmillan
  49. ^ Kiste, John van Der (1991). George V's Children, p. 71. A. Sutton.
  50. ^ "Gwynne, Paris Playboy, Dying", The Milwaukee Sentinel, May 19, 1929
  51. ^ "Vanderbilt, Jr. Dies in Crash", Gettysburg Times, November 16, 1933
  52. ^ "Crash Figure", Los Angeles Times, August 18, 1935
  53. ^ a b Ross, Jean. W. Dictionary of Literary Biography
  54. ^ Chicago Tribune, September 4, 1935
  55. ^ "Obituary", New York Times, May 30, 1934
  56. ^ "Services Tomorrow for Lewis T. Preston", New York Times, February 11, 1937
  57. ^ "Earl of Erroll Believed Slain", The Evening Independent, January 27, 1941
  58. ^ "Verdict of Suicide Returned in Death of Armour Niece", The Milwaukee Journal, January, 21, 1942
  59. ^ "Duke of Kent Dies in Crash", Eugene-Register Guard, August 26, 1942
  60. ^ US Tax Cases, Vol. 1, Part, 1. Commerce Clearing House (1951), p. 9198
  61. ^ Preston's Estate v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue
  62. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1946
  63. ^ a b "N.Y. Woman Leaps 5 Stories to Death", The Lewiston Daily Sun, December 24, 1946
  64. ^ Seal, Mark. "A Flowering Evil". Vanity Fair, August 2006
  65. ^ Higham, Charles (1988). Wallis: Secret Lives of the Duchess of Windsor, p. 392. Sidgwick & Jackson
  66. ^ Horsler, Val (2006). All For Love: Seven Centuries of Illicit Liaison, p. 183. National Archives
  67. ^ Lindsay, Loelia (1961). Grace and Favour: The Memoirs of Loelia, Duchess of Westminster. Reynal
  68. ^ Bradford, Sarah (2000). America's Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, p. 84. Viking
  69. ^ "The Prince's Cousin", Reading Eagle, September 10, 1967
  70. ^ "Michael Canfield", Toledo Blade, December 21, 1969
  71. ^ Di Filippo, Paul (1998). Lost Pages, p. 57. Four Walls Eight Windows
  72. ^ Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, p. 197
  73. ^ African Nights Ticket and Information
  74. ^ Toomer, Jeanette. "Backstage". June 11, 2004. African Nights
  75. ^ Karen Stanion Curriculum Vitae