Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mary Kay Ash and the Missing Marriages

Mary Kay Ash said, "A woman who will tell her age will tell anything." She never told her age. She also never mentioned other details that might have interfered with her carefully crafted public image as the plucky divorced single mother of three from the wrong side of the tracks who founded a cosmetics company to give women like her a chance. Somewhere, somehow, she managed to lose track of several of her five (or seven) husbands.

Mary Kay Ash had seven husbands? Yes, it appears that Mary Kay Ash had seven of them, not the three that are usually acknowledged in her various biographies.



Fogging up the Details

In Mary Kay Ash's 1980 autobiography, "Mary Kay", her first husband is mentioned in terms of his status as the local rock star, but not by name. Her second, third, fourth and fifth husbands may be mentioned in passing as "my husband", but they are so blurred together that only information from other sources can identify them. The sixth husband dropped dead at their breakfast table but he's never identified by name; he's just another spear carrier in her opera. Her seventh and last husband, Mel Ash, was the public prop for her most successful years as Mary Kay Ash, cosmetics tycoon.

Thanks to my mum, whose genealogy hobby taught me how to make sense of the data, I was able to compare the Mary Kay Ash hagiography with public sources such as census records and city directories.

These sources are like snapshots. They tell you what was happening in a person's life on one day, or lock down the date of an event. You can examine the background for clues about the neighborhood, the income, and the changes in a person's economic status. You can research histories of the area, the industry the person worked in, and other persons living nearby to piece together a more complete picture. These sources are also frustratingly incomplete. Who keeps last year's phone book, let alone one from the 1930s? So I will put out the information I have discovered and let you draw your own conclusions.

Husband Number One: Julius Ben Rogers, Jr. was a locally famous musician in 1930s Houston. Mary Kay Wagner and Ben Rogers married July 20, 1934 in Wharton County Texas   (Certificate # 10353) in 1935, when she was 16. Their daughter Marylyn was born May 17, 1935, just five days after Mary Kay's 17th birthday.

They lived with her parents for several years, beginning before their dusghter's birth. The 1937-38 Houston city directory shows J. Ben Rogers working at a service station, living at the Wagner home at 2111 Kane Street, with a wife named Mary K. In 1940 the census shows him as a collector for a clothing store.

Mary Kay's autobiography states that "during the war years, I had to support and raise our three children alone." However, those war years are stretched for dramatic effect. They were still living on Kane Street in 1942, with Mary Kay's mother. Ben Rogers didn't enter the Army until January 19, 1944.

Mary Kay's books mention several jobs during her first marriage, selling educational books for children, selling pots and pans with Ben by doing demonstration dinner parties, and working as a church secretary.

She began selling cleaning supplies and housewares for Stanley Home Products while she lived in Houston but she is vague about the starting date. The book Mary Kay mentions that "after 10 years of marriage" she was selling Stanley while attending the University of Houston and hiding her wedding ring. The best guess is that she started selling Stanley in 1943 or 1944.

The timing of her divorce from Ben varies from source to source and interview to interview. In her autobiography, Mary Kay says, "when my husband returned [from his military service], he said he wanted a divorce".

Husband Number Two: The first clue to the identity of hubby number two was in "Think Mink", the autobiography of Ash's good friend Mary Carter Crowley. Describing how they met in Dallas in the late 1940s, Crowley refers to Mary Kay Eckman, not Rogers.

So who was Mr. Eckman? The most likely candidate is Clarence Blair Eckman, a businessman 27 years her senior who came to Dallas in 1942. He had been a manager for the Jewel Tea company in Hartford, Connecticut, then district manager for a brush company (probably Fuller Brush) in Chicago, Illinois. He was married, with two sons, in the 1930 census records.

The Dallas city directories for 1942-43 show C. B. Eckman as branch manager for Stanley Home Products with no home address given. The Stanley office was in Highland Park Shopping Village across the street from the Dallas Country Club. The 1944-1945 directory shows him living close to the Dallas Country Club, in what was and still is a posh neighborhood.

The 1947-48 directory shows C. Blair Eckman and his wife Mary Kay living a couple of miles from his earlier residence, not far from the Brook Hollow Country Club. Eckman was still area manager for Stanley Home Products. Clarence Blair Eckman died June 1, 1947. His obituary in the Dallas Morning News mentions his widow Mary Kathlyn, and two adult sons.

The 1950 Dallas directory shows Mary K. Eckman, widow of Clarence B., living in the same house as in 1947. Her occupation was saleswoman.

Husband Number Three: In Think Mink, Mary Carter Crowley writes, "Mary Kay married my brother and moved away from Dallas". In one of the strangest acts of historical revisionism I've seen, although Mary Kay Ash thanks Mary Carter Crowley for introducing her to Mel Ash she never mentions being married to Crowley's brother, Charles Weaver.

Charles Weaver is probably the husband whose new job took Mary Kay to St. Louis, Missouri in 1952 or 1953, triggering her leaving Stanley Home Products.

This marriage lasted about 9 years, according to Crowley. During that time. Mary Kay's two older children left home, leaving her youngest son, Richard. She put him into "military school" because she was traveling so much, according to the son's speech at the 2002 Seminar. He was there at age 16, but I don't know how long he was boarded.

Why the Mary Kay corporation pretends that Charles Weaver never existed is baffling. Mrs. Mary Kay Weaver is mentioned by name in the Dallas Morning News. In one article she is the Director of Training and Education for World Gift and in another she is the founder and CEO of Mary Kay Inc.

Husbands Four and Five: In the 2010 book, "Ask ME about Mary Kay", author Jackie Brown mentions seeing two other last names on documents related to the purchase of the formulas used in the first products made for Mary Kay's cosmetics company. The names were Louis and Miller.

Jackie Brown also reports that Mary Kay Ash admitted to using those names, as well as Rogers, Eckman and Weaver during her testimony for the lawsuit between Mary Kay cosmetics and Beauticontrol, Inc. Where these two men fit in the lineup is still uncertain; they probably come after Rogers but before Hallenbeck.

Husband Number Six: George Arthur Hallenbeck (1914-1963) - Usually identified as husband number two, Hallenbeck dropped dead at the breakfast table in 1963 after a very short marriage, providing a dramatic incident in the founding of Mary Kay's cosmetics company.

George was the son of a securities trader. His father appears in various census records as a banker who specializes in bonds, a "commercial traveler" in bonds or stocks and bonds. At 15, George was working as a salesman in a drugstore.

Husband Number Seven: Melville Jerome Ash (1905 - 1980) is the most publicized of Mary Kathlyn Wagner's husbands. They married January 6, 1966. Oddly, the marriage record names Mary Kay Weaver (not Hallenbeck) as his spouse. Mel Ash died July 7, 1980. His obituary mentions an adult daughter and three grandsons.

Mel Ash was born in New York. The 1910 census records give his father's occupation as an automobile salesman, living in Brooklyn. By 1920 his father was an independent motion picture director, living on 114th Street in Manhattan.

Conclusions: The plucky divorcee, the single mom scrabbling to take care of her three children, was married for most of the time her children were minors. Add it up: eleven years married to Ben Rogers, one or two married to Clarence Eckman, an unknown time married to Louis and Miller, and nine years married to Charles Weaver

Of course, ignoring Louis, Miller, Eckman and Weaver makes for more pathos, makes a better "I-story", rouses the troops and brings in the recruits.

SOURCES: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900.
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1910.
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1920.
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930

Texas Department of State Health Services. Texas Marriage Index, 1966-2002. Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas.

Morrison and Fourmy's Directory Of The City Of Houston, Morrison and Fourmy Directory Co. Houston, Texas (1936, 1937-1938, 1942)

Worley's Greater Dallas City Directory, John F. Worley Directory Company, Dallas, Texas (1942-1943, 1947-1948, 1950)

Dallas Morning News, 1947, Deaths, Funerals. Section: II -9 June 4.
Dallas Morning News, 1959, World Gift's Executive Staff, 1-25, Nov. 19
Dallas Morning News, 1965, Masked Gunmen Tie up and Rob Woman Executive, A1 December 27.

Ash, Mary Kay, Mary Kay. Harper & Row, 1981
Ash, Mary Kay, On People Management. Warner Books, 1985
Ash, Mary Kay, Miracles Happen. 3rd Edition, HarperPerennial, 1994
Ash, Mary Kay, Mary Kay - You Can Have It All. Prima Publishing, 1995
Crowley, Mary, Think Mink. Fleming H. Revell, 1976
Brown, Jackie, Ask ME About Mary Kay. Strategic Book Group, 2010

Census records and city directories are available on-line at ancestry.com with a paid subscription.  Newspaper articles are available on-line at http://www.genealogybank.com with a paid subscription.

2 comments:

tamtam said...

Wow! That is one hell of a PR stunt to pull off. It's not easy to erase several husbands from public view. I don't think the kids would have appreciated that very much.

Great find. Thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

Great work on the real truth! I cannot believe how the Mary Kay company lies so much by saying Mary Kay was a hard-working, financially struggling, single mother, blah, blah. She could have been hard-working and she was certainly business saavy builder her empire, but she was far, far from single and struggling financially.

I love reading history like this that uncovers the truth to the fake stories passed down over time.