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Peaches and Daddy: A Story of the Roaring…
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Peaches and Daddy: A Story of the Roaring 20s, the Birth of Tabloid Media,…

by Michael Greenburg

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The only thing bigger than Edward West "Daddy" Browning’s wallet was his publicity-seeking ridiculousness. He made his money in Manhattan real estate in the early 1900s as the city was growing by leaps and bounds. By 1915, he was the city’s most eligible bachelor. That year he wed a file clerk named Adele, and they later adopted two daughters by placing advertisements in the newspapers. However, Adele ran off with her dentist to Paris in 1923. The older daughter, Marjorie, was sent to live with Adele’s parents while Dorothy, the younger daughter, stayed with Daddy, and Adele was nowhere to be found. Eventually she turned up, and the ensuing legal battles were widely publicized in both American and French tabloid papers. She claimed that Browning was interested in women much younger than her.

After the divorce, Browning and his daughter became lonely. He placed another ad to adopt a daughter as a playmate for Dorothy. His request was for a girl of about 14 years of age, but when he saw Mary Spas among the other prospects waiting in his office, he was smitten at once. She was older than he hoped at 16, but he had to have her. Almost immediately, reporters began to question the adoption and the girl’s age. Mary’s parents were interrogated and admitted that she was really 21. Browning took Mary to court to annul the adoption. Mind you, like everything else concerning Daddy Browning, all of this was highly reported and publicized in the papers. Indeed, the back and forth accusations between Daddy and Mary received much public attention. In fact, Dorothy’s first adoptive mother, upon learning of the Spas affair, made attempts to remove the girl from Browning’s care.

Daddy Browning met Frances Heenan at a dance in 1926 when she was 15. They began dating, and he nicknamed her Peaches. They were in the papers constantly from the start. Soon Vincent Pisarra of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children caught wind of the relationship and tried to end it by way of the courts. They were married later that year, just after Peaches’ sixteenth birthday, partly in an effort to fend off critics and the law. From the start of their relationship, they were in the limelight constantly. Whether on shopping trips or outings with an African Honking Gander, they were available for photographers.

Peaches began having fits from what she claimed to be distress. She and her mother Carolyn, who was also living with Peaches and Daddy, abandoned the home. Peaches claimed that Daddy desired unnatural acts. Thus began a farcical separation trial that the newspapers couldn’t get enough of. In the end, Peaches did not fare well. The judge was convinced that Peaches’ credibility was questionable at the least. Of course, the aftermath of the trial was widely reported. Peaches later sought a divorce and payment of legal fees while Daddy sought to rehabilitate his image.

There is much more to the story that I fail to mention but all of it includes dramatic happenings and a great reliance on the press. In addition to the Peaches and Daddy story, interspersed throughout are segments describing the history of tabloid journalism. The story of Peaches and Daddy Browning serve as an intimate and explicit illustration of how journalistic ethics were created and why ethics continue to play such a vital role in media. The sensationalism that followed Edward West Browning throughout his life was only a peephole through which we continue to view public figures. Browning’s taste for the limelight was encouragement in the burgeoning field of tabloid journalism, and he knew just what it took to game the media.
  Carlie | Feb 22, 2012 |
OK, this guy was a creep and she was a prize manipulator. ( )
  picardyrose | Oct 3, 2010 |
I really enjoyed this book. “Daddy” Browning was a dirty old millionaire (actually he was a little younger than me when he met Peaches) with a hankering for very young women. Peaches was pathologically mercenary, but even she had a limit. She married him at 16, soaked him for all she could get for a few months, then left him with the intent of suing him for support. She sued him every way she could, but in the end she had to settle for limited support after he died; mostly limited by all her lawsuits (hers and those of Browning’s other girlfriends). All this took place in the Roaring Twenties in the full glare of the brand-new tabloid press which made both of them media darlings. The people are all so slimy and mercenary and self-absorbed it’s fascinating, sort of like an accident on the side of the road. The proofreading was not so hot, though. ( )
  baobab | Jan 16, 2009 |
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Greenburg, an attorney and former editor of the Pepperdine Law Review, recalls a forgotten scandal in an exciting era. In 1926, Edward "Daddy" Browning, a 51-year-old New York City millionaire, fell for a 15-year-old "de facto high school dropout" named Frances Heenan, known as "Peaches." Greenburg offers an entertaining history of a scandal, coupled with a serious look at the infancy of tabloid journalism. 40 b&w photos.… (more)

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