Opera Man

By Pete Ehrmann on January 14, 2016
Opera Man
“I’d rather be a chauffeur in California than to dwell forever in the palaces of Babylon.”

The diva’s summation wasn’t as florid as Floyd’s, but it packed a nice punch: “I picked him out of the gutter, and that’s where I leave him…”

When Floyd Glotzbach abandoned his pursuit of heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey after just two fights in 1924, Bob Shand of the Oakland Tribune said it was a huge relief to “printers, proofreaders and common typewriter pounders (because) getting Glotzbach’s and Madame Margarete Matzenauer’s names spelled right in one story was too much to expect.”

One hopeless case, noted Shand, kept referring to Glotzbach as “Goulash” and Matzenauer as “Mattress.”

Glotzbach’s exit from boxing was a major relief to boxing, too. But first, the reason it was impossible to write about him without mentioning Mme. Matzenauer was that in 1921 the surprising marriage of the lowly chauffeur and the wealthy and famous diva of New York’s Metropolitan Opera was a soap opera played out on the front pages of newspapers around the world, surpassed only by their deliciously tawdry uncoupling less than a year later.

Chapter One opened in Del Monte, a resort town 125 miles from San Francisco. For five years, Floyd drove a car for the Del Monte Hotel, taking well-heeled guests around to eyeball the sights and to and from the big city. Hungarian-born Mme. Matzenauer and her retinue arrived there in the spring of ’21, and when she eyeballed the 6-foot tall, 200-pound chauffeur she instantly assayed him as “100 percent man.” Since her 1917 divorce from Italian tenor Eduardo Ferrari-Fontana, Madame had sworn off artistic types. For the next two weeks Floyd didn’t drive for anybody else, and by the end of that stretch the mezzo-soprano had moved from the back seat up front with him.

When she departed for Europe, Del Monte was short a chauffeur. Their June 18 marriage in Carlsbad, Germany “startled the music world” (Los Angeles Herald) and most of the rest of it.

Nine months later, the groom was back behind the wheel in Del Monte, declaring, “I’d rather be a chauffeur in California than to dwell forever in the palaces of Babylon.” Among the tribulations he endured as “water carrier to a grand opera company,” shuddered Floyd, were daily breakfasts in bed, having to fasten Madame’s gowns and tie her shoes; and, worst of all, seething in the plush recesses of their automobile while the dolt with his old job ignored an insistent ping in the engine.

Glotzbach would come to regret his summation of their incompatibility because of the nickname it attached to him thereafter: “Orchids will thrive in hothouses, but wild mustard needs the California sun.”

The Orchid’s initial response was to deny that she and Wild Mustard were splitsville. Breakfast in bed? “Why, can you imagine a perfect specimen of manhood taking his breakfast in bed?” trilled Madame. “He’s not that kind of a man, and if he ever asked for such a thing I would chase him out of the house. Somebody has played a joke on a reporter. No man would express himself as Mr. Glotzbach is credited with expressing himself in the interview. It sounds more like a three-year-old child.”

“I’m here to stay,” answered Floyd in Del Monte.

Madame’s next move was to notify him that she was pregnant (not true), and when he still didn’t budge, the fat lady sang. Glotzbach hadn’t left her, said Matzenauer — she threw him out after discovering that Floyd was still carrying on with “an old lady of about 50” he’d known before her. “I allowed him $150 a month for personal expenses, but in addition I had to pay for every thread he wore on his body. I clothed him, showered him with gifts and presents, made him live the life of a prince, and in gratitude for all this he deceived me.” She had hoped to handle things “in a dignified and ladylike fashion,” but “as he has made me the laughing stock of the world, he has forced me to come out with the truth.”

The diva’s summation wasn’t as florid as Floyd’s, but it packed a nice punch: “I picked him out of the gutter, and that’s where I leave him.”

Each charged cruelty in separate divorce filings, and over the ensuing months the Glotzbach-Matzenaur opera bouffe provided an unstinting supply of what the Sacramento Union called “entertainment of the burlesque variety.” It escalated when Glotzbach penned a multi-part series for the Sunday supplements called “My Grand Opera,” in which he reproduced some of his wife’s torrid love letters and painted her as tyrannical, temperamental and cheap (“As a prima donna’s husband my customary pay check would just about have bought birdseed for a canary”). Madame counterpunched with an accusation that Floyd funneled money she gave him to his fiftyish floozy.

The curtain finally came down on January 29, 1923, when a judge granted Mme. Matzenaur a divorce. The “extraordinary singer and … force unto herself” (Erik Eriksson, AllMusic.com) continued her acclaimed career with the Metropolitan Opera until 1930. She never married again, and died in 1963.

Following a brief intermission after the divorce, Wild Mustard reentered the spotlight by tossing his hat in the boxing ring. He had no known prior fighting experience, except for breaking the jaw of a rich guy at a party a year before, for which he was arrested but not prosecuted because the victim didn’t press charges.

When Glotzbach flattened Danny Gallagher with his first punch three seconds after the opening bell of his May 13, 1924 ring debut in San Jose, a newspaper story wondered if Floyd was on to something after all “when he said his hands were made for something besides arranging a lady’s coiffure.”

But the bravos for the new heavyweight divo and the bluster about a fight with Dempsey ceased the very next night after Floyd knocked out Billy Farrell in seven seconds in Oakland.

“The champion diving act of the year,” wrote Bob Shand. “Glotzbach stepped from his corner, missed a long right swing and then shoved Farrell with his left. The punch would not have upset Jimmy McLarnin [then barely 100 pounds, and appearing on the undercard], but Farrell, whose real name, by the way is Burns, headed for the canvas and smilingly allowed the referee to count him out.”

“Glotzbach might have been a swell husband for Madame Marguerete Matzenauer [?], but that’s no reason why he should be foisted on the boxing fans as a fighter,” added Shand. “There is no reason to believe that he knows a kick in the eye from a left hook.”

Floyd’s shameless manager already had a third fight lined up for him in Sacramento the next night, and three more in quick succession after that. But the new round of public derision was more than Glotzbach bargained for, and in a “stormy scene” he told his manager to scram and said he was quitting boxing to seek an honest way to make a living.

But apparently there is no cure for Sinapis arvensis. Wild mustard sounds exotic, but is actually not much more than a glorified weed and can be poisonous, to boot.

In 1927, Glotzbach — who had earlier petitioned to change his name to Floyd Howard because it was “humiliating to be pointed out as the former husband of a grand opera singer” — was arrested for forging the name of a rich Portland widow for whom he had worked as a chauffeur on a $5,000 check. The widow declined to prosecute, ostensibly on the ground that Floyd was “mentally unbalanced” as a result of being gassed overseas in World War I, but more likely because after Glotzbach’s arrest she received anonymous letters threatening to kidnap her if she did. However, the bank that cashed the check had no qualms about it and Floyd was tried and convicted. His sentence of five years in the slam, though, was stayed on his promise to make restitution.

Evidently, after that and up to its end in 1970 Glotzbach’s life was more prosaic than coloratura.

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  1. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 04:35pm, 01/15/2016

    She looks like a lusty, busty babe to me….she probably wore his ass to a frazzle in those “palaces of Babylon”. In fact he looks like he’s about to tip over in the photo above.

  2. Pete 09:48am, 01/14/2016

    Clarence, Re: “Coloratura”: Me, too.

  3. Eric 07:51am, 01/14/2016

    Millions of Powerball players woke up this morning and discovered that their lives would be more prosaic than coloratura.

  4. Clarence George 07:47am, 01/14/2016

    Never hoid of Floyd Goulash or the well-stuffed, however talented, Mattress, but that only makes it all the better.

    Oh, and I had to look up “coloratura.”

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:44am, 01/14/2016

    In the photo above he’s obviously sucking in his gut…..the same technique that actors in the Forties and Fifties employed when doing bare chested he-man scenes….no need for personal trainers, nutritionists and hours in the gym in those days.

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:19am, 01/14/2016

    Strange couple both obviously bat shit crazy…. he probably had the personal assets that enabled her to hit high C

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