The Double Life of Benjamin Guggenheim

Apr 22, 2012
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Good Evening,

It has always stuck out in my mind that Mr. Benjamin Guggenheim, the wealthy mining baron, had aboard with him in first class a mistress; Leontine Pauline Aubart.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I don't know much about the man that was Mr. Guggenheim. I have never really looked into his story or anything of the such. All I know is he was traveling with Mme. Aubart and his valet Victor Giglio, and that he and Giglio were lost; Aubart was saved.

But what I am wondering is as to whether or not Mrs. Guggenheim knew about his "little mistress"? As I am not professor on the Edwardian society, does "mistress" refer to the girlfriend of a man who is cheating on his wife or something?

Also, if Mrs. Guggenheim didn't know about Aubart when she boarded the Titanic, then she would have found out later, correct? I wonder what her reaction would have been.

Perhaps I have misunderstood.

While on Guggenheim, does anyone actaully believe he died the way he is depicted dying in "Titanic"? I for one do not. I know that Henry Samuel Etches' account tells us Guggenheim did wish to die as a gentleman, but do you honestly believe he just sat there as depicted in the film? And was Giglio even with him at the time? I am sure they conversed during the sinking, but I speculate they went their seperate ways when it became futile.

Thanks for your input.

-B.W.
 
May 12, 2005
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Brandon,

Re: Guggenheim

You are right that "mistress" infers girlfriend of a married man, though one should be mindful that the mistress of a RICH married man would also be supported or "kept" by him. That is the position in which Mme. Aubart found herself, though she was later to deny it.

She seems to have had a brief - perhaps even momentary - career as a singer in Paris but there should be no pretending that the stage provided her primary vocation. However innocent and doting she may have seemed to her neices when she was an old lady, Mme. Aubart was certainly a courtesan in her youth - a very nice old-fashioned term for shady lady. She was Ben's "du Barry."

Leontine Aubart, known as "Ninette," was beautiful and wore magnificent clothes and went to all the chic parties and restaurants and plays. All such "ladies" of the so-called "demi-monde," or "half-world," were expected to do so in those amoral times - afterall they were plying their trade and advertisement was essential.

In Paris it was not unusual for a gentleman to escort his mistress to Maxim's or to the Comedie Francaise but this would never have been done in London or in America where all was discreet.

There seems little doubt that Mrs. Guggenheim was aware of the existence of Mme. Aubart, though we can bet they never chatted over tea. Even after the disaster, the two did not meet, though "emissaries" were dispatched to her hotel to learn details of Ben's final days.

Over the years Geoff Whitfield has been in contact with descendents of Mme. Aubart and may know more details to share with us.

I understand she married a high French official and so effectively retired from her career - or rather careers - and for the most part lived out a fairly simple life.

Randy
 

Mike Herbold

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Feb 13, 2001
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Brandon:
If you can find a copy, I suggest reading a book called "The Guggenheims, An American Epic" by John H. Davis (William Morrow & Company, 1978). (He also wrote a book entiled "The Bouviers.")

The Guggenheim book is 608 pages long, and chock full of information about all the family, from from Simon Meyer Guggenheim (1792-1869) and his son Meyer Guggenheim (1828-1905) and his 8 sons (Benjamin was one of them) and 3 daughters, continuing through all the family lines to the present.

From a Titanic standpoint, there is nothing new. It may even be inaccurate. The author does not even identify Ms. Aubart by name, and merely calls her "the young blond singer." But he does mention other girlfriends of Benjamin, especially the Marquise de Cerruti, who was even familiar to Guggenheim's daughters. Ben apparently was about as blatant as President Clinton, and Florette was ready to divorce him but was talked out of it by the rest of the family.

Interestingly, Benjamin Guggenheims death was more than an embarrasment to his wife Florette. Here is what the author reports:

"Catastrophe in more ways than one. It was found immediately after Ben's death that his business affairs were in almost total disarray. Not only had he forfeited what would have been a colossal fortune had he remained in the family business, but he had also lost most of the money he had invested in International Steam Pump. The relatively small amount left was tied up in high-growth, low-yield stocks that were so depressed they could not be sold."
"The last news was kept from the money-conscious Florette and so she continued to live in the same sumptuous manner as always. Meanwhile the brothers went to work to salvage what could be salvaged."

The John Johnson referred to in the book is actually first class steward James Johnson, who was interrogated extensively at the British Inquiry (3340-3707), but did not mention Guggenheim in his testimony.

Author Davis gives his source of Titanic information as Walter Lord's "A Night To Remember," saying that most of the Titanic information comes from there, but he doesn't differentiate what does and what doesn't. (Lord correctly called the steward James Johnson.)
 
Apr 22, 2012
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Thanks for all the extensive input. Guggenheim is making himself out to be a most interesting passenger, and one that I would like to research further. Other than the book mentioned above, does anyone know how I could research him? And whatever became of the family of Victor Giglio I wonder. Giglio was Egyptian, correct?

Thanks for your help.

-B.W.
 
Apr 22, 2012
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On a more personal note, I had Guggenheim pictured all wrong! I had always thought of him as your classic Edwardian gentleman. He appears to have been nothing but an unloyal player. If I had been Florette, I would have divorced the guy when I first found out about his "little mistresses"!
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
Hi Brandon, these days, an affair like that may very well end in divorce. However, one has to keep in mind that things were a bit different then. The wives of the well-to-do were hardly unaware of their husband's philandering as we might think. however, it was expedient to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear towards that sort of thing whenever possible. Something else that they had to think of was that divorce carried a nasty stigma...something they had to think about, to say nothing of a loss of prestige, social standing, and above all, income.

Bottom line, it was easier to pretend it wasn't happening.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Mike Herbold

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Feb 13, 2001
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Benjamin wasn't the only Guggenheim with a wandering eye. His brother William (1868-1941) has a couple of pictures in the book, each with him in his sixties (or more), each with a very attractive young lady. The caption reads: "William Guggenheim with two of the former show girls to whom he left his estate.

Here's a few more enlightening passages from the book:

"Benjamin Guggenheim had the typical playboy's syndrome. His older brothers (Isaac, b. 1854, Daniel, b. 1856, Murry, b. 1858, and Solomon, b. 1861) did not grow up as a rich man's son, but he did. He therefore was never aware of the intense struggles his father had had to go through to earn his fortune. All was so easy. Furthermore, being a late child, he was spoiled by everyone, especially mother Barbara, whose inexhaustible love and compassion was, at this stage, not always counterbalanced by Meyer's severity, as it had been with the other children. Early Ben became used to a life of self-gratification. When, in 1901, he was faced with the choice of leaving the Guggenheim firm with a share of the profits in accordance with the amount of work he had so far put into the business, or remaining and working as hard as the other brothers, he chose the easier path."

And wife Florette was not the suffering wife you may imagine. Here's another good paragraph from "The Guggenheims":

"Since Ben's marriage wa essentially a marriage of two family fortunes and never pretended to be otherwise, we can easily excuse Ben's "divigations." Besides, Florette, it appears, possessed several unappealing traits. One of these was -- odd for a rich girl -- an excessive attachment to money. She loved to receive money, but she was very stingy about spending it. She habitually underpaid her eleven servants and undertipped waiters and hotel porters. In France the porters got wise and marked her bags with X's, so at the next hotel the luggage would mysteriously not arrive in her room. She judged her daughters' suitors wholly in terms of their financial resources. A young caller might be acceptable in every way -- family, profession, salary -- but if he had no money, no capital -- salary, no matter how high, meant little to her -- if he had no capital to speak of, he was labelled "N.G.," No Good, and asked not to call again. The good life for a woman, was, to Florette, living off substantial unearned income, and living meant mostly long bridge parties in her Louis XVI parlor, with equally long intermissions for gossip and tea."

Learned an interesting tidbit from the book. The Straus and Guggenheim families were related. Gladys Guggenheim (b.1895), the daughter of Ben's older brother Daniel, married Roger W. Straus. Isidor Straus was Roger's uncle. Their first son, Oscar Strauss II was born in 1914.

The rest of the Guggenheim brothers, and even Benjamin himself, through his daughter Peggy, leave legacies as contributors to the arts, sciences, and medicine through their many museums, foundations and funds.

You can find out a lot about them by just typing in Guggenheim in your regular internet browser. Yahoo gave me 18 different Guggenheim websites, most about some of the foundations and funds, and over 49,000 web page hits.
 
Apr 22, 2012
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Thank you all so much for your input!

The Guggenheim family seems very fascinating; I wonder why I never payed Benjamin any mind before. I will do some hunting on the Internet and see what I can find. I have saw a site about Peggy Guggenheim, and found her interesting, also. I will let you know what I come up with.

-B.W.
 

Mike Herbold

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Feb 13, 2001
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Brandon:
I noticed there are quite a few books available, and all at reasonable prices. Just go to abeBooks.com amd type in "The Guggenheims" in the search window. Good Luck on the project.
 

Mike Herbold

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Feb 13, 2001
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Randy:
This is the internet. You're supposed to tell us how to get it free. Now get back in there and break that code.
 
Nov 27, 2005
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Peggy Guggenheim wrote an "autobiography" with one chapter devoted to her rememembrance of the Titanic and her father.
 
May 8, 2001
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Maybe his wife knew more than we think. In reading the biography here, it was stated that his wife paid off Mdm. Aubart for her silence. OWCH!!!! Colleen
 

Kris Muhvic

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Sep 26, 2008
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Good day-
Sorry, but I had to put in my "scarlet letters" here-
One should remember King Edward and his mistress, Alice Krepple was it? Look, like Fitzgerald said... "the rich are different". Sure, it is one thing to be king, but the wealthy, titled, etc. on both sides of the Atlantic, would often model themselves after royalty. They did not apply, behind the scenes anyway, bourgeoisie values to their lives. They already had the social standing: why try to impress when unnecessary? Think of it, how many wealthy men, throughout history, seem to get away with murder- figurativly and literally- even today?
I guess I just have a problem with letting these "gentlemen" off the hook, while their "dalliances" receive More of their fair share of scorn.

Takes two to Tango!
yours-
Kris
 
Jul 10, 2005
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Look at Prince Charles and Lady Di, that woman was sooo miserable because of Camilla Parker Bowles. But, I also know of poor people that play the "game" also.
Whatever happend to "til death do us part" & "happily ever after"???

Beverly
 
May 12, 2005
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All,

Well this subject is juicy. And very apropos, with the sad situation of Chandra Levy and that scoundrel Gary Condit still playing out.

The truth is affairs go on. Some of us here may even have been culprits or at least the offended party in some such triangle. I think when they are privately conducted no one need be hurt but in the case of public figures it's difficult for their goings-on to be kept secret so someone is always hurt.

I think it's too bad that momogamy isn't a prized attribute in relationships anymore but I am afraid it never has been, at least not for men.

Also, we mustn't think that Ben and Ninette were the only philandering souls on Titanic. We'll probably never know what discreetly carried-out amours were afoot.

Just off-hand I can think of Rosenshine (was that the name?) and his girlfriend Miss Thorne. And Dorothy Gibson was heavily involved with film big-wig Jules Brulatour, who was amorously awaiting Dorothy's arrival in NY and sent her sweet little nothings by wireless nearly every day during her crossing.

I think there have been hints about others but can't recall their names.

Randy
 

Mike Poirier

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Dec 31, 2004
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A note about Ben Guggenheim. While researching the Lusitania, I came across a 1915 article where a young woman stated that Ben had been named as the "other person" in her divorce. Apparently he made some promises to take care of her and she was suing his estate. She had since remarried. I think he name was Tuska or something of that sort. Unfortunately, I was saving my quarters to copy accounts by survivors of the Lusy, Laconia, and Republic. Oh well, maybe next time...