The Audacious Tabloid Couple Who Scammed Their Way Into New York's High Society
The vaudeville dancer and his beguiling Parisian wife arrived in Manhattan in 1911 with secret identities in tow. They enjoyed wealth and notoriety for years—until it all came crashing down.
In December 1911, a few months before the White Star Line’s Titanic would dominate headlines around the world, another of the company’s ocean liners, the Oceanic, arrived at a port in New York. As the massive ship docked, a scandalous family drama was about to unfold onshore. Their warm breath fogging in the damp December, an Italian diplomat, his wife, and their adult daughter eagerly waited to set sight on the apple of the family’s eye: 18-year-old Andre Riela.
The young man was returning from a sojourn in Paris and, as onlookers would soon spy, he had more than his luggage in tow. During his time in the City of Love, Riela had fallen under love’s spell. She was a singer and actress by the name of Antoinette De Lilas. She was more than a decade his senior — a number she adjusted to seven when talking to the press — and Riela found her fascinating and clever, as bright and entertaining as anyone he had ever met.
His parents were far less enthralled.
They, reportedly, had already selected an American girl for Riela to wed, and his affection for Miss De Lilas caused the family great distress, which grew in intensity as they laid eyes on her.
“The father frowned and looked with savage glances at the shrinking bride, his son’s senior and quite a mature and seasoned woman,” described a reporter for New York World, which reported on the dramatic scene that played out as the young couple arrived. The mother was in hysterics. The bride began to cry; the groom embraced his love and dried her tears.
“Reporters were at these ships all the time,” explains historian Lynne Borofsky, “because things go on. So they have this story of this young couple, Andre’s parents are screaming, ‘He’s too young for her!’”
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