Thelma Furness, Viscountess Furness
Thelma, Viscountess Furness, in 1955.
23 August 1904
Grand Hotel Nationale, Lucerne, Switzerland
29 January 1970 (aged 65)|
Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
James Vail Converse
(m. 1922; div. 1925)
Marmaduke Furness, 1st Viscount Furness
(m. 1926; div. 1933)
Thelma Furness, Viscountess Furness (born Thelma Morgan, 23 August 1904 – 29 January 1970) was a mistress of King Edward VIII while he was still the Prince of Wales; she preceded Wallis Simpson in his affections (for whose sake Edward abdicated and became the Duke of Windsor). She was the maternal aunt of the author, fashion designer and socialité Gloria Vanderbilt.
During most of her relationship with the Prince, she was married to a British nobleman, Marmaduke Furness, 1st Viscount Furness. That marriage ended the year before her relationship with the Prince ended.
Her first name was pronounced in Spanish fashion as "TEL-ma."
Born in Lucerne, Switzerland, she was a daughter of Harry Hays Morgan Sr., an American diplomat who was U.S. consul in Buenos Aires and in Brussels, and his half-Chilean, half-Irish-American wife, Laura Delphine Kilpatrick. Married in 1893, they were divorced in 1927.
Her maternal grandfather was a Union general, Hugh Judson Kilpatrick (1836–1881), who was also U.S. minister to Chile, and through her maternal grandmother Luisa Fernandez de Valdivieso, who was a niece of Crescente Errázuriz Valdivieso, Archbishop of Santiago, she reportedly was a descendant of Spain's Royal House of Navarre.
Thelma Morgan had two sisters: Gloria (her identical twin, the mother of Gloria Vanderbilt, the fashion designer and artist and mother of news anchor Anderson Cooper) and Laura Consuelo Morgan (aka Tamar), who was married to three men in succession: Count Jean de Maupas du Juglart (a French nobleman); Benjamin Thaw, Jr. of Pittsburgh; and Alfons B. Landa, president of Colonial Airlines and vice-chairman of the finance committee of the Democratic National Committee in 1948. Thelma Morgan also had a brother, Harry Hays Morgan Jr., who became a diplomat and then a minor Hollywood actor in such films as Abie's Irish Rose (1946), Joan of Arc (1948). Her half-siblings, from her father's first marriage to Mary E. Edgerton, were Constance Morgan (1887–1892) and Gladys "Margaret" Morgan (1889–1958).
Marriages and relationships
Her first husband was James Vail Converse, a grandson of Theodore N. Vail, former president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). They were married in Washington, D.C., on 16 February 1922 when she was 17 years old; Converse was about a decade older and had been married before. They divorced in Los Angeles, California, on 10 April 1925. By this marriage she had one stepson, James Vail Converse, Jr. (born 18 January 1918), her husband's son from his first marriage to Nadine Melbourne.
After the divorce, Thelma Morgan Converse was rumored to be engaged to the American actor Richard Bennett, the matinée-idol father of Hollywood film stars Constance Bennett, Joan Bennett, and Barbara Bennett (the third was the mother of talk-show host Morton Downey, Jr.).
Her second husband was Marmaduke Furness, 1st Viscount Furness (1883–1940), the chairman of Furness Shipping Company. She was his second wife. They were married on 27 June 1926, and divorced in 1933 They had one son, William Anthony Furness, 2nd Viscount Furness, and as the former wife of a British nobleman she was known as Thelma, Viscountess Furness. By this marriage she also had a stepson, Hon. Christopher Furness, and a stepdaughter, Hon. Averill Furness.
Lady Furness first met the Prince of Wales at a ball at Londonderry House in 1926 but they did not meet again until the Leicestershire Agricultural Show at Leicester on 14 June 1929. The Prince asked her to dine and they met regularly until she joined the Prince on safari in East Africa early in 1930, when a closer relationship developed. On the Prince's return to Britain in April 1930 she was his regular weekend companion at the newly acquired Fort Belvedere until January 1934. She also entertained the Prince at her London home, in Elsworthy Road, Primrose Hill, and the Furness country house, Burrough Court, in Leicestershire.
On 10 January 1931 at her country house Burrough Court, near Melton Mowbray, she introduced the Prince to her close friend Wallis Simpson and, while visiting her sister Gloria in America between January and March 1934, she was supplanted in the Prince's affection by Simpson. Reacting to the Prince's coldness later that year she threw herself into a short-lived affair with Prince Aly Khan. She had openly flirted with Prince Aly Khan during her voyage back to the UK in March 1934 which was reported to the Prince of Wales and widely reported in British and American press including the social gossip magazine of the day, Tatler.
Her identical twin sister was Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt who was married to Reginald Vanderbilt and had a daughter, Gloria Vanderbilt. This makes her the maternal great-aunt of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.
For a very brief time, she was a motion picture producer and actress, after founding Thelma Morgan Pictures at the age of 17 in 1923. As she told Time magazine, "I am incorporating the Thelma Morgan Pictures, Inc., with $100,000 capital and will produce big, sane, and sound 'specials.' I will be my own star. Hitherto, my chief experience has been in Junior League shows." Her first starring role, in 1923, was the lead in a film Aphrodite, produced by her own company and filmed at Vitagraph Studios.
She described her leading role in Aphrodite to The New York Times as that of "an American girl, brought up under the sinister influence of an old Egyptian woman." She also had small parts in the films Enemies of Women (1923), a William Randolph Hearst production whose cast included Lionel Barrymore and Clara Bow, So This Is Marriage? (1924), and Any Woman (1925).
Lady Furness died in New York City on 29 January 1970. As her niece, Gloria Vanderbilt, recalled, "She dropped dead on Seventy-third and Lexington on her way to see the doctor. In her bag was this miniature teddy bear that the Prince of Wales had given her, years before, when she came to be with my mother at the custody trial, and it was worn down to the nub".
- "Lady Furness Dies". Eugene Register-Guard. 30 January 1970. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
- "Thelma Morgan Furness". Find A Grave. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- Spoto, Donald, The Decline and Fall of the House of Windsor (Pocket Books, 1996), page 208
- "Harry Hays Morgan Passes In London". Rochester Evening Journal. 20 March 1933. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
- "Vanderbilt Dead After Hemorrhage Last Night". The Evening Independent. 4 September 1925. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
- "Vanderbilt-Whitney Suit Is Tinged With Pittsburgh's History". 4 October 1934. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- "Much Bitterness Marks Vanderbilt Family Feud For Custody Of Heiress". Reading Eagle. 21 October 1934. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
- "Milestones June 27, 1927". Time. 27 June 1927. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
- "Bennett Denies Thelma Morgan Has Jilted Him". The Milwaukee Sentinel. 16 September 1925. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
- "Thelma Morgan Is Suing Jas. Converse For Divorce". The Newburgh Daily News. 17 March 1925. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
- "What Next For Mrs. Reggy's Lively Sister?". The Troy Sunday Budget. 20 September 1925. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
- "British Peer Is Divorced". The Southeast Missourian. 27 January 1933. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
- Stansbury, W.H. (28 June 1926). "Daughter Won, Thelma and her Viscount Marry". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
- "Wins Divorce". The Telegraph-Herald. 22 January 1933. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
- Vanderbilt (1959) 177.
- Vanderbilt (1959) 223-3; The Times, 15 June 1929, 17b.
- Vanderbilt (1959) 265-66.
- Elliott, Valerie (25 May 2013). "Edward, Mrs Simpson and their 'secret love nest': The £18m genteel home that played key role in the affair that rocked the nation". Daily Mail. London.
- Goldsmith, Barbara, ed. (1982), Little Gloria...Happy at Last, Dell, ISBN 0-440-15120-1, retrieved 13 August 2010
- Clive Fletcher (26 June 2008). The Duke of Windsor's Last Secrets. Lulu. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-4092-0809-9. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- Anthony Camp, Royal Mistresses and Bastards: Fact and Fiction 1714–1936 (London, 2007) 397.
- "Imaginary Interviews". Time. 2 July 1923.
- Dominick Dunne, Fatal Charms and the Mansions of Limbo, Ballatine, 1999, page 152.
- "Graves of Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt and Thelma Morgan Furness". Find A Grave. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
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