cover image American Empress:: The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post

American Empress:: The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post

Nancy Rubin Stuart / Author Villard Books $27.5 (445p) ISBN 97

This entrancing biography of Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973)-socialite, businesswoman, Palm Beach, Fla., pacesetter, opulent Washington hostess, philanthropist-is full of high drama, gossip, scandal and international political intrigue. Her father, C.W. (Charles William) Post, cured of ``invalidism'' at the Battle Creek, Mich., sanatorium of Dr. John Kellogg (inventor of packaged breakfast cereal), went on to develop Postum, a coffee substitute, and Post Toasties cereal. When C.W. killed himself in 1914, Marjorie, his only child, became sole heir of the Postum Cereal Co. With her sexually unfaithful second husband, stockbroker E.F. Hutton, Postum acquired Clarence Birdseye's frozen foods company, General Foods, which, partly through Post's influence as a board member, diversified into a food empire. Her third husband, Washington lobbyist Joseph Davies, became FDR's ambassador to the Soviet Union and helped cement the Soviet-U.S. alliance against Hitler. While living in Russia, Post was appalled at the Soviet police state. She divorced fourth husband Herbert May, a Pittsburgh executive, after a blackmailer's photographers revealed his homosexuality. Rubin, a frequent contributor to the New York Times, limns a warm, generous Christian Scientist, an imperious, perfectionist mother of three daughters, a down-to-earth woman who held square-dance parties and peppered her speech with expletives. Photos not seen by PW. First serial to Town & Country. (Jan.)