Marjorie Merriweather Post got her cash from her dad, the Post of the breakfast cereal – and she got some of his quirks, too.
This combo made her the entertaining, extravagant belle of Palm Beach for half a century.
Her 1927 palace, Mar-a-Lago, featured 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms (with gold fixtures, of course), three bomb shelters, a theater, a ballroom, a nine-hole golf course and 17 ocean-to-lake acres.
Marjorie made some bad decisions in love – she married four times – but she rarely made a bad decision in business.
When cereal magnate Charles William Post killed himself in May 1914, his 27-year-old daughter inherited $11 million. At her death at age 86, that had grown to $117 million.
“I am not the richest woman in the world,” she once said. “There are others better off than I am. The only difference is that I do more with mine. I put it to work.”
She spent $2.5 million to build her “little cottage by the sea,” and when the Florida boom went bust in 1926, she refused to lay off any of its 600 builders. “This would have added more unemployment,” she reasoned. “Hence we went ahead.”
She could be superficial – she made her servants measure dinner place settings with a ruler to ensure uniformity – but also generous.
She supported a World War I Red Cross hospital in Europe. She staged a benefit that raised $100,000, to build a new hospital: Good Samaritan Hospital. She threw parties for 1,100 Palm Beach mansion servants. She sponsored a soup kitchen in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. In World War II, she leased her yacht to the army; it sank a sub at Normandy.
Her marriage to E.F. Hutton produced daughter Nedenia (actress Dina Merrill). When Marjorie married her fourth husband, Herbert May, Alice Roosevelt Longworth commented: “Oh my, I can’t possibly keep up with all the husbands’ names. I just call her `Miss Post Toasties’ and let it go at that.”
In 1964, Post offered Mar-a-Lago to the state, which balked at the quarter-million-dollar annual overhead. When she died in 1973, she willed it to the federal government as a winter White House; the feds gave it back seven years later.
- RON HAYES