Ganna Walska (1887-1984)

"Madame Ganna Walska" of Lotusland, California; Singer, Actress & Romantic

Associated Houses


East Meadow

Glen Eyrie Castle

Colorado Springs



She was born "Hanna Puacz" in Brest in modern-day Belarus. After her first marriage, she set her sights on becoming a professional opera singer among other things and changed her name to "Ganna Walska". 'Ganna' is Russian for 'Grace' but when asked about her second name she said: "Like all Poles, I loved to dance, especially to waltz. So, suddenly I said: Waltz, Valse, Walska." Just as her name was fictitious, so was much of the detail she provided about her life. She was, "a master of invention" and her ten passports all credited her with a different date of birth. She was a born romantic with high aspirations; she loved to sing and reckoned herself a talented opera singer, but, she was so awful an audience once pelted her with rotten vegetables and she was parodied in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. She was married six times, all to very wealthy men, and by them she accumulated a significant fortune which allowed her to create Lotusland, her stunning Californian estate for which she is remembered today.

When still a teenager in 1904, she left her home for St. Petersburg where in 1907 she married (1) Arcadie d'Eingorn, a Russian officer and apparently a Baron. The marriage was dissolved two years later, but now styling herself as a "Countess" she determined to become an opera singer to win the heart of, "the second richest man in Russia". That didn't work out and in 1915 she came to New York as cabaret singer in a French theatre. In 1916, experiencing throat problems, she went to see a doctor and ten days later they were married: (2) Dr Joseph Fraenkel was 20-years her senior, indulged her every whim but died just four years later. In that same year (1920), she hit the jackpot when she married (3) Alexander Smith Cochran who just before had been dubbed, "the richest bachelor in New York". The marriage was over after just two years (1922) and - again - before the year was out she hit another home run, marrying (4) Harold Fowler McCormick who only months before had divorced, Edith Rockefeller. He lavished his fortune on her which led to her being parodied as "Susan Alexander" in Citizen Kane and the settlement she received after their divorce in 1931 allowed her to buy the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris.

She now employed the noted instructor Cécile Gilly to progress her vocal 'talent' and for the next eight years focused on her career as an opera singer. Apart from McCormick, it was universally acknowledged that she had a terrible voice - Gilly had only taken her on for the money - but Ganna put her failures down to stage-fright. Headlines such as "Voice Deserts Her Again" were commonplace and on one occasion she was so off key during a performance of Giordano's Fedora that the audience pelted her with rotten vegetables!   

In 1938, she married the English inventor (5) Harry Grindell Matthews who - albeit falsely - claimed to have invented a "death ray". He died three years later, in 1941 ('Ganna' ray?!) and the following year Ganna married her sixth and final husband, twenty years her junior: (6) Theos Bernard, the Californian nephew of "Oom the Omnipotent" (aka Perry Baker) and like him was a scholar of Hatha Yoga and Tibetan Buddhism. However, inner happiness did not penetrate their marriage and after just four years he and Ganna were divorced. In 1942, they/she had purchased a 37-acre estate at Montecito which they renamed Lotusland. Using a substantial part of the estimated $30 million she accrued through her six marriages, she dedicated the remaining forty years of her life to creating the spectacular, mediterranean-style gardens at Lotusland that are now open to the public.
Contributed by Mark Meredith on 28/12/2020 and last updated on 07/11/2022.
Enemy of the Average, by Sean K. MacPherson in the New York Times