Mr Selfridge and the Dolly Sisters
Let’s get a few things straight immediately. Selfridge was obsessed with all things beautiful, this included glamorous women. He also had a passion for gambling and was quite reckless. Thankfully, all of these traits are vividily portrayed in the TV show Mr Selfridge. So why is his demise and eventually downfall blamed on others, specifically the beautiful Dolly Sisters?
I have noticed in the press and online continued misleading headlines such as the latest ‘The saucy sisters who ruined Selfridge’ with the added bite of ‘they helped bring about his eventual downfall’. Let’s face it, such headlines do sell papers and make people read but they are not totally accurate or fair.
Put simply Selfridge’s fall from grace and his ruination must be attributed to himself, no other.
Prior to the death of his wife he was known to have several ‘affairs’ with glamorous women, most notably Ann Pavlova, Isadora Duncan, Elinor Glyn and Gaby Deslys. But when his wife died in 1918 and then his mother in 1924, he became even more reckless with his affection and money.
On meeting the Dolly Sisters when they were performing at the Kit-Kat Club in London in the summer of 1925 he was entranced and thus began a nearly ten-year romance with Jenny. No, he did not have a relationship with both twins, since Rosie was already engaged a wealthy French socialite and businessman. Jenny was the object of his affection and he did shower her with expensive gifts, property, shares and aid her in a business venture. Their attraction was also re-enforced by their mutual love of gambling.
This is the best description of their relationship ‘I should say that he saw at least part of his own daring and acquisitive image reflective in her tingling absorption in games of chance. She may have seen in him the father image, approving her daring.’
As Selfridge grew older his passion for gambling became more intense and was in fact a substitute sexual life. At the gambling tables, Selfridge, the business genius with the coolest head and the strongest nerves, had a unique system of betting when he was with Jenny. Whether they won or lost made a great difference to him financially. He always covered the losses, while Jenny kept any winnings, and the stakes sometimes ran into four figures. At the same time he also hosted parties in France that surpassed anything he had ever staged in London; to some the lavishness verged on the vulgar, with too much food and too much champagne. No wonder, as the years rolled past, his debts increased.
For the full story of the Dolly Sisters and Mr Selfridge read The Dolly Sisters: Icons of the Jazz Age out now in paperback and e-book editions.
Apple i-tunes e-book (search for the title)