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Maharaja’s Divorce

7/5/2016:

Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar, 33 year-old prince of Indore, India, had a busy day on this date in 1943. He divorced his second wife and married another 10 hours later.

The Maharaja’s first wife was accidentally killed in Paris in 1937. 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. Princess Usha became very fond of Marguerite, and after the maharaja recovered, he hired Marguerite to be his daughter’s governess.

In September 1938, the prince married Marguerite and he proceeded to build his 18th house. The 12-room house cost roughly $50,000, a 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.

After only a year, the Maharaja announced they were “returning to India to be of service to his emperor and his country.” 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