British Socialite, Model, Actress
Born 1904 Died 1977
Sylvia Ashley was a minor British actress better known for displaying a penchant for marrying European aristocrats and American film stars. She was born Edith Louisa Hawkes on the 1st April 1904 at Paddington in London, the daughter of Arthur Awes and Edith Florence Hyde. After some experience modelling lingerie, she adopted the stage name of Sylvia Awes and became a dancer for Charles B. Cochran, otherwise known as the 'British Ziegfeld', whose Cochran revues were at the time an annual feature at the London Pavilion. A brief theatrical career followed in which she appeared with Dorothy Fields, as Silly and Dotty in Midnight Follies at the London Metropole and made further appearances in Tell me More at London's Winter Gardens, and in The Whole Town's Talking.
According to David Niven, Sylvia was "a man's woman" and "a ravishing blonde beauty" with an "impeccable sense of humour". Such virtues were sufficient to attract the attention of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Lord Ashley (the eldest son and heir of the 9th Earl of Shaftsbury) and the pair were married on the 3rd February 1927. This resulted in something of a scandal as Anthony's family strongly disapproved of his marrying a chorus girl. Such concerns were well founded, as a few parties later the marriage was over, and she left him after a few months, although the divorce did not come through until the 28th November 1934. But despite her divorce from the Lord Ashley, she continued to style herself thereafter as the 'Lady Sylvia Ashley' even during those not infrequent times when she was married to someone else.
In 1933 she met Douglas Fairbanks, Senior and became his mistress (since he was still married to Mary Pickford at the time). Eventually Fairbank's divorce came through and the pair were married in Paris on the 7th March 1936 after which they returned to the United States and lived at Fairbank's beach house at Santa Monica. Unfortunately Fairbank's health was already failing and he later died on the 12th December 1939, although he did leave Sylvia a million dollars in his will.
Now free to marry once more she chose as her third husband another British aristocrat being Edward John Stanley, 6th Baron Stanley of Alderley on the 18th January 1944. Once again things did not quite work out as planned and they were divorced in 1948. Shortly after her divorce Sylvia then went and married the actor Clark Gable on the 20th December 1949. However it seems that Gable only married Sylvia because of her resemblance to his 'true love' Carole Lombard (killed in an air crash in 1942) and within a month or so had decided that he'd made a mistake. After seventeen months Sylvia began divorce proceedings, and the marriage was finally disolved on the 21st April 1952.
Her final and fifth matrimonial adventure took place at Fort Lee, New Jersey where, according to Time magazine of the 20th December 1954, she married a certain Prince Dimitri Djordjadze. Described as an "imperial Russian cavalryman turned Manhattan hotel executive", Dimitri was a former car racing enthusiast and failed breeder of thoroughbreds who was unlikely to have spent much time in the Russian military. In any event she and her husband became members of what might loosely be called the 'international set' and appear to have been perfectly happy together, since at the very least Sylvia remained married to him for the remainder of her life.
She eventually died of cancer in Los Angeles on the 30th June 1977 and was buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard under the name of the Princess Sylvia Djordjadze.
The National Portait Gallery online
has a photograph of Lady Sylvia Ashley by Dorothy Wilding.
- Purton Stoke House
- Hollywood Forever Cemetery
- The Douglas Fairbanks Museum's biography
- Time Monday, Dec. 20, 1954
- The website MovieMorlocks.com, which is the official blog for the Turner Classic Movies channel under the headline 'More December Milestones of the Marrying Kind' Posted By: Medusa Dec 21 2006