Bourne, George Galt
Six Autograph Letters Signed, Chippewa Bay, New York, New York City and New Haven Connecticut, 1911-1912 to Miss Helen D. Whitney, “Hedge Lee”, Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, and 471 Park Avenue, New York

six letters, 44 pages, accompanied by original mailing envelopes, some occasional wear and staining to paper, else in good, legible condition.

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       George Bourne, the son of Frederick G. Bourne, multi-millionaire founder of Singer Sewing machines and “Commodore” of the New York Yacht Club, was a 22 year-old senior at Yale when he first met the beautiful Helen Cole Whitney, 20 year old daughter of Charles Elmore Whitney of Boston, heir to the Hollingsworth & Whitney Paper Company. She lived, for much of the year, at “Hedge Lee,” the Whitney “country place” on Martha’s Vineyard, an enormous Italianate waterfront villa, where the Whitney’s summered with their staff of butlers, coachmen and grooms.


           Bourne’s first letter to Whitney, speaks of her “getting full of health and enjoying the U. S. air”, which suggests she may have just returned from a residence abroad, undoubtedly in Europe. He had just spent a “wonderful” summer on the St. Lawrence River, “doing about everything except fussing. Have given that up” and was “taking life more seriously.” He already hinted of “very romantic” thoughts about her, signed his note with “much love” and hoped to see her again very soon. By the end of 1911, they were secretly engaged.

         The next letters were written from Yale, just before his graduation, while he was preparing “to spring the wonderful news on father” (whom he refers to as “the Commodore.”) He would soon be going down to Tiffany’s “to look over different designs of engagement rings” and was making plans for an eight months honeymoon in Europe. She was his “heroine … the girl I look up to and worship.”

           Discussing the plot of some book she had been reading, he gave his opinion on “a woman who had sinned…” If her husband were “true, honest and absolutely sincere to her … if a woman does something which is shameful, then comes to her husband for forgiveness, with an excuse that she did not know any better … she should have a keeper. No good man could ever respect his wife if she did anything like that for no reason at all and if he lost his respect, he would also lose his love for her. Now on the other hand, if a man was not sincere to his wife and did things which I consider more than low and disgusting, I think she is perfectly justified in paying him back in some way which he would never forget.” Of course, “there will be no actions whatsoever of this sort brought into our married life. I am and always will be sincere and true to you … And naturally expect you to be the same way toward me. There can be no true love in married life if one member deceives the other, and it would just break my heart into a thousand pieces if I found that you were not honest with me, but knowing that you are just makes me the happiest man in the world … I do not tell our secrets to anyone … I tell you everything and I want you to tell me all, and in this way we can always know and understand each other, so that there will be no unhappiness.”

          During the summer of 1912, Bourne went back to his family’s vacation home on the St. Lawrence and spent most of his time playing golf and sailing one of his yachts. His last letter in this group, again from Yale, implies some disagreement between the lovers: “Don’t you ever say that I don’t love you again for it almost kills me to hear you say it. I am going to improve from now on, so that you will think better of me when we come together again … You are the only little girl in this world for me. I meant that with all my heart and soul… You were so adorable and sweet this summer even if I did not appreciate it at the time, but I certainly do now … I only wish the date was set…”

           Bourne apparently graduated at the end of the year, and the wedding was held on New Year’s day 1913 in New York City at an Episcopal Church on Park Avenue. The Times described the event in detail, including the “superb necklace of diamonds” and “bar-shaped corsage ornament of diamonds” worn by the bride, both presents from the groom. The paper noted that on their return from their honeymoon, the couple would live at their home on Park Avenue.

         The following year, Helen would give birth to a daughter, also named Helen – who was to have an auspicious future.

         The marriage lasted another 10 years. A none-too-active partner in a stock brokerage, Bourne served in the Navy during World War I, though in a sinecure as aide to the Superintendent of a Navy Yard. After his father’s death in 1919, he seems to have spent most of his life racing yachts.

        His wife divorced him in 1924. They both remarried, he to the daughter of a Chicago banker who also later divorced him, pleading “extreme cruelty”. More notably, Helen Whitney Bourne married the “immensely wealthy” Harvey Gibson, President of the Manufacturers Trust Company, American Red Cross Commissioner to Europe during both World Wars. They lived happily together until his death in 1950 and were both lauded for many charitable pursuits. At their Oyster Bay estate, they also raised Helen’s daughter by her first marriage – who was to lead a more unconventional life.

         After “coming out”, the younger Helen Whitney Bourne won skiing, golf and tennis tournaments, was named “one of the best dressed women” in America, called the “authentic personification of smart Park Avenue” and the “reigning queen of Palm Springs society.” But then the stunningly beautiful young woman chose, against her parents wishes, to become an actress. After a stint on Broadway, she spent five years appearing in Hollywood movies while living in a “swanky” Bel Air mansion. Then her life took another surprising turn. After a series of affairs (with a Vanderbilt and several actors and directors), at 26, she married 55 year old Stanton Griffis, Chairman of Paramount Pictures and future US Ambassador to Spain, Argentina, Egypt and Poland. The marriage lasted only a year. During the second World War, after serving as a Red Cross nurse in England and nearly becoming engaged to Winthrop Rockefeller,  she married, and divorced, two more times. She died in 1988.