The Press: The War of the Roses

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One month before their divorce case could reach the comparative dignity of the courts, Billy Rose and Eleanor Holm began throwing mudpie bulletins at one another in public.* Last week their latest volley of press releases gave Manhattan's joyful tabloids the best copy of the whole hot summer. Billy Rose himself, the unco-smart little bashaw of Broadway, called it "trial by newspaper."

It's a Phony! The first mudpie was hurled by an old friend of the family, Dorothy Wesley Bernie, widow of Ben ("The Old Maestro") Bernie and matron of honor at the Rose wedding 13 years ago. In California she filed a suit for criminal libel against Billy, and swore out a warrant for his arrest if he ever set foot in the state. Her charge: Rose was passing around an affidavit from her onetime Negro maid, Alberta Jones, that contained obscene, "horrible lies" about sex orgies that supposedly took place in Mrs. Bernie's home and involved her, Eleanor, and an unidentified girl called "Trudy." The affidavit, said Mrs. Bernie, was a phony; furthermore, Rose had bribed the maid to get it.

Showman Rose forthwith called a press conference in his plush office overlooking the stage of the Ziegfeld Theater. More than 20 newsmen responded. Billy opened by saying he was "stunned and bewildered." He had never intended to make that dirty affidavit public, he said, because he knew he could win his case without those "obscenities." It was Mrs. Bernie who had made the affidavit public property by filing her charge against him.

The fact was, said Billy, that "it was only after the case got into the newspapers and [Eleanor] filed 150 pages of affidavits charging me with everything from smuggling Chinamen to raising marijuana on my window sill that I decided to take a look at the pretty pot that was calling the kettle black ... I refuse to get bitter about [Eleanor], and I never suspected any extracurricular activity on the part of my wife. But her behavior was enough to make a strong man weep. My marriage ended seven years ago." (He was locked out of their house in October.) Since then, he said, "she has been my wife in name only." Billy recalled that he offered her a "generous" cash settlement and "an equally generous sum of alimony," even though it was less than the temporary $700 a week she is getting now by court order.

He's a Tightwad! Next day Eleanor heaved an answering pie, a press release given out by the office of her lawyer, Louis Nizer.* Said Eleanor: "Those who have dealt with Mr. Rose throughout the years well know whether it is his clenched fist on a dollar or my alleged avarice which is responsible for the impasse . . . If he wants to find his real enemy, he need only look in the mirror . . . His present offer not to use his fraudulent affidavit, which has already been filed and communicated to all sorts of people, is like the act of a man who shoots somebody and then is willing to throw away the gun."

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