Charles Edward Marsh was born in Hartwell, Ohio, on 17th January, 1887. His father was a lawyer but left his wife and six children in around 1900. His mother took the family to Coalgate in the Oklahoma Territory. After leaving school Marsh worked in the coal mining industry.
In 1906 he enrolled in Haverford College near Philadelphia. Marsh transferred to the University of Oklahoma to be closer to his mother. According to Robert A. Caro he worked "his way through college stoking furnaces". After graduating he became a newspaper reporter in Oklahoma before joining the Cleveland Press, before becoming editor of the Cincinnati Post in 1911. That year he married Leona and over the next few years she had three children, including Antoinette Marsh who was born in 1914.
In 1914 Marsh was appointed editor of the Des Moines News . He was frustrated by the interference that he had to endure from the owners of newspapers and in 1916 he joined forces with Ephraim Silas Fentress to purchase the Fargo Forum, an independent newspaper in Fargo, North Dakota. The owner of a conservative newspaper in the city was upset by Marsh's liberal views and bought up their newspaper to stop it being published. Marsh and Fentress both made a healthy profit out of the deal.
Marsh and Fentress now moved to Waco, where they bought the Waco Morning News. In 1918 they purchased the Waco Tribune , and merged the papers and renamed it as the Waco News-Tribune. They also purchased the Beaumont Journal and later sold it to William Hobby at a considerable profit. Marsh and Fentress also acquired newspapers in several cities and towns in Texas. This included Austin, Wichita Falls, Breckenridge, Brownsville, Cisco, Cleburne, Corpus Christi, Eastland, Harlingen, Laredo, McAllen, Mineral Wells, Paris, Port Arthur, Ranger and Texarkana. This was a profitable venture and both men became millionaires.
Robert A. Caro points out: "Having made money, he liked to play the patron with it. A tall man - six-feet-three - he had the broad, high forehead and the beaked nose of a Roman emperor, and a manner to match. Tips headwaiters were dispensed with a gesture reminiscent of a king tossing coins to subjects." Welly Kennon Hopkins, was a Texas politician, who got to know Marsh during this period: "He always wanted to be a great manipulator behind the scenes... He had grandiose ideas. He would have liked to have been a little William Randolph Hearst, because he got into very much of a newspaper broker position."
In 1930 Marsh joined forces with Eugene Pulliam, to establish General Newspapers Incorporated. Over the next few months they bought 23 newspapers in seven states. According to Philip Kopper, the author of Anonymous Giver: A life of Charles E. Marsh (2000), argues that Pulliam was more interested in running newspapers while Marsh wanted to expand in other areas and the partnership came to an end four years later.
Marsh met the nineteen-year old Alice Glass in the summer of 1931. According to Jennet Conant: "The first time Charles Marsh saw her, she was stark naked, a pale, shimmering goddess rising unexpectedly from the mists of his Austin swimming pool... Almost six foot in her bare feet, she was slim, graceful, and startlingly beautiful with delicate features, wide-set blue eyes, and strawberry-blond hair that cascaded past her shoulders." Apparently, the following morning, he woke up in bed with Alice and told her: "You are not for Austin, Texas, little girl."
Frank C. Oltorf, who worked for Brown & Root, got to know Glass during this period, described her as an extremely attractive young woman: "Austin had never seen anything like her... Her blond hair had a red overlay... Usually it was long enough so that she could sit on it, and it shimmered and gleamed like nothing you ever saw... There was something about the way she walked and sat that was elegant and aloof. And with her height, and that creamy skin and that incredible hair, she looked like a Viking princess."
Alice Glass became Marsh's mistress. One friend claims Marsh "lavished jewels on her - not only a quarter-of-a-million-dollar necklace of perfect emeralds, but earrings of emeralds and diamonds and rubies". Alice's cousin recalls: "The first time she came back to Marlin and walked down the street in her New York clothes and her jewels, women came running out of the shops to stare at her." Another friend said that "when she walked into a restaurant, between those emeralds and her height and that red-gold hair, the place would go completely silent."
Marsh left his wife and built a new home for Alice Glass and himself in Virginia named Longlea. The historian, Robert A. Caro, claims that: "Longlea was her place. She had designed it, asking the architects to model it on the Sussex country home she had seen when Marsh had taken her to England, working with the architects herself for months to modify its design, softening the massiveness of the long stone structure, for example, by setting one wing at a slight angle away from the front, enlarging the windows because she loved sunlight, insisting that the house be faced entirely with the native Virginia beige fieldstone of which she could see out-croppings in the meadows below; told there were no longer stonemasons of sufficient skill to handle the detail work she wanted, she scoured small, isolated towns in the Blue Ridge Mountains until she found two elderly master masons, long retired, who agreed, for money and her smile, to take on one last job. She furnished it herself, with Monets and Renoirs and a forty-foot-long Aubusson rug that cost Marsh, even at Depression bargain prices, $75,000."
According to Jennet Conant "Longlea was set on a thousand acres in the northern Virginia hunt country, was named for the eighteenth-century Sussex manor house on which it was modeled, but it could have been named for its setting. The roads towards it, toward its blue-slate roof and its great chimneys that rose above the soft Virginia hills, led across long, rolling meadows, and the meadows before it were nothing to the meadow behind it. The broad flagstone terrace at the rear of Longlea - a terrace 110 feet long - was bordered by a low stone parapet."
Frank C. Oltorf was a regular visitor to Longlea. He later recalled: "Alice Glass was the most elegant woman I ever met and Longlea was the most elegant home I ever stayed in." Arnold Genthe, who photographed the world's most attractive women for Vanity Fair, described Alice as the "most beautiful woman" he had ever met. He also considered Longlea as the "most beautiful place" he had ever seen and asked for his ashes to be scattered on the estate.
Alice became pregnant and according to Ralph Ingersoll: "To have the baby Alice was sent on holiday to London. From there she wrote at once to her family that she had fallen in love with a wonderful Englishman, Major Manners. She had married him on the spur, because he was an officer in a regiment which was suddenly posted to India. She was to join him after he was settled. But he was hardly gone when Alice's family heard from their surprising daughter the happy news that she would be presenting him with a baby." Alice's baby was born in London and christened "Diana Manners". Soon afterwards Alice wrote to her parents, informing them that her husband had been killed in a border battle.
Marsh asked his wife for a divorce. Leona refused and warned Marsh that if he insisted she would file suit against him for violation of the Mann Act. This concerned Marsh as she had been a minor when he began a sexual relationship with her and when he had set her up in an apartment in New York City he had transported her across state lines with "immoral purposes" in mind. Marsh responded by telling her that if the case went to court he would reveal intimate details of their sex life: "The choice is hers," Marsh told her attorneys. "Does she want me in public court, so testifying - or do you gentlemen care to advise her to stop with this whole silly business and keep our private lives to ourselves?" Leona Marsh agreed to settle and he got his divorce.
In 1934 agreed to finance the businessman Sid Richardson, who was heavily in debt from the collapse of his oil business in the 1920s. According to some sources, this debt was approaching 1$ million dollars. Marsh loaned Richardson $30,000 and this was invested in drilling operations in Winkler County in Texas. In 1935 he discovered oil in what became known as the Keystone Field. Marsh split the profits with Richardson, who used the remaining money to drill up to 80 wells in the Keystone Field, allowing him to repay his debts.
Robert A. Caro has pointed out that by 1936: "Marsh owned newspapers in fifteen Texas cities, and in another dozen cities in other states... He was Richardson's partner in some of the most profitable oil wells in West Texas, and the sole owner of other profitable wells of his own. And in Austin, he owned the streetcar franchise and the largest single bloc of stock in the Capital National Bank, as well as vast tracts of real estate. Having made money, he liked to play the patron with it."
Marsh and Alice were both strong supporters of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. They were close friends with people on the left of the Democratic Party. This included Henry A. Wallace, who was Secretary of Agriculture in the Roosevelt administration and Claude Pepper, the leading progressive in the Senate who was known as "Red Pepper". Wallace used to try out his visionary ideas on Alice and recorded in his diary that "she seems to be the only person with enough imagination to know what I am talking about."
Marsh was told about a promising new politician by Welly Kennon Hopkins. In 1936 Lyndon B. Johnson was a candidate for Austin's Tenth Congressional District. When he was told that Johnson was a passionate "New Dealer" he ordered the editors of his two newspapers in Austin to back him. Hopkins claimed that Johnson's victory was in "no small part thanks to Marsh's editorial support" and suspected that he helped the young politician "as a way of extending his own influence".
Marsh met Johnson for the first time in May 1937. Marsh's secretary later recalled: "The first thing I noticed about Johnson was his availability. Whenever Marsh would ask Lyndon to come by for a drink, no matter that Lyndon was a busy man, he would always come. He was always available on short notice.... He was very deferential. Very, very deferential. I saw a young man who wanted to be on good terms with an older man, and was absolutely determined to be on good terms with him." Harold Young, one of Johnson's close friends, watched the young politician "play" many an older man. However, he felt that "he had never played one better than he did Charles Marsh".
The author of The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (1982) has argued: "Marsh liked to pontificate; Johnson drank in what he was saying, and told him how perceptive he was. Marsh liked to give advice; Johnson not only seemed to be accepting it, he asked for more. Marsh had become fascinated by politics; he wanted to feel he was on the inside of that exciting game. Johnson made him feel he was... His real political advisors - Wirtz, Corcoran - laughed at Marsh as an amateur.... He asked Marsh for advice on political strategy, asking him what he should say in speeches - let Marsh write speeches for him, and didn't let Marsh know that these speeches were not delivered."
In July 1937 they visited the Saltzburg Music Festival. While they were in Europe they heard Adolf Hitler speak and saw the impact his policies were having on liberals and racial minorities. During their trip they met Jews who feared for their life. This included Max Graf, who was a professor at the Vienna Conservatory. Marsh told him he would do what he could to get him out of the country. It has been claimed that on the day when he was leaving the office for the last time, a colleague had given him the Nazi salute and said, "Heil, Hitler!". Graf replied "Heil, Beethoven!"
Marsh and Alice also met Erich Leinsdorf, a twenty-five-year-old musician. Leinsdorf later described how this "immensely rich" couple had offered to help him. In 1938 he arrived in the United States to take up a temporary position as assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. When his term of employment came to an end he went to stay with them at Longlea. "It was a large farm, dominated by a magnificent house... with eighteen servants, over whom a German butler and his wife, a superlative cook, held sway."
Leinsdorf did not want to return to Nazi Germany and asked Marsh if he could help him to stay in the United States. The next day Marsh drove Leinsdorf to Washington where they stayed in his suite at the Mayflower Hotel. Leinsdorf explained in his autobiography, Cadenza: A Musical Career (1976), that Marsh summoned Lyndon B. Johnson to the hotel: "A lanky young man appeared. He treated Charles with the informal courtesy behooving a youngster toward an older man to whom he is in debt." Johnson then arranged for Leinsdorf to become a "permanent resident" of the United States.
According to Jennet Conant: "Both Alice and Johnson took great pride in rescuing such a talented young musician. Leinsdorf had opened Johnson's eyes to the plight of refugees, and like Alice, who had been providing money to Jews fleeing Hitler, he began doing more on their behalf, eventually helping hundreds of Jewish refugees to reach safety in Texas through Cuba, Mexico, and other South American countries."
Lady Bird Johnson acknowledged the help that Marsh provided to her husband. She told Philip Kopper, the author of Anonymous Giver: A life of Charles E. Marsh (2000): "Charles Marsh had what I truly believe was an affectionate interest in enlarging Lyndon's life. He exuded what I can only describe as a life force - and even that is insufficient. He did a lot to educate Lyndon, and quite coincidentally me, about the breadth and strength of the rest of the world... This was when the war clouds were gathering in Europe and we did not know how to appraise Hitler - what it meant in the last term to the American people."
Marsh rewarded Johnson by helping him in his campaign to return to Congress. He gave instructions to Charles E. Green, editor of the Austin American-Statesman, to give Johnson help to be re-elected. On 30th January 1938, Green was doing such a good job he "ought... to be unopposed, and thus freed of the burden of a campaign, so as to give him his undivided time to his services in the session that will run almost until primary election day." On 5th May, 1938, the newspaper reported: "Johnson looks tired, but I suppose any man who has done as much for his district in the short time that Johnson has, should be tired. Fortunately, I don't think there's anyone in his district foolish enough to announce against him."
Johnson complained that he found it difficult managing on his Congress salary. Marsh arranged for Johnson's wife to buy nineteen acres on Lake Austin for $8,000, which he knew was an area that was likely to be developed and would increase dramatically in value. Lady Bird Johnson later sold the land for $330,000. He also provided the money for Johnson to buy the Fort Worth radio station that he said would be "some day worth $3 million". Marsh also offered Johnson the opportunity to buy some of his oil wells cheaply. Johnson declined the offer as he feared that this "could kill me politically". During the 1938 campaign, Marsh agreed to ask his business friends to contribute to the campaign. He eventually paid Johnson $5,000 a week. Mary Louise Glass, Marsh's private secretary, said it was her job to "keep track of who paid."
Alice Glass gave birth to a second child, Michael. Jennet Conant has argued: "Charles knew the father was de Terrey, the charming decorator who had become her constant companion. Although he publicly acknowledged the boy as his own, he privately complained about her infidelity to close friends like Ingersoll and Dahl. (The baby had been conceived while Marsh was away on a long trip to California.) Alice, who was at best an indifferent mother, entrusted her children's care to the ever-efficient Rudolf and his wife, Margaret, who over time became devoted surrogate parents."
Alice's sister, Mary Louise Glass, explained her unusual character: "She (Alice) was a free spirit - very independent - in an era when women weren't that way... Above everything else, Alice was an idealist... She had a very particular view of the kind of place the world should be and she was willing to do anything she had to do to make things come out right for people who were in trouble."
Alice also began an affair, unknown to Marsh, with Lyndon B. Johnson. According to Mary Louise she wanted to marry Johnson. He was in a difficult position as in the 1930s a divorced man would be effectively barred from a political career. Johnson considered taking up a job as a corporate lobbyist in Washington. Alice rejected this idea as she considered he had the potential to become president of the United States.
Texas newspapers were overwhelmingly against President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Marsh's six Texas newspapers, including the influential Austin American-Statesman in the state capital, supported the New Deal. As a result, Roosevelt agreed to Marsh's request to see him. Edwin M. Watson, his appointment secretary, wrote on 14th July, 1939: "Put Mr. Charles Marsh down for an appointment with the President on Wednesday. Mr. Marsh is the owner of a large string of papers supporting the President in Texas." Marsh decided to take this opportunity to introduce Roosevelt to his new protégé, Lyndon B. Johnson.
In late 1939 Marsh discovered that Alice was having an affair with Johnson. Marsh's daughter, Antoinette Marsh Haskell, said he knew that she had been unfaithful in the past but her relationship with Johnson infuriated him. After loudly berating Johnson, Marsh threw him out. The next morning Johnson returned and apologized. He also promised to end the relationship with Alice and Marsh forgave him. Antoinette commented: "They didn't let her come between them. Men in power like that don't give a damn about women. They were not that important in the end. The were not that important in the end. They treated women like toys. That's just the way it was."
Soon afterwards Alice agreed to marry Marsh. After their marriage in early 1940 the couple moved to Washington where they purchased a stately four-story house at 2136 R Street in Dupont Circle. Senior political figures such as Henry A. Wallace, Claude Pepper, Jesse H. Jones, Henry Morgenthau, Drew Pearson, Lyndon B. Johnson, Walter Lippmann, Walter Winchell and Ralph Ingersoll. Another frequent guest was Creekmore Fath, a young lawyer working for the President Franklin D. Roosevelt administration: "Charles was able to entertain on a grand level, and kept a very good staff and cook, so that during the war it was one of the best restaurants in town... He entertained all sorts of Washington characters. You'd get a telephone call inviting you to dinner Wednesday, or a luncheon Friday at noon. Everybody came and traded information and gossip."
According to Jennet Conant, the author of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington (2008): "Having already made his fortune, Marsh, like many men of means, wanted to contribute to the war effort and had decided to put himself at the disposal of thee government. A dedicated New Dealer, he had come to town with the idea that he could put his big money and big personality to work for the Roosevelt administration, camping out alternately at the Mayflower Hotel and at the house of the construction magnate George Brown, before purchasing a stately four-story town house at 2136 R Street in Dupont Circle. He quickly turned the elegant nineteenth-century mansion into a well-financed Democratic political salon, where various cabinet members, senators, financiers, and important journalists could count on a good meal and stimulating conversation in the news-starved town. Over time prominent New Dealers came to regard Marsh's white sandstone mansion, with its Palladian windows and Parisian-style wrought-iron grillwork, as their private clubhouse and used it as a cross between a think tank and a favorite watering hole".
Henry A. Wallace noted in his diary that Marsh had mixed feelings about President Franklin D. Roosevelt: "According to Charles Marsh, Roosevelt is the most skillful politician this country has ever had. Charles has absolutely no respect for Roosevelt as a man but as a politician he thinks Roosevelt has remarkable ability and that he is great assest for the world, that he has done great good and probably will do even greater good."
Alice continued to have affairs. Marsh retaliated by having relationships with her sister, Mary Louise and his secretary Claudia Haines. One of his close friends, Ralph Ingersoll, commented: "Hawk-beaked Charles, the sultan in his castle, off-handedly gracious with his mini-harem in attendance." Ingersoll claims that he was very open about his sexual relationships: "At a formal dinner, he was as apt to discuss his erections as he was to expound on Einstein's theory. His non-stop conversation varied from the profane to the profound, and there is no evidence that he ever considered anything about himself secret." The marriage eventually came to an end and Alice married Palmer Weber.
Marsh was a strong opponent of Adolf Hitler and urged United States intervention in the Second World War. At the request of Roosevelt he joined forces with Walter Lippmann, Claude Pepper and Benjamin Cohen to help draft a plan to send military aid to Britain. Isolationists like Burton Wheeler of Montana, Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan and Thomas Connally of Texas argued that this legislation would lead to American involvement in the war. In early February 1941 a poll by the George H. Gallup organisation revealed that only 22 percent were unqualifiedly against the President's proposal. It has been argued by Thomas E. Mahl, the author of Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44 (1998), has argued that the Gallup organization had been infiltrated by the British Security Coordination (BSC).
On 11th March 1941, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act. The legislation gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt the powers to sell, transfer, exchange, lend equipment to any country to help it defend itself against the Axis powers. A sum of $50 billion was appropriated by Congress for Lend-Lease. The money went to 38 different countries with Britain receiving over $31 billion.
After the war Marsh and his constant companion, Claudia Haines, visited Roald Dahl in London. Dahl introduced him to the parish rector in Limehouse who told him about the poverty in the area. According to Philip Kopper, the author of Anonymous Giver: A life of Charles E. Marsh (2000), Marsh asked him to identify 200 of the neediest families to receive a $200-a-month stipend for six months. This was later extended to the neighbouring district of Rotherhithe.
In 1952 Dahl introduced Marsh to Patricia Neal. She later recalled: "I met Charles Marsh, an old man with a strange face. Charles just adored him (Dahl), he would do anything for him.... With him (Marsh) was a lovely woman named Claudia. While we were there she didn't say a word, but heeded his every beck and call with the trained eye of a geisha, then quietly returned to her needlework... He told Roald... Drop the other baggage. I like this one!"
Marsh married Claudia Haines in July, 1953. Soon afterwards Marsh was bitten by a mosquito and contracted a grave form of malaria. As Jennet Conant the author of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington (2008), has pointed out: "By the time the doctor arrived, he was near death. Marsh refused to let go. Although he rallied, the high fevers, followed by a series of devastating strokes that damaged his brain. He was never again able to speak more than a few words. To see such a dynamic force struck down broke Dahl's heart."
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on 22nd November, 1963. Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as the country's thirty-sixth president in a hasty ceremony aboard Air Force One. Johnson was picked up by the presidential limousine at the airport in Washington the following day. Johnson asked the driver to stop at the home of Marsh on the way to the White House. According to his nurse, Johnson attempted to speak to Marsh: "He got no reply, and as the silence lengthened, he blanched." He turned to Marsh's wife and with tears in his eyes, asked, "Where are Sam (Rayburn) and Charles now, when I need them."
Charles Edward Marsh died on 30th December, 1964.
Marsh liked to pontificate; Johnson drank in what he was saying, and told him how perceptive he was. Marsh liked to give advice; Johnson not only seemed to be accepting it, he asked for more. Marsh had become fascinated by politics; he wanted to feel he was on the inside of that exciting game. Johnson made him feel he was... His real political advisors - Wirtz, Corcoran - laughed at Marsh as an amateur.... He asked Marsh for advice on political strategy, asking him what he should say in speeches - let Marsh write speeches for him, and didn't let Marsh know that these speeches were not delivered.
Having already made his fortune, Marsh, like many men of means, wanted to contribute to the war effort and had decided to put himself at the disposal of thee government. A dedicated New Dealer, he had come to town with the idea that he could put his big money and big personality to work for the Roosevelt administration, camping out alternately at the Mayflower Hotel and at the house of the construction magnate George Brown, before purchasing a stately four-story town house at 2136 R Street in Dupont Circle. He quickly turned the elegant nineteenth-century mansion into a well-financed Democratic political salon, where various cabinet members, senators, financiers, and important journalists could count on a good meal and stimulating conversation in the news-starved town. Over time prominent New Dealers came to regard Marsh's white sandstone mansion, with its Palladian windows and Parisian-style wrought-iron grillwork, as their private clubhouse and used it as a cross between a think tank and a favorite watering hole. It had the added attraction of a side annex that was entered by a single inconspicuous door, which allowed important guests to come and go unseen. Among those who regularly passed through this discreet portal were Marsh's close friend Vice President Henry A. Wallace, Florida senator Claude Pepper, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, and Secretary of Commerce Jesse Jones, who was one of the wealthiest and most influential of FDR's administrators, as well as most of the major columnists, including Drew Pearson, Walter Winchell, Walter Lippmann, and Ralph Ingersoll, editor of the crusading PM magazine.