Who invented—and named—the Bloody Mary?

Bloody Mary designates a cocktail consisting of vodka, tomato juice and pungent flavourings, typically served with a celery stalk or similar garnish.

Unnamed cocktails consisting of vodka and tomato juice had become fashionable in the 1930s before the name Bloody Mary itself first appeared in November 1939 in the column The Voice of Broadway, by the American journalist Dorothy Kilgallen (1913-65), published in several newspapers—for example in the Wilkes-Barre Record (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) of 25th November 1939:

The Colby M. Chesters, 3rd, are polishing up the bassinet . . . . Lupe Velez and Fifi d’Orsay, the long-time feuders have kissed and made up . . . . Newest hangover cure to entrance the headholders at “21”* is called a “Bloody Mary”—tomato juice and Vodka! . . . . Monte Woolley, the grease-paint Alexander Woollcott, is being profiled by writers on three magazines: Ernest Boyd for Town and Country, Russel Maloney for the New Yorker, and Jack Mosher of Colliers.

(* the 21 Club, located at 21 West 52nd Street, in New York City)

The second- and third-earliest occurrences of the name Bloody Mary associate this cocktail with the American comedian George Jessel (1898-1981); they are both from the column This New York, by the American author Lucius Morris Beebe (1902-66):

– In the New York Herald Tribune (New York, N.Y.) of 2nd December 1939, it was to Jessel that Beebe attributed the invention of the Bloody Mary:

George Jessel’s newest pick-me-up which is receiving attention from the town’s paragraphers is called a Bloody Mary: half tomato juice, half vodka.

– In The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) of 4th August 1940, Beebe wrote that

George Jessel thrives on an arrangement of half vodka and half tomato juice, known as Bloody Mary.

In her column Assignment America, in The Journal-News (White Plains, N.Y.) of 17th July 1952, the American journalist Inez Robb (1900-79) wrote that, when she met George Jessel at the Republican convention in Chicago, he explained to her how he invented and named the Bloody Mary:

Georgie invented and christened it several years ago in Palm Beach after a rich night of champagne when any dog-hair was indicated and he had only a bottle of vodka and a can of tomato juice to work with. Fifty-fifty, it worked wonders, he said.

According to the Daily News (New York, N.Y.) of 8th September 1963, George Jessel named the Bloody Mary

after Mary Brown Warburton on whom George spilled some of his new concoction in Palm Beach in 1930.

In his autobiography, The World I Lived In (Henry Regnery Company – Chicago, 1975), George Jessel confirmed the above-mentioned facts when he told how he—supposedly—invented the Bloody Mary and named it after Mary Brown Warburton (1896-1937)—the daughter of Mary Brown ‘Minnie’ Wanamaker (1871-1954) and Major Barclay Harding Warburton (1866-1954), publisher of the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, she died of an accidental drug overdose:

I have always had a great penchant for the sauce and have concocted many varieties of highballs and mixed drinks over the years. But very few people know how the Bloody Mary came to be. Today, it is one of the most popular “morning after” or “hangover” cures there is, as well as a companion for Sunday brunch.
In 1927, I was living in Palm Beach, or on a short visit, I don’t remember which, where nearly every year I captained a softball team for a game against the elite of Palm Beach such as the Woolworth Donohues, the Al Vanderbilts, the Reeves, and their ilk. My team was made up of rag-tag New York café society. Because I had been around Broadway and baseball characters, I managed to slip in a ringer now and again. (We generally won.)
On this particular trip I brought along Buddy Adler, a semi-pro on Long Island and a shoe salesman during the week. Buddy was later to become production head at 20th Century-Fox and marry Anita Louise. Both of them, unfortunately, are now dead. The proceeds of our, shall we say, friendly wagers on the games, went to a charity for underprivileged children. Adler hit a home run with the bases loaded, and we won the game and collected several thousand dollars in bets.
There was a famous hangout in Palm Beach at the time run by Paddy La Maze, a former ball player himself. To the winners, he let them drink all the champagne they could take; the losers, beer.
Following the game, Adler (who was hung like a bull, generally came along to try to find a rich dowager to marry but never did), myself, and a guy named Elliott Sperver, a Philadelphia playboy, went to La Maze’s and started swilling champagne. We were still going strong at 8:00 A.M. the next morning. I had a 9:30 volleyball date with Al Vanderbilt. I was feeling no pain at all.
We tried everything to kill our hangovers and sober up. Then Charlie, the bartender, enjoying our plight, reached behind the bar.
“Here, Georgie, try this,” he said, holding up a dusty bottle I had never seen before. “They call it vodkee. We’ve had it for six years and nobody has ever asked for it. . . .”
I looked at it, sniffed it. It was pretty pungent and smelled like rotten potatoes. “Hell, what have we got to lose? Get me some Worcestershire sauce, some tomato juice, and lemon; that ought to kill the smell,” I commanded Charlie. I also remembered that Constance Talmadge, destined to be my future sister-in-law, always used to drink something with tomatoes in it to clear her head the next morning and it always worked—at least for her.
“We’ve tried everything else, boys, we might as well try this,” I said as I started mixing the ingredients in a large glass. After we had taken a few quaffs, we all started to feel a little better. The mixture seemed to knock out the butterflies.
Just at that moment, Mary Brown Warburton walked in. A member of the Philadelphia branch of the Wanamaker department store family, she liked to be around show business people and later had a fling with Ted Healey, the comic. She had obviously been out all night because she was still dressed in a beautiful white evening dress.
“Here, Mary, take a taste of this and see what you think of it.”
Just as she did, she spilled some down the front of her white evening gown, took one look at the mess, and laughed. “Now, you can call me Bloody Mary, George!”
From that day to this, the concoction I put together at La Maze’s has remained a Bloody Mary with very few variations. Charlie pushed it every morning when “the gang” was under the weather
Now, about a year later, the benefit for Joe E. Lewis was to be held at the Oriental Theater and I was sitting in my hotel room with Ted Healey before leaving for the theater. Ted, as usual, was slightly inebriated. He happened to pick up a copy of a Chicago paper and read an item in Winchell’s column. It said that I had named the Bloody Mary after Ted’s then steady girl, Mary Brown Warburton.
Ted turned white. “What the hell are you doing making a pass at my girl, you son of a bitch,” he yelled. And just as he did, he pulled out a pistol and tried to shoot me. I ducked and the shot missed, but as the pistol went off within a foot of my right ear, I was completely deaf for a week. I had a hell of a job doing the benefit that night.
But at least now you know the origin of the Bloody Mary, and I believe it was Esquire magazine who finally gave me credit for it many, many years ago.
Too bad I can’t collect royalties on it. In fact, I have never even received a case of vodka from any of the distillers for helping to make vodka the most popular, er, beverage in the United States today.

In actual fact, Jessel did benefit from the fact the he supposedly invented the Bloody Mary, as this claim was used in advertisements for Smirnoff Vodka—for example in the Long Beach Independent (Long Beach, California) of 21st March 1956:

“I, GEORGE JESSEL, INVENTED THE BLOODY MARY”

Smirnoff Vodka - George Jessel - Long Beach Independent (California) - 21 March 1956

“I think I invented The Bloody Mary,” reports George Jessel. “It happened on a Night before a Day when I felt I should take some good, nourishing tomato juice. But what I really wanted was some of that Smirnoff Vodka. So I mixed them together; the juice for body and the Smirnoff for spirit, and if I wasn’t the first ever, I was the happiest ever.”
MAKE IT RIGHT! To 3oz. heavy tomato juice, add 1½ oz. Smirnoff Vodka.
Season with lemon juice, worcestershire [sic] sauce, salt and pepper.
Shake well with ice, strain and serve.
It leaves you breathless!
Smirnoff
THE GREATEST NAME IN VODKA

According to the following from The Vodka Revolution, published in The Boston Daily Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) of 2nd December 1956,
– the Bloody Mary was invented by Fernand ‘Pete’ Petiot (1900-75), who became a bartender at the King Cole Bar of New York’s St. Regis Hotel in 1933, after working successively at Harry’s New York Bar, in Paris, and at the Savoy, in London;
– but the name Bloody Mary was coined by George Jessel:

George Jessel, the comedian and after-dinner orator, claims he created the Bloody Mary, although his claim is disputed by Fernand Petiot, head bartender at the King Cole Bar of New York’s St. Regis Hotel. He says he invented it, but will give Jessel credit for dreaming up the name.

However, in Barman, from the section The Talk of the Town of The New Yorker of 18th July 1964, Petiot acknowledged that Jessel first mixed tomato juice with vodka, but claimed that he, Petiot, as a professional bartender, improved on this initial idea:

“I initiated the Bloody Mary of today,” he told us. “George Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour. We serve a hundred to a hundred and fifty Bloody Marys a day here in the King Cole Room and in the other restaurants and the banquet rooms.”

 

The first known Bloody Mary recipe was published in the chapter Night at the Stork Club of The Stork Club Bar Book (Rinehart & Company, Inc. – New York and Toronto, 1946), by Lucius Morris Beebe:

Bloody Mary recipe - The Stork Club Bar Book (1946), by Lucius Beebe

3oz. vodka
6oz. tomato Juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
juice of half lemon
Shake these together with ice or mix in Waring mixer and serve cold in highball glass.

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