|Born||3 February 1914
|Died||28 April 2003 (aged 89)
Monte Carlo, Monaco
|Residence||Avenue Foch, Paris, France, Villa Leonina at Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France|
|Occupation||Socialite, racehorse owner, huntress|
|Known for||Only female owner to win The Derby twice|
1) Clendenin Ryan, Jr. (1934-1935)
|Parent(s)||Ferdinand von Wurmbrand-Stuppach & May Baltazzi|
Etti Plesch (3 February 1914 – 28 April 2003), Austro-Hungarian countess, huntress, racehorse owner and socialite. Plesch lost two of her six husbands to the same woman, Louise de Vilmorin, a French literary figure, and owned two winners of The Derby, in Psidium in 1961 and Henbit in 1980.
Born Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine Gräfin von Wurmbrand-Stuppach in Vienna, Austria, of Greco-Austrian heritage, "Etti," as she was known, was putatively the elder daughter of Count Ferdinand von Wurmbrand-Stuppach (1879–1933) and his wife May Baltazzi (1885–1981), but more likely was the countess's biological child by Count Josef Gizycki. Her mother, who was a cousin of Baroness Mary Vetsera, a mistress of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, said that Count Gizycki's main interest in life was "the pleasuring of women in a physical way .... He was amoral and cynical, but he was a marvellous lover." (Gizycki was famed in the early 1900s because of his stormy marriage to American newspaper heiress Cissy Patterson.)
Etti von Wurmbrand-Stuppach was raised in Vienna and in Moravia, with travels to other sites throughout Europe. From the age of ten until she was twelve she was treated for tuberculosis at the Waltzaner Sanatorium in Davos, the setting for Thomas Mann's novel The Magic Mountain.
At the age of 17, she fell in love with Count Vladschi Mittrovsky, but was forbidden to marry him because he had a blood disease. She journeyed to New York and met American railway heir Clendenin Ryan Jr (1905–1957), grandson of Thomas Fortune Ryan, marrying him on 20 February 1935, after he proposed on their third date, in Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia was best man.
The marriage lasted three months (they divorced in 1935 and the marriage was annulled in 1944), and she returned to Europe where she met Hungarian Count Paul Pálffy ab Erdöd (1890–1968) and became his fourth of eight eventual wives in late 1935. They lived in Slovakia. Their life was taken up with tiger hunts in India: they both became good shots, killing stags, elephants, and antelopes. They attended the World Exposition of Shooting at Berlin, hosted by Hermann Göring. Shortly afterwards, Pálffy became smitten with the siren-like writer Louise de Vilmorin (1902–1969) in Paris, divorced Etti in December 1937, and married Louise.
On the rebound, Etti married a Hungarian count, Tamás Esterházy de Galántha (1901–1964), descendant of the junior committal branch of a great princely family, on 5 March 1938, and went to live in the castle of Devecser, in Hungary. They hunted, travelled, and had one daughter, Marie-Anna Berta Felicie Johanna Ghislaine Theodora Huberta Georgina Helene Genoveva (b. 12 December 1938), known as "Bunny". Her daughter married 1962 (and divorced 1972) the Hon. Dominic Elliot (b. 1931), younger son of the 5th Earl of Minto, and had issue two sons (the elder Alexander dying unmarried in 1985).
In 1942, she journeyed abroad alone and her husband also fell under the spell of heartbreaker Vilmorin. He eloped with Vilmorin and divorced Etti in 1944. (Vilmorin and Esterházy never married.)
Etti's next two husbands were the Austrian Count Sigismund Berchtold (1900–1979), son of Count Leopold Berchtold, the Minister of Foreign Affairs who advised the Emperor to declare war on the Serbs, starting World War I. They wed in 1944 and divorced in 1949. The fifth was Chicago millionaire William Deering Davis, who had been briefly married to the silent film star Louise Brooks, in the 1930s; Plesch's marriage to Davis lasted from 1949 until their divorce in 1951.
In 1954, Etti married her last husband, Dr Árpád Plesch (1889–1974), a Hungarian lawyer, international financier, and collector of rare botanical books and pornographic esoterica. She met Árpad through her friends Gloria Guinness and Thomas "Loel" Guinness in Paris.
The very wealthy Dr. Plesch shared Etti Plesch's passion for Thoroughbred horse racing, something that had been influenced by her maternal grandfather Alexander Baltazzi who won the 1876 edition of the Epsom Derby with Kisber. She and her husband began racing Thoroughbreds in 1954 and would win major races such as the 1959 Coronation Cup with Nagami and that year's Irish Oaks with Discorea. Their 1961 Epsom Derby winner Psidium was bred by Etti Plesch and raced by the couple. Following her husband's death in 1974, she continued to race horses and in 1970 won France's most prestigious race with Sassafras. In 1980, Etti Plesch became the only female owner to ever win the Epsom Derby twice when her horse Henbit won England's most prestigious race.
Among her other notable horses, Etti Plesch owned and raced Miswaki, a Group One winner in France as well as a stakes race winner in the United States, who became an important sire of 97 stakes race winners and was the Leading broodmare sire in Great Britain & Ireland in 1999 and 2001.
After her husband's death in 1974, she took up partying and writing her memoirs, which were almost completed at the time of her death. They were edited by Hugo Vickers and published posthumously in 2007 as Horses and Husbands.
She died 28 April 2003 in Monte Carlo.
Titles and styles
- 3 Feb 1914 - 20 Feb 1935: Her Illustrious Highness Countess Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine Wurmbrand-Stuppach
- 20 Feb 1935 - 1935: Her Illustrious Highness Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine, Mrs. Ryan
- 1935 - Dec 1937: Her Illustrious Highness Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine, Countess Pálffy ab Erdöd
- Dec 1937 - 5 Mar 1938: Her Illustrious Highness Countess Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine Pálffy ab Erdöd
- 5 Mar 1938 - 1944: Her Illustrious Highness Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine, Countess de Galántha
- 1944 - 1944: Her Illustrious Highness Countess Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine de Galántha
- 1944 - 1949: Her Illustrious Highness Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandin, Countess Berchtold
- 1949 - 1949: Her Illustrious Highness Countess Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine Berchtold
- 1949 - 1951: Her Illustrious Highness Countess Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine, Mrs. Davis
- 1951 - 1954: Her Illustrious Highness Countess Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine Davis
- 1951 - 1974: Her Illustrious Highness Countess Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine, Mrs. Plesch
- 1974 - 2003: Her Illustrious Highness Countess Maria Anna Paula Ferdinandine Plesch (Etti Plesch)