Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr.
|Intro||U.S. Army general, diplomat|
|From||United States of America|
|Birth||17 December 1897, Philadelphia|
|Death||13 November 1961, Washington, D.C. (aged 63 years)|
Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr. (December 17, 1897 - November 13, 1961) was a wealthy socialite who became a diplomat of the United States, and served in the United States Army during World War I and after World War II, reaching the rank of major general.
Biddle was the son of millionaire Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Sr. (1874–1948), and Cordelia Rundell Bradley (1873–1947). He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 17, 1897. His father, grandson of banker Anthony Joseph Drexel and great-grandson of banker Nicholas Biddle, was an eccentric boxing fan. When he was ten years old, the younger Biddle was in an exhibition match with Bob Fitzsimmons, who knocked him into a wall with a punch traveling about two inches. He graduated from St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire but never attended college.
Biddle married Mary Lillian Duke, a tobacco heiress, on June 16, 1915. They divorced in 1931 after having two children: Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans (1920-2012) and Nicholas Duke Biddle (1921–2004), who was initially named Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle III, only to have his mother change his name following the divorce. His second wife, whom he married in 1931 (later divorced), was Margaret Thompson Schulze, the only child of mining magnate William Boyce Thompson; by this marriage he had two stepchildren, (Margaret) Boyce Schulze and Theodore Schulze Jr, as well as a son, given the name Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle III, who died at birth. He married as his third wife, in 1946, Margaret Atkinson Loughborough, the former wife of William Ellery Loughborough and had two children, Margaret Biddle and Anthony Biddle III; after Biddle's death, she married, as her fourth husband, Colonel Edwinston Robbins.
In World War I he first enlisted as a private, and was promoted to rank of captain. In the 1920s he engaged in several business ventures, which were known as social successes but financial failures. For example, he managed Belgian boxer René deVos, and invested in the St. Regis Hotel. A party he held for the boxer at the hotel was marked by the loss of many bottles of fine champagne (at great expense due to prohibition in the United States). "Guests" even tried to wheel out the piano before it was retrieved.
Biddle also made a deal to rent part of Central Park in New York City and open an expensive nightclub called The Casino. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929 many of his investments failed. The Casino was raided and shut down.
In 1931 he and other directors of the bankrupt Sonora Products Corporation of America (formerly Acoustic Products Company, in the phonograph and radio business) were sued by the Irving Trust Company. The directors were accused of diverting profits from stock sales into their own accounts. A district court dismissed the claims against the defendants, but the dismissal of Biddle and several others was reversed on appeal.
From business to diplomacy
After Biddle was appointed Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Norway on July 22, 1935, he settled the Irving case out of court to avoid a bond required before leaving the country to assume the post. He presented his credentials on September 7, 1935. It was widely suspected he was a political appointee resulting from his support of the Democratic Party and George Howard Earle III, its 1934 successful candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania. However, his social skills made him and his wife ideally suited to being a diplomat.
On May 4, 1937 he was promoted to Ambassador to Poland and presented his credentials in Warsaw, Poland on June 2, 1937. In September 1939 Germany invaded Poland, which was a major cause of World War II. After Biddle's house was hit with bomb fragments, his family and embassy staff fled to various temporary quarters. After the escape, he joined the Polish government in exile in France until June 1940, when he returned to the US after France was invaded. On February 11, 1941 he also commissioned to the governments-in-exile of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Yugoslavia. Biddle arrived in London on March 14, 1941, and continued as ambassador through 1943.
In January 1944 Biddle resigned from the state department and joined the Army as lieutenant colonel to serve on the staff of Dwight Eisenhower. His contacts with "underground" movements and free military units in occupied nations provided intelligence for the planning of operation Overlord, the allied invasion. He continued on Eisenhower's staff supervising European reconstruction after the war ended. In 1955 he resigned from the Army to become Adjutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard.
Biddle was known for being elegantly dressed. On October 4, 1943, he appeared on the cover of Life magazine. The one published picture of Biddle without his impeccable suit was when he had to pack in a hurry to escape German bombers in Poland via Romania. He was recognized in 1960 by George Frazier as one of the best dressed men in the US, on a short list with such stars as Fred Astaire. He was noted for his small number of fine custom-made suits and his starched, horizontally-striped Charvet shirts.
He died November 13, 1961, in Washington, D.C. at the Walter Reed Army Hospital. He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. His cenotaph is at The Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia.
His sister Cordelia Drexel Biddle wrote a book with Kyle Crichton about the family, focusing on her marriage with Angier Buchanan Duke who was the brother of Anthony's first wife. It was made into a play and the 1967 musical film The Happiest Millionaire. He was portrayed by Paul Petersen in the film.
His nephew Angier Biddle Duke (1915–1995) also became a diplomat.
- U.S. Minister to:
- Norway, 1935–37, 1941–42
- Netherlands, 1941–42
- Yugoslavia, 1941
- Czechoslovakia, 1941–43
- Greece, 1941–42
- U.S. Ambassador to:
- Poland, 1937–43
- Belgium, 1941–43
- Netherlands, 1942–43
- Norway, 1942–43
- Yugoslavia, 1942
- Greece, 1942–43
- Czechoslovakia, 1943
- Spain, 1961
- Irving Trust Co. v. Deutsch, 73 F.2d 121 (2d. Cir. 1934), cert. denied, Biddle v. Irving Trust Company, 294 U.S. 708, 55 S.Ct. 405, 79 L.Ed. 1243 (1935)