The Curious Tale of Peggy Marsh
Peggy Marsh was an unremarkable chorus girl and later cabaret artist in the mid-1920s, who became famous for having a baby with the son of a multi-millionaire, and then being unceremoniously disregarded.
Peggy was born Annabelle Greenough in Chelsea, Massachusetts on 19th December 1894 and by the tender age of 15, this pretty, slight built girl with gorgeous legs, was appearing in the chorus at the Palace Theatre, New York. She was sent to London on tour and, with the outbreak of war in 1914, decided to stay and continued her career appearing in the chorus of such shows as the Gaby Deslys vehicle 5064 Gerrard at the Alhambra.
She met and fell in love with fellow American Henry Field born 1895, the second son of Marshall Field II, a member of the family who owned the famous Chicago department store. Henry had gone to school in Britain, had been caught up in the patriotic fever that swept the country and joined the war effort before he met Peggy on leave. He frequently entertained her and her friends at the most popular London night-spots such as Ciro’s and Murray’s. In June 1916 he returned to Chicago with the promise that he would send for Peggy. A month later Peggy gave birth to his son Tony. Henry in the meantime met and fell in love with Nancy Keene Perkins, who, as a Virginia debutante, was a far more suitable bride, and they married in February 1917. When Peggy was told about the impending marriage she swiftly crossed the Atlantic and on arriving in Chicago began to make a fuss. Eventually, she secured a modest financial agreement to provide the future security for herself and her son. However, the agreement was short lived, for in July 1917, Henry died following an operation and Peggy’s allowance was stopped which, by any standards, was rather mean.
Peggy, presumably needing money to support herself and her child, relocated to New York and resumed her career by joining the chorus of Ziegfeld’s world famous Midnight Frolic in the New Amsterdam Roof from May 1918. During this period she became involved with a rather extraordinary tale of espionage when she became under the spell of a certain Antoine Jechalski who turned out be a German spy. He was eventually arrested and interred. A journalist at the time interviewed Peggy and said that she was ‘a well-bred girl, with quiet manners and maternal instincts.’
Peggy criss-crossed the Atlantic and in 1920 took out a court case against the Marshall Field family but suffered defeat in February and June 1920, although she did find time to relax and enjoy herself at the height of the Deauville season in August 1920. Back in America she accepted an offer of $100,000 from the Marshall Field family if she would drop her court action which she duly accepted.
At a luncheon at the Ritz Hotel she met Albert (‘’Buster’) Johnson, a flying ace war veteran, son of the late Albert L. Johnson once president of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company and nephew of the late Tom Johnson most famous of Cleveland’s mayors. After a whirlwind courtship lasting 5 weeks, they married in late 1920. The couple decided to form a dancing team to play vaudeville and in mid 1922 also appeared at Ted Lewis’s Night Club and the Tent Restaurant in New York before a summer cabaret spot in Atlantic City.
But then tragedy happened. While on holiday at the dancer Jack Clifford’s retreat in the Adirondack mountains in September 1922, ‘Buster’ was admitted to hospital in Plattsburgh New York with a bullet in his abdomen. It was said to be an accident. By November Peggy announced the couple were splitting up on the grounds that he was ‘temperamental and highstrung’ and she returned to London allegedly to open a nightclub but actually became a featured performer at Ciro’s night club. Alas, in early 1923, ‘Buster’ died of Pneumonia. Peggy attended the funeral but then returned to London. Oddly it was now that her career really took off. She was cast in C.B. Cochran’s Music Box Revue at the Palace Theatre in mid 1923 and in August scored a big hit at the Deauville Casino before scaling even bigger heights as the chief attraction with the Tomson Twins at the Club Daunou in Paris. In November she starred with partner Ben Barette at Le Jardin de Ma Souer and then in December transferred to the Abbaye de Theleme.
It would appear that she was on the brink of achieving stardom within the cabaret circuit but when she turned up on the Riviera in early 1924 there was no sign of any high profile ‘turns’. Instead it would appear that she was fishing for a new husband, since according to the Chicago Tribune it was at this time that ‘the most thrilling chapters in Peggy’s romantic career’ took place. A year later in early 1925 she married a handsome soldier at a secret wedding ceremony with a reception at her luxurious flat in Mayfair. Her new husband Captain George Fenwick was a former officer in the Horse Guards and the Royal Air Force and very well connected within the London social scene. Indeed in December 1926 she was hunting alongside the Prince of Wales at Melton Mowbray. Despite the attractions of these connections unfortunately life with Fenwick at his country seat of Witham Hall, Bourne, Lincolnshire was not to Peggy’s liking. Peggy said she was ‘fed up with British men’ and in early 1928 divorced Fenwick.
Peggy and her son vanished into obscurity. It is believed that she later married someone involved in the diamond business and emigrated to South Africa. There was another divorce and then in 1947 she married a George E. Bingham-Powell, a Commander in the Royal Navy. presumably in South Africa. At the end of April 1950, Mrs and Mrs Bingham-Powell left Durban aboard the SS Southampton for Southampton. Peggy died in London in 1952.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Chicago Tribune, Variety, Eve, The Sketch, Vogue (UK) and Time
The Marshall Fields by Axel Madsen/The Evolution of an American Business Dynasty; Ellis Island Website
Roots Web (www.rootsweb.com)