The life and times of Josephine Hartford, Part I

Featured image
Portrait of Josephine Hartford Bryce, 1950, by Salvador Dali.

A & P supermarkets, once amongst Americas largest retailers, and the Hartford family that founded the empire, are names that have largely slipped into oblivion in the 21st century. That the names may still ring a note of recognition is largely due to the peripatetic and intense life of George Huntington Hartford (1911-2008), grandson of the company’s founder, film and theater producer, real estate investor, businessman and art patron; as the latter, G. Huntington Hartford, founded and erected the Gallery of Modern Art (1964) with architect Edward Durell Stone at 2 Columbus Circle, now face-lifted as the Museum of Art and Design. Hartford’s only sibling was an older sister Josephine Hartford who, in the early 20th century, was included in a much-discussed triumvirate of New York heiresses with Barbara Hutton and Doris Duke.

Seen featured together in this 1958 newspaper article (right), Miss Hartford’s post-deb life was significantly less documented than that of her peers. Josephine’s voluminous scrapbooks however now permit a short chronology of intervals in a momentous life.

Marie Josephine Hartford was born in New York in 1903, the daughter of Edward V. Hartford (1870-1922), a first generation heir to the A&P grocery store chain and an inventor, who perfected the automobile shock absorber and electric car ignition.

Her mother, nee Henrietta Guerard Pollitzer (1881-1948), was from an old Charleston, South Carolina family; she is best remembered today in the South for her estate Wando Plantation and as an early Charleston preservation advocate, responsible for the rescue of the Manigault House.

Manigault House.

Here (left) we see Josephine, known as “Jo” or “Jo-Jo” with her mother and newborn baby brother Huntington Hartford in 1911. Shortly after her father’s death in 1922, the family would inherit a trust valued in excess of $100,000,000.00.

In 1923, Jo-Jo, her socially ambitious mother, and “Hunt”, as he was called, would begin summering in Newport.  Mrs. Lorillard Spencer of “Chastellux” introduced the family to the summer colony.  In 1927 Mrs. Hartford bought the former Commodore Elbridge Gerry summer cottage “Seaverge” at the end of Bellevue Avenue, next door to the Duke estate “Rough Point,” sparking rumors in the press that the “World’s Richest Girl,” Doris Duke, was dating the “Richest Boy in the World,” Huntington Hartford.

Doris’ press agent felt compelled to reply stating the two teenagers knew each other but that there was no affair … much to Mrs. Hartford’s chagrin.

In the late 19 teens and early 20s, Jo-Jo was emerging as a “Glamour Girl” and her movements and dress were widely covered in the press (this would continue in a more sedate fashion in later life); photographed frequently in her youth by Cecil Beaton (below, left), Jo would subsequently have portraits painted by Bernard Boutet de Monvel (below, center) in his Palm Beach studio, and more characteristic of her panache, by Salvador Dali (below, right).

Frequently described in the media as a pianist — having studied piano under Hungarian composer Isador Philip (below, left), in Paris — she also received credit as a linguist, from her cosmopolitan upbringing, and as an avid equestrienne; and in later life, as a pilot, as seen in this article from her scrapbook (below, center).  Jo’s art collection would become almost as extensive as her brother’s and included Old Masters, Impressionists, and avant-garde contemporary artists; of the latter, perhaps her most famous painting was Picasso’s Les Communicants (below, right).

In 1923 Jo-Jo married the first — and most conventional — of her four husbands Charles Oliver O’Donnell (1899-1941), a Baltimore utilities and railroad (B&O) heir and Newport summer colonist (that’s Jo and C. Oliver at Bailey’s, below left). They were married at St. Gertrude’s Church in Bayville, Long Island.  Jo-Jo took a picture of the church’s flower bedecked altar and placed it within her scrapbook within a sketched bell-shaped cartouche; accompanied by pictures in her wedding dress and on their honeymoon cruise to Europe and Asia.

Upon returning Stateside, the couple settled into a sprawling apartment at 1010 Fifth Avenue across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Mill River Farm,” an equestrian estate in Oyster Bay, and leased Newport summer cottages beginning with “Gravel Court” on Narragansett Avenue where we see her (below, left) in a newspaper clipping in 1927.  In 1924 Jo-Jo gave birth to the first of her two children: Nuala O’Donnell (1924-2014), who would subsequently become Mrs. Claiborne deB Pell, followed by a brother Columbus (1926-2020).

L. to r.: Jo-Jo on Narragansett Avenue in 1927;  Jo-Jo’s eldest daughter Nuala O’Donnell and her eldest son Columbus.

After settling into married life in the City, one of the many New York charities that Jo supported was the Beaux Arts Ball, held annually to benefit preservation projects, an inclination likely inspired by her mother’s interest in Historic Charleston. 

Here we see Jo-Jo in three photos in costume at various Beaux Arts Balls of the 1920s, one as Diana the Huntress, another as Empress Josephine, and one as a Middle Eastern dancer.

With the dawn of the 1930s, a new chapter was opening for Jo as she divorced her first husband and started a new life in 1931 with Vadim S. Makaroff  (1892-1964), a White Russian businessman described in the press as a Russian caviar importer (below, left).  That same year, younger brother Huntington, foiling his mother’s hopes for an engagement with girl-next-door Doris, married Mary Lee Epling three years before his graduation from Harvard.  Mary Lee Hartford would divorce Huntington in 1939 to marry Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Jo-Jo and Vadim were, in turn, married in the Greek Orthodox Church in Nice, seen here (below, center) in a photograph of the couple leaving just after the wedding (below, right). With Vadim, Jo would go on some of the most creative chapters of her life, beginning with a boat and ending with two major houses.

Almost immediately after their marriage, Vadim sought to express his love of the sea by building his dream yacht, a 75-foot ketch that the couple would christen Vamarie (below, left).  Design and construction of the boat began in 1932 and was completed in 1933 at Bremen by Abeking and Rasmussen.  Jo recorded the progress in her scrapbook; here we see a couple of those images (below, right).

Vadim was the son of Admiral Malakoff, a hero of the Imperial Navy in the Russo-Japanese War.  Like his father, he graduated from the Imperial Russian Naval Academy in St. Petersburg.  Here we see him at the helm of the Vamarie together with a newspaper clipping from Jo’s scrapbook of Makaroff and the crew setting a new record-breaking run from New London to Bermuda in 74 hours.

Vadim brought out Jo’s athletic side as well and they spent their three-month honeymoon skiing in St. Anton, Switzerland joined by different friends including Marjorie Oelrichs. Marjorie was the niece of Tessie Fair Oelrichs of “Rosecliff” in Newport and would later marry bandleader Eddie Duchin.

Marjorie Oelrichs on the slopes.

In 1932, Marjorie was just 24 years old and eagerly embarking on a decorating career; Jo was anxious to help and became, with the Averell Harrimans at Sun Valley, one of her best clients. Similar to the Sun Valley Lodge project, Marjorie was called on by Jo and Vadim, enamored with Alpine skiing, to design a ski lodge at Mont Gabriel in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains and a subsequent, more remote, lodge at Lake Tahoe, NV.

Here we see the Lake Tahoe lodge under construction overlooking Crystal Bay (below, left) and the finished product (below, right).  Marjorie created the lodge’s interiors and we see her on site in Lake Tahoe with Vadim inspecting the works in a photo taken by Jo (bottom, left).  Jo especially loved the rustic mantel Marjorie created of colored stones indigenous to California and Nevada (bottom, right).

This project would lead to Jo’s most architecturally significant house, “The Reef” in Palm Beach, situated on one the most picturesque and desirable lots in the resort on 702 North County Road.  The Reef was designed by architect Maurice Fatio for Jo Makaroff in 1936 with interiors again by Marjorie Oelrichs.

This International Moderne style villa (left) was highly original for 1936 Palm Beach, then still in the throes of its Mizner influenced Mediterranean Revival villas.  Within one of Jo’s scrapbooks are multiple photographs of The Reef under construction, and several interiors created by Marjorie Oelrichs: a bamboo-lined dining room and the living room with its custom modular furniture arranged before a 30 foot window with panoramic ocean views; two further views show the Marjorie Oelrichs designed outdoor pool area.

The house would win several design awards including a Gold Medal at The Paris International Exposition as “the most modern house in America.”  The Reef however would not long hold happy memories for Jo, as shortly after its completion she and Makaroff would divorce.  Adding further sadness to this association was the unexpected death of dear friend Marjorie Oelrichs at the age of 29, a few days after the 1937 birth of her son Peter Duchin.

Top row: Two views of The Reef under construction. Middle row, l. to r.: a bamboo-lined dining room; the living room with panoramic ocean views. Bottom row: Two views of the Marjorie Oelrichs designed outdoor pool area.

In one of their last acts as a married couple Jo and Vadim, planning their divorce settlement, presented the Vamarie in late 1936 to the United States Naval Academy. Here we see the couple at the presentation ceremony (left).  In the interim, likely inspired by his sister, Huntington Hartford compensated and bought the fully-rigged iron-hulled sailing ship Joseph Conrad in 1936 which he used as a private yacht out of Newport until donating the square-rigger in 1939 to the Maritime Commission as a training ship.

While Vadim would go on to marry Elizabeth Harding, the former Mrs. Frederick H. Prince, Jr. of Newport, later Mrs. Eugene V. R. Thayer, Jo would marry her third husband stockbroker and sportsman Barclay Kountze Douglas (1911-1991) on March 31, 1937 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Interestingly, Douglas had served on the crew of the Vamarie as seen in this photo below. As Mrs. Barclay Douglas, Jo would finalize the sale of The Reef. The illustrated sales brochure stated the estate had recently been built at a cost of $400,000.00 and was being offered for sale for $275,000.00, furnished.

L. to r.: Barclay Kountze Douglas; Douglas serving on the crew of the Vamarie, pictured second from left.

 Part II, coming soon.

Recent Posts