In 1858 the John Manufacturing Company was founded. Their main product was fire-resistant asbestos roofing material. (At the time, virtually nothing was worse than fire...entire towns could burn to the ground while waiting for the horses to get hooked up and gallop to your block with a tank of water big enough to put out a campfire) Well...as we now know Asbestos was a mixed blessing. So mixed the lawsuit commercials pepper late night TV like flutters of fibers falling from a roof being torn down even today.
But the point of this post is not asbestiosis, not even the pulmonary fibrosis which killed the founder H.W. Johns HIMSELF some forty years after founding the company. This post is actually about a fire of a different sort...a fire of love which burns deep in the chest of a billionaire's rotten son...One Tommy Manville, who became "the asbestos heir" after his father merged his Manville company with the Johns company to become Johns-Manville By 1925 they were producing over 200 asbestos products. They were listed on the Fortune 500. But at the very same time, their executives were learning what their products did...and they paid some quiet lawsuits during the 1930s. But the cases kept coming and eventually Johns Manville was little more than a trust set up to pay off claims of the dead and dying. But the real hero (no...let's make that the real boob) of this tale is not the founder, not the buyer, not the victims, not the lawyers...it is the goofus son. Thomas Franklyn Manville Jr.
What great invention of commerce, or political office, or educational institution did he found? Umm..well...I can't find any. But he DID MARRY THIRTEEN WIVES (!) and not a clunker among them! Was young Tommy groomed to take over the company lethal business? Nah..after being thrown out of EIGHT public schools for misbehaving, he decided edjucatin' wasn't for him. He married his first wife at 17. Florence Huber was a Ziegfield Follies showgirl. Natch. Tommy had to lie about his age, and when Daddy found out he was outraged...Tommy and Florence had to cross the river into New Jersey and marry again using his real age. The marriage, surprisingly, lasted 7 years. When it ended, Daddy gave Flo $16,000 as a settlement. Tommy as now free for number 2, his father's personal secretary, Lois McCoin! Not surprisingly, this shocked his father into a heart attack and within months, Tommy had a two million dollar trust fund and 25,000 shares of stock.
New found wealth apparently gave Tommy notions of new wedded bliss, as he paid off wife number two with a guaranteed 20 grand a year for life. For wife number three, Tommy went shopping at the Follies again. Another bombshell named Avonne...that one lasted 30 days. With a Mexican divorce and over $100,000 in gifts, the pretty bride left with a pretty penny. Wife number 4 was a spicy blond who lasted four years of fighting...she hit the road with twice the purse...$200,000.
Number 5 was a 22 year old showgirl Tommy met while judging a beauty contest. That marriage lasted 17 days. They were divorced the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. Prescient, as bombshell number 6 was waiting in the wings. Billie Boze. Billie was 20 and lasted about as long as you would expect. Two months and Tommy gave her the asbestos-sole boot. No payoff was reported, but I suspect she left the house with more than white fibers in her clothes.
Sunny was next. Now Sunny Ainsworth had already been married. FOUR TIMES! And she had yet to reach her 20s. Sunny was a sunny 19. Her age wasn't the only record she would hold...as Sunny's marriage would last...are you ready? Seven Hours. Wife number seven lasted seven hours. When I was a sexy, single, and most importantly straight bachelor in Manhattan, a good number of my DATES lasted longer than seven hours. A settlement? Yes.
Number eight was a reporter, one Georgina Campbell. They had a few good battles and made up several times, but when the reporter sniffed out a story taking place in Tommy's bedroom with his secretary, there was a little problem. Georgina was in it for the long haul though, and it was an automobile accident which took here out of the picture.
Mere weeks later, number nine was in place. Anita Frances Roddy-Eden. It lasted ten days and she left the house with $100,000. Number 10 was...jeez, let's see...A SHOWGIRL! 26 year old Pat Gaston. A 6 month marriage.
Now, it gets complicated...as Wiki says, "the record is confused" since two of ten listed here were married to Tommy Twice. So that makes TWELVE marriages. And who was lucky number 13? 20 year old Christina Erdlen. That one appears to have lasted until Tommy croaked in 1967, but I am not quite sure. Much to my chagrin, I have not been able to find pictures of the last two.