My Family History
My maternal grandfather, Lucien Napoleon Brunswig (1854-1943) was born in Montmedy, in Alsace in the Northeast of France, in 1854, and was educated at the College of Etain.
Apparently the teenage Lucien was confident that his future lay in the United States for he came to the New World with his parents by ship to New York in 1871 after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War on a one-way ticket. Although he didn’t have much work experience, he soon found a job as an apprentice to a U.S druggist in a drugstore.
In 1875 at age 21 Lucien opened his own drugstore in Atchison, Kansas. The reason he was in Kansas was that that was as far as the railroad tracks heading west went. After a year of business in Kansas, Lucien sold his first drugstore and moved to Fort Worth, Texas to try his luck there.
In Fort Worth Lucien opened a new drugstore that not only sold retail but also dealt with wholesale pharmaceuticals. Within 5 years the business was producing $350,000 in annual sales! Business took Lucien to many places and one of those places was Independence, Missouri. There he met and married Annie Mercer. The newly married couple made their home in Fort Worth and they soon added children.
Everything seemed to be going well for young Lucien, but unfortunately, through a slip up, one of his staff accidentally gave a mother poison rather than the prescribed medicine he should have dispensed to her, and the child died. This terrible mistake cost Lucien his good name and his reputation fell apart; so he had to move out of Fort Worth.
Fortunately, at that time, George Finlay, the owner of a well-established wholesale drug firm in New Orleans invited Lucien to join him as a partner. So Lucien sold his Fort Worth business and joined Finlay in the newly constituted firm of Finlay and Brunswig.
A year later, in 1885, Finlay died and Lucien took over the entire wholesale drug firm which then became the L. N. Brunswig Company. In 1887 he took on a partner by the name of Fred W. Braun who was going to play a significant role in his life some years later..
While he lived in New Orleans he had served as a Police Commissioner from 1895-1899; Vice-president, Anthenee Louisianais; Member, Louisiana Historical Society; President, French Society; and had served as Vice-President for the Board of Trade.
Lucien and Annie had 5 children – 3 girls and 2 boys. The year of 1892 became a pivotal year for Lucien. That year marked the death of one of his young sons – a son who also bore the name of Lucien N. Brunswig. This death was a terrible blow to Annie Brunswig. The child’s death was too much for her to handle. She overdosed on laudanum, the marajuana of the day, and gradually declined in health. Within a month she, too, was dead.
Not to be daunted, Lucien, an ambitious and courageous young Jew—he was only five feet tall— soon moved on with life. Prior to the death of his wife and child Lucien had been looking toward the West. In 1887 Lucien dispatched Braun to Los Angeles, and within a year a prosperous business was established there.
Mr. Braun believed that the future of the company lay in the West. In 1890, while Lucien was still in New Orleans, he sent Braun out to San Diego to set up another branch office of the company there. In short order more branches were opening and operating in California under the direction of F.W. Braun.
Meanwhile in 1900, at the beginning of the new century, Lucien decided to sell all his assets in New Orleans and to retire back in his homeland, France.
He booked passage for himself and his family and a couple of African American servants on a luxury liner sailing from New Orleans. He took his new wife, Marguerite, and their baby daughter, also named Marguerite, onto the ship and they sailed for Europe with no intention of ever returning to America.
Lucien established himself in Paris, first at the Hotel Bradford where many New Orleans people went. He hoped that his wife would feel at home there. That year he and the family traveled extensively in France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.
In Rome they visited the Pope (Pius IX). Young Marguerite was very impressed when the Pope blessed her and touched her head with his hand. Thus began her lifelong fascination with Popes and the Church.
After their visit to Rome the family returned to Paris. During the family’s first year abroad together Lucien had engaged a black slave, Mona, to take care of little Marguerite.
When Lucien traveled in Europe, he always carried with him a trunk full of barbells and exercise equipment that the hotel porters had to carry upstairs in each hotel..
Lucien concentrated on photography. He felt he needed a hobby. He went to the verascope company and took lessons in how to take good pictures. He spent all his time in Paris exploring various quartiers and taking photos of all kinds.
They stayed in Europe for over two years.
In 1905 the family came back to New Orleans, where they were warmly welcomed back to their old house in the French Quarter after a two year absence.
Little Marguerite was three at the time they returned to the states. She spoke only French and was know as “the little French girl.”
Lucien had sold his old business in New Orleans; so he decided to move to California and take up the drug business again in partnership with his former employee, Fred Braun.
After a short visit in New Orleans in the autumn of 1904 the family took the train to San Francisco. At that time the only civilized city in the West was San Francisco, which was then know as “the city”. L.A. was little more than a country town at that time. In S.F. they stayed at a comfortable old hotel, but unfortunately, when the S.F. fire broke out, it burned down destroying all of the family’s belongings.
In the summer of 1905 they vacationed in Carmel enjoying the beach and the beautiful Monterey Coast. At this time Carmel was just beginning to become fashionable. They stayed at the beautiful old Del Monte Hotel In Monterey. There they made good contacts for future relationships in San Francisco and L.A. In the fall they returned to San Francisco.
On Feb 1906 the day before the San Francisco earthquake and the fire, Marguerite, Sr. departed with her daughter and the governess for New Orleans for the Mardi Gras season. From there they intended to proceed to New York and then to Europe.
Meanwhie, Lucien stayed in San Francisco. The San Francisco fire destroyed his burgeoning business, so he went south to L.A. Prudently, he did not tell his absent family about his move to L.A. until he joined them in Europe for Christmas.
Young Marguerite spent Christmas in Germany n Dillingen on the Danube.with her governess Fraulein Gerstenmeyer’s family. Meanwhile her mother stayed in a sanitorium because she’d had a minor nervous breakdown.
In 1907, early in the New Year, the family moved to Los Angeles, where the Brunswig Drug Company headquarters had been established for Lucien by Fred Braun.
Young Marguerite now had to learn English and to go to an American school. Because of her strong French accent, she was often teased and ridiculed because she appeared to the other children to be so “different.”
According to my mother, my grandmother was never in love with my grandfather. She tolerated him, but she did not admire him. Why did she marry him? For money. She later reproached herself for this. She stayed in the marriage, however, hoping thereby to provide her daughter, Marguerite, Jr. with many advantages and comforts which she knew she could never supply without a rich husband like Lucien.
She’d been brought up very strictly in New Orleans in a snobbish wealthy Creole family of twelve. They were very tight aristocracy. They felt that nobody else was good enough to interact with them. They only visited among themselves and their relations.
Marguerite, Sr. was sensitive like a delicate plant, and could easily be hurt , very easily hurt. In fact, Lucien hurt her all the time, just being himself near her. She always said that it was the iron pot breaking the clay pot. She put up with it but often got even in a very subtle way. She pretended she’d taken it, but then she’d slip out the back door and escape. She never faced a thing directly but slipped out and then did as she pleased behind her husband’s back. My mother disapproved of her for her dishonesty and cowardice.
In 1907 Lucien bought out Mr. Braun and the business was renamed Brunswig Drug Company. At this time he also sold his company in New Orleans. Established in Los Angeles in 1907, the Brunswig Drug Company grew at a phenomenal rate. Soon the company became the leading pharmaceutical distributor in the western United States.
The company eventually expanded to many countries in the Pacific realm. The company also took on new products, such as perfumes and cosmetics. The business would boom during World War I and later during World War II because of its strategic geographical location.
While in Los Angeles Lucien served as Director of the Bureau of Americanization; Director of a number of Franco-American Relief Societies during World War 1; Chairman, Pacific Coast States American Field Ambulance Service; Chairman, Pacific Coast, Fatherless Children of France; Chairman, American Committee for Devastated France; President, Alliance Francaise in Southern California; President, Lafayette Society of California; Delegated by the Minister of Public Instruction in France to co-operate in the scholarships for young French students to American Universities and Colleges; Director of the College des Etats Unis, in Paris; and he served as Chairman for the Sunshine Houses of France for the U.S.A.
In 1914 young Marguerite was taken to Europe to enter boarding school in Montreux Switzerland on Lake Geneva. There she mingled with the children of the idle rich. Her mother and her governess accompanied her. In the summer she traveled with her mother into the alps. The war broke out in August and they were trapped in neutral Switzerland; they felt like prisoners in the hotel for weeks As they could not get money from the U.S. at that moment, they had to ask for credit from the hotel. After a few anguished days, however, they finally received it.
Delighted with this turn of events, they felt they were set free and soon hey decided to take a train to Florence, Italy, where they stayed with friends in a villa in the heart of the city.
Young Marguerite loved Italy, particularly Florence. Eventually, they sailed from Genoa on an Italian ship bound for New York. From New York they took the train to New Orleans, where they stayed for a brief visit before proceeding on to their new home in the exclusive Wilshire District which bordered on downtown Los Angeles where the new Brunswig Drug was located.
All too soon the rebellious teenage Marguerite was enrolled and installed in a strict convent school in Menlo Park run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, which she hated and always compared in her imagination to a prison. The chapter in er autobiography dealing with this period is entitled “Convicts in the Convent”.
There she remained feeling alternately rebellious and suicidal during the First World War. At this time her deep depressions really in earnest. Like her mother and her mother’s mother, she discovered depression as a way of facing and dealing with her unhappiness. Solemn daily prayers were customary at the convent and questioning clerical authority or Catholic dogmas was simply not tolerated.
At the drug company, Lucien had two secretaries, Miss Brown, the receptionist who was stationed outside his office, and Mrs. Patterson, his pretty secretary, inside his office. He was amorously involved with Mrs. Patterson. As a rich man he found that beautiful women played upon his sympathies to get money out of him for charities like the L.A.County Museum and the Symphony Assoc. which he gave to generously every year.
Lucien was a colorful person, much respected by his employees despite his personal peculiarities and his autocratic ways. Many of his employees were foreigners–Belgian, French, Swiss, German, Italian, Mexican. He could be generous or unpredictably notoriously stingy,. At Christmastime, for example, he made a fool of himself by giving people as gifts his old neckties with gravy stains on them. He was like another Jack Benny in that regard.
In 1917 at 63, Lucien found himself too old for military service in the War but he wanted to do his part in the fight against les bosches for the allies so he sailed to France and served as a volunteer for 8 months for the “Friends of France.”
When he returned to the USA from France, Lucien continued to be involved with helping those that had been impacted by the war. This was just the tip of the iceberg in his service to his local community and to his country and to his homeland.
One time in L.A. in 1919, after the war Lucien planned to give a big party to impress a French general. He wanted to meet him because he hoped that through him he could get promoted to a higher rank in the Legion of Honor. He was only a lowly non-commissioned officer and wanted to become a commander. So he planned this party to impress and entertain the general and he confidently assured the general, who had a weakness for beautiful young ladies, that his wife, Marguerite, would attend without consulting with her first.
Marguerite detested his pushy behavior and ambitious social climbing-so she simply planned not to appear. She didn’t tell him of her plans, however and let him order the dinner and plan everything, without letting him know that she would not be attending the party. In the end the general didn’t even show up—perhaps he smelled a rat”— but the party went on while Marguerite remained discretely “unavailable” to the guests, and had the servants bring her a dinner tray to her room.
She had no intention of appearing. so Lucien was left holding the bag, without either his wife or his guest of honor. The party went on anyway. It had to. Somehow, Lucien never learned the lesson. Some people would have learned the lesson not to push things, but he was very controlling and stubborn when he wanted to do something, he’d insist on doing it his way, regardless. His wife usually skipped out the back door, because she was afraid to confront him directly.
Lucien was a collector. During his travels he amassed a personal library of over 6,000 volumes, all of them bound uniformly in bright brown calf’s leather. Some of these were original manuscripts obtained from monasteries in Europe. He even collected an original manuscript from the hand of William Penn. Before his death Lucien had donated over 1,000 volumes from his collection to the University of Southern California.
When they moved to Los Angeles in 1906 Lucien and Marguerite bought a beautiful multi-room villa at 3528 West Adams Blvd. In all, it had 16 rooms with 6 bedrooms, a ballroom, a chapel for daily mass, a library, a fencing room, and a top-floor conservatory as swell as extensive gardens both in front and in back of the main building.
The from entrance was guarded by two large stone lions that I used to ride when I was visiting my grandparents. The gardens included two levels, with reflecting pools stocked with Koy fishes, bubbling fountains, and imported French and Italian statuary.
A tennis court and pavilion were on the fourth level and the stables were on the bottom, or fifth level along with a large playhouse for little Marguerite in the form of an elegant French Chatau. Hen she grew older and developed an interest in the arts, this chateau was removed and replaced by a handsome wooden studio building.
Lucien was also a founder of the Cercle Catholique Francais, a local French-American volunteer organization that provided aid to recent immigrants from France. Coincidentally, when Robert Furlong, the mayor of Vernon, left West Adams in 1958, he sold his house on Van Buren Place to Lucien’s Cercle Catholique Francais.
Lucien had a stroke in 1928, and went to the French resort of Aix-les-Bains for a cure.
During the last decade of his life, in his eighties, he was in semi-retirement. He came to the office at 10 and left at 12 when he went to lunch. In the afternoon he usually went home for a rest.
He had a prostate operation in 1938 and was sick during his last years recuperating at home under care of his nurse, Madeline. He died on July 17th, 1943 at age eighty-eight in Los Angeles. After Lucien died, his body was interred in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans. His widow, Marguerite, lived on for three more years in the old mansion on West Adams where she died on Sept. 30th, 1946 at age 84.
But what happened to his Brunswig Drug Company? In 1969 the Brunswig Drug Company merged with the Bergen Drug Company to form Bergen-Brunswig. Some years later in 2001, this company in turn merged with the AmeriSource Health Corporation to from AmerisourceBergen. In 2018 Amerisource Bergen ranked 24th on the Fortune 500 list and employed 10,000 employees. Sales for the Corporation were $78 billion. What a testament to Mr. Lucien Brunswig!
My mother had been crushed as a girl, first by her patriarchal and overbearing father and then by the Nuns of the Sacred Heart Convent, where she spent her most influenceable and vulnerable adolescent years. She told me many times later while I was growing up, and enduring boarding schools myself—at that time the nuns broke her will to live,
Her young innocent spirit was crushed like that of a wild and spirited stallion. They brought her to her knees, so that eventually she had a complete nervous breakdown when she was in her late teens!
Like her weak compliant mother–also named Marguerite–my mother spent much of her life depressed , while constantly seeking relief from her emotional pain through the ministrations of doctors, priests, and friends.
In those days there were no effective meds to treat depression or other mental and emotional states familiar to us today.
Like many other Christian women of her day, Marguerite got her main emotional support from her spirituality and also from her creative activities. By surrendering to what she called her “muse,” [an inner daimon or spirit figure] she could put aside her inner suffering for a while and throw herself relentlessly into her art.
When she entered into her newly constructed studio and put on her artist-identity, she became another person, strong, often brilliant and charismatic.
This brought her so much success during her twenties and early thirties. She was even interviewed by a young Texan “stringer”(amateur journalist), Tony Staude, who was later to become her life partner, and my stepfather, whose part-time depression job, [besides selling Florsheim shoes and clothes in the men’s department at the then glamorous Harris and Frank Men’s Department store] was to report to the folks back home in Fort Worth on the doings of the rich, famous, and glamorous stars ,script writers, actors, directors, producers, and other Hollywood notables.
In the mid-thirties, Marguerite was actually accepted for a one-man show in one of the leading galleries in Paris. However, shortly before this show was to take place, she had another serious nervous breakdown, and decided suddenly to abandon the project and to return to America, explaining her withdrawal from the competition as being due to her fear of the rise of Fascism in Europe. So she had her sculptures packed up and shipped back home to Los Angeles, where she returned to her family mansion on West Adams Blvd.
After her return, Marguerite suffered another long bout of depression. To escape from these terrible feelings of helpless powerlessness, self-recrimination, regret, and despair, Marguerite began to go to the lively and colorful Mexican cafes and entertainments on Olivera St.
There, through a mutual friend in Los Angeles, George Polkinghorn, Marguerite met a handsome young Mexican musician, Carlos del Prado, who soon became her lover.
Scandalous! Here she was sleeping with a MEXICAN! What if her parents ever found out? She, a lily white spoiled Jewish princess, and heiress, and a constantly chaperoned Catholic debutante, a High Society figure!
This clandestine affair seems to have gone on for almost a year, until the “inevitable happened,” and Carlos got her pregnant. He wanted to marry her immediately, Carlos later told me, and when I asked my mother years later, she confirmed Carlos’s story, but she said, marriage then, to a Mexican (!) was simply an impossible and unrealizable project, even if she was pregnant with his child, and he had the wealth to support her, because she feared losing her large inheritance and being disowned by her family if she ever married a Mexican, even if he was an upper-class Mexican!
At that time a mixed marriage between an Anglo and a Chicana was viewed by the white elite strata as guaranteed social death, much as was marrying a Negro, a Native American Indian, a Hindu Indian, a Hawaiian, or any other people of any race than Caucasian. It was simply not to be considered.
One night in her bedroom in the family mansion, when Carlos slipped secretly into her bedroom and stayed through the night, the young relatively innocent society girl who became my mother conceived me. Upon discovering that she was pregnant Marguerite consulted a priest in the confessional and was told that she was in danger of going to Hell and that she must say goodbye to her lover immediately and promise the priest hearing her confession that she would “never ever see Carlos again.” She felt so anxious, guilty, and frightened that she readily agreed to his conditions before receiving absolution for her sins, and sent him a religious card, a picture of Jesus with sacred heart exposed, which Carlos gave me on the day I met him in Mexico City 20 years later. On the back of this holy card Marguerite wrote, “Good-bye, Carlos. We must never meet again. Good-bye!” Of course they did meet again, many times again, in fact, even after my birth, too, but that’s another story for another chapter.
Several months pregnant, but not yet showing, Marguerite departed for New York, ostensibly to study art history at the Met, and sculpture and painting techniques with Prof. Leo Katz. We know now, of course that Marguerite also departed LA for NY to hide her pregnancy from her family and friends. Her mother, who knew nothing about the pregnancy, insisted on accompanying her to Manhattan, and lived with her, along with her brother Walter, for the first few months she was there. After six months Marguerite managed to induce her mother to return to Los Angeles, while she stayed on in New York. It was there, while waiting for me to come into the world that Marguerite conceived the idea of a modern cathedral church skyscraper to be built in a cruciform structure. Lloyd Wright, (Frank Lloyd Wright’s son), designed and built a model of this dream cathedral for her, but it was never to be. The War intervened. Afterwards, she scaled the project down and in the early 1960s Marguerite hired the San Francisco architects Bob Anshen and Steve Allen to build her a small modern chapel in Sedona, Arizona, instead.
At the end of her life my mother declared that these were the two products of her creativity of which she was most proud: the contemporary style church that she had built and her clandestine baby, whom she had secretly birthed, sequestered away out of sight for a few years, and then legally adopted, and raised as her only son in Hollywood.