The Dolly Sisters and Mr Selfridge
The commentary about the Dolly Sisters and Mr Selfridge, in advance of the last series of the ITV show, has started already with the latest feature from The Mail on Sunday.
Thankfully this assessment is not too bad and instead of blaming the Dolly Sisters for ruining him and describing them as gold-diggers, the blame is set squarely on Selfridge himself by stating that he ‘was financially ruined because of his obsession with twin dancers.’ This is a stance I have advocated in my biography about the Dolly Sisters and relentlessly followed over the years since publication.
However, it is disappointing that there are the usual misleading comments such as Andrew Davies’ (the dramatist who created the series) assertion that Selfridge definately slept with Jenny but it is not clear if he bedded Rose (note : her name was Rosie). This plants a seed of doubt about the morals of both sisters and actively encourages a salaciousness about Selfridge’s activities with both sisters which of course sounds intriguing but is untrue. Let’s get this straight right away – Selfridge’s ‘relationship’ was just with Jenny not Rosie. Jenny was the object of his affection not Rosie. It is important to know that when they met in 1925 Rosie was already engaged to the French socialite Francois Dupre.
Interestingly, in 1922 the Dollies appeared in vaudeville with Harry Richman, the singer and dancer and a well-known womaniser. He said of them ‘As far as I knew, they got their fabulously expensive fur coats and evening dresses solely because they were so beautiful, not because of bestowing their favours. Whenever anybody asked “where did you get that coat?” the sister who was asked would only give a sly, secret smile. They were highly moral as a matter of fact . . . a good many girls I knew got mink coats in the traditional manner. The Dollies had such class and were so sweet and gracious they never had to sleep with men.’
Let us also not forget that the sisters were twins – one came with the other – and they spent a lot of their time together until Rosie married in 1927 (and, not to Francois Dupre either). And, in courting one – Jenny – Selfridge would have found Rosie not too far away.
It is also relevant that Jenny had another prominent suitor besides Selfridge – a wealthy Belgian businessman called Jacques Wittouck. From 1925, the two men would be inextricably linked with her for the next ten years, with constant rumours of marriage as each took it in turn to be her escort as they vied for her attention in a rather unusual menage à trois. The story is not a simply one-sided one. Indeed, when Jenny had her accident in 1933 she was allegedly with a third and younger suitor called Max Constant.
There are a few other inconsistencies in the Mail on Sunday feature that need airing first of all it was not JUST the Dolly Sisters that loved to gamble but it was also a favourite pastime of Gordon Selfridge himself. They were by all accounts a perfect match. It was recognised that as Selfridge grew older his passion for gambling became more intense and was in fact a substitute sexual life. Secondly, both Selfridge and Wittouck asked Jenny to marry them on numerous occasions before 1933 and there were by all accounts many false reports.
Simply put, if you are interested in the truth, read my biography The Dolly Sisters: Icons of the Jazz Age to get the full and true story. And, don’t forget the new book The Dolly Sisters in Pictures.