12 October, 2007
Monday, Oct. 08, 1928
Actors and esthetes and opera singers return to their stamping grounds in the autumn. As the leaves fall from the trees, to pile in crackling heaps on roadsides, the people of the artistic world gather themselves together, frayed with the merry ardours of the summer, into troublesome bunches, to be lifted and scattered by weird, enthusiastic winds. None should know all this better than Harold Fowler McCormick, the mildly extravagant reaper scion of Chicago.
He, in the days when he was relatively unsophisticated, married Edith Rockefeller and entered the bright, ineluctable world of fame and fashion which awaited him with terrible certainty from the day of his birth. Much later, still a little puzzled by celebrities, and somewhat irked by their cost, he married famed Ganna Walska, who astounded the world by frantic attempts to sing grand opera.
Now Harold F. McCormick knows what to expect in this most melancholy season of the year. Last fortnight, when he heard that Ganna Walska was coming back from Paris, he waited further developments with a heart made heavy by foreboding and cheered only by the vague hope that perhaps, this once, Ganna Walska would be able to come home, like other people, without eccentric fussing or publicity.
This vague hope, most notable as an indication of the heroic optimism which has always characterized the friendly Harold McCormick, was of course unjustified. Ganna Walska achieved, not merely the notoriety which generally attaches to her doings; before she had put foot on the U. S., she became a cause célèbre, a wronged woman, an international affair. In short, she surpassed herself and Harold McCormick's worst presentiments. Ganna Walska arrived with 15 trunks, containing, she said, $2,500,000 worth of personal effects; and when customs officials demanded that she pay duty of approximately $1,000,000 upon these, Ganna Walska refused to do so.
Her arguments were not entirely illogical. Ganna Walska said that she was a nonresident citizen; she pointed out that she was the owner of a residence, a beauty shop and a theatre in Paris and that her principal activities were carried out in that capital. Her entity was an individual one, not to be confused with that of her husband who could if he wished stay at home throughout the year. He was a resident but she was not. Since nonresidents do not pay customs duties, she would pay no such.
When the customs officials refused to allow this alibi, on the ground that wives, however undomestic, if not legally separated from their husbands, must share the citizenship of their men, Ganna Walska produced a lawyer who last week said he would appeal to Washington because:
"The enlightened and progressive conception of feminine rights has worn away every rule of law or custom which placed the wife in a different or less favorable position as a human being than her husband.
"The right to own and manage her own property, to retain her earnings and protect and safeguard her rights by the vote and otherwise has now become an accepted fact.
"The proposition that a wife is an independent thinking being whose wishes are not subordinate to those of her husband is now almost universally accepted as axiomatic."
Customs officials at Washington, unlike those at the Port of New York, showed some sympathy with this viewpoint. They admitted solemnly that for several years the right has been recognized of a woman of foreign birth (Ganna Walska is a Pole) who married a U. S. citizen to retain her own nationality together with its privileges. In addition they confessed that there were precedents for a U. S. citizen who has established legal residence abroad (as Ganna Walska has done in Paris) bringing personal effects to the U. S. without paying duty.
While her position grew thus to appear more tenable, Ganna Walska adopted different and less characteristic tactics. She went down to where her trunks were being held and proved that most of the private fortune which they contained she had taken with her away from the U. S. on the occasion of her departure in 1925. This accomplished, she took most of the things away with her; the crisis of Ganna Walska's dresses and jewels dwindled into an almost entirely theoretical question of "women's rights." Harold McCormick, who by this time had gladly produced an affidavit corroborating his wife's statement that she lived abroad, was doubtless glad to see the rumpus dwindle, even after so hideous a sputter, to a conclusion that did not include a senate investigation or even a hanging.
Bubbling with conceit and excitement, Ganna Walska revealed her true self, a feat which Harold McCormick has never been able to achieve, to reporters in Chicago. "My object in this world," she said, "is to think new thoughts."