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Thomas Franklyn Manville, Jr., universally known as Tommy Manville (April 9, 1894 – October 9, 1967), was a Manhattan socialite and heir to the Johns-Manville asbestos fortune. He was a celebrity in the mid 20th Century, by virtue of his large financial inheritance, and his 13 marriages to 11 women. This feat won him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, and made him the subject of much gossip. His ninth wife Anita Manville wrote a biography, The Wives and Lives of Tommy Manville, which was seen as the inspiration of the camp musical, Lucky Wonderful: 13 Musicals About Tommy Manville by Jackie Curtis. He was probably the model for Gary Cooper’s character in the 1938 motion picture Bluebeard's Eighth Wife. Manville is also mentioned in Irving Berlin’s song What Chance Have I With Love ("Tommy Manville's love is not returned/He sells asbestos and he has learned/ That with asbestos he still gets burned") and in many other passing pop culture references and metaphors.
Manville was considered something of a clown (an image he cultivated with his public persona – part bon vivant, part hapless tool of women) but was also sneakily admired for his number of conquests and his extravagant bank account. At the time of his death it was estimated that Manville spent more than $1.25-million on marriage settlements. The termination of his marriages usually ended in widespread publicity and huge cash settlements.
If Manville took pride in his ability to select beautiful young blondes to become his wives, he was equally pleased with the head of gray hair that marked him for more than a quarter of a century. He once asked friends on the New Rochelle Police force to call him "grand pappy" because of his hair, and he reportedly gave each man $2 when a patrol car responded to a summons to his estate "Bon Repos" in the gated waterfront community of Premium Point in New Rochelle, New York.
While he reveled in the publicity surrounding his marriages, Manville sought privacy on his estate. He equipped it with burglar alarms, peephole doors, armed guards, a public-address system, radio in every room and 20 telephones. He called the estate his fortress and often wore two heavy pistols at his belt.
In June 1967 while Manville was in Doctors Hospital, three gunmen wearing black masks invaded his estate and stole an undetermined amount of cash, jewelry, furs and clothing. Manville had been in ill health for several years, and his 11th wife, the former Christina Erdlen, was with him at the hospital when the estate was robbed.
Thomas Franklyn Manville Jr. took 11 wives in 13 marriages; he remarried twice and was divorced from 10 of them a total of 11 times. Once he was widowed. This extraordinary cycle of marriage and divorce was his only claim to celebrity. The son of the founder and chairman of the Johns-Manville Corporation used marriage as a means of personal publicity. In a story appearing under his name in the American Weekly magazine in 1936, he made sport of his marital propensities and pledged that his next wife would be a blonde – almost any blonde. The next year he took full page advertisements in New York newspapers, publicly seeking a new lawyer to represent him in family disputes.
According to his own account, Mr. Manville did not get on well with his father from an early age. He said that his father repeatedly disinherited him but relented as often and finally willed him enough money for life.
Determined to wed, Manville was 17 years old in 1911 when he met Florence Huber, a chorus girl, under a Broadway marquee. They were married five days later. The bridegroom's father, traveling from Europe to the United States, said he would have the match annulled when he reached New York. His son arranged a second wedding ceremony in New Jersey, tried to have another in Maryland and said that he would, if necessary, remarry his bride in most of the then 46 states. When his father shut the family treasury against him, young Manville took a $15 a week job in the family's Pittsburgh factory in order to get along. That he would become a career bridegroom was not immediately apparent.
His first marriage lasted 11 years, though a final separation in 1917 continued until divorce in April 1922. He took his father's 22-year old stenographer, Lois Arline McCoin, as his second wife in September 1925. The next month his father died and left him about $10 million of a $50 million estate. The son's wife charged desertion in 1926 and received a settlement of $19,000 a year. She died in 1929.
Manville soon began describing himself as a "retired business man" or gave his occupation as "looking after my estate." His subsequent brides were the following: Avonne Taylor, a Follies girl, in May 1931. She had been wed twice before, They separated after 34 days and were divorced that November; Marcelle Edwards, a showgirl, married him in October 1933. They were divorced in October 1937 after a $200.000 settlement; Bonita Edwards, a 22-year old showgirl, wed Manville in November 1941. They were divorced in January 1942; he married Wilhelmma Connelly (Billy) Boze, a 20-year old actress, in October 1942. They were divorced in February 1943. Miss Boze distinguished herself among Mr. Manville's former wives by steadfastly refusing to take any money in settlement; Macie Marie (Sunny) Ainsworth wed Manville in August 1943. She had been married four times by age 20. They were separated after eight hours and divorced in October 1943; the eighth bride was British born Georgina Campbell, 27 whom he married in December 1945 at age 51. The two were separated when Mrs. Manville was killed in an automobile collision in 1952 while driving to have breakfast with her husband at "Bon Repos". "We have been friends," Mr. Manville said of his wife at the crash scene; In July 1952 he married Anita Frances Roddy-Eden. She obtained a Mexican divorce in August and accepted S100,000 in lieu of alimony; his 10th wife was a 26-year old Texas showgirl Pat Gaston. They were married in May 1957 and divorced in November of that year. Though the record is confused, there were 2 re-marriages among these 10. Manville's married his 11th wife, 20 year old Christina Erdlen, in January 1960.