Chapter on Joseph E. Davies
FROM WATERTOWN TO MOSCOW
Joseph Edward Davies, Wisconsin Native Son,
Husband to One of Wealthiest Women in World, Ambassador to Russia,
Has Acquired Art of Spending Money
The Milwaukee Journal, 03 21 1937
On a bleak morning last January, Vladimir Barkoff, chief of protocol in the Russian foreign office, paced impatiently up and down the platform of the Moscow station, awaiting the express from the Polish frontier. When it arrived he pressed forward to greet Joseph Edward Davies, who once was a little boy in Watertown, Wis., but who then carried in his pocket the credentials of an ambassador extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary from the United States of America to the United States of Soviet Republics.
Ambassador Davies had come far, very far indeed, from Watertown to Moscow, and he had come in a temporarily private car. There are, strictly speaking, no private cars in Russia under the Bolshevik regime, but Ambassador Davies got one anyway. He got it simply by buying all compartments, and so he and his party had the thing to themselves. The arrival was certainly an occasion in the life of Ambassador Davies and seemed to call for a statement. Said he:
"It's amazing, really! Russia is one of the most interesting countries in the world." This statement didn't seem precisely startling when it was reported back to America, and it probably didn't sparkle very brightly for the Russians either. But it wasn't all that Davies said. The newly made ambassador also asserted that he would “entertain extensively, but not lavishly.”
That he should so quickly talk of the social side of diplomacy upon his arrival at his new post was indicative of the Davies ambassadorial technique. Ever since 1935, when he was divorced by the wife of his youth, after 33 years of married life, and so shortly afterward married to the fabulous Marjorie Post Close Hutton, whose $50,000,000 fortune came from Battle Creek breakfast food, there has been talk of Davies and diplomacy and dollars.
Washington tea tables buzzed that the bride had long cast covetous eyes at the life of the diplomats and stipulated an ambassadorial post as a part of dowry in the marriage agreement. Before word of Davies' diplomatic ambitions were reported in the press, Mrs. Davies was saluted at Palm Beach at “ambassadress.” Then the gossip was that the Davieses wanted Paris or nothing. But in the end they went to Moscow, although it is still said that they have by no means forgotten France and may yet be accredited there.
Perhaps one reason the Davies name has been linked to France is because of the exceedingly elaborate dinner he gave for Labbulaye, the French ambassador at Washington. This was quite generally interpreted as part of the campaign to get the Paris post. One who so interpreted the dinner was Secretary Hull.
But then came the 1938 presidential campaign and Davies, a lifelong Democrat and once Wisconsin chairman, gave $17,500 to the party war chest. After the 46 to 2 victory he was shortly named to the Moscow post and the ebullient Bill Bullitt transferred from there to the post Davies wanted, Paris. One of Davies' first acts upon being named ambassador was to appoint John Davies Stamm of Milwaukee, a relative, as his personal secretary.
Long before the retinue arrived in Moscow the Muscovites knew that the new American ambassador was a considerable personage. They knew because they saw the yard of the Spiridonovskaya palace, which the United States had so recently purchased as an embassy, piled full of bathtubs and other plumbing essentials.
The palace plumbing had been installed just before the World War and Bullitt, who is also a multi-millionaire and certainly accustomed to plumbing of some sort, hadn't complained. But out it came for the Davieses. Not only the plumbing but all the rich furnishings so recently bought by the government. Everything went into storage and the Davieses sent on mass of material such as Moscow hadn't seen since the old Imperial days. When all the new and ultra luxurious furnishings were installed, the embassy was just about as elaborate as Mrs. Davies’ 72-room penthouse in New York.
But the Davieses not only brought their own furniture, and a lot of it; they brought their own food and a lot of It. If the furniture and new bathtubs left the Russians amazed and gasping, those 20 refrigerators full of fast-frozen cream left them laughing.
The Davies spending, however, hasn't stopped there. Every month there was a huge shipment of table delicacies sent from America to the embassy in Moscow. A courier goes from the embassy staff to Hamburg to meet the ambassadorial food and personally escorts it into the Davies larder.
All these delicacies rushed from New York, have been bountifully spread before Russian officialdom and the diplomatic corps. Moscow hadn’t seen anything like it since the Bolsheviks butchered off the old nobles. The simple men of the soviet and their wives of the moment are brought in and dined and wined as never before. Not strangely, the Bolsheviks like It, and a few of the most powerful of them have done their best to reply in kind.
There are tales of five-hour luncheons with everything from champagne to caviar and the Davieses as honor guests. The Russians, nevertheless, will find it difficult to match the Davies hospitality, either quantitatively or qualitatively. But there are more treats in store for the Russians.
The Davies entourage is shortly to embark for the United States. The party will not stay long in this country, but will recross the Atlantic to England aboard Mrs. Davies’ oil-burning yacht, the Sea Cloud.
This yacht is something special. In the days when Mrs. Davies was the wife of Edward F. Hutton (uncle of "Dime Store Barbara") the yacht was known as the Hussar. It is one of the most luxurious yachts in the world and also one of the largest. Its crew is some 80 men.
Besides its oil burning engines, the craft has four masts and can quickly be converted into a sailing ship, when Mrs. Davies is beset by a mellow or romantic mood. (It Is noteworthy that when the Davieses honeymooned the Sea Cloud moved around West Indies waters under canvas). The Bolsheviks soon are to see this wonder boat close up.
In May the Davies family and retinue will cross to England, where they will witness the coronation ceremonials. For this occasion Mrs. Davies has rented the London home of the second Mrs. Marshall Field. There they will live and entertain during the coronation. The house is a cozy affair, including such features as grounds and a private lake big enough for a sailing canoe. It also has a hothouse that will supply the Davies table with melons and fruits out of season.
When the navies of the world assemble at Spithead for the International review, which is a feature of the coronation, the Sea Cloud will be there and on it Ambassador and Mrs. Davies. It Is almost a certainty to be the largest yacht there.
When the coronation is at last over, and London has been thoroughly done, the Rea Cloud will carry the ambassador and his party back to Russia, to Leningrad, for a cruise along the Baltic coast. The yacht will be tied up at Leningrad for some time while the Davieses party proceeds overland to Moscow, inspecting industrial areas along the way.
So the Davieses are conducting their venture into diplomacy in the same manner in which they were married in Mrs. Davies’ New York penthouse, decorated for the occasion with 500 white chrysanthemums dyed blush pink to match the bride's gown at a cost of $2,000. Guests ate wedding cake that cost $7 a slice.
In the land of the kulak and muzhik they live on the same scale and are respected. The Davies family is as popular as any in the diplomatic corps. Their frank and unashamed capitalism has found favor. They make not the slightest pretense of casting sheep's eyes at communism or admiring the soviet system. They are capitalists, openly and honestly, and by their willingness to meet and mix with Russians and their utter candor about their economies and ways of life has helped them make friends for their country.
K. B. (assumed to be “JB” Joseph Barnes
History of Watertown, Wisconsin