Publication Date: February 15, 2022 I was given an ARC of The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki (Amazon) by NetGalley and Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
“Mrs. Post, the President and First Lady are here to see you.. . . So begins another average evening for Marjorie Merriweather Post. Presidents have come and gone, but she has hosted them all. Growing up in the modest farmlands of Battle Creek, Michigan, Marjorie was inspired by a few simple rules: always think for yourself, never take success for granted, and work hard–even when deemed American royalty, even while covered in imperial diamonds. Marjorie had an insatiable drive to live and love and to give more than she got. From crawling through Moscow warehouses to rescue the Tsar’s treasures to outrunning the Nazis in London, from serving the homeless of the Great Depression to entertaining Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Hollywood’s biggest stars, Marjorie Merriweather Post lived an epic life few could imagine.
And yet Marjorie’s story, though full of beauty and grandeur, set in the palatial homes she built such as Mar-a-Lago, was equally marked by challenge and tumult. A wife four times over, Marjorie sought her happily-ever-after with the blue-blooded party boy who could not outrun his demons, the charismatic financier whose charm turned to betrayal, the international diplomat with a dark side, and the bon vivant whose shocking secrets would shake Marjorie and all of society. Marjorie did everything on a grand scale, especially when it came to love.”
I had never heard of Marjorie Post before seeing this book on a Goodreads giveaway. Then, after reading the blurb about her being the Post cereal heir who was known as much for her vast wealth as she was for her philanthropic efforts, I was intrigued and wanted to know more. This book did not disappoint. This is top-notch historical fiction writing.
The book follows Marjorie’s life from the time when she and her parents arrive in Battle Creek, Michigan so her father can take the healing efforts of Dr. Kellogg and his sanitorium. Kellogg has hundreds if not thousands of patients, and Marjorie’s father finds that his cures involving bland foods and something called breakfast cereal leave much to be desired. Through the care of the woman who runs the boarding house they are staying at, Majorie’s father, C.W., soon starts getting better.
When C.W. starts feeling better, he gets the idea to make breakfast easier for women, a more appealing cereal than the one Kellogg is pushing on his patients. The result is Grape Nuts, and it’s an instant success. Like, phenomenal success. Soon they’re insanely rich, so C.W. sends Majorie to school in near Washington, D.C. and builds a home there. In a few more years, he’s building a mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. And let’s not forget a home in New York City as well.
Without going into a blow-by-blow description of her four marriages, Marjorie meets her first husband when she’s just about to graduate (at age 16), and her husband is a Knickerbocker, one of the oldest and wealthiest families of New York, one of the famed 400 group of snooty, old money that turns down their nose at new money. But times are changing. The Vanderbilts busted their way into society, and that means Marjorie is acceptable to the old crowd. Ed Close, a Columbia law student, is smitten with her. As soon as Marjorie graduates, they get married and her father gifts her the mansion in Greenwich.
But ultimately the marriage doesn’t work though they do have two daughters, Marjorie’s father dies leaving her the heir of the Post empire, but because she’s a woman, she can’t actually help run the company. She’s got more money than she knows what to do with, and World War I leads Marjorie to philanthropic work, helping found a portable hospital on the Western front.
With her second husband, Ned, Marjorie suggests the expansion of Post cereals. Soon they’re acquiring Jell-O, Hellman’s mayonnaise and more. So they rebrand and become General Foods. They even invest in the new frozen foods market with the acquisition of Birdseye. The money keeps pouring in. They build houses in the Adirondacks, buy a 300-foot yacht, and begin building an estate in Palm Beach called Mar-A-Lago. Yes, the very same. Marjorie has another daughter, does more philanthropic work, and eventually finds herself in the same boat as before–filing for divorce.
The Great Depression hits, but because people still need to eat, General Foods and it’s profits are unmarred by the economic collapse across the globe. Marjorie meets Joe, who’s got the ear of President Franklin Roosevelt, and it’s expected he’ll be offered an ambassadorship. After courting for a while, they decide to get married, but there’s one problem: Joe’s married, but separated for years from his wife, who is currently living in London. So he asks for a divorce, and Washington society turns it’s back on Marjorie, calling her a homewrecker (Joe’s wife spent years in Washington making the rounds as a charming society hostess) and refusing to invite her to social functions and refusing her invites.
Finally, Joe’s ambassadorship comes through, but it’s not to London or Paris as he expected. It’s Moscow. Knowing how the country has been run since the revolution that killed Czar Nicholas and his family, Marjorie packs 30 trunks, 50 suitcases, and tons of food. The residence they live in needs major renovation, and since that’s something Marjorie is very good at, she soon whips the ambassador’s house is ready for guests.
Through their time in Russia, Marjorie is able to acquire countless treasures that used to belong to the Czar’s family, dating back to Catherine the Great, including Faberge’ treasures, paintings, jewels and more. But ill health forces Joe and Marjorie back to the United States for a short time. When they return to Russia, things are icier with their contacts. Soon, Joe is recalled to Washington and hears that Russia has made a deal with Germany. And the president wants to send him to Luxembourg. Eventually Russia gets screwed over by Hitler and joins the Allies, and we all know how the war ends.
As with her previous two marriages, this one begins to crumble, too, so she files for divorce. But it isn’t long before she meets husband #4, who turns out to be the biggest loser of them all. Marjorie contents herself to realize she may be unlucky in love, but she certainly is not unlucky in life. She’s the richest woman in the United States, with homes all over the country filled with precious treasures, good relationships with her daughters (for a movie buff like me, it was interesting to find out that actress Dina Merrill was her daughter–I always thought she should have had a bigger career than what she had), and tons of philanthropic efforts both named and unnamed.
Obviously, I thought this book was a big hit. The only complaint I had was in one or two sections regarding Franklin Roosevelt, who was said to have walked in with Eleanor with some difficulty. While FDR could “walk” short distances with braces and leaning heavily on a strong man like a serviceman or his son, James, there’s no way FDR walked into a room and mingled with is wife. I thought this was common knowledge. I know that while FDR was living, he went to great lengths, and the press cooperated, with not letting people know that he was in fact paralyzed, but in 2022, to let people think that. I thought the oversight ruined an overall fantastic book.
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