While I was doing some research for the February issue of Flashbacks, I came across some intriguing lines in "Progress", referring to frequent visits to Windsor by young Russian Princes:
"At one time, when Z. Marshall Crane owned only his hunting lodge in Windsor, he brought the MDivani brothers up with him. They were Russian Princes, sons of Russian Czar, and Mr. Z. Marshall Crane had gotten them out of their country during World War I. There was Serge, the dark-haired one, and David, the red haired boy and their brother, Alexis. I don't seem to remember Alexis, but I remember the other two very well, as they came to our house many times...these boys all married movie stars and socialites...Prince Serge MDivani was married to Louise Astor Van Alen at the time he was thrown from his horse while playing polo and was killed; Alexis was killed in Spain in an auto accident, and I can't remember what happened to David."
With its homely air of truthful reminiscence surrounded by a bouquet of red flags -- such as the historical non-existence of any Czar M'Divani -- this called for further research. Ten minutes with Google and I had a few answers.
The MDivani brothers were in fact notorious fortune hunters. But they were not Russian, and while they were happy to be referred to as princes, this was a stretch. They were the children of a Georgian General, Zakhari MDivani. Z. Marshall Crane was a frequent visitor at the MDivani's mansion on the Black Sea between 1917 and 1920. The family fled to Paris after the Soviet invasion of Georgia in 1921.
Z. Marshall Crane did bring at least two of the five MDivani children to the U.S. He sent sons Serge and David to Phillips Academy in Andover. Serge, is listed as a 1924 graduate of Phillips Academy in Andover (referred to on the school website as "Prince" Serge Mdivani).
It was probably about this time that the brothers were visiting Windsor and making such an impression. They must have seemed romantic and sophisticated young men from a vanished world. Who knows what kind of impression Windsor made on them?
The boys returned to Paris after a few years, and then came back to the states once again, winding up, inevitably, in Hollywood. While they may have had claim to the title of "Count" in Georgia, a translation error in their social favor turned them into instant princes, and they did not object. They went on to become famous as "The Marrying MDivanis" -- for good reason. Eldest brother Serge (1903-1936) married actress Pola Negri in 1927. When she lost her fortune in the 1929 stock market crash, he abandoned her in favor of opera singer Mary McCormic, who divorced him. In 1936, he married the former Louise Astor Van Alen (yes, those Astors), who had previously been married to the middle brother, Alexis. Serge died that year after a polo accident.
Alexis (1905-1935) had married Louise in 1931. He divorced her to marry Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, one of the world's richest women. He died in a crash in Spain, while driving a Rolls Royce at high speeds. He was rushing to take a beautiful Baronness, the 23-year-old Maud Thyssen, to catch a train to Paris. The Baronness was seriously injured but recovered, and attributed her survival to a relic -- a dried sardine guaranteed to prevent its holder from violent death -- she claimed had once belonged to Rasputin.
David (1907-1984) married actress Mae Murray. They had a son together. He spent all her money, she divorced him in 1933, and the ensuing custody battle left her completely destitute. He married Sinclair Oil heiress Virginia Sinclair in 1944.
So, there it is...more truth than fiction in this fragmentary memory from Windsor's past. -- Susan Phillips