Whitney Warren Jr. was born in Manhattan on March 3, 1898. His father, Whitney Warren Sr., was an architect who designed Grand Central Terminus, and the library in Leuven, Belgium. His mother was Charlotte Tooker Warren, after whom their elder daughter was named. The Warrens were part of New York City’s old elite, the Social Four Hundred. They lived at 230 Park Avenue, and their son was taught in the finest schools. His portrait was painted by artist Robert Reid in 1915.
Curtailing his education to enlist in the military, Whitney Warren Jr. served six months with the Ambulance Corps before fighting with the French forces, and was decorated with the Crois de Guerre and Médaille Militaire upon his return. He belonged to several exclusive gentlemen’s clubs, including the Knickerbocker and Racquet & Tennis.
In 1921, Warren became engaged to Miss Geraldine Miller Graham, extolled by the Prince of Wales as “the loveliest girl in America.” On paper, this was a match made in heaven. However, Geraldine was first generation nouveau riche, her father having made his money from property in Kentucky. Eager to raise her family’s social standing, Mrs. Graham was prone to lavish displays of wealth. The engagement was called off several months later “by mutual agreement.” The threat of losing financial support, and exclusion from the Warren inheritance, probably hastened Junior’s decision.
Two years later, Warren became smitten with Broadway actress Jeanne Eagels. Handsome and athletic, Warren fulfilled Jeanne’s own requirements for her “non-Valentino Valentine.” The lovers met when Warren took an office job with producer Sam H. Harris, after travelling as an actor with a stock company out West.
Even veteran gossips were caught off-guard on November 2, 1923, when newspapers reported that Eagels was engaged. During an intimate dinner party held at Jeanne’s townhouse, her mother, Julia, let the cat out of the bag that Jeanne was going to marry Whitney Warren Jr. The couple had planned to make the announcement the following week.
At thirty-three, Jeanne was eight years older than her new beau, and her current role as Sadie Thompson, a “professional vamp” in the scandalous Rain, was unlikely to impress her potential in-laws. Regardless of how chastely a young lady of the stage conducted her private affairs, her respectability and virtue would always be in doubt. She would not be welcomed into this family.
Their response was swift, with Whitney Warren, Sr.’s office issuing a fierce rebuttal. Although Jeanne refused to discuss the matter, a reporter who obtained her telephone number recounted the maid “laughing heartily.” After his absence from Park Avenue was noted, Whitney Warren, Jr. was tracked down in Philadelphia. “I know nothing at all about it,” he insisted. “The first intimation I had that such a report was being spread was when a newspaperman called at my office.”
Hoping that greater distance would quash the romance, Whitney Warren, Sr. booked his son on a solo passage to Italy, sailing on November 20. However, newspaper reports indicate that the reservation was cancelled by the passenger himself in a handwritten note on Sam Harris’ office stationary, delivered to the ship’s purser. Nonetheless, Whitney Warren Jr. was among the 1,100 passengers aboard the Duille, leaving on January 8, 1924, for a 35,000-mile excursion.
Jeanne’s first biographer suggested an overlap between her brief engagement to Whitney Warren, Jr. and her romance with Ted Coy, whom she would marry in 1925. “Whitney Warren stood in the wings watching Jeanne, and Ted Coy stood in the wings on the other side of the stage, watching Jeanne and Warren,” Eddie Doherty wrote. “Frequently people backstage worried, fearing that Coy and Warren would get into a fight …”
On August 10, 1928, the Oakland Tribune reported that Jeanne, newly divorced, was rekindling a past romance. She had travelled from Seattle to San Francisco aboard the H.F. Alexander, and was met at the dock by Whitney Warren Jr., now studying agriculture at the University of California and living in a small apartment in the Marina district. “They glimpsed each other, shouted first names, and rushed into an embrace,” the Oakland Tribune gushed. “Thereafter was an uncensored kiss that staggered even the customs inspectors, who see something in everything.” The reunion ended with him “taking the attractive little star away with him in his car.”
On November 23, Warren was involved in a serious car accident in California. Jeanne was advised about the condition of her former fiancé, now hospitalized with a skull fracture. “Of course I’m terribly sorry to hear it,” she told the Brooklyn Standard Union. “Who wouldn’t be? I have a telegram however which says he will undoubtedly recover.” However, any romantic feelings she felt for Warren were now seemingly in the past. Two weeks after the accident, columnist Walter Winchell declared, “Whitney Warren Junior isn’t Jeanne Eagels ‘heart’- it’s Gilbert Outhwaite of the social register.”
Warren would spend the rest of his life on the West Coast, hosting lavish parties for the rich and famous, and was often described as “the most civilised man in San Francisco.” Rather less charitably, the waspish society photographer Cecil Beaton wrote of Warren, “He knows his mind even if it is a small one.”
“While in his adopted ‘City by the Bay’ he (Warren) worked, on weekends, for the Fine Arts Museum and the San Francisco Opera Association, which he loved, serving on the Board of Directors,” Robert Bruce noted in an article for the Find a Grave website. “He entertained, dazzlingly, in his elegant home at the top of Telegraph Hill; furnished with the sophisticated taste and European flair he inherited from his father. During the week, he would go out to his ranch near Sacramento, where he lived in a little Basque-style house, and on which he produced the finest peaches and almonds to be had anywhere.”
A lifelong bachelor – historian Michael Henry Adams described him as ‘discreetly gay’ – Whitney Warren Jr. died in San Francisco on January 11, 1986, aged eighty-seven. He is buried in Newport, Rhode Island.