Thank You For Visiting Sedona Legend-
The Jack And Helen Frye Story!
Sedona's Celebrity Love Story!
This is the official, not to mention only, web portal in the world
dedicated exclusively to the legacy of Jack and Helen Frye!
The Frye Legacy-
a Lifetime of Accomplishment!
By Randall Reynolds
The Sedona Legend Web Site is a copyrighted historical photo enhanced narrative presented for
educational and entertainment purposes. Some materials may be displayed in regard to the
United States Fair Use Act. This web portal is totally non-profit and generates no income nor
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Sedona Legend was envisioned and created to provide Red Rock State Park visitors a
comprehensive historic overview for Jack and Helen Frye and their Deer-Lick and Smoke Trail
Ranches. This effort is now officially cited by R.R.S.P. as an indepth historical venue
representing Jack and Helen Frye.
Sedona Legend is encouraged by the many friends of Jack and Helen Frye. A gracious thank
you to the Frye and Varner families for invaluable support and Red Rock State Park staff and
volunteers for their enthusiasm.
Sedona Legend Helen Frye a.k.a. the Jack and Helen Frye Story
A Decade of Research and Presentation- Created By Randall D. Reynolds
Copyright © 2003 All Rights Reserved
The Vanderbilt Years
Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr.
Helen Virginia Varner Anderson Vanderbilt Frye
In 1932 Helen decided to get out of an ill-fated marriage she had entered into with a local boy
and travel to Reno for a divorce. She felt bad about having married the wrong man and had no
idea what lie ahead on her path; however, when one door closes in life, another opens, and
Helen would soon find out that her life would change in ways she could never possibly imagine!
Helen’s trip to Reno was quite a jaunt for this small town girl. Oh, did I say “small town”?, be
assured there was nothing ever small town about Helen Varner! She was very sophisticated and
set her cap early on for more than Clarksburg could ever offer her. Helen was not a slouch
either, she had been called a “voluptuous vision” more than once. Considered radiantly
beautiful and sexy, everywhere she went, men fell all over her. Why, even in high school, she
was voted the “prettiest girl in school”. Helen knew that her looks and personality could be her
greatest asset in life. Miss Varner attended the Art Institute of Chicago for one year, a locale
she found much more sophisticated than what she experienced in secluded West Virginia.
The quiet morning of Clarksburg was assaulted by the long blast of a steam whistle, Helen
jumped, a bit nervous now, as she boarded the train. She settled into a comfortable mohair
bench. Outside the window of the coach her mother (Maude), and her twin sisters (Marie and
Mildred), waved to her with linen handkerchiefs and tearful eyes. Helen waved back with a
feeling of excitement and trepidation in her heart. Suddenly the train started lurching and
tugging, amid robust blasts of the whistle, as it steamed away. Clarksburg West Virginia faded
into the distance as the train picked up speed and snaked its way through the West Virginia
countryside toward Nevada. Eventually, Helen transferred to the famous Atchison, Topeka, &
Santa Fe, likely "The Chief", (the Super Chief came after in 1935).
On the way west the train stopped in Albuquerque, New Mexico sometime around breakfast.
Helen left the train to dine at the Harvey House and enjoy some fresh air on the platform
before continuing her long journey. She noticed two men watching her, unaware that one of the
gentlemen happened to be Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. (the IV). Several versions of how Neil
Vanderbilt and Helen met have survived the years but basically it can be told as follows:
Helen walked back to the railroad station platform where she reached into her handbag looking
for her cigarette case. As she reached for her matches she heard a man’s voice say, “would you
like a light, Miss?” She turned around and found the voice belonged to the well dressed man
from the platform. “Why yes, Thank You,” said Helen as the man’s gold plated lighter
engraved with a large “V” flashed brilliantly in the sun. Helen demurely leaned forward toward
the flame with lowered eyes and inhaled. In a moment, she turned while exhaling the blue
smoke, and murmured, as she smiled, “I don’t think we’ve met?" The tall gentleman bowed
slightly and said, “Cornelius Vanderbilt ma’am, but you can call me Neil.” “Pleased to meet
you, Neil,” Helen said, “my name is Helen Varner.” Helen observed the man, a Vanderbilt, she
knew the name, everyone had. She grew up near a Vanderbilt estate called "the Biltmore." “I
wonder how he is related?” she thought. Cornelius interrupted her racing thoughts by saying,
“wonderful weather, don’t you think?” “Why yes,” Helen replied, “quite a lovely day!” They
stood there and chatted pleasantly until the train was ready to leave. As the story goes, when
Vanderbilt spotted Helen, who was a ravishing beauty, he changed his ticket and started out
west on "her" train instead of his original destination, which was to New York City. He just had
to get to know this beautiful young woman! However, to hear Neil tell it in at least one
newspaper interview, he and Helen met in Albuquerque while she was sketching and he was
writing in October of 1931. Either way, meet they did, and Cornelius became enthralled with
Helen. Somewhere along the journey the train was said to have either pulled off on a siding or
broke down. They were delayed for a short time while Neil and Helen with a few other
passengers left the train to stroll near the rails. Helen later said, "Neil picked wildflowers and
presented me with a bouquet."
Later that evening Helen and Neil made their way to the dining car. (At that time some of the
first such air-conditioned rolling stock in the country.) As they entered people turned and
smiled as they were led to a table. Helen was always aware men watched her every move but
this was different. People nodded and smiled respectfully, as if they were royalty. The maitre 'de
turned to Neil and said, “I hope this will be suitable, Mr. Vanderbilt.” “Yes, it is fine,” Neil said
casually, as he ordered champagne. After a lavish dinner the car emptied and the train slowed
as it approached Needles, CA. Helen felt it was time to retire. “May I walk you to your
compartment?” Neil said, as he stood up and helped her out of her lounge chair and into her
wrap. At the door to her compartment he reached out and took her hand, “I hope I can spend
more time with you,” he said gently as his lips brushed the back of Helen's hand. “I would like
that,” Helen said quietly, as she blushed. “How 'bout breakfast, say, 8 A.M?" he said, “It’s a
date,” Helen murmured, as she gently shut the door, her heart racing….
Soon Helen was settled in and relaxing to the gentle lullaby of the clicking rails, her mind filled
with the details of Neil's life. A commanding gentleman, one of the most eligible bachelors in
America, he was the only son of Cornelius Vanderbilt the III, the “Brigadier General” as they
called him, and Grace Graham Wilson Vanderbilt. His mother, a formidable society matron, was
the reigning Queen of New York high society. The press liked to refer to her as the
"Kingfisher" because she could easily entice the highest members of European Royalty to her
lavish dinner parties at the Vanderbilt mansion in New York. Neil had one sister named Grace
who he very much wanted Helen to meet. Cornelius Jr. was the Vanderbilt "black sheep" in
regard to his pedigree. Quite the free spirit, and this, he and Helen had in common. Oh yes, his
great-grandfather was the Commodore the family’s illustrious founder. But Cornelius marched
to the beat of his own drummer. He went to the finest schools, traveled Europe, and grew up at
640 Fifth Avenue, amid a multitude of servants, certainly, one of the finest addresses in the
country. Inheritance? Very generous, with a mother and father, who it appeared, always paid
his expenses and doted on him. He loved beautiful women or so Helen had read one time in a
society magazine and he had been married twice already. The last one was a named Mary Weir
Logan, yet, he was a only 32. Helen, herself, was only 24. He was quite out of her league or was
he.... Helen mused? Helen prided herself as being a refined young lady, worldly, with finesse’
and class. She certainly was not privileged but came from a comfortable background. Her father
(deceased) had been a well-respected regional physician. Helen was adept at being able to blend
in flawlessly and graciously with any crowd. It was after 3 A.M. before Helen finally dropped off
to sleep, her dreams now filled with the grand life Neil laid at her feet….
Eventually Helen arrived in Reno, a dreary wind-swept town. Cornelius had gone on to Los
Angeles where Neil was attending to some business. Helen quickly initiated her divorce
proceedings and settled in until everything was finalized. One day, the phone rang, it was Neil,
he would be in Reno the next evening, “would she meet him for dinner?" Of interest is that
Neil, as one of his financial ventures, owned and operated what was called back then a "divorce
ranch" near Sutcliffe Nevada, called "The Lazy Me", by Vanderbilt, and another time called
"Sagebrush". It is possible, when Helen arrived in Reno, she stayed there for the entire time it
took her divorce to come through. A good example of this type of ranch can be seen in the
blockbuster 1939 movie called "The Women", based on the play by Clare Booth Luce.
For the next three years Cornelius arduously wooed Helen, chasing her relentlessly around the
United States. He introduced her to his family and friends, in New York City, they traveled
together and shared their dreams. According to 1935 newspapers reports, Helen had also
traveled throughout Europe by late 1934. Neil (who preferred Helen call him Neely) even had a
beautiful red Irish Setter shipped to her home in Clarksburg, which became Helen’s favorite
companion which she christened “Lassie." Vanderbilt showered her with gifts, many lavish and
expensive, from fur coats to jewelry. But the gift Helen treasured the most was sent to her from
a reservation in the Southwest. It was a copper bowl made by American Indians, perhaps
Navajo. This work of art purchased by Cornelius Vanderbilt was said to still be displayed in
Helen Frye’s home at Sedona over 40-years later. Helen had great love and admiration for the
American Southwest and Native Americans from early on, this, an affinity she shared with Neil.
Not to be confused with her famous mother-in-law Mrs. Cornelius (Grace) Vanderbilt (Jr.)
known as the "Queen of New York Society". Helen Vanderbilt continued to work for Pond's for
the next 15 years, even after she married Jack Frye, president of T. & W.A., in 1941.
When One Door Closes- Another 'Oft Opens
Vanderbilt Romance- A 3-Year Friendship- Now A Marriage
At the end of three years Cornelius asked Helen to marry him. Did Helen hound him desiring
marriage? Highly unlikely in the opinion of this author. I think Helen was quite happy just
living the "high life" with “Corny“ as she called him. Helen Varner was not of a pretentious
nature and would never have aspired to the life of a "Vanderbilt Wife" something she would
have viewed with disdain. Let alone the fact that she already had one disastrous marriage and
likely had a few clues that Cornelius just wasn’t marriage material. But it seems Cornelius,
who once stated (later in life) that he had been married to six of the most beautiful women in
the world, wasn’t going to let this pretty little fish get away! He was to marry 7 times in all.
Cornelius Neil Vanderbilt IV and Helen Virginia Varner were married at Albuquerque, New
Mexico, on Friday, January 4, 1935. This the place they had first met and as Helen stated to the
press, “it seemed more romantic”. An unlikely location for a Royal Vanderbilt Wedding but
more in line with Cornelius’ penchant for being a rebel and Helen’s desire to experience the
romantic 'southwestern life' which was very popular at that time.
A Whirlwind Marriage Amid Neil's Many Business Engagements
Cornelius Vanderbilt, New York
society scion, was also a newspaper
publisher, writer, movie producer, and
dude ranch owner. Helen on the other
hand was multi-talented too. She was
an artist and often described by the
press as “an illustrator of note”. In
addition to this Helen was a fashion
designer, painter and sculptor. She
also illustrated some of Vanderbilt’s
magazine articles. Within days the
Vanderbilts were off and running.
According to one press release, by
March of 1935 they had been to 90
cities in the short span of just 2
months, all connected with a book
lecture tour for Cornelius. In addition
to this Vanderbilt had recently
published “Farewell to Fifth Avenue”.
Another work “A Woman Of
Washington” was being produced as a
movie in Washington D.C. Media
sources report the Vanderbilts divided
their time between California, Nevada
and New York City. They were seen at
the Grand Hotel at Santa Monica, the
El Mirador at Palm Springs and the
Washington Shoreham- they were at
the top of everyone's guest list. Left is
seen Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius
Vanderbilt Jr. at the El Mirador Hotel
in Palm Springs, Ca., January 26, 1935.
The Vanderbilts Tour Los Angeles & Hollywood-
Warner Bros. "Dr. Socrates" Movie Set (1935)
Neil’s simple life was quite a contrast to the manner in which Helen’s mother and father in-law
lived in New York City. His mother was the undisputed leader of New York and Newport
Society, her influence well established in Europe, and the United States. Helen once stated she
hated staying with her in-laws in New York, because their houses were akin to big empty hotels.
More specifically, on November 7, 1935 (when asked by reporters if she was returning to N.Y.C.)
Helen stated, "I don't want to go to that house, it's like an empty hotel." One guesses she
preferred small intimate parlors, as opposed to 2-storied drawing rooms and Great Halls.
The 58-room palace of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III at 640 Fifth Avenue sat across
from where Rockefeller Center is today. The mansion was once adjoined by another long since
demolished twin (duplicate) mansion next door. These two buildings, at that time, took up the
entire city block. Interestingly, Neil’s parents inherited "Six Forty" from George Washington
Vanderbilt (who built the Biltmore Estate at Asheville N.C.) when Neil was 16. Helen’s mother-
in-law Grace held court at this residence in the city, while entertaining at Beaulieu, in the
summers. Beaulieu, a Newport Beach Rhode Island red brick cottage was rather modest by
Vanderbilt standards, especially when you consider the 10-million-dollar “summer house” of
Grace’s sister-in-law Gertrude Vanderbilt (Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney), called “the Breakers”.
The Vanderbilts also entertained society extensively on various Vanderbilt yachts, namely, the
beloved "North Star".
Grace entertained at a maddening pace. One year alone it was said her guests totaled 37,000.
Small dinner parties were numbered at no less than 40! Entertaining at the mansion included
one Grand Ball a month, with two lavish dinner parties, a week, not to exclude a multitude of
luncheons and teas. This pace went on for decades. The month of December, the Christmas
Season, was a lavish affair at Six-Forty. It was said 1000 guests would drop by to pay their
respects on Christmas Day alone! The tab for all this entertainment was stated to be about
$500,000 a year. The mansion's cloak room accommodated 700 coats and wraps.
The mansion’s staff included the usual chauffeurs, cooks, and maids, a regiment of well over 30
in all. The English butler “Gerald” was assisted by six footmen who were always royally adorned
in “Vanderbilt Maroon” livery, as in jackets, with gold-braided trim, knee britches, white
stockings, black patent-leather pumps, and powdered wigs. Another Vanderbilt butler of note
(from Helen’s timeframe) was the side-whiskered “Hawkins”, who it was said looked like he
was hired from Belgrave Square in London. A red carpet was rolled out to the street for guests
to alight on, as they entered the palace, so as to not soil their fabulous ball gowns or shatter
their fragile glass slippers.
When I say Grace “held court” it was no exaggeration, as she and her husband were personal
friends with, and entertained the likes of, King Albert and Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, the
Queen of Spain, the Duke of Kent, Lord Balfour, Edward VII, Prince Henry of Prussia, King
George the VI of England (at the time the Duke of York), the Crown Prince of Sweden, and
Norway. Some guests, like George V and King (Albert) Edward the VII (the Prince of Wales)
and Queen (Alexandra) were entertained on the Vanderbilt yacht North Star. This too was
where the Vanderbilts entertained the German Emperor Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm II (who later
had the Vanderbilts as the guests of honor at a dinner). The Duke (former King Edward VIII)
and the Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson) were entertained at Beaulieu, as was Grand Duke
Boris of Russia (brother of the Czar). This is just a partial list of the “royals”, and dizzying, to
try to document and get the titles correct.
The Vanderbilts also entertained the top of the social register regularly, this included Theodore
Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan, Russell Sage, Winston Churchill, Herbert Hoover, General Pershing,
the Astors, the Belmonts, Goulds, and others of the former “400”. Grace’s guest lists surpassed
all others! Helen’s husband Cornelius, at times, but more so, his parents, regularly strolled the
gilded streets of New York’s famous “Easter Parade” each year.
The three-storied brick Vanderbilt Mansion at “Six Forty” was graced with a 9-foot-tall green
malachite Grecian-like vase (one of a pair) which had once belonged to Czar Nicholas of Russia
and came from the Royal Winter Palace at St. Petersburg. This monstrosity sat in the center of
Marble Hall (entry) with a backdrop of French décor and 17th century Brussels tapestries in the
drawing room, the likes of which are rarely seen outside of museums or royal properties. The
mansion had cost 1 million dollars to build in 1881 by Helen’s husband’s great-grandfather. The
kitchens and men's servant quarters were in the sub-level, the women's servant quarters were
in the attic. The art gallery displayed over 1 million dollars worth of paintings. This famous
showplace is described on various websites for those desiring an in depth description.
Helen’s father-in-law Neily (who took quite a shining to Helen) grew up even more
ostentatiously at Number 1, West 57th Street, New York City. Still today, it is known as one of
the grandest mansions (long since demolished) to have ever graced Manhattan. As a matter of
fact, it was supposedly the largest residence ever built in any American city, period. The
General was a multi-talented man, but at heart, he longed for the open seas. This where he
made his home most of his life, far away from the frenzy of his wife's constant entertaining.
After Neily died, in 1942, Grace continued to live at 640, until 1945, at which point her home
which was now owned by the Astor Family was torn down. This, an arrangement made by her
husband which sold the mansion in 1940 (before his death) with a codicil which allowed Grace to
live there until 1 year after his death. Finally, in 1945, Mrs. Vanderbilt relocated to the William
Starr Miller Mansion at 1048 5th Avenue (at 86th Street). There she lived out her life, at this
modest by Vanderbilt standards, townhouse, until 1953, when she too passed on.
Grace was certainly an intimidating mother-in-law, but nevertheless a remarkable and
fascinating woman. A personality, without which, America would not be the same had she not
come along. In the end she became the last reigning "Vanderbilt Hostess" frequently called
"Her Grace". There will never be another gilded era like this in America and with good
conscience perhaps there never should be. But, just the same, it “was” and with the death of
Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III in 1953, noted as the last reigning “Queen of the Golden Age”
the golden era of riches and fairy tales ended never-ever to be recaptured or recreated!
The World of Vanderbilt
Very few images exist of Neil and Helen's travels. However, below, are some photographic
treasures from their Europe tour and the Far East (August 1934) Peking postmarks.
Das Matterhorn postcard (above). "Dear Mrs. Varner: This is the fifth day of rain. We came to
Switzerland to get away from the heat of Paris which Helen couldn’t stand anymore and this was
the result. Helen is now sick of rain and wants to get back to France again! We have zigzagged
all over Europe to please her. Next we shall try Austria! Helen thinks Holland might be better or
North Africa! They are only 1,000 miles apart! -We are having fun though- Much Love, Neil"
Few people are aware that Neil and Helen were close companions for 3 years before they finally
married. Unfortunately, as is the case in some marriages, certain couples are better lovers and
friends if they don't get married! This is definitely the case with the Vanderbilts. It is not
known, but very likely, that Neil's parents opposed this marriage with a woman they likely
considered "a commoner". However, that said, saddled with a son that was married 7 times
throughout his life, after a while, they no doubt gave up on him. Neil's father liked Helen and
thought she was very attractive. As a token of this he slipped her a diamond encrusted watch
one day likely not a Vanderbilt heirloom though, knowing his son Neil's penchant of discarding
his wives. No doubt, Cornelius III hoped his son would value this precious "gem" and keep her.
Above is Neil Vanderbilt in a rickshaw at either Peking or
Shanghai. This is likely where Helen first became interested
in the Orient. She later lived at Shanghai where she met her
dear friend Garnett Gardiner Stackelberg. See Page 1936.
Photo of Neil and two dignitaries in front of the Daibutsu
Budda at Kamakura City, Nippon, Japan, 1935. The
setting of this famous statue looks slightly different
today which made this image difficult to identify. Neil
sent this postcard to Helen's sister Marie. Inscription is
simple: "At Her Feet! Bestest- Neil" Mt. Fuji is nearby.
He meant at "Her" feet (a common reference of the day.)
Vanderbilt Lineage- Regarding Helen Varner Vanderbilt Frye
The "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt-
fortune- 105 million
Son: William Henry Vanderbilt
married Maria Louisa Kissam
Their son: Cornelius Vanderbilt II
Married: Alice Claypoole Gwynne
Cornelius II (died 9-13-1899)
Alice Gwynne (died 4-22-1934)
Vanderbilt II children:
1) Gertrude (Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney)
2) Alfred Gwynne (died on the RMS Lusitania
3) Reginald Claypoole: (daughter was 'little
Gloria" Vanderbilt Cooper)
4) Alice Gwynne (died as a child)
5) Gladys Moore (youngest-
later known as the Countess Szechenyi)
6) William Henry
7) Cornelius Neily III (oldest- known as
Brig. Gen. & Grace Graham Wilson
(The Vanderbilt III children)
Cornelius Neil IV Jr. (Neely)
Grace Davis Stevens
Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. marriage:
Helen Virginia Varner
(Married 1-4-1935 - Divorced 12-18-1940)
Her Husband’s Life of Wanderlust & Leisure
By the age of 16, the well-educated Cornelius Vanderbilt had crossed the Atlantic 42-times on
his father’s yacht and dined with every crown head of Europe. His father’s vessels were many
and more akin to ocean liners than pleasure craft. To name a few, there was the 226-foot
million dollar palace Winchester, the 233-foot North Star, a beloved schooner-yacht Atlantic, a
sloop called Aurora, a yacht Sabiha III, and the 100-foot Ambassadress which was (leased). In
his youth Neil dutifully sailed the Atlantic and Mediterranean with his parents who constantly
entertained, as their many guests, the crown heads of Europe. Later in Neil’s life in 1952 he
stated to the press that he had undertaken no less than 140 transatlantic crossings. This on
board the most prestigious ocean liners of the day which continually plied the oceans at that
time. Press reports of his marriage to Helen stated he had already written 9 books, crossed the
Atlantic a dozen more times (since the age of 16), and lived in every country of Europe, Mexico
and Canada, not to mention, every corner of the United States. This combined with crossing the
United States 320 times by train and powerful motorcars for a grand total of over a million
miles, with 6000 miles of this logged overseas in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Certainly a well-traveled
man, his new wife Helen Varner was to experience no moss growing under her feet!
Cornelius Vanderbilt was a a writer at heart and an entrepreneur like his father. Neil’s passion
though was writing and he was widely considered a crack "cub" reporter in the earliest days. He
dabbled in newspaper ownership and by 1935 he was writing for 1200 daily papers, 5000 weekly
papers, 1400 magazines, and 2 publishing companies.
The In-Laws- and Life @ "Six Forty"
Helen and Neil were of a different generation than the senior Vanderbilts and lived life
simply, well simply, for Vanderbilts! They had Neil’s guest ranch in Nevada, a home with
servants, in exclusive Lake Arrowhead California, and his parent’s home, in New York City.
There were really two different Vanderbilt “dude” ranches near Reno. The first one was called
the “TH Ranch” which Neil managed in the early 1930's for Neill (Neil) West (the owner). The
second was owned by Vanderbilt and called the “Lazy Me Guest Ranch”. It was just north of
Reno, at Sutcliffe, which adjoined Pyramid Lake. This last operation was complete with former
White House Packard and Rolls Royce town cars formerly utilized by U.S. Presidents which Neil
would cleverly secure at annual government surplus sales. These posh limos were used for
transporting the Vanderbilt guests to and from the Southern Pacific Train Station and the
airport at Reno, all complete with wranglers who wore ten-gallon hats. Guests of the Lazy Me
Guest Ranch were noteworthy, as in Amelia Earhart. Others were friends of Vanderbilt from
Hollywood, as in Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers, Tom Mix, Clark Gable,
and Gary Cooper to name just a few. At first, the property was operated as a dude ranch, later
though, as a “divorce ranch”. Vanderbilt did well with the operation at 76 guests for each 3-
month period. At the time it took 6-months to secure a divorce in Nevada (after establishing
residency). Interestingly, Vanderbilt claimed he pioneered the famous “package ranch
divorce”. My understanding is the Lazy Me Ranch was sold by Vanderbilt in 1937; however,
other documents indicate 1939. By this year, though, Helen Vanderbilt was living at 259
Monterey Road in South Pasadena. Nothing is known of Helen's association with this stately old
mansion except this was her legal address at that time. Intriguingly, this estate is just a stone's
throw from where aviation legend Florence "Pancho" Barnes grew up (later owned) at 1350
Garfield Avenue San Marino. Both old money areas developed from the 1910's to the 1930's.
Grace Graham Wilson Vanderbilt- (9-3-1870 to 1-8-1953)
Cornelius Neily Vanderbilt, III- (9-5-1873 to 3-1-1942)
In April 1935 Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. was making her way across Texas from Clarksburg
West Virginia to Albuquerque N.M., when a sudden dust storm swept across the treeless
landscape limiting visibility to near zero. In the dust and grit Mrs. Vanderbilt tried to stay on
the road, but eventually, the sand was drawn into her carburetor and the engine failed. Mrs.
Vanderbilt managed to catch a ride to a local train station where she recovered in luxury on a
Pullman while her husband waited for her at Albuquerque. Helen was traveling out to California
in her personal automobile, stopping at Albuquerque enroute to pick up Neil.
A wonderful and very rare image of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr., likely on their
honeymoon. It is obvious by their appearance they have just gone riding or are set to. I have
not yet identified the (W.P.A. like) hotel behind them but it does look like a lodge in the
Western United States (likely the Sierras). The Vanderbilts spent part of their honeymoon at
the Grand Canyon, Boulder City, and Palm Springs. They also owned a home in Lake
Arrowhead and spent considerable time there. Photo courtesy of the Helen Frye family (1935).
Reporters caught up with the Vanderbilts at the luxurious El Mirador in Palm Springs Ca. where
they were interviewed pool side. Photo courtesy of the Helen Frye family- date January 25, 1935.
Cornelius (Neil) Vanderbilt Jr.
If you followed the Vanderbilt romance, which
started in 1932, you would have seen Helen
Varner photographed with a beautiful Irish
Setter. What you may not have known (but
was mentioned in the press) is the dog was a
gift from Cornelius Vanderbilt. Helen adored
the setter and named it Lassie which became
her constant companion. Directly (above) is a
photo taken at Clarksburg West Virginia,
across from the house where Helen grew up,
(likely before she married Vanderbilt). Top
(right) is a stunning portrait of Helen Varner
thought to have been posed at the photo studio
where Helen worked in downtown Clarksburg.
Date was either 1934 or sometime in 1935. It is
thought Helen gave this portrait to reporters
when they showed up at her mother's home.
This image ran with an article after the news
of her separation from Neil broke nation-wide
in the first week of November 1935. Both
Vanderbilts vehemently denied the rumor they
were separated in subsequent press articles. To
the (right) is Lassie at the Vanderbilt estate in
Lake Arrowhead California (1935). Lassie
eventually died at Clarksburg in about 1943.
As for Vanderbilt, he stated in a 1950's interview that he had been married to 6 of the most
beautiful women in the world. Interesting side note to this image is it ran in newspapers
nationwide (front page) after the Vanderbilt marriage. I never dreamed though that it was a
family photo loaned to the press for early press coverage. This was a wonderful discovery as
offered to Sedona Legend from the Varner Family. In newspapers, the image was black and
white with the caption: “Honeymoons with Vanderbilt”. The Vanderbilt marriage sold
newspapers, as during the Great Depression, anything to do with wealth and romance was
fodder for the press and brightened the dreary lives of average Americans.
As Stated on That Famous 1950's Television Show-
"Helen Frye: This Was Your Life In The 1930's"
(Above) Helen is seen skiing Austria or
Switzerland with Cornelius August 1934.
The Vanderbilts @ the Posh El Mirador- Palm Springs California
The images (aside) and (above) were taken at
Indian Springs Nevada where Mrs. Vanderbilt
was visiting her sister Mildred who was
awaiting a Nevada divorce late 1937. In the
image above Helen is prospecting. Mrs.
Vanderbilt was an accomplished horsewoman.
Many thanks to Jack and Helen's nieces Sisty and Sheryl who have gone out of their way to
locate lost images of the Vanderbilts and Fryes for this website. Many images seen here and on
Page 1948 have never been seen by the public and are extremely rare and valuable historically!
The image above shows the Vanderbilts, as Neil was showing Helen and her family around
Hollywood, which included a V.I.P. tour of the Warner Bros. Studios. The writing on the back of
the photo is hard to discern, but translates left to right, Neil Vanderbilt, Helen Varner
Vanderbilt, "Lefty” Bernard Mettenberger, Mildred Varner Mettenberger (Helen's sister), Paul
Muni (famous 1930's actor), Marie Varner Berry (Helen's sister), Ann Dvorak (movie actress),
Maude Varner (Helen's mother). The last name appears to be "Guide" and obvious it is she
likely worked for the studio in the P.R. Department. Date is thought to be June or July of 1935.
The circumstances of the image has lost its association through the years, but finally, it has
been identified as having been taken on the set of a film called (Dr. Socrates) which was in
production with Paul Muni and Ann Dvorak (1935). Gracious thanks to Christina Rice of the
“Ann Dvorak- Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel” website for her help in the final analysis of the
photograph. Christina observed that Paul and Ann are in costume for the film and the kitten
Ann is holding was (a prop) from a scene in the film.
Originally, my impression was to say the photo was related to Vanderbilt's "Hitler's Reign Of
Terror" (1935). But that effort by Neil was a film he captured himself and later smuggled out of
Nazi Germany. Actually he pedaled it as more 'cloak and dagger' than the press thought it
really was and the film's reception was cool. Second impression was that it might be connected
with the filming of "A Woman In Washington". This film was being produced in Washington
D.C. (early 1935) and based on a book by Cornelius Vanderbilt. It is possible some filming was
done in Los Angeles. The name of this movie was changed, and possibly, later, it never even
saw release at theatres. I am pleased we have finally solved this mystery.
Pond's Cold Cream
Mrs. Cornelius (Helen) Vanderbilt, Jr.
The Vanderbilts at the El Mirador Hotel, in Palm Springs, on January 25, 1935. This famous
celebrity hang-out was once touted as "a magnificent palace of splendor" and frequented by
Hollywood V.I.P.'s and wealthy movers and shakers. Unfortunately, though it was destroyed by
fire on July 26 1989, it was a real tragedy and a bona-fide Palm Springs historic treasure. The
property is remembered today only as the El Mirador neighborhood which overlays the former
hotel grounds. Credit: The image seen above was originally used by a media-news agency
(Wide-World Photos- Los Angeles Bureau, and the Daily News). The image was not owned by
news service agencies around the country which reproduced the image, rather it was on loan.
The original photographer is unknown and this image is not thought to hold a renewed (current)
copyright. This original vintage 1935 photo is owned by Sedona Legend. Further information
regarding photos seen on Sedona Legend can be found at the bottom of Page 2010.
Credit: The images (previous 3) were originally used by a media-news agencies. They are
vintage wire-photo(s) or what we would categorize today as a copy of an original used for various
news publications. The image(s) were not owned by news service agencies (in the field) who
reproduced (published) the image, rather it was on loan. The original photographer is unknown
and these three images are not thought to hold a renewed (current) copyright. These original
vintage 1935 wire-photo(s) are owned by Sedona Legend. Further information regarding photos
seen on Sedona Legend can be found at the bottom of Page 2010.
Shown (right) the Vanderbilts were
photographed before they left the Alvarado,
and before, they boarded the Atchison Topeka
& Santa Fe (westbound) for Williams, Arizona,
and the Grand Canyon, on Saturday January 5.
European Tour August 1934 M.V. Britannic R.T. N.Y.C - Liverpool
Neil Vanderbilt (above) on an unidentified steamer
(possibly the Britannic) during his tour of Europe with
Helen. You will notice he is holding a camera and Helen's
purse (while she snapped the image) and a newspaper
under his arm.
Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. honeymooning at the Grand Canyon, January 6th 1935.
(Above) Helen Varner (1927) at
19-years-old (captured in portrait). What a
stunning beauty! No wonder she easily
captured the likes of Vanderbilt and Frye,
easily she was the most beautiful wife of both.
Credit: The image (top right) was originally used by a media-news agency. It is a vintage
wire-photo or what we would categorize today as a copy of an original used for various news
publications. The image was not owned by news service agencies (in the field) who reproduced
(published) the image, rather it was on loan. The original photographer was likely Helen herself.
The image is not thought to hold a renewed (current) copyright. This original vintage wire-photo
published in 1935 is owned by Sedona Legend. Further information regarding photos seen on
Sedona Legend can be found at the bottom of Page 2010.
Vanderbilt Irish Setter Lassie
News of a Vanderbilt marriage traveled fast in the 1930's and was printed with photographs in
publications all over the country often titled "Honeymoons with Vanderbilt". At that time
celebrity marriages sold a lot of newspapers, as everyday citizens, who were still reeling from
the Great Depression, craved an escape from their stark lives. The saga of little Gloria
Vanderbilt was constantly splashed across newspapers and magazines around the world.
Interestingly, at the courthouse, a curious crowd gathered and asked Cornelius if he was little
Gloria’s father? Helen's husband was amused by this, and laughed, stating, his father was
Gloria’s uncle, and he was her cousin. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (his aunt) was at that time
fighting for custody of the young, exploited, child heiress. Think Gertrude was looking for
money? Think again. When she died, a few years later, she was said to be the richest woman in
the world. She was the only one who was "not" looking for easy money and merely wanted to
protect her brother Reggie's child.
Before the wedding, Helen had traveled from Clarksburg, W.V., by train, arriving Thursday
evening, while Neil drove over from Nevada, but was forced to leave his automobile in Williams,
Arizona, because the snow was too deep to drive on into New Mexico. As mentioned above, after
the wedding the newlyweds boarded the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, “The Chief”, and headed
to Arizona, no doubt enjoying the railroads legendary first class service for the first leg of their
journey. The honeymoon was set for the Grand Canyon and Palm Springs. At the time,
passenger trains off-loaded tourists at the Grand Canyon Railway Station, but it was published
that the Vanderbilt’s picked up Neil’s car (at Williams) and drove to the Grand Canyon for
several nights instead. After which they drove to Nevada, enroute they spent the night at the
Boulder Dam Hotel. And from there, to Neil’s ranch 45 miles northeast of Reno and 3 miles
from Pyramid Lake. The lonely god-forsaken location of Neil’s 'divorce' ranch was not to be the
last stop; however, as within a month the couple was basking at the famous El Mirador, in Palm
Springs, which I would imagine was the crowning glory of this rather convoluted honeymoon.
Although I have many photos of the Vanderbilt wedding event, many are newspaper images and
can't be republished in this web forum.
The marriage took place at the Bernalillo
County Courthouse. Neil and Helen had
strolled from their hotel “El Alvarado” a
Harvey House (now torn down) but at that time
quite the place to stay. They could not be
married by clergy because both had previous
marriages and divorces. So instead, Justice of
the Peace, L. M. Tartaglia officiated. Neil was
37, and Helen, a mere 26. The bride wore a
gray suit and black stockings (aside). The
ceremony was simple and devoid of any pomp,
the Vanderbilts walked the short distance from
the Alvarado to the courthouse with reporters.
Neil's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius
Vanderbilt III, sent a telegram from their
mansion at '640' Fifth Avenue, congratulating
the couple. It is not known what Helen’s new
'bejeweled' mother-in-law, Grace Vanderbilt,
thought of the event, no doubt, though, she
was just quite weary of her son’s “oh... so
many trips to the alter” as she would say.
Arizona's Grand Canyon- Vanderbilt Honeymoon of Grand Vistas!
The photo above was also used as a Christmas
Card by Helen, reading: "Season's Greetings!"
The Grand Hotel @ Santa Monica
Reporters caught up with Helen and Neil at the
famous Grand Hotel at Santa Monica Beach
where they were staying for a couple weeks
entertaining and sunbathing. The location was
a nice change from the cool mountaintop locale
of their home at Lake Arrowhead CA. Helen is
sitting on the edge of the fountain at the beach
access to the rear of the hotel. Neil, obviously,
is up from sunbathing or swimming. Although
a lovely photo of the fashionable Mrs.
Vanderbilt, she is squinting in the sun.
However, Helen is sharply attired in what I
would call 'California Casual', a khaki-like
skirt with jacket-top, open heels, and dark
stockings. The travel-safari-legion-look was a
popular 1930's trend. Helen's hands, with
deep-red painted nails, rest on a matching
handbag. Adorning her wrist is a bejeweled
Egyptian-like bracelet, a plaid silk scarf is
draped around her neck (a signature
accessory for Helen). Date was July 17, 1935.
Credit: The image above was originally used by a media-news agency. It is a vintage wire-photo
or what we would categorize today as a copy of an original used for various news publications.
The image was not owned by news service agencies (in the field) who reproduced (published) the
image, rather it was on loan. The original photographer is unknown and this image is not
thought to hold a renewed (current) copyright. This original vintage wire-photo from 1935 is
owned by Sedona Legend. Further information regarding photos seen on Sedona Legend can be
found at the bottom of Page 2010.
Opened in 1926, this art-deco hotel was originally known as the Breakers Beach Club. By 1934,
the building was sold and reopened as the famous Grand Hotel at Santa Monica. The grand
opening was quite the extravaganza and attended by the ‘Who‘s Who’ of Hollywood, most of
whom soon became regular guests. Later, the property was known as the Chase Hotel. By the
end of its life, the building was known as the infamous Sea Castle Apartments. It was finally
destroyed by fire in 1996, but not after being condemned after the destructive Northridge quake
in 1994. Eventually, the property was completely revamped as the ‘new’ Windsor Sea Castle
luxury waterfront apartments. The fountain from the 1930’s is long gone, but the address is
still 1725 Promenade on the Santa Monica beachfront, just south of the pier.