Here is a look at Don Marquis and the most important people in his life: his family. His first wife, Reina, is at the top-left, in a photo from the first decade of the last century. It was taken in Atlanta, at about the time she met a young up-and-coming writer who bought several of her short stories for a new magazine he was editing, Uncle Remus’s Magazine. Their children, at top-right, were Bobby (above) and Barbara (below). Reina died unexpectedly in 1923, and two years later Don married Marjorie Vonnegut, lower-left, an accomplished Broadway actress. Don helped raise Marjorie’s son from a previous marriage, Walter Vonnegut, lower-right, know to his family as Colonel. Tragically, Don saw everyone but Walter die before his own pitiable death in 1937, at age 59, after a succession of strokes. Bobby died in 1921 at age 5, two years before his mother. Barbara — the adored “babs” to whom Don dedicated “archy and mehitabel” in 1927 — had always been a sickly child; she was 13 when she died in 1931. And Marjorie, who drove herself to exhaustion caring for Don in his final years, died in her sleep in 1936. Walter, however, lived for many decades beyond. He was 90 when he died in 2013. To the end, he fondly recalled his childhood with “Uncle Don.”
Don Marquis’ daughter wrote and edited the mimeographed newspaper, and the clipping from the Times says she had a paid circulation of 140 subscribers, including “many folk prominent in motion-picture and society circles, whose activities are recorded with unerring accuracy in the Sun’s columns.”
Barbara was a sickly child, and Don brought her from New York to Southern California on the advice of doctors, who hoped the warm weather would help her grow strong. Don was working on screenplays for Hollywood studios at the time, and he lived with Barbara and his wife Marjorie in Beverly Hills.
Sadly, the photo in the Times clipping may be the last one taken of Barbara. She developed bronchial pneumonia and died two months later, on Oct. 24, 1931. Her death sent Don into an emotional tailspin from which he never fully recovered. Check out the earlier blog post “A Photo From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1920” for more on that.
Here’s a bittersweet photo from the pages of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, published January 11, 1920, showing proud papa Don Marquis and his two young children. Daughter Barbara, on Don’s knee, is just 16 months old, and Bobby, standing, is 4 years old.
The photo appeared on a feature page of the Eagle that Sunday under the headline “Brooklyn Kiddies Smile at the Camera-Man.” Among other celebrities smiling for the camera that day was former President Theodore Roosevelt, holding his Brooklyn granddaughter Edith Derby.
Don was a famous columnist by 1920, and the Eagle — where he had worked for a year before moving to the New York Evening Sun in 1911 — took pleasure in tracking his career and also his exploits as a Brooklyn resident. (More on that in a few days.)
The bittersweet aspect to this photo comes from events looming in the future. Bobby, always a sickly child, would die barely a year later, on February 15, 1921. Barbara also suffered from a frail constitution and died of pneumonia on October 24, 1931, at the age of 13.
Absent from this photo is Don’s wife and the children’s mother, Reina Marquis. Her story only adds to the impending gloom. On the evening of Dec. 2, 1923, just a few weeks after she and Don and Barbara returned from a three-month trip to Paris and London, Reina became violently ill and died within an hour from myocarditis, an inflammation of heart muscle.
Don, who would live to also see his second wife die, somehow endured these tragedies while wearing the mantle of a funny man. One can only imagine the heartache that lived inside.