Friday, February 25, 2011

Frank Gardiner Wisner~It's All About Whom You Know

An authorized biography of Frank Wisner?

The flyleaf of Burton Hersh's The Old Boys boasts that the book is "the never-before-told story of how an elite East Coast Ivy League Wall Street clique, patriotic but arrogant, and often amateurish, dominated the OSS and later the CIA," labeling it a "history of how a secret government alien to our constitutional system grew into the CIA, which ultimately fostered the extralegal scandals of the Iran-Contra affair."

Leafing through the photo section of the hardbound book, first published in 1992, one gets a sense that the book was in large part an authorized biography of Frank Gardiner Wisner, whose family opened up their scrapbooks to Hersh and allowed him to publish nine photos from the family album, while the other ten photos of all other men from the book are taken from more official institutional collections. It leaves one wondering, "What did they want left out about this official history of how covert operations work?

As mentioned in Part 1, Wisner's life began a new direction as a result of friends he met in Virginia. Hersh casts him as somewhat of a rebel, likening his image to a young Marlon Brando. "Young Frank grew up in awe of the flinty paternal standards yet uncomfortable with the churchiness that stiffened family exchanges," he writes. He tells of the father, "Frank George," serving "a stint on the War Industries Board in 1918," as well as being president of a lobby known as the National Lumber Manufacturers Association with headquarters in Washington, D.C. He says Frank George was "displeased" with the son's "slapdash grades" and wild ways and "agreed to ship him off to Woodberry Forrest [sic] School in Orange, Virginia," which "catered unabashedly to hard cases from comfortable Southern families, its masters well practiced at shaking the rakehell out before the boys tried higher education....Nevertheless, it took family pull to get him enrolled at the university of Virginia, class of 1931."

We do not know at exactly what point Wisner met the young Franklin Lord, Jr., a born and bred New Yorker from Long Island, touted by the Gardiner branch of Wisner's clan as their own true heritage. But the two men did meet, travel together to Cuba immediately after law school graduation. But for some reason Lord's role in Wisner's future was omitted from this authorized tale of how this "unsophisticated" Southern lad would be appointed to such an important role on behalf of the "secret government".

The best way to find out is to learn more about the society into which Wisner was being cultivated.

Louise Burton Blagden and Franklin Butler Lord

Although Hersh does not name which of Wisner's classmates enveigled a job for his friend, it is quite simple to discover from public documents, as we showed in Part 1. At the time Frank went to Cuba instead of looking for work in New Orleans, as Hersh told us he had done, Franklin Lord had already been married for two years to a young socialite named Louise Burton Blagden, whose old-money family was accustomed to having its name in the news, at least in New York.

Grace Church, 820 Broadway, New York City
Louise had chosen Grace Church at 802 Broadway in Manhattan as the setting for her wedding to Franklin Lord. The Episcopal church had first opened in 1846, and its most famous rector was Dr. Henry Codman Potter, later named as Bishop of the diocese, as his uncle, Dr. Horatio Potter, had been. The Potters were an institution in American Anglicanism, as well as in pro-British sympathies of every description. More about the Potter family as the story continues.

Louise's grandmother~Julia Goodman Clark Blagden~would have approved her choice for the service, having spent years at Grace Church, operating a school teaching young matrons how to perform benevolent works for the community. She had married Samuel Phillips Blagden, a man from a notable Massachusetts family, who moved to New York to establish a lucrative insurance business in the financial district.

Louise's grandfather was U.S. manager of the North British and Mercantile Insurance Co., a marine insurer based in Edinburgh, and also had his own fire insurance firm which employed one or more of their five sons. His own father had been Rev. George W. Blagden, a member of Grace Church, who had married Miriam Phillips, sister of abolitionist Wendell Phillips. Samuel had belonged to some of the most prestigious clubs in New York, including the  Seawhanhaka-Corinthian Yacht Club.

Before her marriage to Franklin, Louise and her sister Nancy lived with their parents  in the Upper East Side of Manhattan in Lenox Hill, next door to cousins Cornelia and Lydia Blagden, her bridesmaids. Samuel Blagden's insurance business had been so lucrative that his sons could afford mansions in what was then the most elite neighborhood in Manhattan. F. Meredith Blagden worked with Samuel in the insurance business, while Louise's father, Wendell P. Blagden, was a stock broker. Very little remains today of that "impressive stretch of mansions that become known at the start of the 20th Century as 'Millionaire's Row.' The boom, which began in the 1890s and lasted through the 1920s, not only filled the lots on Fifth Avenue with sumptuous and sometimes palatial residences but also led less fortunate rich people to build impressive townhouses on the side streets as far west generally as Lexington Avenue."

The Blagden mansions were on East 70th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues, where James Lenox's library had once been. Many of the surrounding residences were owned by wealthy Democrats, such as William Collins Whitney or Thomas Lamont. They were Grover Cleveland and August Belmont Democrats.

But others who were equally wealthy were staunch Republicans, such as Stephen C. Clark at 46 East 70th, whose garage, and that of John D. Rockefeller, faced the Blagden homes from across the street (formerly the stable of Jules Semon Bache).

On almost the same block with the four Blagden girls was Caro Quartley Brown, daughter of Stephen Howland Brown, another stock broker like Wendell. Just before Louise's parents married, Louise Burton had gone to a masked ball at the Brown mansion at No. 154, given as a debutante party for Caro.

Stephen Brown's father, Vernon, and his law firm were the general agents for the Cunard Steamship line, whose attorney for litigation purposes was Lord, Day & Lord~Franklin's family's firm. New York was such a small world in those days.

When Wendell Blagden and Louise's mother (also named Louise Burton) were married at Trinity Church in Hewlett in 1911, they had their wedding reception at the Burton family country home in Cedarhurst on Long Island. Robert L. Burton, had actually developed Woodsburgh, adjoining Garden City, with new homes, post offices, clubs, and elegant shops, in a suburban atmosphere to attract affluent businessmen and professionals. The town of Lawrence was created shortly thereafter, and became the home of Franklin B. Lord, Sr.'s father, Daniel D. Lord. All were members of the Rockaway Hunt Club.

Franklin Butler Lord, Jr. invited Lewis Cass Ledyard III to be an usher at his wedding in 1932. Like Franklin, Cass was accustomed to everyone in his family being given the same name generation after generation. It was almost the equivalent of having titles of nobility. Ledyard's law partners, Carter and Milburn, however, did not have suitable names to adapt to the tradition, but Frank G. Milburn was at least attempting to start one when he named his son Devereux. Devereux Milburn had been a close friend of Louise's father and brothers a generation earlier.

It would have been a simple matter for either Franklin or Louise to ask the groomsman's father, Lewis Cass Ledyard, Jr., a name partner of the firm--who was also a close neighbor of Franklin's older brother, George De Forest Lord on Long Island--to talk to Frank Wisner about a job after after his admission to the New York Bar in 1935.

What, if anything, does that relationship reveal to us about Frank Wisner at the time he went to work for the OSS?

Wendell Blagden's mother was a member of the Clark family~one of the founders of Clark, Dodge & Co. at 51 Wall Street, operated by three of her brothers, along with George Blagden.

The Corporation of Harvard University, circa 1945. 
Front, left to right: Dr. Roger I. Lee, Grenville Clark, President James B. Conant. 
Rear, left to right: Paul Cabot, Charles A. Coolidge, William L. Marbury, 
Henry L. Shattuck.
Louis Crawford Clark married  Marian de Forest Cannon in 1880 and had a son named Grenville Clark. Grenville completed Harvard Law School in 1906 with Franklin Roosevelt and both joined the same law firm--Carter, Ledyard and Milburn. FDR had only stayed there one year, however, finding a career in politics much more attractive. Uncle Grenville also moved on, but by 1931 had been named to the Board of Harvard Overseers. He was also an insider in the campaign of his old friend Franklin Roosevelt.

Once FDR was elected in 1932, Franklin Lord's family surely hoped the connection would give them a path to the President's ear.

 When it was said that FDR "betrayed his class," were these the men who felt betrayed?

No comments: