A genius at the art of celebrity for its own sake, this original “gold-digger” used show business as a means of leveraging husbands, and her notorious connubial life as a means of leveraging lucrative work in show business. She was born Marguerite Upton, the daughter of an humble barber in Norfolk, Virginia.
At 16, she ran off with a small time vaudeville troupe and wound up in Denver, which is where she bagged the first of her six husbands. The year was 1910. Her new husband, Everett Archibald, Jr. was a well-to-do salesman from a Mormon family. While he was on the road, Peggy would continue to entertain as many gentlemen as she pleased, a development that Mr. Archibald didn’t take kindly to. (“Hey! Who’sthe polygamist around here?”) Bored and chafing at Archibald’s unreasonable demand that she remain faithful to him, she packed her things and bummed around a bit before finding herself in Washington, D.C. Here she developed a relationship with a dressmaker who outfitted her with rich costumes with the understanding that she would show them off at fashionable gatherings. Before long she had trapped her second husband, this time a scion from one of Washington society’s most prominent families. Sherburne Philbrick Hopkins was a bit of a rake himself, but that still didn’t mean he was any match for Peggy. Among her other charming qualities, she was a profligate spender and wouldn’t brook any criticism about it. After a few knock-down drag-out fights, she left her second husband in 1915 and packed up for New York.
By now, of course, she was a well-known society person, accustomed to being seen, admired and written up in gossip columns. She was a known entity and already quite scandalous. In New York she hooked with dressmaker Madame Frances, and developed a preposterous if novel vaudeville act for the Palace. Billed as a “Style Show”, Peggy, who could neither sing, dance, nor act, simply paraded about the stage in stylish fashions, loosely timed to some music. This was enough to bring her ravishing beauty to the attention of Flo Ziegfeld, who booked her for his 1917 Follies. This was the most successful edition of the Follies to date, garnering still more undeserved attention for Peggy. She was booked, too, for Ziegfeld’s next show Miss 1917, which flopped. Along the way she made several silent films, such as The Bride and The Woman and the Law. While touring with the Broadway show A Sleepless Night, she met Chicago millionaire James Stanley Joyce. Within a year or so of their marriage she pissed through a million and a half dollars of his money – jewels, furs, cars. Enraged at her profligacy and her infidelity, Joyce filed for bankruptcy in 1920, resulting in over a year’s worth of tabloid publicity for Peggy.
In 1922, she had an affair with Charlie Chaplin. She proved to be too much of a loose cannon for him, but he used aspects of her life as the inspiration for his 1923 film A Woman of Paris.
In the twenties she also had affairs with MGM producer Irving Thalberg and Walter P. Chrysler. In 1923, she was the star of the very first edition of Earl Carrol’s Vanities. Her first real starring film The Skyrocket (1925) turned out to be one of the hits of the year. In 1924, she married into the Swedish nobility: Count Karl Gustav Morner. The marriage lasted two months.
Her private life was so legendary, Peggy’s name wound up in song lyrics by Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, and three by Cole Porter. In the 1928 show Whoopee, Eddie Cantor sang:
Take Peggy Joyce, with little voice,
She soon became, the nation’s choice.
I tell you, buddy, she’s made a study—
Of makin’ whoopee.
In 1931 she played her last gig at the Palace, a comedy sketch called “Rings on Her Fingers.” In 1933 she topped a bill that included W.C. Fields, Burns and Allen, Rudy Vallee, Baby Rose Marie and a dozen other stars in the Paramount Comedy International House. After this, she drifted out of show business. As her looks began to fade, so did her prospects. Two more husbands came along, but over the years she was forced to gradually sell off the jewels, furs and other valuables that were mostly trophies captured during her third marriage. She died overweight, poor and obscure in 1957, of throat cancer.
To find out more about Peggy Hopkins Joyce and the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever smart, fashionable books are proffered.
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