My folks were pioneers of Orange County and my grandfather came down in the late 1800’s around the Civil War time. And he bought land up around Lake Griffin up around Wildwood and that lake was named after them. And that was the first time he came in from Georgia… They came down to set out groves. So once they stayed there they came on down into Ocoee, Florida. And at that time it took practically a half a day to get from Ocoee to Orlando because it was buck board and a rut road between Ocoee and Orlando and then they bricked it at just big enough for one car to go through. And when I was going to school I would get on the bus and the bus would get priority because it was large and cumbersome and the car would park over on the side of the road to keep the bus on the road because it was just, the little brick road was just big enough for the car. So a lot has happened since I was born….
Glimpse into Mrs. Marilee Ivy’s extraordinary life in this oral history interview with her at the Orlando Public Library, May 20, 2014.
LISTEN Part I (15:03) (Text highlights excerpts from audio recording.)
Orange County Pioneers
I had two grandfathers that came to Orange County. One was a doctor. What kind of a doctor? I don’t know. I had an aunt who used to say he was a vet. And then my other aunt, my great aunt would say that’s not true. He helped everyone… He came and settled in Windermere with a very large family. His name was Able Griffin.
And he had a large family and retired there. And he set up a saw mill on Lake Rose right outside of Windermere and then one of his children married my grandfather. And they were both Griffins and they were third or fourth cousins. They used to do that because they all worked so hard to accumulate. That was adding on to the family and maybe today they wouldn’t appreciate that or understand it, but I understand it.
Luther and Lee Griffin
I own a piece of property right now that has been passed down one way or another for 157 years. And that’s not a long time when you think about it, but 157 years for one little piece of dinky land. I don’t want my children to sell it. Because say 50 years the way things are just being swept along that could be swept away and you could sell it to buy a car. It’s just a matter of how you look at things and what’s important to you. But I would hate to loose that just through negligence or through children needing a little money or something like that. Because in 150 years with that many people you know that they’ve had their ups and downs and its kind of nice to have something. It’s like a teacup, you know, that’s been passed on down and you treasure that little piece of whatever.
Mrs. Henrietta Griffin and Luther
So I have two connections in Orange County and my grandmother, Henrietta, was from the Griffins of Windermere. And she moved and she was a music teacher in Ocoee.
And she didn’t teach school or anything, but she had private lessons in her home. They had an octangular room in this home that they built in the late 1800’s there on Oakland Avenue in Ocoee. And it was her music room. And they had a private entrance you could go in and it was all lined with books and she had a piano in there and that was their library and their music room.
Griffin Family Portrait: Benjamin Luther Griffin, Lee Griffin, Luther Griffin, and Henrietta Griffin.
Now this was not a fine, fine home, but it was a nice substantial home and it is still there and I’m sorry to say it is not still in the family because my father didn’t pay the taxes. He was in Jacksonville… when he heard my mother call – the taxes – you better hurry, they’re going to sell it off. He came home from Jacksonville and he went down to pay his taxes and they were on the steps and our neighbor outbid him. He just kept bidding him up, bidding him up. And their name was Whitaker. And my father came home and just cried because he had lost my grandfather’s house due to negligence. And these things happen in families, they happen…
And so I was in Ocoee until I was just a very young child and then we moved to Tampa and we stayed there until I was in the fifth grade. And then my father became ill and so we moved back to this home that they had bought. My grandfather had bought my mother and father a home. And I have it now. That’s part of the piece of property that I own. It was attached to the property that was built during the Civil War. So I had those two pieces that I put together which I’m very grateful for...
They had a big brick school there in Ocoee and then they had this really nice stucco one that set back. But around the brick one was just a lot of oaks. It was red brick, dark setting. And so I decided I didn’t want to go there. So I went over to the stucco school where the 7th to the 12th grade was and I knocked on the principal’s door … and I said, “I’d like to come to this school.” And he said, “Well, what grade are you in?” And I said, “Well, I’m supposed to go over there at the other school in the 6th grade, but I’m sure I could do the 7th grade work if you would just give me a chance because I don’t want to go in that dark school.” And he said, “Well, do you think you really could do this work?” And I said, “Oh, yes.” I said, “Yes, you know the city schools are so much more advanced than country schools. And I think I could do it.” So he said, “Well, if you think you could do it I’ll give you a trial.” So I never went to the 6th grade. I went straight to the 7th grade… But’s that been my life. I hopped, jumped through life…
LISTEN Part II (19:07)
As I remember Ocoee the length of time that I was not there during these five or six years that I was in Tampa, I would come up during the summer and visit my great aunt at this little Civil War house that I own now from the corner of the fire station. And it was wonderful. I looked forward to that because it was like I’m going to the country for ten days.
Ocoee Baseball Game, circa 1920’s
And my father would bring me up and we had a grove over in the back… I don’t know if it was 50 or maybe 60 acres. And my grandfather owned that and they had a big old barn out there and they had three little board and batten houses. And those houses had been left to my father from my grandfather and the grove, too.
Luther Griffin with his Orange Trees, 1923
So when he’d bring me up he’d pick up the rent on those houses… And I would go over there and ride the mule. And later on in life that’s where I learned to drive a car… But I learned a lot from those little things. I would make these trips with my dad….
The Bronson’s of Kissimmee
I remember we were coming through Kissimmee and we went through the old iron bridge through Clermont. He said, “I’m going to stop off and see the Bronson’s.” Well, the Bronson’s was a big family in Kissimmee and my mother was related to the Bronson’s. And he says, “Now I want you to sit in the car ’cause I’m not going to be long. I’m just going to run in and say ‘how do you do’.” And we drove up to this house that looked very much like those little rent houses that my father had. But it was a little more substantial and they had a pump on the front porch and way out in the field you’d see an oil derrick… And this Bronson had a lot of cattle. They were running cattle, they were real big steers.
So when my father got back, I must have been five or six years old, and he got back in the car and as we drove away I said, “Oh, daddy, I feel so sorry for those people.” And my father stopped the car. And he backed it up and he called to him. He said, “Hey, would you show my daughter your barn?” And he said, “Well, sure.” And I remember going into this barn and you’ve never seen wealth in your life. There were silver saddles all over the place hanging and these Mexican ponies were in there. And they were cowboys. And these Mexican ponies were very strong horses and they could get out in the wet of the weather and go into the muck. And see these cows would be on the free range and they’d get stuck in the palmettos and the muck… I didn’t know it at the time but as I got a little older I’d go to these Saturday matinee shows and it was so typical. But I can remember my father, and so we got back in the car, he says, “Have you learned anything, girl… Girl did you learn something today?” And he didn’t point it out, he didn’t make a too-doo about it or anything. But that cured me of, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Mr. Neiman Marcus
And I had that same thing come up years later when I was visiting in Texas with my mother-in-law with Mr. Neiman Marcus… I was walking through Neiman’s with my mother-in-law and we were talking and all and Mr. Marcus, Neiman, was walking through and he knew her from Marlin, Texas and he says, “Lillian, it’s so good to see you.” And she was telling him this that and the other. And she introduced me to him. And something was said about everyone being nice, being over nice, and extending themselves to us. And he said, “Well, yes,” he says, “Because my help knows better. Some of these folks come in here looking like they just came off a derrick. They did. And they could buy me and sell me. They don’t know who they are so they better treat them nice.” But that was the same kind of lesson that my father was trying to teach me so I learned that lesson that my father was trying to teach me….
Violet Dell Florist and The Coliseum
When I was in high school I had a cousin here in Orlando who owned The Violet Dell Florist and it was a beautiful florist. It was really a Park Avenue florist. And it was something new that Orlando, a florist just didn’t look that way. And my Aunt Lena owned that. I wasn’t really dating age when the war came I was 15 years old. And they had The Coliseum here in Orlando and so she called my mother one night and I did not date. She said, “I got the sweetest little boy here in my shop and he doesn’t have a date and there’s a big dance.” I don’t know if it was Artie Shaw or Duke Ellington or one of those big bands that were there. The man who ran the Coliseum, his name was Jack Kemp, and he did a lot for Orlando. I think everyone looked down on him because he was Jack Kemp, all these people coming in, bands. I don’t know that, but I got the feeling that he wasn’t one of the more prominent citizens. And yet he brought a lot of money into Orlando. And I’m sure the financiers were happy to see Jack Kemp come into the bank… So my mother said, “Well, I guess it’s all right, I’ll send her”… So I got to go so that came to be the way that I got to date, that my Aunt Lena would fix me up with the fly boy. At 18 and 19 years old they were flying airplanes. And so that kind of opened my eyes to how to meet people and all…
Well, the thing’s back when I was just a kid, you know, you opened these magazines and they’ d have these samples of lipstick and a powder and if you wrote they’d send you a sample.Well, I would do that and I got this mail and there were two old maids there and they were just out to lunch and they’d say, “Well, you’re spending an awful lot of money.” I mean they just couldn’t connect. And I said, “Oh, yes, ma’am.” But it was all samples. It was all free. I was getting all this mail. It made me feel very important..
LISTEN Part III (19:56)
New York City
Well, when I got started I thought, oh, these are all these places that I’m writing to in New York in New York and all. So I had my own way of connecting the dots. So I went up and I was going to go to the Barbizon School for Girls. So I wrote to them and I sent them my picture and they said they would accept me. So I went and my mother took me to Yowell and Drew and she bought me a brown linen suit, a short cuffed jacket and a shirt. It had a, it wasn’t a check, but it was like a Z going like this, chocolate on white and it was pure cotton and it went with that two piece linen jacket. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. She bought me a beautiful pair of alligator shoes and a gorgeous, I don’t know what that bag cost her, but it was close to a hundred dollars which was a lot of money in those days. And it was an alligator bag and I kept that alligator bag until finally it fell apart…
Barbizon School for Girls
When I went to New York… I got in where I was to go on Fifth Avenue. Their offices were there and when you walked in it was like another world. It was turquoise and lime green and it was just like a sunburst with white rugs. I mean it was just very, very sophisticated. I’d never seen anything like that… It was just so sophisticated and all the women were so straight back and tall and elegant. And I thought, gee, I’ve got to learn something here. So, I did.
I went there and then they set up a family for me to live with and their name was Doctor and Mrs. Slocum. And they lived in Forest Hills, Long Island and they had a beautiful home there. And their daughter was a Conover Model…. So I went there and they had these little rooms over their garage that they rented out. And one of the other girls, the girl that was there, she had the larger room and she was paying them $24.00 a month for her room and bath and I paid $17.00 something for my little small room. And I stayed there for that seven or eight months whatever I stayed there. Then when summer came my mother came up and leased an apartment in Kew Gardens right there as you come up to the subway. She rented that and it was all furnished and we stayed there for the summer. And then when she was there she went to the bank and she gave them some money… she had me along, and she said I want to put this money in the bank and this child, she introduced me, and said, “She’s not to get any of this money for anything except rent. She’s going to have to get herself a job. But I want her to pay her rent and she’s to come in here and to get her rent every week on a Monday morning or whatever.” And she put me in the Barbizon Hotel for Women and I had to have three references. And one of them was Red Barber, the sports announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers, one was my minister, and one was Mr. Fairchild of the bank in Winter Garden.
And I went into that bank now and I look back and that was not that kind of bank. I’m sure they all laughed at my mother when she left because it was not that kind of bank. He did that because it was such an unbelievable story that some woman could come in from some little jackwater town and set her daughter up on such a little bit of money. And it was just to see for two years that I had that money to pay my rent until I could get established. That’s how I got to New York.
And so then later I stayed at the Des Artistes and I met all these marvelous people, Howard Chandler Christy, Jessica Dragonette, and I can’t even fathom them all…the Algonquin Group… some of these people that lived at the Des Artiste were part of that group. They didn’t live at The Algonquin, but they all ran around with that crowd. And I met all these people and they all took me in… The man that did the write up about “Believe it or Not?” – Ripley – he lived across the street in the building across from Central Park West at 67th, 67th Central Park West. The Des Artiste was there on the corner and that building was there. Well, I got invited to a party there. Well, I was still a young girl and they would not everyone in that – the Des Artiste had a little private dining room and all the people in the building always dressed up to go down in the dining room and have dinner in the evening. It wasn’t open to just anyone. that was strictly – they had a bar and a little private dinner place for all the people that lived there. And they could have their friends in for dinner and everyone dressed in formal clothes…
And down at 67th Street and Columbus Avenue the park was at this end and Columbus was at the other end and their was a drug store there. Every morning everyone went down there to have breakfast and you got to know everyone that lived on 67th Street between Central Park and Columbus…. And Jessica Dragonette lived on that street and many a night she’d call me and she’d say, “I can’t sleep, Lee, come meet me at the coffee shop.” And it’d be one o’clock in the morning and I would get up and I would go down there and here she would be in her flaunting hat and her cloak looking like a gypsy and smoking…. But I look back and I think wasn’t I lucky to fall into that trap of those people. Because they had all had their career. they had all climbed their mountain so to speak. And they were so generous with me….
I was dating a man who was doing summer stock and I had this date and I got all dressed and he didn’t show up.. I had some friends that lived in the Village and I called them and I said, “Well here I am all dressed and nowhere to go,” and they said, “Well come down to our house. We’re having a party and everyone’s here from Texas… So that’s what I did… And when I walked in I met my husband… And we got to talking and he said, “Do you play chess?” And I said, “No, I don’t.” And he said, “Let’s go over here, there’s a chess thing over here and I’ll explain it to you.” And so we got over there and we were talking and it was just pleasant… I’m trying to think of the man’s name who had the party. His name was Roy Upshaw. He was a writer. And he had this lovely apartment at 1 Christopher Street. And it is a very famous building in the Village because a lot of interesting people lived at 1 Christopher Street… And what happened was the party moved from 1 Christopher Street down to a place right off Gramercy Park. And there was Pete’s Tavern there and there was a writer right across the street there that his home was there and that’s where the party ended up….
LISTEN Part IV (19:34)
Edwin asked me for the next night and told me he would meet me under the clock at the Biltmore Hotel and we’d go for dinner. And I went with him for a whole year. Every night we’d go. We didn’t spend a lot of money. I’m sure he spent a lot of money on me, but it wasn’t big time. Every night we’d got out to dinner and we’d walk up one side of 5th Avenue and down the other. And if he kissed me good night it was at the Barbizon Hotel. Well, they had those two Christmas trees there and all the girls told their dates good bye behind the Christmas tree. And they had this huge seven foot 300 pound doormen and he’d say, “Okay, okay fella. Get moving. She’s got to get in because we’re locking the door.” You had to be in before the door was locked. So that’s how I met my husband…
He had been in prison camp and he didn’t know really what he wanted to do. And so, he had read a book that was on advertising and I’m trying to think of the man’s name that wrote the book… and he read it while he was in prison camp. It had been sent in there through the Red Cross. And he wrote him in New York and told him that he was in prison and that he really admired his book and all and thought about getting into advertising. And he wrote him back while he was in prison and he said, “When you get out, if you get to New York if I can help you in any way I will” … He went to New York and so this man did give him a job. And it was with the advertising firm, they had just come out with the “Hires to you”, remember the cold drink, the root beer? Well, that was the agency he was with and from there he went to work for Scribner’s and that’s when we married.
And Mr. Scribner gave me a cookbook for my wedding. He gave me a bed for my wedding. Now this is Mr. Charles Scribner, Senior. He gave me a bed, he gave me a cookbook and something else. And Mr. Scribner was like my husband they were from the old school that’s why he hired Edwin…. And so then he left Scribner’s because Scribner’s son graduated from Yale and he wanted to give his roommate my husband’s job. And so he didn’t get to stay at Scribner’s, but it was good that he was shoved out. And he went to work with a subsidiary of U.S. Steel in the Chrysler Building. And then from the Chrysler Building they moved their offices from the Chrysler Building to 1 Park Avenue.
So that’s how I met my husband and then after a year we married at the little church around the corner. And it was very nice. It was very simple… But the thing is, I think, that my modeling attracted my husband to me. Be cause I was not, he was much better educated than I and had been around. He was more sophisticated, I would say. But I was with all these other people. I was taking him to parties that he couldn’t believe. And when I opened my mouth I must have been on the other side of the South Dixie line, you know, because at that time I had a real Southern accent… but, I think, he couldn’t believe that I came from this little one horse town and to get into New York and meet all these people and to be able to go to all these elegant parties. That was just unbelievable… My family always thought I was a very successful person…
Marilee Griffin featured in a LIFE magazine advertisement for Chesterfield tobacco. This boy here his whole face had been shattered and that was all reconstructed…
Marilee Griffin models tailoring by Robert Goldman, a Berkley Original, featured in a catalog, circa 1940s.
And this here I did a lot of that. This is what you call catalog modeling….
LISTEN Part V (18:54)
But don’t you think that the little experiences when I was so young from my father, but don’t you think that got into my blood, maybe? I think it did. He was a nice man. He was a very quiet person. And my son is so like him. Looks like him, walks like him, acts like him. I mean absolutely. And I never really knew my father because he wasn’t a talker. And my mother was a jolly, jolly woman. I mean she could walk, talk in the kitchen. She was the best cook in the world, best cook in the world. Every Model T in Ocoee would show up in the yard everyday at noon to get a free meal and they all owned more property than she owned. You understand what I’m saying? They never thought to bring a tomato. They never thought to bring a head of lettuce. It was Ma Pat and I don’t know how many others out there in Orange County who had groves up to their eyeballs. The Pat’s had their own packing house. I mean she was there every day. And my mother didn’t mind. My mother’d say, “Oh, no, well, that’s all right. They just,” And I’d say, “Mother why don’t you get them to-“. My sister would just have a fit – “They’re just leeches, just leeches.” And my mother said, “No, they’re not. They just don’t know any better.” No matter what anybody – I never heard my mother talk about anyone. If I came in and gossiped or I said anything she’d say, “Marilee, I don’t want to hear that out of your mouth. I don’t want to hear it. And I don’t want you to be upset. It’s because they don’t know any better.”
And my mother was not a sophisticated person. I mean there was a lot that my mother didn’t know, but when it came to being a human being and of that sort she really knew what she was. And she was very proud of her Kissimmee background.
The Lake House Hotel in Kissimmee
She said I was never allowed to go to Kissimmee at night because it was the brothels and the boys and the cowboys. It was western. And she says, I came from a tough outfit. Those men knew how to wrangle a steer and get out there in the middle of the night and go pull these cows out of that. But you know, I am so proud of them. And they all made well.
Photo of Miss Mary Valentine Hyde, center, with her sister Ruth.
They all did well… I mean they made their money by homesteading and working hard. And today people- I mean, I don’t respect money and today – I respect it and I like money and I can use money. But I don’t need money. Because I think you can live pretty nicely without money. I mean if you have any taste and understanding about life. You can live very, very nicely….
Photo of Mr. Julius Hyde and his wife, Mrs. Ellen Emmanuel Rowland Hyde.
Orange County Pioneer Luther Griffin’s home. The house was known as The Vine Covered Cottage.
LISTEN Part VI (6:57)
Aristocratic Dining Crowd
Getting a job after having that big family was an eye opener and I loved it because it gave me independence. And my husband was a person, he had gotten to know me that if I had an idea he may as well let me run with it because I wasn’t going to be happy unless I did. But I will say this about my husband, he always backed me. Because one or twice I got kind of out there on my own and I had to go to him and say, “Hey, I need some bucks. Cause I think this and that. What do you think?” Because we kept our affairs, and I think even today people are keeping their affairs separate… Yet I was very proud. I came from what you would call stout stock and he came from what you would call the more aristocratic dining room crowd. It was different. But at the same time, I think, I think that the aristocratic crowd gets so their blood is thin and they need that sock to get in there again. To make it another generation. Because if you look at true aristocrats they can go for three generations and it seems to get watered down. And they need that strong, stout sockeroo again. Because what’s there is so wonderful…
1920’s photo of a picnic in Ocoee from the archives of the Griffin Family. Mr. Blaely, who was building a house next door, is pictured in the center with a mustache and hat.
The Big Payoff (Spoken by Mrs. Ivy’s firstborn child, Texann Ivy Buck, present at the interview.)
It was in the fifties… I had a babysitter, her name was, Jean McLaughlin, and her father was, wasn’t he an accountant at the Brooklyn Dodgers… I had a babysitter that bathed me every evening and she was in the neighborhood. I really don’t know where she was. And she would take me to the park. Take the children out. And my mother had quite a rapport with Jean McLaughlin. And her father was a lawyer for the Brooklyn Dodgers and she came from an extremely large Catholic family. And Pug was our age, that was her brother. And we used to go to confession all the time. I loved going to different kinds of churches in New York. I just loved it and because they were like, well they were cathedrals. I mean they were really, really something. So anyway that’s getting off the point.
My mother came up with this idea that she wanted a mink coat. And there were these television shows. Television was rather new and there wasn’t much on it, but they came up with these crazy shows. And this show was with Bess Myerson. It was called “The Big Payoff”. And my babysitter and mom cooked up this idea that well, Edwin is so smart that he could go on and answer all the questions. And I don’t want to be on TV because I’m pregnant and I don’t want anyone to see what I look like. And you can be on there for me. And then I want the mink coat. And then you can go see the pope in the Vatican and then you can get all the clothes.
And sure enough, Dad won “The Big Payoff”. Mom gets the mink coat which dad would never let her wear. I wore it a couple of times and everyone just really stared. I think I wore it in the eighties when I was pregnant, you know, just as a cover-up at the Loch Haven Art Center. But it was a lot of fun. And Jean got the Ship and Shore blouses. I don’t know what else came with it. But she got to go to Rome and go see the Vatican and she became a nun….
She told the story to all the nuns. Well, they just had a fit and they said I’m going to get on the Internet and find Mrs. Ivy. And sure enough they showed up at our doorstep and we had a big reunion. And Jean looked like she did when I was 10 or 12 years old. It’s like she hadn’t aged at all. It was a really fun, fun visit. But that was recorded and somewhere I have a record of dad answering those questions. And mom still has the mink coat that dad would never let her wear because he thought it was just a little too full length. He thought it was a little too ostentatious, I guess. But every woman in those days had to have one of those coats. And its just an episode right out of “I Love Lucy” to me.
Photo of Mr. Edwin R. Ivy holding the winning mink coat from “The Big Payoff” TV show which he won for his wife, Mrs. Marilee Ivy, November 15, 1953.