Summary

Birth:
06 Sep 1916 1
Death:
19 May 2008 1
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Full Name:
Barbara Rockefeller 1
Birth:
06 Sep 1916 1
Death:
19 May 2008 1
Residence:
Last Residence: Little Rock, AR 1
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Social Security:
Card Issued: Unknown Code (PE) 1

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Stories

Barbara Sears Rockefeller, 91; Miss Lithuania, Millionaire Bride

Barbara Sears "Bobo" Rockefeller, 91, a coal miner's daughter and one-time actress whose "Cinderella wedding of the century" to millionaire Winthrop Rockefeller in 1949 soon gave way to bitter divorce proceedings, died May 19 at her home in Little Rock. No cause of death was reported.

Born Jievute Paulekiute, she first attracted notice as Miss Lithuania at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. She later was Eva Paul onstage and Barbara Sears onscreen.

But her international fame -- a Time cover picture, a portrait by Salvador Dali -- was owed to her marriage to Rockefeller, heir to the Standard Oil fortune, a nightclubbing bon vivant and one of America's wealthiest bachelors. Their Florida wedding featured such guests as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

The Rockefeller union was promoted as the country's most swoon-worthy tale of romance in years, and seven months later it produced a child, future Arkansas Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller. The elder Rockefeller became a prominent Arkansas philanthropist and served two terms as that state's governor before his death in 1973. Their son died in 2006.

The fairy-tale marriage quickly grew stormy, and the Rockefellers separated in 1950. Mrs. Rockefeller complained publicly that her husband, who maintained a reputation as a ladies' man, "humiliated me before the world."

Mrs. Rockefeller took her son to live in the Indiana farm community where she spent her high school years. In 1953, the two sides began haggling about a divorce settlement, and her husband moved to Arkansas to qualify for its relaxed divorce law.

She declared her intent to fight any "cheap mail-order divorce," adding, "I intend to be a Mrs. Rockefeller until the day I die."

While her husband was still in Arkansas, she showed up unannounced at Rockefeller's 15-room apartment in New York and began living there with their son.

In 1954, Winthrop Rockefeller made what amounted to a record divorce settlement of $2 million in cash and $3.5 million in trust funds for her and their son. Mrs. Rockefeller soon left her ex-husband's apartment and moved into a lavish six-story brownstone on the Upper East Side. She divided her time between New York and Paris, where she also owned a flat. She entertained often but shunned media attention.

Barbara Sears Rockefeller, Actress With a Famous Divorce Settlement, Dies at 91

Barbara Sears Rockefeller, a Pennsylvania coal miner’s daughter who married one of the richest men in America and, after their divorce six years later, won a settlement regarded as a record in its day, died on Monday at her home in Little Rock, Ark. She was 91 and had lived in Arkansas for the last few years.

The Ruebel Funeral Home in Little Rock confirmed the death, saying that Mrs. Rockefeller died of natural causes.

Familiarly known as Bobo, Mrs. Rockefeller was the former wife of a governor of Arkansas and the mother of a lieutenant governor. From 1948 to 1954, she had a highly public marriage to Winthrop Rockefeller, who went on to serve two terms as governor, from 1967 to 1971. He was a grandson of John D. Rockefeller, a founder of Standard Oil.

The couple’s only child, Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, was lieutenant governor of Arkansas from 1996 until his death from a blood disorder in 2006. Mrs. Rockefeller is survived by eight grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

The daughter of Lithuanian immigrants, Mrs. Rockefeller was born Jievute Paulekiute near Noblestown, Pa., in September 1916. (Jievute is a Lithuanian diminutive of Eva.)

Her father was a coal miner and a railroad worker. Jievute’s parents divorced when she was a child, and she spent her later girlhood with her mother and stepfather in the stockyard district of Chicago. The family later moved to Indiana.

Considered a beauty, Jievute was named Miss Lithuania at 17 in a pageant sponsored by The Lithuanian Daily News. She studied briefly at Northwestern University before becoming a model and actress.

Under her first stage name, Eva Paul, she appeared in a production of “Tobacco Road” in Boston. There, she met Richard Sears Jr., the son of a prominent Boston family. They were married in 1941, and afterward she changed her name to Barbara Paul Sears. As Barbara Sears, she had small roles in a few Hollywood films, including “That Night With You” (1945), starring Franchot Tone.

After World War II, Mr. Sears was named third secretary at the American embassy in Paris, and the couple became fixtures in the Parisian social whirl. They divorced in 1947.

Mrs. Sears met Winthrop Rockefeller at a dinner party in 1946. At the time, she was living in Manhattan with her sister in a fourth-floor walkup hard by the Third Avenue El. Mr. Rockefeller, who had never married, was considered the most eligible bachelor in the country. He soon gave her a square-cut diamond set in platinum. She later pawned the ring, said to be worth $30,000, and lived on the proceeds for five years while waiting for her divorce settlement to come through, The Associated Press reported in 1966.

Mr. Rockefeller and Mrs. Sears planned to marry, perhaps inauspiciously, on Friday the 13th of February, 1948.

But because of the 72-hour waiting period then imposed by Florida law, the wedding, at the Palm Beach estate of the sportsman Winston Guest, took place just after midnight on Valentine’s Day. The guests at the reception included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

The union of the miner’s daughter and the billionaire’s grandson was described widely in the news as a fairy tale straight from the pages of “Cinderella.” As Time magazine’s account said, “Bobo’s mother and stepfather, who were unable to attend the ceremony because they were making a batch of Lithuanian cheese on their Indiana farm, both announced that they were happy.”

But for Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller, there was no happily ever after, or even much of an “after.” They separated less than two years into their marriage.

Very public divorce proceedings ensued. Mr. Rockefeller offered his wife a settlement of $5.5 million. Mrs. Rockefeller requested $10 million instead. After all, she pointed out to Time magazine in 1954, a man had just tried to repossess her vacuum cleaner. She eventually took the $5.5 million.

For many years after her divorce, Mrs. Rockefeller lived on the Upper East Side in a six-story neoclassical townhouse that included a full-size, wood-lined squash court with an 18-foot ceiling. She also kept a home in Paris.

Mrs. Rockefeller, who did not marry again, learned early to economize, at least in the relative sense of the term. As The Associated Press reported in 1952, when she was already separated from her husband, Mrs. Rockefeller had a fail-safe tactic for striking a good bargain.

When a merchant demanded a price she considered too high, she would simply respond, “Who do you think I am, a Rockefeller?”

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