Category Archives: Dreiser’s lovers and mistresses

re Marie Pergain


It may be of interest to some Dreiserians that I have discovered the birth and death dates of Dreiser’s lover Margie Pergain, who was a for a long time a mystery woman to most Dreiser scholars. Most assumed that it was a pseudonym used to hide her identity. She was a very real person and my blog

“Theodore Dreiser, Ervin Nyiregyházi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain”

Roger W. Smith, “Theodore Dreiser, Ervin Nyiregyházi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain”

contains a wealth of detail about Marie; the “toothpick” incident; and the complicated relationship of Dreiser, Pergain, and others, including Dreiser’s mistress Helen and the pianist Ervin Nyiregyházi.

I have verified information about Maire’s birth and, most importantly, have found on the details of her death. She was married a fourth time before she died, which I did not know; it is interesting to know what became of her. For those who care to read it, my post is very thoroughly researched and documented and is full of anecdotal detail. I benefited greatly from the work and notes in his files, which he generously shared with me, of the author Kevin Bazzana.
— Roger W. Smith

a telegram from Helen



Theodore Dreiser met Helen (Patges) Richardson in Greenwich Village in September 1919. They became lovers and moved to Los Angeles shortly after beginning their romance.

The following telegram from Helen to Dreiser was dated October 18, 1920.

Can you imagine getting such a telegram? I cannot recall reading any form of correspondence with such a desperate, anguished plea. In fifteen words.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   January 2019

important new publications on Dreiser: his relationship with women; recollections of his contemporaries


Dreiser scholar Donald Pizer has published an important new article: “Dreiser’s Relationships with Women,” American Literary Realism 50:1 (Fall 2017), pp. 63-75.

Professor Pizer has published Theodore Dreiser Recalled (Clemson University Press, 2017). The book brings together for the first time published and unpublished memoirs about Dreiser. The recollections of Dreiser’s contemporaries focus on Dreiser’s politics, personal life, and literary reception.

Professor Pizer is one of the world’s leading scholars of Dreiser and of literary naturalism.


— Roger W. Smith

  July 2017


“Revealing Dreiser’s 10-Year Love Secret!”: “Mrs.” (read mistress) Helen Dreiser, Marie Pergain, etc.


‘Revealing Dreiser’s 10-Year Love Secret’ – Detroit Free Press 4-4-1937


Laura Lou Brookman

“Revealing Dreiser’s 10-Year Love Secret!”

Detroit Free Press

Sunday, April 4, 1937


See typescript (prepared by Roger W. Smith) below. The article is full of inaccuracies.


— posted by Roger W. Smith



Revealing Dreiser’s 10-Year Love Secret

First Details of the Mysterious Second Marriage of the Eminent Novelist

By Laura Lou Brookman


So Theodore Dreiser has been happily married all these years and virtually nobody guessed it?

It took Dreiser, America’s frankest and, many say, foremost, novelist, to prove that a celebrity can have a private life. He did it by marrying a movie actress!

Fantastic? Well, that’s the way it happened. And not until Mrs. Theodore Dreiser, the former Helen Richardson of the movies, began singing with Enoch Light’s orchestra in a New York restaurant, was anyone aware that there WAS a Mrs. Dreiser, other than the novelist’s first wife, from whom he separated years ago.

The novelist and the movie actress were married in California “between 10 and 15 years ago.”

“We kept our marriage quiet for certain reasons,” says the pretty, brown haired, slightly buxom Mrs. Dreiser. “There was a Mexican divorce in Mr. Dreiser’s first marriage.”

Not so successful has Dreiser been in the public eye on other occasions. There were the times, for instance, when he:

(1) Faced court charges that his first novel was “lewd” and “profane.”

(2) Went to Russian, wrote a book about it, and was accused of plagiarism by Dorothy Thompson, wife of Sinclair Lewis.

(3) Had a fight with Nobel-Prize-winning Novelist Sinclair Lewis at a dinner party.

(4) Went with a committee of New York liberals to investigate labor conditions in the Kentucky coal fields, and was put on the spot by local authorities, who accused him of doing his investigating in a hotel room with a pretty member of the committee.

(5) Appealed to courts to prevent the release of the film version of his novel “American Tragedy.”

These are just a few of the highlights in the stormy career of the dynamic novelist and playwright who now is 66 years old. His home is a rustic retreat at Mount Kisco, N. Y.

Dreiser’s complete reticence about his present marriage is all the more remarkable because of the detailed frankness with which he has described personal affairs heretofore.

Particularly outspoken was his response to charges made against him and ___ [illegible] Marie Pergain when they, with a party of others, made that trip to the Harlan County, Kentucky, coal fields in 1931.

A grand jury indicted them on grounds of misconduct and won the praise of fellow townspeople resentful of the “interference” of the easterners in local labor affairs.

Said Dreiser: “If I were in a silk-hung boudoir with the most beautiful woman in the world and the door was locked, noting would follow but esthetic conversation.”

Witnesses who appeared before the grand jury testified that they had seen Miss Pergain enter Dreiser’s hotel room at 11 p.m. They were sure she had not emerged by 3. a.m. because they had placed toothpicks against the door and the toothpicks were still standing at that time.

To this the novelist replied: “I want to assure all persons of both sexes of my inescapable private morality.

“What is this toothpick game? I’d like to know. If the toothpicks are up you’re guilty. If they’re down you’re all right. Evidently mine were up.”

Warrants of arrest were never served, because both Dreiser and Miss Pergain were outside Kentucky by that time.

Dreiser’s first marriage – to Sarah Osborne White of St. Louis – took place in 1898. He was then a reporter and he met Miss White, a school teacher, when his newspaper sent her and other winners of a popularity victory contest to the Columbia Exposition in Chicago. Dreiser went along to report their adventures.

He described his schoolteacher sweetheart thus:

“There was something of the wood or water nymph about her, a seeking in her eyes, a breath of wild winds in her hair, a scarlet glory to her mouth … If only this love affair could have gone on to a swift fruition it would have been perfect, blinding. … But love, as it is in most places, was a slow process. … There must be many visits before I could place on arm on her. .. Well, I reached the place where I could hold her hand, put my arms about her, kiss her, but never could I induce her to sit on my lap.”

After Dreiser left St. Louis for New York to work on newspapers and magazines, Miss White came east and they were married. It was a union that proved far from smooth. Dreiser’s fortunes ebbed and rose and ebbed again.

When he became editor-in-chief of Butterick Publications, including five fashion magazines, he seemed to be getting up in the world. From this post he was discharged abruptly, following an incident said to have involved a pretty secretary. Dreiser has denied this, saying he left of his own accord.

Mr. and Mrs. Dreiser separated permanently in 1909. A friend who knew them well said:

“One night I went to see them up on Morningside Drive. There they were in the dining room. She was sprinkling clothes on the same table where he was correcting proof. I felt a lack of understanding in that. He, on the other hand, was subject to fits of terrible depression.”

By that time Dreiser had already made his mark among discriminating critics as an author of realistic novels of great power, but had not achieved public popularity.

However, he had enough money to make a trip to Europe in 1912, and there he met Ellen Adams Wrynn, the painter, who is credited with considerable influence on his later writing and success. She is one of the women included in his frank and revealing book, “A Gallery of Women.”

Of her he said:

She was one of those women where I lost out. She didn’t want me, that is, not until year later, and then I wouldn’t have her. She was just the same, but it is a rule with me not to moon over anyone.”

Between 1914 and 1919 Dreiser published eight books and made a bare living. After that he went to California, wrote another book, “A American Tragedy,” and — almost without knowing how it happened – found himself affluent, his books on best seller lists, and offers for screen and stage rights mounting to fabulous sums.

He took a handsome Manhattan apartment on 57th street and there, for five years, on Thursday nights New York’s ultra-sophisticated set used to gather – novelists, poets, singers, dancers, editors, critics – to talk and hear Dreiser talk.

Not all of them knew the story of that apartment – the story of the Face Across the Street.

It was a woman’s face, and it was always there at the same window. When Theodore Dreiser went in or out of the building, when he welcomed guests, and when he saw them depart, the woman’s face was always there.

There was no particular expression on the face. It was just watching.

It was the face of Sarah Osborne White Dreiser, the novelist’s first wife.

She had taken the apartment across the street so that never, for one moment, could her former husband forget her.

It was about the time that the film version of “An American Tragedy” was produced. Dreiser saw it. declared it misrepresented the meaning of his novel, and brought suit to prevent the picture’s release. The attempt was unsuccessful.

Finally, in 1931, after a trip to Russia, Dreiser gave up the 57th street apartment for an estate at Mt. Kisco.

“I’m going to leave New York,” he said. “I used to love to walk these streets, but now they are too miserable. They are meaningless. I can’t bear the brick or the cement or the color or lack of color that goes to make up the city. New York is a handsome woman with a cruel mouth.”

Could it have been the Face at the Window across the street of which he was thinking?

Women seem to have been involved, almost invariably, in Theodore Dreiser’s long series of difficulties.

The fray in which the eminent novelist smacked the equally eminent Sinclair Lewis was a sequel to charges of Lewis’ wife, Miss Thompson, that Dreiser had plagiarized material from her writings in his volume on Russia.

Miss Thompson never actually brought suit, but the affair made headlines. A little later Lewis and Dreiser met at a dinner party for a group of literati. Lewis, asked to make a speech, refused, saying, “There are three men here who are antagonistic to me and whom I don’t like.”

“Who are the other two?” Dreiser demanded.

Lewis answered – and was slapped twice. Said Dreiser afterward, “The two slaps I gave Lewis were the only possible answer to a vile insult. I consider the incident closed.”

Said Lewis, “it’s a shame two gentlemen can’t have a private squabble without letting the world in on it.”

It was during his stay in California from 1919 to 1922 which produced “An American Tragedy” that he met Helen Richardson, his present wife. She was 18 years old (about half his age), young and beautiful.

For Dreiser, Miss Richardson gave up her plans for a career. Today she says, “I always wanted to sing, but I felt I couldn’t leave Mr. Dreiser. Now when he talks about committing suicide I know he’ll change his mind as soon as he’s had his breakfast coffee. He’s a wonderful man – after breakfast.”

Her husband has no objections to her present work, since he has always believed that when anyone has an urge to express himself he should do so.

Mrs. Dreiser has written one manuscript, but hasn’t any intention of trying to make a name for herself as a writer. “Mr. Dreiser,” she says, “is enough writer for 10 families.”

She is amused when mistaken for the novelist’s daughter – as she has been frequently. She describes herself as “a tragic person,” given either to a great deal of gaiety or deep depression. She is domestic, likes to cook and care for a home, but is well pleased to be setting out on a new career.


Roger W. Smith, “Theodore Dreiser, Ervin Nyiregyházi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain”


‘Dreiser, Nyiregyhazi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain


See downloadable Word document, which contains the complete text of this post, above.




Hungarian pianist Ervin Nyiregyházi, a child prodigy, emigrated to the United States in 1920.

In 1927, Theodore Dreiser and his mistress Helen Richardson were invited to a Nyiregyházi concert in Manhattan. The pianist became friends with the couple. Nyiregyházi and Helen began an affair which lasted for about two months. Dreiser found out about it, causing a rupture of his friendship with Nyiregyházi.  Dreiser insisted that Helen break completely with the pianist. He demanded absolute liberty for himself to have affairs, but would not grant this to Helen.

Nyiregyházi tried to maintain the relationship with Dreiser. Dreiser rebuffed him. But in 1930, Nyiregyházi gave his girlfriend Marie Pergain a letter of introduction to Dreiser. Dreiser and Pergain commenced an affair.

Both Dreiser and Nyiregyházi were sex addicts and compulsive womanizers.

The relationship between Dreiser and Marie Pergain was a stormy one. Dreiser abused her.

Dreiser and Pergain traveled together to Harlan County, Kentucky in 1931 when Dreiser was heading up a committee investigating conditions of striking miners there. Dreiser had until that time kept his relationship with Pergain secret; he explained that she was one of his literary secretaries.

Dreiser and Pergain were indicted for adultery by Kentucky authorities, but they were never arrested and the charges were eventually dropped.

Dreiser and Pergain broke up shortly thereafter. Pergain moved to Hungary and lived with her former lover Nyiregyházi before breaking up with him.

Nyiregyházi and Pergain both returned to the United States. Near the end of Dreiser’s life, the pianist visited Dreiser and Helen in Los Angeles without renewal of the friendship with Dreiser or intimacy with Helen.

Marie Pergain has long been a “mystery woman.” She was an accomplished pianist and an actress with minor roles in several silent films during the 1920’s.

The affair between Dreiser’s mistress Helen and Ervin Nyiregyházi was not revealed until very recently, in a biography of Nyiregyházi that was published in 2007. The article by Roger W. Smith contained in the above attachment reveals hitherto unknown details about the affair and about Marie Pergain. The focus is on the incidents in this complicated story that involved Theodore Dreiser, directly or indirectly.


— Roger W. Smith

   March 2016; updated October 2022

photos of Dreiser’s lover Marie Pergain


In the infamous and widely publicized “toothpick incident,” Theodore Dreiser and Marie Pergain were indicted on a charge of adultery for spending the night of Friday, November 6, 1931 together in a hotel room in Pineville, Kentucky. They had traveled to Kentucky together, Dreiser to chair hearings of the so-called Dreiser Committee into the conditions of striking mine workers.

Marie Pergain, one of Dreiser’s lovers, was the “mystery woman” involved in the scandal.

In Theodore Dresser Interviews, edited by Frederic E. Rusch and Donald Pizer (University of Illinois Press, 2004), interviews with Dreiser that were published in the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel on November 3 and November 6, 1931 are included. The following is from the editorial commentary in the book:

Also accompanying the group was Marie Pergain (probably a fictitious name), Dreiser’s “companion.” (footnote, pg. 246)

Marie Pergain has never been identified; the name was probably adopted for the occasion. (headnote, pg. 253)

Marie Pergain was not a fictitious name. See my article “Theodore Dreiser, Ervin Nyiregyházi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain,” posted on this site at

Roger W. Smith, “Theodore Dreiser, Ervin Nyiregyházi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain”


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2016



death notice, Helen Dreiser, Los Angeles Times


death notice, Helen Dreiser, Los Angeles Times, September 27, 1955

The entry for Helen Esther Dreiser, Theodore Dreiser’s second wife, is at the bottom of the left hand column.


Helen Dreiser death notice LA Times 9-27-1955 FINAL.jpg


Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, September 27, 1955, pg. 32

Yvette Szekely Eastman obituary


“Yvette Eastman, 101, Photographer, Longtime Aquinnah Summer Resident”

by Phyllis Meras

Vineyard Gazette (Martha’s Vineyard, MA), Friday, January 24, 2014


Yvette Eastman, author, photographer, longtime Aquinnah seasonal resident and wife of the late author, magazine editor and social and political critic Max Eastman, died on Jan. 13 in New York city after a brief illness. She was 101.

From the time of her 1958 marriage to Mr. Eastman until two years ago, Mrs. Eastman would spend nearly half of each year at her East Pasture home overlooking Squibnocket Pond, with Menemsha Pond, Vineyard Sound, the Elizabeth Islands and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. She said she was certain she had the best view on the Island. To assure that the site she so loved would never be spoiled, she had over the years given much of the acreage she owned to the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation. When not on the Island, Mrs. Eastman lived in New York city in an apartment just off Fifth avenue.

She was born Oct. 12, 1912 in Budapest, Hungary, a daughter of Artur Szkely and Marthe Meylan. At the time of her birth her father, an economist, was secretary of the Budapest chamber of commerce and industry and director of its inter-commerce bureau. He was also the author of several works on economics. During World War II, he became secretary of the treasury of Hungary. Her mother was from French Switzerland. In her 1995 memoir, Dearest Wilding, Yvette Eastman recounts her own storybook life.

She tells of her birth mother’s abandonment by her father during Yvette’s infancy; then of her father and stepmother’s divorce while Yvette was still a toddler. With her half sister, the late Suzanne Sekey, Yvette’s stepmother, Margaret Szkely, brought her to the United States. Her stepmother was briefly married to an American and the family lived in Brooklyn. But the marriage was extremely short-lived and mother and daughters moved to Manhattan where Margaret Szekely Monahan supported them by becoming a designer of fashionable ladies’ underwear, as well as writing about important American figures in the arts for publications in Budapest.

As a newspaper and magazine correspondent, Yvette’s stepmother interviewed such notables as the novelist Theodore Dreiser, author of the novels Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy, among others. Yvette’s memoir recounts her seduction at the age of 17 by the then 50-plus year-old writer, their long-lasting love affair and his nurturing of her intellectual enthusiasms. Never really having known a father (though she and her half-sister did go to Budapest as teenagers to meet Artur Szekely), Dreiser was a father figure as well as lover. Her book’s title comes from his nickname for her, Wilding, and is filled with love letters she received from him. It was also through her stepmother that she met Max Eastman decades before they married. Through him Yvette would come to the Vineyard.

Although her principal interests were always in literature and art, after high school she attended business school, not knowing what might lie ahead. During Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, she worked as a social investigator in the Emergency Relief Bureau. Later she worked with the Department of Welfare in New York city. After her marriage she gave up the workplace. But writing had always been a major interest and she dreamed of doing serious writing of her own. During her association with Dreiser, she had translated a French dramatization of An American Tragedy into English for him. Still, it took decades — even after Max Eastman’s death in 1969 — before she settled down to do the personal writing she had always longed to do.

A devoted beachgoer, she had retained a lifetime right to ocean swimming at the Zack’s Cliffs property that had belonged to Max Eastman but had been sold to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. There she met Marta Sguibin, who would become one of her closest friends.

Marta was the governess for Caroline and John Kennedy and later a cook for Mrs. Onassis. Through her, Yvette met Mrs. Onassis. Hearing Yvette’s life story and learning that she had kept Dreiser’s letters, Mrs. Onassis, by then a book editor, urged Yvette to put the letters into a book and to recount her full life story.

At the McDowell Writers’ Colony, she did just that. Her depiction of New York intellectual life in the 1930s and 1940s was heralded by one book reviewer as “compelling, thought-provoking history.” The New York Times reviewer called it a memoir “as clear-eyed as anything penned by the celebrated American realist (Dreiser) she loved.”

Her memoir got under way at the writers’ colony; she later completed it, working in a cubicle at the Cosmopolitan Club in New York and on the Vineyard. Her discipline was to write every morning except Sunday. On that one day of the week, weather permitting, she indulged even into her 90s in the French game called boule on a specially-constructed court at East Pasture. Regulars who came to play included the late Don Page and the late Gilbert Harrison, neighbors Eva and Stephen Weinstein, house guests of her Canadian Aquinnah friends, Avrum and Dora Morrow, Max Eastman’s great nephew Charles Young, who became her caretaker after Max’s death, and many others. When Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg’s children were old enough to play, Yvette organized special children’s boule games for them and the Morrow grandchildren. They were always followed by ice cream and cake parties. (Ice cream was a favorite treat of Yvette’s.)

After her memoir, she began work on a book about Max, but never finished it. She also wrote occasional poetry and prose pieces for the Gazette. In afternoons, she would make her way down to the Squibnocket beach below her house for a swim and to watch the sailboats tacking by. Or she would head for Squibnocket Associates Beach or the Zack’s Cliffs beach with friends and a picnic basket. She liked being asked out to dinner or enjoyed having friends come to visit, from on and off-Island. Frequently it was relatives, such as her sister Sue and Cornelius Clark, whose father had been married to her stepmother, or her nieces Pascal Soriano and Florence Bachoven. Her sister’s friend and business partner the late Harold Leeds and the late Robert Giroux of the publishing firm, Farrar, Straus & Giroux were also regularly invited for weeklong stays. Guests brought their pets if they had them, for Yvette was a great lover of animals. Invariably there was a cat or two — Twiggy, Sebastian, Daisy or Sguby — sharing the East Pasture house or the New York apartment with her.

Although she never enjoyed cooking — remembering with horror trying to prepare chicken for Max soon after their marriage and adding allspice when a piquant seasoning was required — she enthusiastically gave annual giant summer cocktail parties. Wendy Weldon of Chilmark often did the catering.

As her stepmother had, Yvette delighted in the company of writers and artists and actors. Her close Island friends included the late Vineyard Gazette editor and publisher Henry Beetle Hough, the late New York Times movie critic Bolsey Crowther and his wife Florence, the late publisher Hiram Haydn and his wife, Mary, and the late Shakespearian actress and director Margaret Webster, another East Pasture neighbor. Her guests would not only enjoy the view and the company, but Yvette’s stunning black and white photographs of Max, of Vineyard sea and dunes and moors, her own drawings and the paintings by friends that decorated her small, simple home that never took precedence over its natural surroundings.

She enjoyed traveling, but did it infrequently, although she was diligent about going to Geneva, Switzerland, to see her birth mother in her later years. (They had finally met when Yvette was 19.) She also would go regularly to see her stepmother who remained in New York. With Max, she spent time in the Caribbean; for her 90th birthday, she went to Montreal and she also went to Italy and revisited central Europe.

Mostly she would go from New York to the Vineyard each June and remain until after Thanksgiving, or occasionally Christmas, so she could celebrate the holidays with her good friends Peggy and the late Nick Freydberg, or her East Pasture neighbors, the Weinsteins.

Stephen Weinstein recalled: “At one of the last Thanksgivings that she had with us, maybe six years ago, she suggested that we all say what we were thankful for. When it came to be her turn, she said in her irrepressible way, in her lovely lyrical voice, with a sparkle in her brown eyes, ‘I’m thankful for still being here.’ ”

At her 100th and 101st birthday parties, celebrated in New York, she enjoyed the company, the ice cream and cake and insisted on finishing two glasses of champagne. She read the New York Times each day and the New Yorker each week until just before her death.

“Yvette was cutting edge,” Stephen Weinstein said. “Her death marks the end of an era,”

She is survived by two nieces, Pascale Soriano of New York city and Florence Bachofen of Zollikon, Switzerland; a great nephew, Massimo Soriano of New York city and a great niece, Paloma Soriano of New York city; Nancy Clark, wife of her late step half-brother, Cornelius Clar, of Siler City, N.C.; Charles Young of Aquinnah and his sister, Rebecca Young of New York city, great nephew and great niece of Max Eastman; Richard Eastman of Shasta, Calif., great nephew of Max Eastman; Anne and Cordelia Fuller of New York city, great nieces of Max Eastman, and by her beloved cat, Sguby.

She was predeceased by her half sister Suzanne Sekey; her half-brother Thomas Szekely and her step half-brother Cornelius Clark.

A memorial service will be held this summer in Aquinnah.



Note: Yvette (Szekely) Eastman (1912-2014) was (as noted in her obituary) a lover of Theodore Dreiser. See:

Dearest Wilding: A Memoir, with Love Letters from Theodore Dreiser, by Yvette Eastman; edited by Thomas P. Riggio (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995)


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  March 2016

Marguerite Tjader Harris obituary


Marguerite Tjader (1901-1986) was a secretary and lover of Theodore Dreiser. The attached obituary is from the Darien (CT) News-Review, Thursday, April 10, 1986.

Marguerite Tjader Harris obitituary, Darien News-Review 4-10-1986


marguerite-tjader-harris-obituary (2).jpg

Herman [Theodore] Dreiser – Helen E. Richardson marriage certificate, June 13, 1944


Theodore Dreiser - Helen Richardson marriage license


— posted by Roger W. Smith