Alec Waugh prominently appears in a recently published book entitled Wild Bird:The True Jazz Age Tale of Ruth Wrightman Morris. The subject of this book is the “Ruth,” whose name is otherwise undisclosed and who populates most of the final chapters of volume one of his autobiography: The Early Years of Alec Waugh (pp. 244-308). Her full name was Ruth Wrightman Morris, and she was Alec’s partner in a prolonged affair stretching over more than 3 years. As the description of the new book about her makes clear, Ruth Wrightman Morris was a remarkable woman. Alec’s book provides this brief description (pp. 244-45):
She was a dramatic person and she had led a dramatic life. She was the one of the first Americans to fly an aeroplane, and one of seven or eight women to be given an Army commission in the First War, in her case to train pilots. She had driven racing cars professionally. She had written scripts for motion pictures [and took up bull fighting in Spain.] She was wild, very wild; with at times an ungovernable temper. But she was capable of an extreme sweetness. She could make you feel as though you were living in an enchanted country, where the air was softer, the scent of flowers richer, the plumage of birds more bright.
She was married throughout their affair to a man called “Govie” in Alec’s book. This turns out to be Gouverneur Morris, a wealthy New Englander who at the time was a film script writer. The affair started on board a ship from Tahiti to San Francisco in 1926 and caused Alec several subsequent transatlantic and transcontinental crossings (including another trip to Tahiti) to keep it going. But Alec didn’t like the fact that he was competing with some one Ruth called the “lad” who was a Welshman working as crewman on passenger liners. Alec broke up the affair in 1930, as he describes at the end of his book. According to Wild Bird, it was Govie who assured there would be no reconciliation. Shortly after Alec returned to London following the break-up, Govie discovered their affair when Ruth mixed up envelopes for letters to him and to Alec. When Govie got the letter intended for Alec, he wrote immediately to Alec in London, saying “Stay away from my wife.” Alec immediately sent back a telegram saying “Have just received your letter it shall be as you wish.” And that was that. The author of the book about Ruth (John Greenwald) says that Alec never saw her again but carefully saved all of the letters she wrote him which are preserved in his archive at Boston University.
Ruth died in 1940. During the 1930s, she and Govie had to give up their mansion in Monterey where Alec had visited (now the Monterey Museum of Art). After living in more humble circumstances nearby, they found a suitable although less grand house in Manhattan Beach near Los Angeles. But Ruth’s adventures continued. According to a recent story in The Beach Reporter, which covers Manhattan Beach, an investigation into the death in 1936 of a frequent visitor to their house, Reid Russell, was controversial. The death was first ruled a suicide but suspicious actions of Ruth and Govie led to the case being reopened. Again, the investigation was shut down by the District Attorney with the suspicious circumstances remaining unresolved and unexplained. But now, Greenwald’s book has stirred up renewed interest.