Bettina Girard, ‘Whose Marriages and Divorces Were Once the sensations of Two Continents’

January 26, 2013

Bettina Girard (1868?-1905), American actress and singer
(photo: Baker’s Art Gallery, Columbus, Ohio, circa 1890)

‘Whose Marriages and Divorces Were Once the sensations of Two Continents – Romantic Record of Wrong Doing.
‘In one of the old and aristocratic houses of Denver a woman, who was once the talk of two continents, is quietly spending the summer. Her present name is Mrs. Francis Witter, though she is best known to the American people as Bettina Girard. Hers has been an eventful career.
‘She is the daughter of the late Gen. Ordway, who died in New York in 1897, as the result of a broken heart as much as anything else. Gen. Ordway was commander of the militia of the District of Columbia. He was wealthy, a club man and a social favorite. Bettina, or, as she was christened, Elizabeth, was so beautiful that when she was sent to the convent at Georgetown the nuns predicted a brilliant future made up of joy and love and well-doing. She finished her eduction at a private finishing school, where the society women of Washington were educated. She played and danced, and excelled in outdoor sports. In addition to this, she was a splendid linguist. Her entrance into society was a brilliant occasion. She was the brightest when a contest of wit was on. She was the life of a dinner. She was the one woman looked at in a ball-room. The summer following her debut, with Gen. and Mrs. Ordway, she went to White Sulphur, Virginia’s famous summer resort. At a dinner remarkable for the number of diplomats present, a young attache of the French legation, who had fallen deeply in love with her, clapped his hands when a toast was proposed to her. He had taken her to dinner.<br? ‘The Slipper Incident.
”’You will not listen to me,” he said: ”I am young, unknown. The men who pay you court are distinguished, famous. Mon Dieu, if fame would only come to me!”
”’Bien,” Betinna answered, ”M’sieu I shall make you famous.”
‘She sprang to the seat of her chair.
”’Listen,” she cried. ”This gentleman will drink my health, and the health to fame.”
‘Amid perfect silence she slipped off her satin slipper, filled it with sparking champagne and handed it to the young Frenchman. Although he blushed crimson in his embarrassment, he drank it off. Benttina snatched the slipper from him and drained another health.
‘It was talked of all over the country. Gen. Ordway and his wife, scrandalized, hastily left White Sulphur, taking their daughter with them.
‘Shortly after this she met Arthur Padelford, the only son and heir of one of Boston’s wealthiest men. She married him. The wedding, which took place at St. John’s church in Washington, as attended by all of the best social set.
”’A good thing,” said her friends: ”the girl will now settle down.”
‘The honeymoon was spent in Europe. They wandered happily down the Rhine, across the Alps, went into Italy and the wild spirit of the maiden seemed to have become tamed in the bride. At Vienna a child was born to them. It was over this child that they had their first quarrel. Padelford left her in Vienna, returning to this country. Many rumors followed him. As if to bring disgrace upon the name of Padelford, she decided to go upon the comic opera stage. In her debut she shared the honors with Henry Dixey. She was only 21.
‘Marriage and Dirvorce.
‘Divorced, she married a man named Girard. She dropped the name of Padelford on her advertising matter upon the payment of $50,000 in cash from her former husband. An then, in quick succession, came marriage and divorce, marriage and divorce. Separating from Girard, she Jack Rolface [sic, actually Jack Raffael], a tenor who had been stabbed nearly to death a few months before by Robert Monroe. Then she became the wife of John Harrison Wolff, an actor. Then came William Beach, another actor. A divorce suit was brought by Mrs. Philip Schuyler in which she figures as co-respondent. When it was ended Beach was divorced and Bettina added Schuyler to her already long list of names. Her father, G. Ordway, offered her an annuity of $1,000 for life to leave the country. She went to London with Schuyler, and collapsed physically when she made her debut.
‘The Last Chapter
‘She returned to America and went into a private sanitarium, dissipation having so weakened her. It was in November of 1897 that Gen. Ordway, Mrs. Ordway and Miss Padelford, Bettina Girard’s daughter, returned from Europe to New York. They found Bettina lying deserted by her friends in Bellevue Hospital. The old general shook his head when a reconciliation was mentioned; but Mrs. Ordway, the mother, pleased with him sobbingly. November 21 Gen. Ordway died at the Hoffman House. Before he passed away, and due to the pleading of his wife, he permitted an interview with Bettina, and was making plans for a return to Washington with her and a reunion of the family when he died.
‘Bettina finally recovered her health and recently in Chicago she married Francis Witter, a youth just entering upon a promising theatrical career.’
(Terril Tribune, Terril, Iowa, Friday, 6 September 1901, p. 3d/e)

The question as to who first drank champagne from a lady’s slipper is addressed here, although the correspondent neglects to mention the English actress Ruby Miller who, as a young member of London’s Gaiety Theatre chorus around 1903, claimed to have been toasted from her slipper by a Russian Grand Duke at a private party. She subsequently wrote an autobiography, Champagne From My Slipper, published by Herbert Jenkins in London in 1962.


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