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Courtships of Dolly O'Brien

Source: The American Weekly, December 22, 1946.
Author: Joan King Flynn

Contributed by L. Marshall Heminway III, grandson of Dolly O'Brien. Many thanks!

When the gorgeous grandmother, the blond, beautiful millionaires, Dolly O'Brien, said "I do" to her fourth husband, Jose Dorelis, Bulgarian perfume-maker, the real life romantic drama had a surprise ending that never would have been permitted to happen in Hollywood.

Clark Gable didn't get the girl!

He had her up until the last reel when he was supplanted by a supporting player.  "The End" came May 11, 1946, with a marriage ceremony in a palatial Palm Beach villa.  The screen's greatest lover wasn't even in the picture.

The million dollar team of Dolly and Clark was heralded in the public press since 1944 as one of the most star-bright romances of the decade.  But the twosome became a triangle last winter when those in the known started betting on a dark horse named Dorelis to finish up in the winner's circle.  Laura Linola Hylan Heminway Fleischmann O'Brien Dorelis, nicknamed "Dolly," has always known what she wanted.  She never had to get it by treading on other people's toes.  It just came to her, and if it didn't, she went after it, delighting whoever she met with her charm, wit, honesty and her perennial youth and beauty.  She has more than the lion's share of happiness and the world's goods, but nobody begrudges it to her.  She spreads it amongst her family, her friends, and the less-fortunate whom she quietly aided.

"People overestimate me," she had remarked to her mother.  Mrs. Louise E. Leach.  Mrs. Leach believes her daughter's tremendous capacity for affection, her great devotion to her family and her wonderful disposition furnish the clue to her happiness and youth.

Dolly doesn't have to diet.  An almost daily 18 holes of golf keeps her five foot seven figure at 112 pounds.  Her naturally curly blond hair is without a trace of gray.  Her skin is free from wrinkles although she never indulges in facials.

Like her mother and grandmother before her, Dolly married at 15.  An only child of John and Louis Hylan, she was born in New York at the turn of the century.  Her parents divorced when she was seven.  She and her mother then made their home with the maternal grandmother who was wealthy.  Dolly has always had all the money she needs.

Her first husband, Louis Marshall Heminway of a rich Connecticut spool family, died when their two sons, Marshall and John Hylan Heminway, were a few years old.  After World War I, multimillionaire Julius Fleischmann met the young widow and pleaded with her to marry him, even knowing she didn't love him.  So Dolly became Mrs. Fleischmann and lived on a lavish Long Island estate.  J. Jay O'Brien, a dashing, penniless polo player and former dancer, was a frequent visitor at the house.  He and Dolly fell madly in love.  With her characteristic honesty, she hold Fleischmann and asked for a divorce.  As her happiness meant everything to him, he consented and settled several million dollars on her and made generous provision for her sons.  He died a few months after Dolly married O'Brien in October, 1924.  She had forfeited the bulk of a $50,000,000 estate to marry a poor man for love.

After traveling in Europe, in 1936, the O'Briens settled in Palm Beach where they bought the luxurious Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr., Villa del Sarmiento.  Their fortunes and love prospered.  O'Brien proved as capable in business as he was in athletics.  He acquired controlling interest in a local radio station and developed the North Palm Beach subdivision, now famous as the Garden of Eden.  They became the leading figures in society.

When O'Brien died of a heart attack April 5, 1940, his widow was heartbroken.  She occupied herself with her family and business.  She went out very little until 1944 when the two tall, dark and handsome men, Gable and Dorelis, appeared on the scene.

The first inkling as to why she would never marry Gable came as a result of an incident when he was her house guest in December, 1944.  One day, the stunning couple went shopping on exclusive Worth Avenue.  They were instantly mobbed by autograph hounds.  That happened every place they went.  Dolly began to realize that the role of a movie actor's wife would not be suited to a woman who genuinely preferred a quiet life devoted to her family. 

For the next two years, Gable and Dolly busily denied they intended to wed and kept repeating "just friends."  This happened in New York, California, and Florida, wherever they intermittently visited each other.   The actor's name was occasionally linked with other famous beauties, but everyone said it was the elusive Dolly he really liked.

In the meantime, Dorelis and Dolly were also friends.  The Bulgarian count, who discarded the title because he thought too many phonies put false claim to it had come to this country when the Nazi yoke tightened on Europe.  He went into the perfume business in Palm Beach.  Dolly at one time was accused of railroading him into membership in the swank Everglades Golf Club where they played golf.  The two cosmopolites had any mutual interests.  When alone, they spoke in French.

Suave and imperturbable, the monocle Dorelis was well liked by Dolly's friends and family.  No one suspected he would usurp Gable's throne leading man in the beautiful widow's affections until February of this year when a one week's visit as Dolly's house guest was extended to several months.  Then the rumors started to fly.  Gable was still plying Dolly with long distance calls.

By May, spectators at this intriguing triangle had reached an impasse as to which man would win.  When Dolly made the sudden announcement of her immediate plans to wed Dorelis, it even caught her mother off guard.  Mrs. Leach had just returned to New York from Florida when her daughter telephoned to say she was marrying Dorelis May 11.

Mrs. Leach is convinced of two things:  that Dolly never would have chosen Dorelis unless she thought he was the right man for her, and that Dolly never could be happy as a movie actor's wife, no matter how grand a person he was.

With her customary ability to get things done, Dolly arranged the wedding in short order.  It was performed at the Palm Beach home of Herbert Pulitzer of the publishing clan.  Marshall Heminway gave her mother away.  Mrs. William S. Paley was matron of honor.  General Vladimir Stoychess, Bulgarian emissary to the United States, represented the groom.

Wedding guests agreed that the charming Jose was sufficient unto himself to maintain the affections and happiness of the fabulous Dolly.

Gable, as becomes a gentleman, made no comment.  He suspected long ago how the story would end.

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