The Miami Herald from Miami, Florida on June 12, 1932 · 28
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The Miami Herald from Miami, Florida · 28

Miami, Florida
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 12, 1932
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ciiiiESiimiiiiTiFTrmicxnnTnTimnniiimiiTnumimmnmmimmimiiniTnnnTnK ID HID a S m O rv ERSKINE JOHNSON SHE might have been looking the whole world in the eye — this defiant radiant young creature — as she drew herself up threw back her head proudly and said: "I distinguish myself from the rest of the world in that I believe for myself and for myself alone that I would never marry again without first living with the man!” Blond Peggy Prior von Eltz Hollywood screen writer was looking squarely into the eyes of an astonished judge as she uttered those words — her challenge! At stake as she hurled defiance at conventions at the world’s concepts of morality was the custody of her two children Lori 9 and Theodore Jr 7 At stake too she knew was what the world called her “reputation” and above all her happiness Happiness 1 She had tasted enough of the other Seven years of bickering disillusionment heartaches tears This they called “wedded bliss!” If her- love for the handsome Theodore von Eltz who had stirred women’s hearts on stage and screen had cost her this could she take new vows with even so engaging a man as Joseph Moncure March whose brilliance as a scenario writer dwarfed her talents to a feeble flame? Could she do this without knowing? OUCH was the beginning of Hollywood’s k-' spiciest marriage mixup — one that’s still debated with undiminished vigor although Peggy has convinced her jilted first husband and stem Superior Judge Dudley S Valentine of Los Angeles that the future of her two adoring children is safe in her hands Peggy came by her domestic difficulties honestly It was because her father and mother couldn’t get along that Mrs Prior in 1918 had bundled off her four girls to Hollyv ood leaving their father in Northern California where they had made their home Peggy’s mother had written a scenario Hollywood she thought was her chance to sell it There the girls were placed in school and there Peggy was graduated at 16 with high honors She was offered a scholarship at Leland Stanford University but declined it to take a job in San Francisco so that she might help the family Later returning to Hollywood she met Theodore von Eltz who too was a newcomer in Hollywood Friends had urged him to enter the movies following his success in several New York stage productions 1 1 'HE son of a Yale University professor Theodore had attended a private boarding school in the east for 12 years served eight months in France during the World War and followed that with excursions onto the New York stage and into the Texas oil fields His success in the films was instantaneous Peggy’s mother was pleased She encouraged their romance Theodore had aided her financially court records show So they were married this girl of 1 7 and this world-wise man o f 28 in September 1921 As if Fate had decreed their unhappiness roseate skies soon became clouded Theodore surprised chagrined waited in vain for roles For eight months he lived on anticipation an investigator later reported Peggy’s mother and two sisters came to live with them Her proficiency as a writer proven giiigilllllllllllllllllllligillllllllllllllllllllllllllillllillllM V V Peggy von Eltz March who divorced a movie "villain” and married a poet has her two children hack after a lengthy court battle despite her frank admission that she tested out a "trial marriage” with her second husband before wedding him legally Peggy kept on at her task Young she was appalled by her discouraged husband’s associates She was slow to adjust herself to this situation Friction resulted Theodore too had his causes for complaint investigators later reported The “in-laws” irked him Lack of work unpleasantness at home led Trim to seek more congenial environment His drinking increased the court subsequently was told in 1928 a trial sepa-But Theodore became so “down and out” that Peggy permitted him to come back The reconciliation was short-lived Before the end of the year Peggy brought suit for divorce on groupds of cruelty The divorce was granted by default and an interlocutory decree was entered Nov 7 1928 granting Peggy exclusive care custody and control of their two children Theodore agreed to pay $100 a week alimony He told the court he was advised by friends to allow the divorce by default and make such an agreement in the hope of reconciliation later But his two years’ pleadings failed of this end although the estranged pair were on very friendly terms after the divorce — “more so since the divorce than when they were actually living together” the court was told “All the time’’ an investigator later told the court “it appeared that Theodore had always shown a very indifferent attitude toward the children He had made his biggest effort to get his wife to return more than showing any paternal interest toward the youngsters” Finally early in 1930 Peggy told Theodore she had fallen desperately in love with another man and intended to remarry r I ’HE blow fell heavily on Theodore for he thought Peggy had been growing more kindly toward him Frequently th$y had at- Finally they had tended parties and theaters together “It’s Joseph March” she toW him Theodore remonstrated March he said was still married although he had filed suit for divorce Peggy was obdurate But she was fair They would share the children In the light of her own broken home she insisted upon her children holding the right attitude toward their father She asked Theodore to take the children for a time but stressed the fact she had no intention of giving up their -custody She helped move the youngsters to Theodore’s home and visited them almost daily Meanwhile according to court records she lived with the man she expected to mrry When after eight weeks the children became unhappy with their father she returned them to her home was then that von Eltz launched his unsuccessful battle to regain their custody Blase 1 Hollywood caught its breath as it read on April 30 1931 that von Eltz had filed a petition in superior court charging his former wife had become unfit to have the custody of the children because “she resides with one Joseph Moncure March a married man represents and holds herself out to be his wife and conducts herself as his wife at his home in Hollywood” Hollywood read on: “She does not believe in the institution of marriage she will instill (Copyright 1932 by EveryWeek Magazine — Printed In U S a such belief into the minor children and entertains the belief that no one should marry without first living with his or her future spouse” It was at the court hearing on Theodore’s petition shortly after that Peggy herself bravely voiced her trial marriage dogma that set a nation talking and a judge to pondering: What constitutes the amount of morality necessary for a mother? Should she be legally penalized if she follows the dictates of her own conscience but runs counter to established moral concepts? Must she disregard her personal happiness to keep her children? Will the morals of her children be damaged or will they be strengthened by the example she has set? And finally there was this question: Does a “trial marriage" — even when followed by legal ceremony — m a k e a mother ineligible on moral grounds to be the custodian of her small children? VALENTINE ruled that it did despite Peggy’s denial that she lived with March before his divorce was granted She admitted their association that he had given her money and bought her an auto- Theodore von Eltz who fought unsuccessfully to gain sole custody of his children mobile and said they were going to be married as soon as March was able to put through the signing of the final decree in his divorce case It was several weeks after the hearing that Judge Valentine ordered the children placed in a neutral home Evidence had been introduced showing that the former Mrs von Eltz was A) U not living in the same house with March but occupied a bungalow with her mother and the children at the rear of March’s residence Court attaches had investigated the case thoroughly Five months later when March’s final divorce decree was entered in February of this year he and the former Mrs von Eltz were married by the same judge who had deprived her of her children And now Peggy Prior von Eltz-March has won a complete victory For she and Theodore have reached an agreement out of court granting her custody of Lori and Theodore Jr the actor agreeing to pay $75 a month toward their support and Mrs March accepting $1000 in full payment of $1975 alimony alleged to have gone unpaid Court investigators probably came close to the heart of the difference which set Peggy Prior von Eltz against her actor-husband in their startling legal feud “Theodore is of German descent” said a voluminous report included in the court record “Ide has had a severe training and is a great believer in discipline “The mother is extftmely emotional and more or less idealistic and feels that the children should be controlled by love “He appears to be dominating and shows an imperialistic spirit 4T)EGGY appears to be as effervescent as Theodore is reticent “Mrs von Eltz stated the reason that she did not consider the children when she took the step she did was that her own mother had repeatedly inferred her children had interfered with her full expression and implied that her children owed her something for it “Consequently she did not want to blame her children later in life for holding her to something intolerable” Meanwhile as the public debates whether this mother was correct in her views and the steps she took she has settled down with her new husband in a little house by the sea near Los Angeles and is going to be “the best mother ever” to her children “The ordeal through which I have passed is going to make me a better mother” she says “Mr von Eltz and I are going to remain on the best of terms and Mr March myself and the children will be glad to see him whenever he visits the children Our agreement you know grants permission to Mr von Eltz to visit the children ’at reasonable times’ ” And as to March as a “father”? His spicy poem “The Wild Party” was introduced by von Eltz’s attorney during the battle over custody of the children in an attempt to prove him unfit to associate with them But says Peggy: “He’ll b perfectl” V HAT Judge Valentine may think of the moral problems raised by Peggy’s tangled affairs may never be set out The out-of-court settlement spared him the necessity of expounding his views Only the passing years will tell whether the court’s investigator was correct when he reported: “Through the things which she has suffered her children will have that loving understanding and through her experience she will be a better mother “Is it fair that her children should be sacrificed on the altar of public opinion which is fickle? “The quality of our race turns on the quality of the parents and especially does the quality of the children turn on the peace happiness and well-being of the mother “You cannot make a mother a disgraced and taunted thing and expect the progeny to prosper” The eourt has not had to render an opinion on these questions but Hollywood residents accustomed to odd matrimonial upsets in and out of the film colony can be depended upon to turn their attention to them and the whole thing has already provided a topic for innumerable tea-table and bridge-soiree conversations There are a good many children in Hollywood whose parents have had to settle their troubles in the divorce courts Most of these like the children of Peggy von Eltz-March have remained in their mothers’ care ’'MiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiHiiiiiiiiiigiiiiiiiiniiiiiiiiiiioiiip 4 P

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