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After some delay, teenagers William B. Leeds Jr. and Princess Xenia were married. Whatever plans they had for their life together also were delayed, apparently, by the illness of Leeds' mother, Princess Anastasia. The weddings (there were three of them) were held not in Athens, but in Paris, where Anastasia had a second operation for the cancer that would take her life in 1923.

Except for a brief separation in late 1922 when Princess Anastasia and her husband, Prince Christopher, went to the United States, and Leeds and his wife had to remain awhile in Paris, these four pretty much lived together until Anastasia's death.

William B. Leeds Jr. and Princess Xenia were an active couple who were part of the social scene wherever they were, but just as often they went in different directions and spent much of their married life in different time zones. Through it all they were able to maintain a high degree of privacy. One senses they were friends, not lovers, and by 1929 their marriage had become mutually inconvenient.

Theirs seems a strange relationship, even among the super rich. What finally may have sunk the marriage was the belated interest Princess Xenia took in the woman who in the early 1920s claimed to be Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia's royal family, the Romanovs. Xenia and the real Anastasia were cousins. It was in 1928 that Xenia became aware of the woman, so she and her husband invited Anna Tschaikovsky (later Anna Anderson) to stay at their estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Princess Xenia was one of the few Russians – of those who had ever met Anastasia before the Bolshevik Revolution– who believed Anna Tschaikovsky was the real deal.

Real deal or not (it's 99.99 per cent certain the woman was an impostor), William Leeds found her presence increasingly annoying, finally ordering her to leave. Anna Tschaikovsky might really have been a Polish peasant, but she had a royal temper. All the drama finally got to Leeds. But even after the would-be Anastasia departed from Oyster Bay, the drama continued, and it probably was no coincidence that the long anticipated divorce of Leeds and Princess Xenia finally happened shortly thereafter.

What follows is a superficial look at Leeds and Xenia, based largely on information gathered from newspaper clippings I found on line.

IN 1922 IT WAS reported that Xenia was pregnant. There was no story about the outcome, though she must have had a miscarriage, perhaps even before the misleading December story (below) that hinted a birth was imminent. Her condition kept her and Leeds in Paris when Princess Anastasia of Greece (Leeds' mother) and her husband, Prince Christopher, sailed for New York in December for what was supposed to be a triumphant return to her homeland for the American princess, who still owned a Newport, R.I., estate (Rough Point), but would be a guest of Mrs. Alva Belmont at Marble House.

 
Watertown Daily Times, December 12, 1922
Stork to Halt Trip of Mrs. W. B. Leeds

PARIS – It became known here today that Mr. and Mrs. William B. Leeds will not accompany Prince and Princess Christopher to America owing to the delicate condition of Mrs. Leeds.
 
A month later Princess Xenia, no longer pregnant and feeling fit enough to travel, went with her husband to America.
 

North Tonawanda Evening News, January 19, 1923
William B. Leeds and his bride, the Princess Xenia, arrived at New York on the Cunarder Berengaria. They will join Mr. Leeds’ stepfather and mother, the Prince Christopher and Princess Anastasia, and the four are expected to remain in New York until the arrival here of Prince Andrew — recently banished for life as the result of his actions during the Greek-Turk War.

 

NOTE: Prince Andrew's father was King George I of Greece, who was assassinated in 1913; Andrew's brother, Constantine, became king, but was forced to abdicate in 1917. Andrew was banished from Greece twice, the second time for life because he was viewed as an inept military officer whose defeats proved costly for Greece.

 
Princess Anastasia and Prince Christopher returned to England in the spring, as did William Leeds and Princess Xenia, though the manner in which the young couple did it was an indication of a very unusual marriage. It also was an indication of something that would become increasingly apparent over the next few years – the real love of William Leeds' life was the open sea, though he often flirted with the open skies.
 

Watertown Daily Times, April 28, 1923
NEW YORK – Mrs. Henderson Green of Montclair, N.J., today confirmed the fact her nephew, William B. Leeds, son of the late “Tin-Plate King” and husband of Princess Xenia of Greece, had sailed from Hoboken last Sunday on the freighter Merango as “W. H. Graller, able seaman.”

Mrs. Green denied a rumor that Leeds had bet $10,000 he could work his way across the ocean, but admitted that he had been turned down by the North German Lloyd when he had first launched his attempt to learn something of the sea at first hand.

According to his aunt, Leeds sent his wife and valet on a passenger boat and will join them at Hull, England.

 

On August 29, 1923 Princess Anastasia died in London. Her body was taken to New York City and buried there. Afterward, Prince Christopher announced that he, his stepson and Princess Xenia would return to Europe and live there permanently. For William B. Leeds and his bride, however, "permanently" meant "only until December." That's when Leeds announced he and his wife were abandoning Europe for America. His stepfather, Prince Christopher, remain in Europe.

A few months later, American residents Leeds and Princess Xenia had a scary water adventure.

 
Buffalo Sunday Express, March 30, 1924
BRUNSWICK, Ga., (AP) – William B. Leeds Jr., son of the tin-plate millionaire; his wife, formerly Princess Xenia of Greece; former Ambassador George Harvey and his daughter, Mrs. H. M. Thompson, had a narrow escape from drowning here today when the launch in which they were traveling, sank as it was making its way across the sound to Brunswick from Saint Simons Island.
 
Over the next several years Princess Xenia and especially her husband would have other frightening boat-related adventures. Leeds took them all in stride. A month later he was back at sea, doing something most people might regard as foolhardy.
 
Auburn Citizen, April 30, 1924
SOUTHAMPTON, England – William B. Leeds arrived here today to board the fishing smack Salem in which, as he recently announced, he intends to cross the Atlantic. He was met by Captain Southcott, skipper of the smack, with whom he left for the Isle of Wight where the tiny craft is berthed. The boat, which is only 60 feet long, has a 60 horsepower auxiliary motor.
 

That summer the couple did what many rich folks did in those days – they headed for the Adirondacks. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (August 24, 1924) reported "The Princess Xenia of Russia and her husband, William B. Leeds, are among those taking an active part in social events marking the height of the season at Saranac Inn on the Upper Saranac Lake."

Years later, in Leeds' obituary, the Watertown (NY) Daily Times (January 4, 1972) would recall this frightening 1924 boating accident:

 
"Mr. Leeds and his first wife, Princess Xenia, maintained a summer home at St. Regis Lake in the 1920s. He saved Princess Xenia from their speedboat, 'Wildcat.' which became surrounded by flames Sept. 4, 1924, in lower St. Regis Lake. When a bystander threw a match into oil-coated water, flames enveloped the Wildcat in which Mrs. Leeds was sitting. Mr. Leeds jumped into the boat, seized a coat and beat off the flames."
 

Leeds would become so well-known for his boat-related narrow escapes that some folks considered him a jinx, at least on the water.

He and Princess Xenia also demonstrated they could be impulsively generous to folks they barely knew – like New York City traffic patrolman John T. McIntyre.

 
Albany Evening Journal, September 17, 1924
NEW YORK – William B. Leeds and his wife, the Princess Xenia of Russia, have been so impressed by the courtesy and efficiency of John T. McIntyre, a traffic patrolman, who for years has been stationed at the gate of the Cunard line, that they have decided to pay the expenses of a six weeks’ tour of Europe for him and his wife. He sailed today.
 
That summer Princess Xenia became pregnant again. She was five months along when her husband went traveling again, this time to do one of those "guy things":
 
New York Evening Post, October 30, 1924
Mr. William B. Leeds is on his way to Kipawa, Ontario, accompanied by a party of American friends, including Paul Smith, Nils Florman and Albert Hopkins. He is on a hunting trip and hopes to secure a record moose head.
 

On February 24, 1925, the couple had their only child, a daughter named Nancy Helen Marie Leeds. Soon rumors began circulating that the marriage of William B. Leeds and Princess Xenia was in trouble. (Among the many newspaper items I found there was no mention of Leeds and his daughter ever doing anything together. Perhaps William B. Leeds wasn't cut out to be a father.)

The following spring Princess Xenia and her daughter went to Italy to visit her grandmother, former Queen Olga Constantinovna of Greece. Upon her return to New York on May 4, 1926 she tried to put rumors to rest.

 
Buffalo Morning Express, May 4, 1926
NEW YORK – Mrs. William B. Leeds, former Princess Xenia of Greece, denied there was any marital rift between her and her husband when she arrived here today on the Lloyd Sabaudo liner Conte Biancamano. She went directly to Oyster Bay to her husband’s home where he has been living while she was abroad.
 
Except he wasn't home when she arrived. He was thousands of miles away, but at least he made a phone call. A costly phone call at that. And it led to a rendezvous in Chicago, which would also lead to a statement from Princess Xenia who wanted to go on the record about her nationality.
 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 12, 1926
CHICAGO (AP) – Tanned by a vacation in South Seas, William B. Leeds started on a second honeymoon here today with his wife, the Princess Xenia of Russia.

They met last night, Leeds coming from the Pacific Coast and his wife from their Oyster Bay, Long Island, home, as the result of a telephone call said to have cost $199. Chicago was selected for the reunion, they said, because they wanted to meet quickly and secretly.

They laughed at stories of any rift in their marital state, declaring “we are utterly in love.” Nor did they seem to resent their discovery inn a hotel suite, after they had thought their elaborate plans for secrecy successful. The young heir evaded recognition for some hours after his arrival by dodging through back doors of hotels and station corridors, but after he had been joined by his wife, the two “surrendered” to newspaper men and photographers.

The Princess authorized the information that she is a Russian and not Greek. She is the second daughter, she pointed out, of Grand Duke Mikhailovitco of Russia and Princess Marie Georgievna of Greece, the latter a sister of the late King Constantine.

 
The press didn't buy it; the rumors persisted and so did the denials.
 
Continued
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