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Submitted by Roger Mellor
Jeanne StuartBaroness Eugene de Rothschild, who has died aged 94, led a life that went through several remarkable transformations.
Formerly Miss Jeanne Stuart, a glamorous actress of stage and film, she spent her later days in serene widowhood in Monte Carlo, her beauty unimpaired by age. In middle life, she might have become the wife of the Hollywood actor James Stewart, and of the Earl of Carnarvon. Briefly, she was married to Bernard Docker.
Yet she had begun life in Hampstead, north London, as Miss Ivy Sweet, the pretty daughter of a copper-beater. Her life would have inspired a fictional heroine in a novel by Anita Loos, author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and yet it defies the obvious cliches.
She was born on August 13 1908, the youngest of three daughters of William James Sweet and his Welsh wife. As his daughter's career developed, Sweet, a stern Victorian father, had mixed reactions; he was proud of her success, but worried about her extravagance and wished she had chosen a more conventional career.
At a very early age Ivy became a dancer, left home and travelled the country in a troupe of girls. She was on stage by the age of 15, and enjoyed a career in the theatre, in which she took part in a number of the light drawi ng-room comedies and murder mysteries that were so popular on the London stage in the 1930s.
As Jeanne Stuart she appeared in London in After All and It's A Girl, and was described at the time as "tall and of a figure that enables her to wear to advantage extremely modern-cut clothes", which, in both productions, "caused gasps of surprise on the first nights". She performed alongside Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge, Jack Buchanan and many others.
She progressed to the New York stage in September 1930 in Nine Till Six, and, back in London in 1933, she played Lady Chetwynd in Road House, a comedy by Walter Hackett at the Whitehall Theatre.
Jeanne Stuart also took part in a great many films between 1931 and 1939. In films such as Mischief and Old Mother Riley Joins Up, she was involved on screen with a millionaire in search of secret documents; a man victimised for taking up an unexpected inheritance; and a cruel Egyptian (played by Conrad Veight) who persecuted women.
In 1934 she played a murdered mistress in The Great Defender, and a seductress in the Korda film, Forget Me Not. None of these films was particularly memorable, but she acted alongside such figures as Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Richardson, and Margaret Lockwood.
Her love life preoccupied the press of the day. At one time Jeanne Stuart was thought to be engaged to a certain Jimmie Sainsbury, but it was pointed out that she clearly preferred a film contract to one of marriage. But the businessman Bernard Docker pressed her, and one night, when he said "Do let's get married", she reluctantly agreed.
They were married in London in April 1933 at a register office ceremony in Prince's Row, attended by the Duke and Duchess of Atholl, and they honeymooned in South America. Jeanne was given the later famous 860- ton yacht Shemara as a wedding present.
Docker was an old Harrovian who made a fortune as a director of Anglo-Argentine Tramways, the Midland Bank and Thomas Cook & Sons. He was best known as the chairman of Daimler. He also involved himself in charitable work for various hospitals, and was knighted in 1939.
Jeanne's marriage to Docker was doomed from the outset. Docker's father was deeply disapproving of the union between his son and this girl of the foot-lights, and set about bringing the marriage to an end.
Jeanne continued to act, and to move around in her circle of acting friends, which included David Hutcheson, a then well-known West End actor, who had made his name in Edgar Wallace's play The Yellow Mask.
Private detectives were set upon Jeanne and, whether true or false, it was "ascertained" that she and Hutcheson were meeting in "circumstances which left no doubt of their adultery". The Docker marriage lasted five months, and was finally dissolved in January 1935. Jeanne gave back the yacht.
Although Bernard Docker excised any mention of his first wife from most reference books, and claimed in the press that they never saw one another again, Jeanne's version was that they remained on the best of terms and that he later wished to re-marry her. Jeanne even called herself Lady Docker after 1939, when not using her professional name on stage.
Had they re-married, she would have saved Sir Bernard from the fate of marrying Norah Collins, the well-known Lady Docker of the 1950s. His marriage to Norah, a one-time dancer at the Cafe de Paris, gave the couple a certain flamboyant notoriety, as Norah presided over their extravagantly vulgar life with big cars, mink coats and Champagne (in not inconsiderable quantities), not to mention Shemara.
Jeanne returned to the stage, and for three years her name was linked with James Stewart. For a time during the war, she was also the girlfriend of the 6th Earl of Carnarvon - and rather more popular with the Herbert family than the Earl's second wife, Tilly Losch.
Jeanne Stuart toured Europe with Ensa early in 1944, otherwise spending long spells with Lord Carnarvon at Highclere, ostensibly to avoid the London bombings. Again there was press speculation about marriage. Again it was denied.
After the war, she went to live in America, settling on Long Island. Nearby lived Baron Eugene de Rothschild. He was one of the Austrian branch of the Rothschild family, and had been the Duke of Windsor's host at Schloss Enzesfeld, in Austria, immediately after the Abdication.
His first wife, Kitty Wolf, had been a friend of Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendl), and it was on the latter's recommendation that they had the Duke to stay. It was to prove a difficult three-month phase: the Duke was a demanding guest, and was prevented from seeing Mrs Simpson until her divorce became absolute.
Baron Eugene had then had a difficult time during the war, seeing all his properties confiscated under the Nazis and having, with other members of his family, to pay a substantial ransom for the release of his brother Louis from imprisonment by the Gestapo in Vienna. In due course, he departed for the United States.
The post-war years found Baron Eugene living in a modest, but well- furnished cottage, and mourning his wife Kitty, who had died in 1946, and whose grave at the end of the garden he visited daily.
Yet his house-keeper, Gerty, who kept a proprietary eye on him, noticed that the Czechoslovakian Countess Cecilia Sternberg, later famed for her memoirs, The Journey, was beginning to take the Baron out of himself - to the point where he was enjoying life again.
In her book, Cecilia Sternberg relates how Eugene met Jeanne. Gerty had met an English girl - "not quite a film star, a starlet let's say" - in a shop at Glen Cove and persuaded the Baron to invite her to lunch. The Countess "had rarely seen a prettier face, a more ravishing decollete and more voluptuous curves draped, rather unsuitably for lunch in the country, in pale pink chiffon".
Countess Sternberg further recalled: "Much to his family's surprise, if not to mine, [he] married the pretty young English woman Gerty had so rashly introduced to him. Contrary to expectations, it turned out to be a very happy marriage."
The couple were married in December 1952 and lived on Long Island and in New York, coming to England in Coronation year. Jeanne applied a sound business mind to her husband's finances, helped him to retrieve confiscated property, and invested soundly.
Finally, in the late 1950s, they settled in Monte Carlo, becoming friends of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. Jeanne helped with the drama group there, and was a generous benefactor of Denville Hall, the actors' retirement home.
Baron Eugene died in Monte Carlo in April 1976, aged 92. Jeanne lived on in her large apartment with a long garden, in the Boulevard des Moulins.
To the end she retained the beauty which had drawn so many to her, never going out into the sun; at 94, she could have passed for 70. She died at home in her sleep on February 12.
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