Once upon a time, about 100 years ago, a 27-year-old woman was the wealthiest woman in the nation. In The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post, bestselling author Allison Pataki has crafted an intimate portrait of a woman who lived and loved on a grand scale, yet proves that money cannot buy happiness.
Marjorie Merriweather Post’s journey began gluing cereal boxes in her father’s barn near Battle Creek, Michigan and learning the business from the man who, at the turn of the 20th century, made a fortune by producing healthy and quick foods like Grape-Nuts. When her parents divorced, Marjorie was rudderless. Then in 1914, C. W. Post died by suicide and his daughter inherited his estate worth an estimated $250 million in 1914 dollars (about $6.5 billion in today’s dollars.
After WWI, Marjorie takes a more active interest in the Postum company, spearheading a major expansion. In 1929, she renamed the company General Foods Corporation. Not content to stay in her prescribed roles of high-society wife, mother, and hostess, she, along with her second husband, E.F. Hutton, began expanding the business and acquiring other American food companies such as Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, Jell-O, Baker’s Chocolate, Maxwell House, and Bird’s-eye.
So what did she do with all that money? She partied and traveled. She dined with the rich and famous, including presidents, heads of state, and movie stars. When the economy was booming in the roaring twenties, she bought up Russian artwork and jewelry, and built palatial homes. But although she sought happily ever-after with men and money, she never truly found it.
Marjorie did everything on a grand scale, especially with love. She had four husbands: Investment banker, Edward Bennett Close; Financier Edward Francis Hutton; American Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph E. Davies; and Pittsburgh business executive, Herbert A. May.
That a synopsis of the woman. But what did I think of the book? Marjorie’s focus on accruing and spending her obscene wealth bothered me. Post funded a US Army hospital in France during World War I, but it wasn’t until after the 1929 stock market crash that Marjorie had a true philanthropic wake-up-call. She locked away her jewelry in a safety deposit bank and used the money she saved on insurance to open the Marjorie Post Hutton Canteen in the neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. Hiring men who were out of work, she outfitted them with white gloves and blazers. She asked them to shave and paid them as waiters. Every table had a starched linen tablecloth and a glass vase of fresh-cut roses. The Canteen served over 180,000 free meals in its first year and a half.
Marjorie Post was a fascinating historical figure, but I didn’t get a sense of emotion from the author, whether it was joy, passion, grief, or sadness. It was especially glaring after her divorces. Overall, an interesting read. 4 stars.
**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this book. The opinions are my own.