Director George Cukor’s 1938 movie “Holiday” — which starred Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant — has three fictional characters based on members of the Sanford family of Amsterdam.
The family founded Sanford & Sons, the first of Amsterdam’s two major carpet mills. The company merged with another firm to become Bigelow Sanford in 1929. Bigelow Sanford left Amsterdam in 1955.
John Sanford inherited an estate worth $40 million when his father, Stephen, died in 1913. That was a tremendous amount of money at the time.
Gertrude Sanford Legendre’s New York Times obituary said the three children of John and Ethel Sanford — Gertrude, Laddie and Sarah Jane — were the inspiration for the 1929 Philip Barry stage play “Holiday,” which was later made into a movie. The movie character Linda Seton, played by Katharine Hepburn, is based on Legendre.
Legendre was born in 1902 in Aiken, S.C., but spent time as a child with her siblings at the Sanford family’s Amsterdam mansion on Church Street, which was donated by the family for use as City Hall in 1932. According to the Times, “Gertrude Sanford was in her teens when she took a hunting trip to the Grand Tetons of Wyoming and shot her first elk. For years, she pursued big game in Africa, India, Iran and Indochina, and contributed rare specimens to museums.”
In World War II, she worked in France for America’s Office for Strategic Services, the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, until she was captured by the Germans. The Times reported, “Held as a prisoner of war for six months, she escaped and went by train to Switzerland. The train stopped short of the border; as she dashed to the frontier, a German guard ordered her to halt or be shot. She continued, and reached the border.”
Her husband died in 1948, while she lived until 2000, dying at age 97. She made her home at Medway, a plantation near Charleston, S.C., where she held a New Year’s Eve costume ball for 50 years. She wrote two autobiographies, ‘’The Sands Ceased to Run’’ (1947) and ‘’The Time of My Life’’ (1987).
Laddie Sanford usually went by that nickname, but he was officially named Stephen, after his grandfather. The “Holiday” character Ned Seton, portrayed by Lew Ayres, is loosely based on Laddie Sanford. More a playboy than industrialist, Sanford was born in 1899 and became an international polo star. The handsome horseman married actress Mary Duncan in 1933.
After their marriage, Mary Sanford retired from acting and the couple made their home in Palm Beach, Fla. Mary Sanford became the grande dame of Palm Beach society. She was friends with Rose Kennedy, who was a neighbor, and entertained the King and Queen of Jordan and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Laddie Sanford, who died in 1977, and Mary Sanford, who died in 1993, are both buried at Green Hill Cemetery in Amsterdam, adjacent to City Hall.
The “Holiday” film character Julia Seton, played by Doris Nolan, is based on Sarah Jane Sanford. Named for her grandmother, Sanford was married in Palm Beach, Fla., in 1937 to an Italian diplomat, Mario Pansa. The couple lived in Italy during World War II, but she returned to America after the war. Mario Pansa accidentally drowned in 1946 near Rome, while his wife died in 1985 and is also buried at Green Hill Cemetery.
University at Albany film history professor Rob Edelman, who lives in Amsterdam, said he regularly screens “Holiday” in class because of its star appeal and world view.
Edelman wrote: “Put forth in ‘Holiday’ is the idea that money isn’t everything.”
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.