Hollywood Sears Heir


 Harriet and Armand Deutsch Jr. at the time of their 1951 marriage.





By Megan McKinney


JR and Gussie Rosenwald’s eldest daughter, Adele, was 18 in 1911, when she married Armand Deutsch, an Inland Steel executive’s son, almost—but not quite—the boy next door. The Deutsches lived across from the Rosenwalds on Chicago’s affluent Ellis Avenue. “Not in a mansion,” their son, Armand Jr. later wrote, “but in a spacious lovely home.” The same son described his father, for whom employment was always superfluous, as “high-spirited” and “tippling”—the latter, an immense understatement.  In describing the day he was born, Armand Jr. writes that his father was “out on the town, prematurely celebrating my pending arrival,” with Ernest Byfield, Pump Room founder and Chicago bon vivant extraordinaire. When the two men arrived at the nursery window to view the new heir to the richest man in Chicago, the infant was “crying hard.” Byfield turned to Deutsch and asked, “What the hell does this boy have to cry about?” “My father agreed, and, for some inexplicable reason, failed to visit my mother before resuming his rounds.”  The marriage continued in this fashion for 16 years, until the couple divorced. Adele soon married Dr. David M. Levy, a child psychologist and moved with him to New York, where she founded the Citizens Committee for Children and engaged in a productive life of philanthropy and good works with such like-minded ladies as Eleanor Roosevelt.


Ardie Deutsch in later years.


Armand Deutsch Jr., known to friends as Ardie, became a popular Hollywood producer and man about town, who had the audacity to write a book entitled Me and Bogie about the glittering people of his time—Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Walter Annenberg, Billy Wilder and others—who had known him. And the charm of his personality was such that he carried it off.


Another possible title for Ardie’s book might have been Me and Frank.


In the book, he admitted his friendship with Humphrey Bogart was not an intimate one and that the actor’s earliest words to the young producer were the needling, “Listen, kid, don’t confuse inheriting money with having talent.” Then, shortly before Bogie’s 1957 death, the star softened his caution with, “Remember, kid, it’s better to inherit money than to have talent.”


Inherited money or talent? Ask Bogie.


Throughout his life, Deutsch maintained that it was he, not Bobby Franks, whom Dickie Loeb and Nathan Leopold had planned to kidnap and murder in his prosperous South Side Chicago neighborhood. According to Deutsch, only a dental appointment, to which he was driven by a family chauffeur that morning, removed him as candidate for victim of Leopold and Loeb’s “perfect crime.” Bobby Franks, he always insisted, was second choice.


Benay Venuta.


The first glamorous Mrs. Armand Deutsch Jr. was actress and singer Benay Venuta, who made her Broadway debut in 1935, when she replaced Ethel Merman in the lead role, Reno Sweeney, in Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. She and Ardie married in 1939 and remained together until 1950. Benay Venuta’s other Broadway credits included the 1942 By Jupiter; Hazel Flagg, in 1953; and 1979’s Romantic Comedy. She and Merman were close friends and co-starred in a 1966 revival of Annie Get Your Gun.

“Charmed life” may be a cliché; however, if anyone lived one, it was Ardie Deutsch. Throughout his existence, no matter where he wandered, a platinum door would swing open. He attributed this amazing consistency of kismet to his grandfather’s fortune; however, it would appear that Ardie’s charm and stylish bearing were at least partially responsible.

Why else, would Dore Schary, head of production at RKO Studios (and later at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), whom Ardie met one night at a New York dinner party, single him out for the job that transformed his life in almost every respect?

This is the way Deutsch reported the incident, “During the course of the evening he told me casually that if I wanted to come to California he would give me an apprenticeship, and if all went well let me try my hand at producing.”

Among his productions were Ambush, 1949, starring close friend Robert Taylor; The Magnificent Yankee, a 1950 biography of jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, with Louis Calhern in the title role; and Carbine Williams, starring James Stewart in 1952.


Harriet and Armand Deutsch, in 1986. The consummate Hollywood/Reagan set couple, they married within a year of Ardie’s divorce from Benay Venuta.


Ardie’s second wife was Harriet Berk Simon, widow of director/producer S. Sylvan Simon. Although not an actress,  Harriet was one of Hollywood’s genuine beauties—enduringly so. Depending on one’s opinion, the Deutsches “traded up” from the Hollywood acting crowd of a certain age to the Reagan/Annenberg set of the same generation. On the other hand. . .



Those in the Reagan inner circle, left to right, were Marion and Earle Jorgensen, the Deutsches, the Reagans, the Annenbergs and Betty and William Wilson.


Women’s Wear Daily, the fashion trade sheet, dubbed the era’s spray cement hairstyle worn by the three above blondes “Le Cirque.” But “Le Cirque” was not the hairstyle attributed to just any three blondes—only this trio, plus a handful of others.


Harriet Deutsch, Nancy Reagan and Lee Annenberg at Bistro Garden in Los Angeles. According to Walter Annenberg, Harriet and Lee thought of each other as sisters. The table-hopping visitor is the restaurant’s owner, Kurt Niklas.


New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia, a hard to classify celebrity—neither actor nor Reagan set member—became a pal of Ardie’s during the Rosenwald heir’s later years. They are pictured here in 2002.


Megan McKinney’s series on The Rosenwalds will continue in Classic Chicago next week with The Amazing Rosenwalds: Toward the End of the Story.

Author Photo:

Robert F. Carl