Shameless Facts About Peggy Hopkins Joyce, The First Gold-Digger

September 2, 2023 | Dancy Mason

Shameless Facts About Peggy Hopkins Joyce, The First Gold-Digger

The Roaring Twenties were a time of debauchery, sensuality, and over-the-top antics—and no one embodied that spirit more than the infamous beauty, socialite, and woman-about-town Peggy Hopkins Joyce. Picture Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby coming alive off the page, except with a whole lot more scandal…and one truly heartbreaking end.

1. She Ran Away With A Bad Boy

Peggy Hopkins Joyce was scandalous from the very beginning. Born Marguerite “Peggy” Upton in 1893, she turned naughty in a spectacular way. When she was 15—and already quite the looker—she ran away from her sleepy hometown of Berkeley, Virginia to take up with a touring Vaudeville cyclist. But before they got far, little Peggy dealt her beau a brutal betrayal.

peggy hopkins joyce

2. She Was A Gold Digger

While on the road with her paramour, the teenaged Peggy met the millionaire Everett Archibald—and as soon as she locked eyes with the wealthy man, her Vaudeville lover was chopped liver. Even at that tender age, Peggy knew what she wanted: Men with money. She quickly dumped her cyclist to take up with Archibald…but there were unexpected consequences.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce facts Wikipedia

3. She Was A Teenaged Bride

Peggy understood which side her bread was buttered on, and in 1910 she sealed the deal with Everett Archibald, marrying him in a quickie ceremony after nine months together. Bad idea. See, Peggy was already a dyed-in-the-wool hedonist, and as Archibald traveled around as a salesman, she took up with a series of men behind her husband’s back. It fell apart almost instantly.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce facts Wikimedia Commons

4. She Betrayed Her Husband Several Times

One day, Archibald happened to come home early from one of his business trips…and walked in on a horrific sight. His young wife was wrapped around another man. Aghast and at a loss, Archibald quickly left for his next business destination, intending to deal with the betrayal later. Well, he had misjudged Peggy—because she was already one step ahead of him.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

5. She Skipped Town In Disgrace

Days after this dramatic incident, Peggy went nuclear on her husband. She skipped town entirely, taking a stack of money with her. She then sent Archibald a postcard all the way from out east, asking him for a divorce. Poor Archibald had almost no choice but to comply with her demands, though he did save some face by annulling the union—because she was only 17 when they married.

Yet even after all this, Peggy was in for even higher drama.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

6. She Had A Secret Love Child

Just after she split town, Peggy went to go live with family. It was there she made a gut-wrenching discovery: She was pregnant. Nine months later, she gave birth to a baby boy as a single mother in 1911—a rough a time as any to be raising a child on your own. But for all these difficulties, nothing could excuse the horror that was about to take place.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsPicryl

7. A Dark Crime Haunted Her Past

Four months after giving birth, Peggy was embroiled in a truly dark scandal. Though details are scant, someone in the household gave the newborn too much cough syrup, which at the time contained high levels of opiates. Peggy’s son’s perished, and suspicions still swirl about what really went on that day. For Peggy’s part, she later completely reinvented this time of her life, claiming she was at a “finishing school” during these years.

Repressed trauma or not, she was always a girl with a plan—and she was about to execute her next one.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsPicryl

8. She Had A Bad Habit

With her finishing school lie under her belt, Peggy traveled to Washington DC to mingle with real private school kids. Soon enough, she gave in to dark temptation. With men continuing to fall all over themselves for her, she took up with Sherburne Hopkins, a lawyer from a well-established legal clan. This time, Peggy was sure it would stick. It didn’t.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsFlickr, Washington DC 1912

9. She Was A Shameless Flirt

After Peggy married Sherburne Hopkins in 1913, her whole life was one glittering ball after another. But that didn’t mean it was a happy marriage. Soon enough, her husband got jealous of just how much attention Peggy gave the other male attendees at these galas. He was so distraught he got his own mother to keep a close watch on his new bride.

Peggy was not one to take a meddling mother-in-law lying down, and she lashed out in a big way.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsWikipedia

10. She Taught Her Husband A Lesson

As early as 1915, Peggy had enough of playing the prim Washington wife, and she straight-up abandoned Sherburne Hopkins—and his over-zealous mother—in order to move to New York and jump-start a career in entertainment. She even had the audacity to stay at the Hopkins family suite in the chic St. Regis Hotel. And once she was in the Big Apple, she somehow found new ways to stir up trouble.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsFlickr, Internet Archive Book Images

11. She Was A Ziegfeld Girl

Peggy never had a problem proving herself, and she made a big splash almost immediately. After determinedly searching for work, she got a job working for the world-famous Ziegfeld Follies. Reportedly, when she showed impresario Florenz Ziegfeld her shapely legs during her audition, he quipped, “Well, if you can do anything at all on stage, you’ll do".

It was Peggy’s big break…but she was about to meet her match.

Marion Davies FactsGetty Images

12. She Was An Expert In Men

Starting around 1920, Peggy met the millionaire (natch) J Stanley Joyce, a hard-nosed businessman who made his money in lumber. Stanley was obsessed with Peggy, and Peggy…was obsessed with Stanley’s money. At one point during their courtship, Stanley gifted her an enormous emerald, only for Peggy to reflect that she “would have rather had a diamond".

Unfortunately, their romance had even bigger problems.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsWikimedia Commons

13. She Got Out Of Her Marriage Through Manipulation

Despite living the single life as an actress, Peggy was very much still married to her second husband Sherburne Hopkins when she met Stanley Joyce. But Peggy knew just what to do. She told her “tragic” tale of marriage woes to Stanley, who immediately pledged to pay for her divorce. True to his word, Peggy was officially a free woman in 1920. And she wasted no time.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

14. She Had A Speedy Wedding

Peggy didn’t appear to be too broken up about her divorce. She married Stanley just two days after the paperwork went through, tying the knot with him on January 23, 1920. It wasn’t her first walk down the aisle, so you’d expect the new Mrs. Joyce to be cool as a cucumber about the proceedings. However, you’d be wrong—her wedding night was worthy of a soap opera.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsWikimedia Commons

15. She Ransomed Her Body

As soon as they said their “I Dos” and the festivities were over, Stanley and Peggy went back to their hotel room to, er, officially consummate their union. But that’s when Peggy threw her new husband a curve ball. She promptly locked herself in the bathroom and withheld intimacy—until Stanley wrote her a $500,000 check. No, really.

Then, just days after her wedding, Peggy was making more headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

16. She Went On An Infamous Spree

With her third time at the altar over and done with, Peggy’s next actions stunned the world. Brazenly showing off her status as a trophy wife and unrepentant gold digger, she went on a very public shopping spree, notoriously spending a cool million dollars in just one week’s time. The stunt immediately put her in the papers…but behind closed doors, things were becoming less dramatic, more tragic.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsPicryl

17. She Had A Violent Temper

Peggy had always loved soaking up male attention, and being married to Stanley Joyce was seriously cramping her style. Her third husband would also frequently complain about her blatant flirtations with other men—and the climaxes of these fights were breathtaking. During one spat, Peggy scratched him with her nails, while in another she smashed a champagne bottle over his head.

Incredibly, at least when it came to smashing the bottle, Peggy claimed “he seemed to like it". But nobody in the marriage liked the next chapter.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsFlickr, Allison Marchant

18. She Divulged All Her Secrets

Peggy Hopkins Joyce now knew she was on everyone’s radar, and that’s exactly where she wanted to be. In the early 1920s, she reached the peak of her fame by doing one thing and one thing only: She granted an interview to anyone who asked. But she didn’t just do that—oh no. Once a reporter got access to her, she made sure they would never forget their time together.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

19. She Undressed In Front Of Strangers

During this period of her life, Peggy came up with an ingenious branding move. She was infamous for receiving curious journalists at her own home, and would purposefully recline herself over a divan, dressed in only a skimpy negligee. The real kicker? She would regularly wear no underclothes beneath the transparent gown.

It wasn’t long before Peggy Hopkins Joyce absolutely blew up.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

20. She Was The Most Famous Woman In America

Following these bare-all interviews, Peggy reached ever higher levels of fame. Songwriter Cole Porter mentioned her in several of his hit songs, and comedians would frequently use her high-rolling, gold-laden lifestyle as the punchline of their jokes. More than that, revue theaters began to rabidly knock on her door and ask her to appear on stage.

But it was about to all come crashing down.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsWikipedia

21. She Told An Enormous Lie

As Peggy’s star rose, her marriage to Stanley Joyce turned ever more sour in her mouth. In the spring of 1921, the couple went on a belated honeymoon, living the high life on a European cruise. It was an unmitigated disaster. Peggy spent her time dancing with other men on the liner, dallying with lovers while Stanley was asleep, and once concocted a “solo” week in the countryside when she was really with a boyfriend.

When it all came to a head, the scandal was ruthless.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

22. She Suffered A Public Embarrassment

For a jealous man, Stanley Joyce was incredibly trusting of his wife, so it took him a good long while to realize the extent of what was happening. But one day, he finally caught on—and he had quite enough. As yet another lover approached Peggy at a public function, he forcefully pushed her back into her chair…which then caused her tiara to slip and cut her face.

Peggy’s response to this was bone-chilling.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

23. Her Honeymoon Was A Disaster

Peggy may have been physically injured, but she was also utterly mortified at the scene her husband made. Her revenge was exacting. She refused to come to Stanley’s bed that night, and Stanley himself came to his own conclusions. He left their European “honeymoon” to go back to his business dealings stateside, telling Peggy to stay where she was.

Little did Peggy know, this was the beginning of the end.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsPicryl

24. Her Fairy Tale Crashed To A Halt

Shortly after Stanley’s infamous exit from their vacation, Peggy got stunning news from a journalist during one of her routine interviews: Stanley was divorcing her. Of course by then, Peggy was spending most of her time with her favorite lover, Parisian millionaire Henri Letellier…but no amount of passion could hide the dark accusations that came out of Stanley’s suit.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce facts Wikimedia Commons

25. She Used Her Husband

In the wake of his wife’s absconding with a Frenchman, Stanley gave Peggy as good as he got. While Peggy had the audacity to ask for an alimony allowance of $10,000 a month—not to mention the request that Stanley pay her court fees—he countersued her, claiming she had multiple affairs during their short time together. Yet that wasn’t even his worst accusation.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

26. She Might Have Been A Bigamist

As the divorce of the Roaring Twenties ramped up, Peggy’s ex accused her of a terrible secret. He claimed that she had never actually been properly divorced from Sherburne Hopkins, and that their own marriage made her a bigamist. Not a good look, even for one of the most notorious bad girls of her day. But once more, Stanley didn’t stop there.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

27. She Drove A Man To The Brink

Besides claiming his union with Peggy was invalid because of her bigamy, Stanley also exposed a huge skeleton in her walk-in closet. He claimed that during her dalliances within their union, she had driven one of her lovers into taking his own life after he went flat broke trying to keep her happy. Obviously, the press went wild at the divorce trial—and the verdict kept them busy for days.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

28. She “Won” The Divorce

By the end of the court proceedings, the Joyces had all their dirty laundry out to air—with evidence coming out about the $1.4 million Stanley had spent on his wife to keep her in the best jewelry and furs, not to mention a house in Miami. But for all that, Peggy still walked away with the right to keep all the jewelry Stanley had bought her and stock in his company.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce was free and clear at last—but her troubles were just getting started.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

29. There Was One Man She Wouldn’t Marry

After the disaster that was her third marriage to Stanley Joyce, Peggy swore that she would never marry again. Even her new lover Henri Letellier wasn’t enough to tempt to seasoned gold digger; as Peggy once quipped, "Frenchmen understand women too well. A girl should never marry a man who understands women". Unfortunately, it turned out that even Peggy’s flings could be downright dangerous, and she was about to find that out the hard way.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsInternational House (1933), Paramount Pictures

30. She Took Up With A Dangerous Family

While in the midst of her relationship with Letellier, Peggy met another man she almost threw everything away for: the Chilean attaché Guillermo “William” Errázuriz. But this was no ordinary affair—her new lover had an extremely dark past. William was the brother of Bianca Errázuriz, a high society woman who had just fatally shot her ex-husband.

In other words, Peggy was now dabbling with a crowd even more dramatic and violent than herself. It ended horrifically.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsInternational House (1933), Paramount Pictures

31. She Was A Homewrecker

When Peggy posted up with William, he was already married and with a family of his own, just as she and Letellier were also still an item. That didn’t stop the two of them from jumping head-first into romance, with William falling particularly hard; Peggy later claimed he wanted to drop all his commitments just to marry her. But in the spring of 1922, this house of cards toppled.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsInternational House (1933), Paramount Pictures

32. She Was In A Messy Love Triangle

On May 1st, 1922, Peggy’s world turned upside down. After a night on the town with Peggy, Letellier, and William hashing out what their threesome should be, Errázuriz wished her goodnight by saying, “There will be no tomorrow for me". Peggy, bleary-eyed and sleepy, had no idea what this meant. But she would find out all too soon.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsInternational House (1933), Paramount Pictures

33. Her Lover Had A Fatal Accident

That very evening, William Errázuriz fatally shot himself in his own hotel room. Everyone from officers to journalists began to swarm the place, desperate to understand what had really gone down and how Peggy was involved this time. After all, although William had left a note, it never mentioned Peggy nor their love triangle. This only produced more heartbreak.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsInternational House (1933), Paramount Pictures

34. She May Have Killed A Man

With no clear answer in his note, William’s family staunchly believed he had done it because he owed a mountain of debts. Meanwhile, Peggy herself confessed to the press (of course) that he had only grown so desperate after she had refused to marry him once and for all. And if people didn’t believe her story, the next events might have convinced them.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

35. She Hit Rock Bottom

Three days after William’s tragic passing, Peggy went right off the deep end. On a self-destructive bender, she took a handful of sleeping pills and tried to follow her lover into the dark, hoping to end it all rather than face reality. Luckily for Peggy, she survived the attempt. But when she regained consciousness, her words were gut-wrenching.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

36. She Had One Regret

Peggy might have been a shameless gold digger, but she did have a heart. She told journalists in one of her many interviews that she was “through with men” after this horrific period in her life. She also confessed to having been in love with William and said she was deeply regretful that she “played with him” and “dangled him on a string".

It was as close as Peggy ever got to public remorse…but her words had devastating consequences.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

37. She Was A Real Femme Fatale

After Peggy gave her interview, newspapers around the world published her words about her long-lost lover. That’s when the second enormous tragedy struck. A second Chilean attaché, Rivas Muntt, who was also romantically linked to Peggy, tried to take his own life using the barbiturate Veronal. And when medics found him, he was holding a damning piece of evidence.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

38. Her Big Mouth Ruined Everything

According to the attendants who arrived on the scene and luckily saved Muntt’s life, the attaché was clutching a newspaper that contained Peggy’s declaration of love for William Errázuriz. In the following days, it became clear that Peggy had snubbed Muntt and that he, unable to handle her love for another man, tried to end it all as well.

By the end of 1922, Peggy’s carefree life had turned dark and bloody—and she had only one option open to her.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

39. She Earned An Enviable Title

Following this femme fatale fiasco, Peggy receded into the background and never dated again. Just kidding. She pledged to do that, but that’s not what happened at all. By the summer of 1924, she was married again—and she got a big upgrade. Her new husband, Count Gosta Morner, wasn’t just rich, he was a full-on Swedish aristocrat.

To be fair to Peggy, though, something was different about this marriage.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

40. She Tried To Start Over

Whether it was his noble title or just the man himself, Peggy seemed well and truly in love with Gosta Morner, even telling the press after their nuptials, "All my other marriages meant nothing. This is the first time I have ever been truly in love". But if you’ve learned anything about Peggy, you’ll probably take that statement with a huge grain of salt. She certainly should have.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

41. She Couldn’t Step Away From The Spotlight

Peggy may have thought she loved the Count unconditionally, but he soon gave her an ultimatum she couldn’t accept. As his wife, Morner demanded that Peggy give up her career on stage and screen to better focus her energies on being the new Countess. While Peggy agreed at first, within months she realized she could never tear herself away from the spotlight

Before 1924 was up, Peggy Hopkins Joyce was single again—and turning to a new vocation.

Lydia Locke FactsShutterstock

42. She Was A Professional Gossip

Now, don’t get me wrong, Peggy Hopkins Joyce didn’t turn over a new leaf at the end of her fourth marriage. She still dated furiously, racking up men like auto pioneer Walter Chrysler, but she did also manage to avoid accepting any proposals for the next 19 years. Instead, she spent her time writing a gossip column called Varieties.

Sadly, though, Peggy’s glory days were about to run out.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsWikipedia

43. She Dated A Nerd

Peggy always had a diverse taste in men, so no one was all that surprised when she traded in her suave millionaires for the brilliant British astronomy professor Charles Vivian Jackson. In fact, Peggy later called Jackson “the only man I’ve ever loved". And sure, that sounds rather familiar coming from Peggy, but she had a very tragic reason to say it.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsGetty Images

44. She Lost Her Lover In A Brutal Accident

Most of Peggy’s dalliances met ignominious ends, but her affair with Jackson had the most heartbreaking finish of all. In 1937, the couple were taking an idyllic vacation in St. Moritz, Switzerland when Jackson decided to take advantage of the surroundings and go on a sleigh ride. In a cruel twist of fate, he met a fatal accident, leaving Peggy devastated and alone once more.

Around this time, her life slowly began to unravel.

Christina Onassis FactsWikimedia Commons

45. She Lost Her Looks

Despite the tragedy of Charles Vivian Jackson’s passing, Peggy Hopkins Joyce had spent the 1930s being relatively stable—staying out of trouble and staying far away from the altar. But even for these healthy choices, the ravages of time and her hedonistic lifestyle were working on her all the while. After the 1920s, Peggy became haggard, overweight, and deeply insecure about both developments.

With her self-esteem at an all-time low, Peggy went back to her bad habits.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsWikimedia Commons

46. She Was Disobedient

In December of 1945, matrimony called to Peggy again, and she married her fifth husband, consulting engineer Anthony Easton. But even on that happy day, she refused to do one thing. After walking down the aisle in her dress, journalists noticed that she had omitted the traditional word “obey” from her wedding vows—something Kate Middleton became famous for doing decades later in her wedding to Prince William.

For some, this was another indication that Peggy’s marriage was doomed. Unfortunately, those haters would be right. Sort of.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsWikimedia Commons

47. She Had A Mysterious Divorce

Whatever her vow modifications, we know that Peggy and Anthony Easton certainly didn’t make it to “Til death do us part”—but we don’t know when they called it quits. In typically mysterious Peggy fashion, there is no record of their divorce. The only thing we have to go on to confirm their split is the fact that she married again in 1953, to Andrew C Meyer.

By then, though, her story was already coming to a close.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsWikimedia Commons

48. She Hid From The Cameras Until The End

In the end, even the glittering Peggy Hopkins Joyce’s life ended not with a bang, but a whimper. After marrying Meyer, she decided to age away from the cameras, living a quiet life in Connecticut where no one could see her continued decline. Still, she never got to have even that realistically happy ending: Just four years later, doctors diagnosed her with throat cancer.

That summer she passed, still too young, at the age of 64.

Peggy Hopkins Joyce factsWikipedia

49. She Asked An Impertinent Question

One of Peggy’s most famous dalliances was with none other than iconic comedian Charlie Chaplin. But this relationship is also the source of the darkest rumor about her. Although apocryphal, Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon claims that on her first date with Chaplin, Peggy brazenly asked him if he was indeed “hung like a horse". Then again, there’s a more disturbing rumor floating around.

Charlie Chaplin FactsGetty Images

50. Harpo Marx Thought She Was Illiterate

At one point in the 1920s, while Peggy was swanning around Hollywood, she happened to meet Harpo Marx, the “silent” Marx brother. But after meeting with the femme fatale, Harpo claimed that Peggy Hopkins Joyce was actually illiterate—and it’s a claim we can’t completely disprove. Although she did supposedly write a gossip column, her memoirs were certainly ghostwritten.

Harpo Marx factsGetty Images

Sources:  1, 2, 3, 4

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