In March of 1923 at the ripe age of 19, Fleur Beauvais, a rumored prostitute from Marseilles, France, crossed paths with Stuart Cummings Ripley. Their first encounter arose at Musee du Vieux Marseille in Marseilles. Ripley, enjoying the expatriate life in Paris, and hobnobbing with the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, would often take a day to indulge in exhibits of Provencal furniture. During such an adventure Ripley met Beauvais, an employee of the curator of the Musee du Vieux. Fleur frequently combined business with pleasure. Their flame was instantaneous, yet the romance and marriage that emerged quickly took a tricked turn of events. Although the couple produced no heirs, their intense whirlwind romance inspired Ripley's most significant published collection of poetry entitled, Fleur (Auclair and Couturier Publishers, Paris, 1924).
Fleur Beauvais, ca. 1921
John Dos Passos
Even before divorcing Fleur Beauvais in 1925, Stuart Cummings Ripley had begun a relationship of a different sort. This relationship transpired with one of his and Hemingway's kindred spirits, John Dos Passos, in 1923, yet little has been noted about the relationship that was forged between these two predominate masculine figures in the literary community, as Ripley was also involved with Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) during that time. Ironically, Hilda's biography, Herself Defined: the Poet H.D. and Her World, by Barbara Guest (Doubleday 1984), introduced the world to the complex dynamics of Ripley and Dos Passos.
John dos Passos
The Fitzgeralds in France
The Fitzgeralds frequented France and on each trip Zelda Fitzgerald's convictions that Hemingway was "a fairy" grew as his work conveyed a macho persona. Zelda's opinions escalated with each return to France. Eventually she was convinced that Hemingway, her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Stuart Cummings Ripley's creative fashions extended outside of pen and paper. She in turn began an affair with a French pilot, Edouard Jozan. This enraged Scott Fitzgerald and he put Zelda on house arrest and it is possible that during this period signs of Zelda's battle with schizophrenia were emerging.
After a handful of failed romances, Ripley found himself in Greenwich Village, New York, where he met a young aspiring author, Sally Beacon, with genealogy traced to the predominate Beacon Hill Society of Boston, Massachusetts. Although her wit was more striking than her looks, she enchanted Ripley to once again embark upon marriage. Although this marriage spanned almost a decade, so did Ripley's flamed affection for his long time love, the stunning yet ridiculous Frannie Schmidt. Ripley's affair with Schmidt was highlighted during Schimidt's visits to her native Brooklyn and inspired four separations with his wife Sally.
The marriage of Sally and Ripley was in a constant state of turmoil due to Ripley's liaisons with Frannie Schmidt. However, Sally and Ripley managed to produce a son named Thaddeus Maximus Beacon Cummings Ripley. Upon news of Thaddeus' birth, Frannie Schmidt married Charles Chase, a broker from Greenwich Connecticut.
Frannie Schmidt. Sketch by Edward Hopper, 1935
It wasn't until Ripley's literary aspirations took a turn towards financial ruin, and that his long time lover Frannie Schmidt reemerged for the fifth consecutive time. Heartbroken, Sally decided to take leave of Ripley indefinitely on May 12, 1939, by submitting herself to the Long Island Sound. After Sally's death, Ripley dispelled his relationship with Frannie Schmidt and this two-folded loss gave birth to an ever evolving and consuming depression.
Five years passed before Ripley allowed himself to indulge in the company of a lover outside of a bartered trade. He engrossed himself in his work as a foreign correspondent in Europe and the Pacific during W.W. II. According to Dr. William Hall, a scholar at Cummings College in Ohio, Ripley, while in Japan, had a brief encounter with a prostitute from Hiroshima and it is quite possible that they produced a child. [Editor's note: This report may have been confused with a rumor that Ripley had an affair with Tokyo Rose shortly before her imprisonment for treason.]
When interviewed by the New York Post, Ripley's grandson, Stuart Providence Ripley, had this comment: "Hiroshima was a catastrophe beyond any human's imagination. Thus, I am sorry to say, there is no evidence to conceive that another heir to the great Stuart Cummings Ripley is alive and well. Moreover it is with a heavy heart that I shall remain the soul protector of my Grandfather's works." New York Post, 1999.
Jill Castenberry and Bucks County Goodbyes
After five years in an emotional prison, Ripley opened himself to love an aspiring actress of English decent, Jill Castenberry. This romance brought clarity to Ripley's tumultuous past and they left Manhattan for greener pastures in the township of Tinicum, Pennsylvania. Although the change of scenery was at first inviting, Ripley's demons arrived with the Delaware River flood of 1953. Ripley's alcoholism, accompanied with North Carolina tar and Cuban cigars eventually took a toll on his gift. Ripley abandoned his literary endeavors except for two unpublished novels, an unfinished biography of his mother and a cookbook entitled, Recipes by Ripley, Bethany Baptist-Methodist Church, 1957. To follow Ripley's creative efforts became the focus of culinary and vintner arts.
Jill Castenberry, his last love, grew leery of Ripley's dramatic career change. Meanwhile, her own artistic endeavors were circling a cul-de-sac at the Bucks County Playhouse a few miles south on Rt. 29 in New Hope. Roles were few and far between. She was even out-staged by Ruth White for the lead female role in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie in 1953. Ripley, Bucks County, art and backyard wine began to consume her. On rare occasions after Ripley's death in 1964, she would attend plays at the Bucks County Playhouse only to find herself back at the vineyard engrossed in the previous year's Christmas reserve.
Though during the late seventies the role she was born to play, Liesel von Trapp, the oldest of the von Trapp children from Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, The Sound of Music came her way. To this day, thanks to the Bucks County Playhouses' makeup and lighting crew, Jill Castenberry remains the oldest and wisest women to ever play Liesel von Trapp. As the eighties rolled in, so did Bye, Bye Birdie to the BCP. This time Castenberry was awarded the female lead as Rosie. Supporting roles also validated Castenberry in Annie Get Your Gun and The Impossible Years.
Jill Castenberry (middle row, far right) as Liesel in The Sound of Music
The eighties, a pioneering era for synthetics and super effects at the theater took it's toll on local attendance at the playhouses throughout the lower forty-eight and the Bucks County Playhouse was not immune. As a marketing enticement to lure audiences, the BCP gave the lead role of Oscar Madison for the 1988 female version of the Odd Couple to Hollywood hopeful Kaye Ballard, who once had a recurring role on Aaron Spelling's phenomenon, The Loveboat. This crushed Castenberry's ego and financial grounding.
To add to Castenberry's disarray, the eighties also brought mass destruction in the form of McMansions to the Bucks County area. As a result taxes greatly increased in Tinicum township and surrounding areas in the Palisades School District. Castenberry was forced to sell the vineyard that she and the late Stuart Cummings Ripley once called home. The day of closing, Castenberry also donated Ripley's works to Cummings College in Ohio.
Cummings College, Administration Building, Cummings, Ohio
It is said that once she sold the vineyard and relinquished the rights to Ripley's works she must have fallen into another special reserve wine induced coma at Tohickon park, where she rented a cabin from the Bureau of Land Management. On May 12, 1988, with a blood alcohol level of .88 Castenberry slipped and fell into the High Rocks river gorge. Her fall was witnessed by several free climbers on the northern face.
[Editor's note: It is believed that Ripley had an affair with the playwright Lillian Hellman, as the two covered the Lincoln Brigade in Spain in the late 1930s. Some of this is covered by Jules Winistorfer in his essay on Ripley in the Spanish Civil War. Further, it is thought Ripley may have had a relationship with T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, in Palestine, 1917. See the Ripley biography.]