Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar, 33 year-old prince of Indore, India, had a busy day 62 years ago today; on that day, he divorced his second wife and married another 10 hours later.
The Maharaja’s first wife was accidentally killed in Paris in 1937, and overcome with depression, his health deteriorated. He withdrew from society and traveled abroad with his 5 year-old daughter, Usha. While in California, he had an acute asthma attack and was hospitalized in Los Angeles, where he met Marguerite Lawler, a native of Fargo who had worked as a nurse for the Union Pacific Railroad. Usha became very fond of Marguerite, and after he recovered, the maharaja hired Marguerite to be his daughter’s governess.
In September 1938, Marguerite married the prince, who proceeded to build his 18th house. The Santa Ana Register stated, “A man’s home is his castle, and the castle being built for the world’s richest man, the Maharajah of Indore, in Santa Ana is not only a castle; it is literally a fortress. It will guard that which is more dear to him than all of his income – it will guard the safety and continued well-being of his daughter, Princess Usha.”
The 12-room house cost roughly $50,000, a virtual fortune during the Depression. They spent another $150,000 to furnish it, including expensive modern art, tiger-skin rugs and leopard-skin draperies. A massive living room featured huge contemporary divans, an 11-piece dining room set, and 8' copper pillar lamps. The fireplace was covered with polished glass, and a beautifully tiled swimming pool lay beneath an 80 foot-long terrace attached to the rear of the second floor.
A servant slept outside Usha’s door each night, and during the day, the little girl went to the local elementary school.
After only a year, the Maharaja announced they were “returning to India to be of service to his emperor and his country.” Princess Usha, however, stayed in Santa Ana with her new governess, who was also named her legal guardian.
In India, Maharanee Marguerite became mistress of 17 mansions. She presided over 200 servants in a $3 million air-conditioned palace, could use any of her husband’s 15 cars, and could wear anything she liked from the family’s 20 million-dollar jewelry collection.
The couple usually began their days by bathing at noon. Then they would read the Bombay Chronicle and eat lunch in bed. The Maharajah was passionate about bridge and usually indulged in card playing until afternoon tea. Later they would swim, go visiting, or play tennis or golf with their friends. At night they hosted films in their own movie theater or went out for the evening to the nearest town. Because they had so much company, they rarely went to bed before 2 a.m.
After several years of the high life, Marguerite got homesick and flew back to the states. A year later, the Maharaja moved to Reno, and after the required 6-week residency, he filed for a divorce. Ten hours later, he married Euphremia Watt Crane, who soon produced for him a male heir.
Marguerite was given the Santa Ana home, another house and, surprisingly, custody of Princess Usha. Marguerite legally adopted her step-daughter but later sent her to India to live with Yeshwant and his new family.
Marguerite then joined the war effort as a WAVE and, after being discharged in 1945, she married a Santa Ana postman who served in the Coast Guard. She died in California in 1963.
Sources: The Forum, 2/6/1943: p 6.
Diann Marsh, Santa Ana, An Illustrated History, Heritage Publishing: 1994. (http://www.santaanahistory.com/articles/maharajah.html.)
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm