She called him Daddy. He called her Peaches. If they were around today, you’d be getting 24 hour news coverage of their love affair, marriage and divorce. Nancy Grace? Man, she’d be all over it. No murder here, but certainly a type of crime. Well, not just a type; the violation of a legislative statute still on the books in most states. Although the violation usually uses the form “statutory” when described.
Edward W. Browning started his climb to the top as well as his climb to infamy in a story not unlike those told by Horatio Alger in a popular series of books. If you know anything about Horatio Alger besides those stories of his, you can appreciate the reference. From just another beneficiary of the time-honored business practice of nepotism to self-made multimillionaire when that latter term meant not just something, but quite a lot. You know what they say: the only investment that can’t possibly go away is land and real estate. That kind of thinking made the little office boy the Trump of his day. Of course, back in the early 1920s you couldn’t walk down Wall Street without walking into rich real estate barons, but Edward Browning, boy, well, he was a different bird altogether. He was born into modest wealth that his shrewd sense of business grew into opulent wealth. A living embodiment of the American Dream of going from riches to fabulously greater riches. But he was also the kind of guy who made hugely inventive promises of things to come that somehow often never seemed quite to pan out. But as far the flash of promise went, Edward Browning was not the kind of guy easily ignored or overlooked. You noticed this guy. Even so, he could not stop his first wife from running away with a dentist. She took one daughter and Edward took the other. And that’s where things get weird and statutory.
Ever look at those girls who were popular in the 1920s? Flat chested stick-girl flappers. It took something special to grab the attention of Edward Browning. Daddy, she called him, remember. Peaches wasn’t the only adolescent girl to fall under the spell of the millionaire who advertised for a daughter he could adopt who would play with his biologically produced daughter.
The first adopted girl claimed to be 16, but turned out to have scored three touchdowns instead of just two with a safety. Goodbye Miss Mary Louise Spas. But hey, it was the Roaring 20s and there were plenty of adolescent girls to be found.
Chubby was also in style along with the sleeker look of the flappers. You either strapped your boobs down or you proudly displayed them along with a generous helping of other flesh. Daddy didn’t like his peaches carved into slices; he liked the full, robust fruit. So did chorus lines of the time and when ever so slightly pudgy Frances Heenan caught Browning’s eye at one of her sorority dances in high school, worlds converged. Browning fell in love and Frances found a ticket to the chorus line. Browning got Heenan a part in a show called “Vanities” but it was about as short-lived as the acting career of Marla Maples. Browning was actually riding pretty high on a groundswell of massive public understanding of nearly being cheated out of finding a friend for his daughter by a young woman who appeared to be ready to victimize him. As a result, Daddy, which is what she called him, and Peaches, which is what he called her, really didn’t face much public outcry over the marriage of a 51 year old man to a teenager. Not an 18 or 19 year old type of teenager, but one who today would not be allowed to drive on her own.
That big mansion that you just knew Mr. Browning owned? Sure, the happy couple moved in. But then so did Peaches’ mom. Peaches learned to enjoy the life of luxury fairly quickly, but then who would not? Still, even luxury has its price. And for Peaches that price was apparently being forced to walk up and down naked in front of her husband while he lay in bed. The divorce was perhaps the first, or at least one of the first, that would go down in history as publicly notorious. Allegations on both sides, but it was Peaches that caught fire with those paying attention. Well, let’s just let Peaches tell her story for herself: “He tried to make me a pervert on five different occasions.” Something very funny about that statement; about the way she boils it down to five specific episodes in which her husband was intent on making her a pervert. It might be sadder and less amusing if the final decree from the judge had not come down so hard on both Peaches and her mom. “The defendant and her mother have falsified, exaggerated and magnified to such an extent as to render their testimony entirely unbelievable.”
Would make a great movie, don’t you think?