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"The Dollar Princess" was a popular musical that opened in London and New York in 1909. The title later was used to describe a woman who went from a stenographer in Ohio to real-life princess in Greece. What made it possible was the fortune left to her by her wealthy second husband. I knew nothing about her or the musical until I stumbled upon this brief item:

 
Syracuse Journal, January 12, 1921
ATHENS – The American “dollar princess,” formerly Mrs. William B. Leeds, may become queen of Albania. It was reported here today that Albanian leaders have urged her to accept the throne. Rumors here said the princess had ordered a magnificent coronation robe in New York – a regal garment embroidered with Byzantine eagles.
 

Princess Anastasia was her royal name. And while she did not become queen of Albania, it's possible an offer was made. Reportedly Lithuania had offered a package deal to her husband, Prince Christopher of Greece, saying he and his wife could rule as king and queen, but he declined. Some even figured the only way Greek's royal family could hold the throne at home was to make Christopher and Anastasia king and queen, but that was never seriously considered. That anyone even considered the possibility was because the American princess had in abundance what the Greek royal family lacked – money.

In 1921 this rich American woman-turned-princess was very popular throughout Europe. Hers is a fascinating story, one made possible by her beauty and, I suspect, a fierce determination to be wealthy, a goal reached in 1900 with her second marriage. She was only 22. At that point she seems to have set a third goal – to be accepted in high society. That is a whole other story, one described in entertaining detail on another page (The magic word? Princess).

She was born Nonnie May Stewart in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1878, but her family moved to Cleveland where she was better known as Nancy Stewart. (Her childhood friends called her "Pinkie," which doesn't fit the image she would make for herself as an adult). As a teenager she entered a brief marriage with banker George H. Worthington, who died in 1898 shortly after their divorce.

As a stenographer she attracted the attention of William Bateman Leeds, who had made millions of dollars in the tin-plating business. He divorced his wife in 1900 and a few days later married Nancy Stewart Worthington. Forever after some would refer to her as Nancy Leeds or Mrs. William Leeds, though her husband died in 1908. The woman's claim to the title of princess – and a new nickname – wouldn't be established until 1920 when she married Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark, brother of King Constantine I of Greece.

The widow Leeds and Prince Christopher became engaged in 1914, but the marriage was delayed for six years, supposedly by his family's opposition to the match. I suspect that is only partly true. The Greek royal family might have resisted because, according to their marriage laws, Mrs. Leeds would herself become royalty.

However, the Greek royal family was in deep financial trouble, which made the American a great catch for Prince Christopher. Only hinted at in the stories that found was the possibility Mrs. Leeds delayed the wedding until after World War I ended. The Greek royal family was connected to the German royal family and was sympathetic to the German cause. Mrs. Leeds might have been playing politics, realizing she would be scorned at home if she were regarded as a supporter of an enemy of America.

But she finally married Prince Christopher and in the process became Princess Anastasia, though she occasionally was referred to as Princess Christopher or Princess Christophe. For the next few years there would be stories that she used her money to put her brother-in-law, Constantine, back on the throne of Greece. These stories seemed more believable than her denials. However, no amount of American money could resolve the problems facing Greece, which was at war with Turkey in 1921, a situation that made life uneasy for Prince Christopher's family.

Even after her marriage, the American press often referred to her as "The Tin Plate Heiress," though the nickname "The Dollar Princess" was more popular. One variation was "The Million Dollar Princess." (A "Billion Dollar Princess" would come along a few years later in the person of Alisa Mellon, daughter of Andrew W. Mellon.)

THAT THE Greek royal family was related by marriage to the Romanovs, the Russian royal family unseated by the Bolshevik Revolution, created a sometimes confusing, eventually frustrating situation for the Leeds family. Nancy Leeds became Princess Anastasia,but she obviously wasn't the mysterious Romanov grand duchess, Anastasia, who was subject of much controversy in the 1920s and '30s, and later a 1954 Broadway play, the 1956 Ingrid Bergman movie, an animated 1997 film, and several television documentaries. But Nancy Leeds' marriage to Prince Christopher, who was born in Russia, established a family connection between the two women.

That connection became stronger in 1921 when the only child of the American heiress-turned-Greek princess, William Bateman Leeds Jr.,married a Russian princess, Xenia, who was living in Greece. A few years later, when Leeds and Princess Xenia were living in Long Island, they paid the way to America for a woman who claimed to be the Russian Anastasia. The woman, known at that time as Anna Tschaikovsky, later as Anna Anderson, first made the claim in 1922. She had a history of mental illness, was dismissed as an impostor and lived in relative obscurity until 1927 when a newspaper article about her attracted the attention of Princess Xenia, who knew the real Anastasia, but had last seen her in 1913.

Anna Tschaikovsky lived for awhile at the Leeds home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, and Princess Xenia was one of the few members of Russian royalty who believed the woman's story. For awhile it looked as though the visitor would hang around permanently, but she did not get along with Xenia's husband. It was William B. Leeds Jr. who sent Anna Tschaikovsky packing. It wasn't long afterward that the Leeds marriage ended. Anna Tschaikovsky (Anderson) kept in touch with Princess Xenia, who continued to believe the woman was the real Anastasia, even after almost everyone else conceded it had been proven otherwise.

An earlier 1921 story about Greece's Princess Anastasia proves you should never, never, never believe what people tell the press. And if the princess believed what she was saying, more's the pity, because her son was about to disappoint her.

 

Syracuse Journal, January 3, 1921
“American Princess” Didn’t Raise
Her Son To Wear Regal Coronet

By A. F. JOHNSON
United News

ATHENS, Jan. 2 – Princess Anastasia didn’t raise her boy to wear a crown or coronet.

The former Mrs. William Leeds of New York and Cleveland, but now of Greek royalty through her marriage to Prince Christopher, prefers, so far as her son William is concerned, the American business suit to regal raiment and an American girl for a daughter-in-law, rather than some princess.

Because the “Dollar Princess” has attained a place of great popularity in the Greek heart since the return of King Constantine, there has been much conjecture in court circles as to her future activity here. The Greek imagination has gone so far as to predict a marriage eventually between her son, William, now aged 16, and one of the princesses.

In an hour’s interview with the writer, however – the first extended interview the princess has granted since the return of Constantine – she disposed of current rumors about the boy at the very outset.

“I love America and still consider myself an American, despite the relinquishment of my citizenship,” she said. “I want William to return to the United States and become a useful citizen of his native land. And I hope he marries an American girl.”

 

Unfortunately, Princess Anastasia was ill ... so ill that weeks later she underwent surgery and her son was summoned to her side, which wasn't easily accomplished because the teenager was thousands of miles away. His visit would prove to be one of those good news/bad news things. His presence cheered his mother, but hours later she went into an emotional decline: William B. Leeds Jr. had abruptly proposed marriage to a 17-year-old princess. And she had said yes.

 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 1, 1921
Mother Opposed Leeds’s
Marriage to Greek Princess

ATHENS (AP) – Princess Anastasia, who before her marriage to Prince Christopher of Greece was Mrs. William B. Leeds of New York, her son William B. Leeds Jr., the Grand Duchess Marie and the latter’s two daughters, one of whom is engaged to young Leeds, will leave here May 4 for Brindisi, where they will entrain for Paris. Princess Anastasia will go to the American hospital in the French capital for a second operation.

Princess Anastasia is endeavoring to postpone indefinitely the marriage of her son and Princess Xenia because of their youth. The engagement of her son, she declared, had broken her heart and on learning of it she wept three days and three nights, refusing to see him.

Princess Anastasia denied that her son would adopt the Greek Orthodox religion or receive a title from the king. She said the young couple probably would live in America. Newspaper statements that the young Leeds was the richest boy in the world, the Princess declared to be absurd, stating that his father’s will provides that he shall receive only $500,000 when he reaches the age of 35. For the present, she said, he is entirely dependent upon what she allows him. On his marriage, the Princess intends to arrange with the trustees of the estate to give him a moderate sum.

Princess Anastasia said her will specified that upon her death her son would draw her interest on the trust fund, but would be unable to touch the principal. If her son or his wife should die, she declared, the entire Leeds fortune of $40,000,000 will go to their offspring as a trust fund which will cease with the third generation. If they have no issue, the fortune, she said, would go to the Lying-In Hospital in New York.

Not one dollar did she settle on Prince Christopher, the Princess said. They were married under the Swiss law by which each keeps his or her own money and property, and one is not responsible for the debts of the other.

 

This time Princess Anastasia was pretty much on target in predicting her son's future, though statements about family finances may have been fudged. Leeds Jr. would prove to be a free-spending world traveler, though it's possible, I suppose, that interest on a $40 million fortune might have covered his expenses, especially since in those days the interest earned on investments and savings usually was much higher than it is today.

Princess Anastasia was dying, but the public was led to believe that her illness, while serious, was not fatal. There were references to an intestinal problem, with denials of the cancer that would take her life in 1923. She spent much of that time in Paris and London and also made a valiant visit to the United States. Her son and his wife spent most of the next two years at her side.

The following story mentions one possibility that never was seriously considered, Princess Anastasia would be buried in the Greek royal cemetery. Instead her body would be sent to the United States for interment in New York City.

 

Binghamton Press, August 30, 1923
Wife of Prince Christopher Succumbs After Four Operations for Cancer

LONDON – (United Press) – The body of Princess Anastasia of Greece – who used to be a Cleveland, Ohio, stenographer – may lie among kings in the Greek royal cemetery near Athens. The princess died late last night of cancer and a complication of intestinal diseases. Her relatives had not decided today whether her body will be deposited in Greece, or taken home to America.

The end came at 11:48 p.m., according to an announcement by the secretary to Prince Christopher of Greece, her husband. She had been unconscious for hours, and all hope had been abandoned.

When she died, her husband was at the bedside, together with her son, William B. Leeds, and his wife, Princess Xenia of Greece.

The princess had been ailing since early in the summer. She had submitted to four operations for cancer and complications, and after each one she rallied and resumed her place in the world, playing an important part in royal society, and international politics of the Balkans. Finally, however, the disease overcame her.

Princess Anastasia, formerly Mrs. William B. Leeds, wife of the “tin plate king,” was credited with being the “power behind” in many of the upsets in Greek politics subsequent to the war. It was her vast fortune, many believed, which financed the campaigns which led to the downfall of Premier Venizelos and the restoration of the monarchy.

She was born in Zanesville, Ohio, January 20, 1878. Her name was Nonnie May Stewart, but she was known to her playmates by the nickname of “Pinkie.” The family moved to Cleveland, where she grew up in a middle class neighborhood.

George H. Worthington of Cleveland was her first husband. They were divorced in 1898. In 1900 she married William B. Leeds, millionaire tin plate king, whom she met while working as a stenographer. He died in Paris in 1908, leaving his income from the bulk of his $25,000,000 estate to his widow.

Mrs. Leeds resided in Europe after her husband’s death, and there were many rumors that she would marry various princes and other members of the nobility. In 1920 she married Prince Christopher of Greece. The Greek king thereupon conferred on her the title of Princess Anastasia. She became a relative by marriage of the Danish royal family and the Hohenzollerns.

In 1921, her son,William B. Leeds, married Princess Xenia of Greece. He will inherit the income from his father’s estate and if he dies without issue, the fortune will go to the Lying-In-Hospital in New York.

 

Before leaving England for America, Prince Christopher said that after the funeral he would return to Europe with William B. Leeds Jr. and Princess Xenia. He also declared all three of them would live in Europe permanently. However, the prince spoke only for himself. Three months late, Leeds and his wife announced they were leaving Europe to live in the United States.

 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle / September 21, 1923
Anastastia’s Body Leaves England

LONDON – The relatives of the late Princess Anastasia of Greece gathered in the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Phillip this morning for the final prayer service over the body. The body was later conveyed to Waterloo station and placed on board a special train for Southampton. Pallbearers there carried it to the waiting liner Aquitania.

The mournful group of relatives headed by Prince Christopher, which followed the oak-encased leaden coffin, presented a strange contrast to the gathering of racing men and devotees of the sport who had assembled at the pier to see the racehorse Papyrus embark for the United States on the same steamer.

With Prince Christopher were William Leeds and Mrs. Leeds (Princess Xenia), Henderson Green and Mrs. Green, Miss Emma Parmentier, who was Princess Anastasia’s secretary and confidante for 20 years, and Dr. Stucker, tutor of the Greek royal family.

At New York the body will be placed temporarily in a private mortuary and afterward will be removed to St. Thomas Church, where a special service will be held. The final burial will be in Woodlawn Cemetery.

 

[NOTE: Henderson Green and his wife were the brother-in-law and sister of Princess Anastasia.]

 

Princess Anastasia's will – indeed, almost everything I've read about the estate of William B. Leeds – is beyond my understanding when it comes to who got what, when and how. Estimates about the size of the estate vary wildly, as do guesses about how much money Princess Anastasia and her son had at various times in their life.

One thing is very clear: There was more than enough money for everyone – the princess, Prince Christopher, William Leeds Jr., Princess Xenia, and various royal relatives who came begging. (The 1920s were a bad time for royalty, especially those too lazy to work.) Also, the former Nonnie Stewart took good care of her sister, Margaret Stewart Green, and her family, though on their own they would have fared considerably better than Prince Christopher's siblings. William Leeds Jr. seems to have remained close to Mrs. Green and her family later one.

 

Albany Evening Journal, October 4, 1923
Princess Anastasia's Will Is Filed

NEW YORK, Oct. 4 – A will disposing of the estimated $30,000,000 fortune left by Princess Anastasia of Greece, who died in London last August 29, and was buried here, was filed in Surrogate’s Court today.

The woman, who was known on two continents as “the million-dollar princess” and “widow of the tin plate king,” described herself in the will as “born Nonnie Stewart,” and widow of William B. Leeds.”

Minor bequests are made to William B. Leeds Jr, son of the widow, his wife, Princess Xenia of Russia, and a niece, Nancy Stewart Green. The residue of the estate was left in trust, the income to be divided equally by Prince Christopher, husband of Princess Anastasia, and Margaret Stewart Green of Montclair, N.J., a sister.

The princess’ noted collection of almost priceless gems, including jewels valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, which had been the gifts of Mr. Leeds and of European royalty, were distributed among her husband, son and daughter-in-law.

Leeds Jr. was willed his mother’s Newport, R.I., estate, including her “Rough Point” mansion and her stock in the Spouting Rock Beach Association. Leeds and Prince Christopher are to share the residue of the personal effects.

The will, dated July 10, 1922, at Paris, says:

“I make no substantial pecuniary provision for my son for the reason that he has been abundantly provided for by his father.”

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