Palm Beach Social Diary Hearts, Flowers & True Love: A Palm Beach Wedding Diary

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“A few friends, a little dancing, and a big wedding cake can make for one of the most beautiful days of anyone’s life,” wrote Judge James R. Knott in his diary where he recorded impressions from the hundreds of Palm Beach weddings he performed during a 30-year period.

Palm Beach divorces make for breathless headlines, their every detail etched into the public record by vigilant court stenographers. The town’s weddings don’t attract the same spotlight. By the time some land on Palm Beach, taking that first quick-step around an Ocean Boulevard ballroom, their white-dress-walk-down–the-aisle may be but a hazy memory. As since, there might have been other bouquets, cake cuttings, ring exchanges, and thrown rice. Almost from the onset, Palm Beach’s standing was unrivaled as a feminocratic social fiefdom, a fashionable Shangri-La of debs, dowagers, and grande dames, where marriage was as respected a sport as tennis or golf.

“Dear friends: You are entering into the holy estate which is the deepest mystery of experience and the very sacrament of divine love … You are performing an act of utter faith, believing in each other to the utmost … Amid the seeming reality of present imperfection believe in the ideal.”

– Excerpt from a prepared marriage ceremony found in Judge Knott’s wedding diary

During the 1930s, Fortune magazine untangled some of Palm Beach’s marriage mystique.

Judge James R. Knott’s Wedding Diary, 1968-1993
Historical Society of Palm Beach County

In today’s meaningful text-and-tweet virtual world, Judge James R. Knott’s notes provide an insightful footnote to a pre-Facebook era.

Fourteen years ago, I did a story for the Palm Beach Daily News, “Tying the Knott,” on Judge Knott’s diary, shortly after he died, where the noted historian and circuit judge recorded his impressions of the many weddings he performed from 1968 to 1993.

Established in 1989 to recognize individuals or groups who have contributed to the preservation or promotion of Palm Beach County’s history, Judge Knott served as president of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County from 1957 to 1969.

With Valentine’s Day still on everyone’s mind, I revisited the diary and added some entries.

Here are excerpts from Judge Knott’s diary on many a Palm Beach “to have and to hold from this day forward ….”

With every couple wanting their own special vows, Judge Knott’s diary contained several scenarios.

19 October 1968
Alfred William Lasher Jr. to Jeanne Helene See Perry
239 Emerald Lane, the bride’s home

After the ceremony at the party were the Alfonso Fanjuls, Ambassador Stanton Griffis, Paul Rogers, Chris Dunphy, Loy Anderson and Therese, and Helen and Bill Cluett. The bride became ill but came down after dinner was served. The toast: “To Jeanne, Who, I wean is indeed a glamour queen, one of the most beautiful too, it is not to you alone we drink, But, to your future we tink.”

2 February 1969
John Kress Williams to Sandra Julia Rousseau
250 Kawama Lane

The ceremony was followed by a reception, which was large indeed. A tent covered the backyard with carpets over the grass and tables filled with flowers. There were two large bars at each end of the tent, a large buffet, Cliff Hall’s orchestra of ten or more, and a dance floor, which got as crowded as a nightclub.

Everybody was there, old and young, American and Cuban, blending happily. Many Palm Beach notables of all ages, as well as Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, an attractive mixture including, Mrs. Bernard Gimbel, the Fanjuls, Albert Bostwick and his wife, Mollie Netcher Bostwick, and Nicky and Bunny duPont were there. My first visit with them in a long time.

The groom (twice-divorced) led his bride out on the dance floor for the first dance with a neat small-step waltz. Only the family attended the wedding. The bride’s father, who came out of Cuba at Castro’s assumption of power, is a slender, ascetic looking man. (NOTE: The Aspuru sisters were once called the “Cuban Cushing sisters.”)

Lourdes Aspuru is an intelligent, perceptive woman, with a delicacy of feeling and warmth. Although living in Madrid the past three years, she immediately called by name all the many people who came by her and chatted about their affairs with perfect familiarity.

11 May 1970
Ignacio Llanos to Lourdes Aspuru
270 Kawama Lane

Dr. Llanos is a lawyer, residing in Madrid but a native of Barcelona. The bride was the former Mrs. Musso, then Mrs. George Rich (nephew of Elmer Rich). She is a native of Havana and has lately been in Madrid. They will live in Madrid where they have a discotheque.

At the ceremony there was only the family, but what a family many, many sisters or sisters-in-law, three brothers-in-law, the bride’s parents, several children, plus a few scattered relatives, Loy and Therese Anderson, Mollie Netcher Bostwick with a new friend named Paul Wilmot, Charles Amory, who is a companion of the bride’s sister, Julia Rousseau.

The groom was highly imperfect in repeating certain required words back during the ceremony. They had been written out for him by Pepito, a relative, so that he could read them in giving his response. This very nearly led to the collapse of the ceremony. He continued reading past the place and into the next response before I asked him. All this led to giggles by the young girl serving as ring bearer, echoed by her friends in the rear. At several points I thought I would break into uncontrollable laughter but the tension of the occasion carried us through.

Lourdes now marries a young man, who is tall, dark, and mostly handsome, among whose most notable qualities is a kind of boyishness. A supper of Spanish food followed, some of which cooked by the Aspuru family and brought from Madrid. These Cuban-Spanish people are impressive in their sense of self-composure. Sometimes giving the impression of being impassive; yet, they do yield after a thawing-out period. Strong family people, not at the ready with strangers. The Fanjuls are very outgoing, a strong exception.

25 May 1970
Keith Sutton to Lena (“Bobbie”) Vogel
Sanford Avenue

He is a lawyer, formerly of New York/Los Angeles, 50, now making his headquarters in Palm Beach as head of a Book-of-the-Month Club. She is the widow of the president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Joe Vogel just died last year, written up in Louis Nizer’s book), 55, a rather fragile, delicate, sensitive appearing creature, emotional, slightly passive. Her son, Richard Vogel, just of Tulane Law School, was there with his young wife. He, in the Marines; Bobbie’s daughter, 21, also there. All attractive. About 15-18 people, or more. Champagne.

12 February 1971
Arnold Winfield “Chip” Chapin to Laura Chastain

Laura Chastain, 56, divorced wife of Sam Chastain and mother of Tom Chastain, an eligible bachelor, married in a ceremony in my hearing chamber with a Navy Chief and the bride’s son Tom present. The groom’s father was VP of General Motors. His mother, as an old lady of 83, allowed herself to become involved with a fortune hunting local “physician,” a married man with four children who pretended to be infatuated with her. Mrs. Chastain and Sam were divorced more than fifteen years ago. He was a Georgia cracker, and clever enough to amass several million in land and cattle, cared more for his Wyoming ranch than Palm Beach. He was a member of the Cluett family with old Palm Beach ties. They became disenchanted with their marriage and separated before divorcing, preceding his death in middle age.

26 July 1972
Dr. James B. Craig Jr. to Jane Wheeler Irby Lihme Obolensky von Ruekfrang

A fourth marriage for each. The ceremony was performed at my office with three or four friends present and a professional photographer. The bride is a baroness by her last marriage (Palm Beacher John Anthony Ruecker had changed his birth name to what he claimed was his “birthright” name, Johan Antonio Baron von Ruekfrang) and was formerly known as Princess Obolensky, when married to Obie, who was for years her husband.

She is in real estate and is known as a bridge and backgammon player. He is a prominent man, a rather hefty fellow and likable. He seemed to have various moods during the ceremony. He made sounds and would then lower his head to rest on his bride’s shoulder during the short ceremony. They invited me to dinner at The Beach Club. And when I told them I had to go home for my houseguests, they invited my houseguest, too. I later heard that by the time the wedding party arrived at The Breakers, they were beyond the eating stage.

28 July 1972
Charles Minot Amory to Julia Rousseau
The Loy Anderson house

Only the Andersons (Loy and Therese), Sandra Rousseau Williams (married by me in 1969), her younger sister, and her husband and Minot Amory, Charles’ son (now living in Gulf Stream) were present. Huge flower displays (courtesy of The Flower Cart, owned by the groom) through the entire first floor of the house. I did not accept an invitation to join a larger group at Julia’s after the ceremony.

Charles Amory’s bride is the former wife of the present husband of Lilly Pulitzer, the former wife of Charles’ half-brother Peter Pulitzer.

25 August 1972
Cesare Zavaglia to Victoria Bertha Schrafft
Tangier Avenue

Brownie McLean, presently the wife of Jock McLean, is the mother of the bride, as she is the former Mrs. Schrafft. She was there, of course, with Mary Sanford and a good many socialites (a word I do not care for). Jock’s former wife is married to Jimmy Stewart, the movie actor; his brother Ned is married to the former Mrs. Alfred Vanderbilt, Wendy’s mother. Ivy Baker Priest and the county sheriff were also there.

The Schrafft house is not large, although it is an unusually beautiful setting. The guests, who were served a buffet with champagne, just about overran the place.

5 March 1974
James Anthony “Tony” Boalt to Maria “Toinette” Rousseau Cochran
250 Kawama Lane

A second marriage for both. A huge tent took up the entire backyard. A full orchestra played. Flowers were in great profusion. The bride’s father, Enrique Rousseau and his bride, Lilly, were there. Everyone was there and it was a social bust.

15 June 1974
Claude Cartier to Sandra Julia Williams, nee Rousseau

She is a native of Cuba; he is native of Hungary and of the Cartier jewelry family. His first marriage ended in the divorce; hers in the death of her husband Jake Williams in 1971, only two years after I married them in the same house as the present wedding. Only the family and a few guests including Stan Rumbaugh and his attractive wife. The Cartiers will live at his apartment at One Beekman Place.

12 July 1976
Charles Faegre to Patricia Blake Hilton
695 South County Road

His first; her second. She is the widow of Nicky Hilton, (he died in 1969) once married to Elizabeth Taylor. Trish is a native of Alabama.

Trish Hilton is a dark-haired beauty, slender, medium height, natural and unaffected, much like her mother (Pat Schmidlapp). He looks 39 to 45; she looks to be in her 20s. The groom, a Washington lawyer. He is a good fellow, genial. The groom’s mother was unpretentious and well-mannered.

About 16 to 18 for the ceremony, held in a Florida room with bowers of flowers. There was a best man but no bridesmaids. The bride’s stepfather, Horace Schmidlapp, gave her away.

Guests arrived en masse at 6:30 p.m. Mary Sanford, Loy Anderson with his new Swedish bride, a tall, willowy type with well-molded features. Also attending were Mary and Philip Hulitar and Jimmy and Dottie dePeyster. People, I understand, from New York, DC, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. Good-looking (or as much as nature and artifice could allow) well-mannered. Hordes of servants bearing goodies, champagne. I left after about thirty minutes of this.

11 January 1982
John C. Noble to Cristina Fernanda de Heeren
Louwana, 473 North County Road

I left before the ceremony was finalized by a Catholic priest (with robe) who blessed the rings. Among those present, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Virginia Munn, Mrs. Munn Kellogg (“Nonie”), Bunny DuPont, Mrs. Alfonso Fanjul, and Edgar Mitchell, the astronaut.

An unbelievably beautiful scene with flowers everywhere. The bride’s father, Rodman A. deHeeren, who was not well, came down an elevator and escorted his daughter to two kneeling blocks, preceded by two small children, carrying flowers.

The guests were asked to hum Here Comes the Bride. The ceremony was followed by a gathering of friends in a heated tent.

18 April 1987
Ralph Levitz to Mary Jacqueline Broadway Smith
1520 South Ocean Boulevard

He is a native of Pennsylvania; she of Louisiana, Southern accent retained. His sixth; her third. A widower since 1969. The house is just south of the Wideners’ place, ocean to lake, a pretty enough spread but not a showplace. The house is Spanish.

Tables were set for ten, about three tables on the patio and more tables on the terrace overlooking the pool. Many chairs were brought in for the guests, about 90. Ralph Levitz, a small man, neat and compact not as chatty, has a preoccupied air. He said he is a stock trader and keeps his eye on the ticker all day. He had six groomsmen. He and I, and they, entered the pool area from the north; the bride (with six bridesmaids) from the steps, to meet in a little arbor for the ceremony. Then cocktails served by at least 15 waiters, male and female, flying around. The bride, accompanied by a man named Archie. The guests were all seated. Finally, dinner. Undoubtedly expensive, five or six courses, which roughly took two hours. I left after the entree as it was already ten o’clock.

The bride was blonde, rather pretty and chatty. She had redecorated the house (glassy chrome and modern stuff). She appeared overstimulated contrary to the groom. She had come to my office three days before the ceremony with a 500 check for the Historical Society. She has been in Palm Beach less than a year and doubtless, hopes for a future unclouded by economic concerns. She has been selling real estate.

After Ralph Levitz died in 1995, Mrs. Levitz left Palm Beach for Vicksburg, Mississippi. Several months later, she went missing, leaving only a suspicious blood trail. Her body has never been found.

23 September 1987
Joseph Jordan Eller, MD, 91(!), to Lucille Marguerite (Pillow) Vaughan, 79

Marriage performed at her hospital room (emphysema) in St. Mary’s Hospital with “Chuck” Wilson Lucom (former husband of Virginia Willys de Aguirre de Landa, who died, and one, Harry Lee Elkins, present — and also a young couple related to Elkins. The bride, who comes from Canada, is very outgoing, hearty, and intelligent. I have known Dr. Eller, Palm Beach’s “doctor diplomat,” who had JFK as a patient and is still in practice, and appears to be only about 75, and has treated me a couple of times. He is a former polo player, with the likes of King Alfonso who was married to the daughter of the president of Mexico, or some such. He likes to tell of his famous friends and companions in days gone by. I think the new wife may be very well off. He spoke of her children’s strong objection to the marriage. But and however, I believe him to be well meaning and not too designing, maybe it’s true love.

17 October 1987
Peter Leland Amory to Lisa Belle Parbus Kotter (nee Fields)
250 Kawama Lane, home of Charles Amory, the groom’s father

Charles Amory’s sister, Grace, once famous in golf, was there, charming as ever, but his cousin Nonie (Fernanda Munn) was in the hospital and his aunt, Dorothy Munn was in the hospital. Lilly Pulitzer and her present husband, Enrique Rousseau (former husband of Mrs. Amory, the hostess) were there. There were about 35 guests. Champagne and cocktails were served on trays. Four tables of eight to ten people for a well-served dinner, with Charles Amory presiding afterward. He’s now 71. He told me I had previously married seven couples in his house. I also saw four other couples that I had married. I sat to the right of the hostess. She is a pretty woman, her complexion a combination of soft shades, essentially very light and soft pink. I gave a toast to the bride, “beautiful and radiant.” Many others followed.

25 November 1989
Robert Thomas Eigelberger to Susan Grace Cochran Phipps
Grace Trail

She is the daughter of Mike Phipps. The bride and groom had a strong tendency to giggle and laugh during the ceremony in which they were joined by their friends. It was held outside, in perfect weather, by a fountain in a large courtyard at his place on Grace Trail. Just afterward, I left for her place, too soon, because a cocktail party ensued.

Her place is seemingly isolated in the woods with a large open space, several acres, bordered on all sides by these woods. The site was almost unbelievable, like a movie set up. On the grass was a large tent, alive and blazing with multi-colored lights with dozens of tables. The music was good. Outside, the guests were having just one more wandered at will or stood in clumps. I found Clippie (Mrs. Ben Phipps) of Tallahassee and she asked me to eat with her, which I did. The bride was perfect, pretty and poised; Bob, the groom, was all energy.

The wedding invitation and ceremony for Judge Knott’s last wedding in 1993.

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