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Spoils of Whore

Claim:   A cheating wife's attempt explain away the mink coat given to her by a lover goes awry.

LEGEND

Examples:

[Scott, 1996]

A Birmingham woman with a rich boyfriend in London told her husband she was visiting her rich aunt for her birthday, and went south. Her lover bought her a mink coat. Travelling home, she realised she must hide the evidence of her sins, so she parcelled it up and left it at the luggage counter before going home. She then told her husband she had found the check ticket and said she would claim it. He decided to do it for her. Finding the contents of the parcel to be what it was, he gave the coat to his secretary with whom he was having an affair, and bought an umbrella which he took home to his wife.
 

[Cerf, 1948]

The soft lights of the Champagne room in El Morocco, the low hum of conversation, and the insinuating music of the gypsy violin warmed the heart of Mrs. Farraday, and made her home and husband in Wisconsin seem very far away. Her companion, whom she had met casually at a cocktail party that very afternoon regarded her with a proprietary air that frightened and thrilled her. "I haven't felt this way in twenty years," she murmured. "Nor I," he added.

The enchantment lasted for an entire week. What's more, her companion's casual statement that he had more millions than he knew what to do with proved no idle boast. The day she left for home, Mrs. Farraday found herself the possessor of some roseate memories — and a beautiful platinum mink coat. It had been delivered just before she checked out of her hotel. The card read simply, "Thank you, my dear."

All the way to Chicago, Mrs. Farraday fingered her new coat, and wondered what to do. Before she climbed aboard the local for her home town, she had hit upon a solution that seemed foolproof. She pawned the coat at a shop near Union Station.

"John," she told her husband after she had unpacked, "I found a pawn ticket in the station at Chicago. You might try redeeming it when you go down on Friday. Who knows? It just might be something we can use."

John took the ticket without saying a word. He just looked at Mrs. Farraday rather intently. He had been looking at her that way, as a matter of fact, ever since he had called for her at the depot.

When he returned from Chicago on Friday evening, Mrs. Farraday waited until they had finished dinner, and then asked, ever so casually, "I wonder if you remembered to redeem that silly little pawn ticket I found."

"Yes, I did," said John. "Funny things people pawn nowadays!"

He went out into the hall and brought back a book which he handed her with elaborate politeness. Mrs. Farraday must have looked surprised, for he laughed dryly and assured her, "Yes, dear, the ticket was for a book."

The book was Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.
 

Origins:   One of the older print sightings we've found of this tale of a woman's attempt to conceal from the her husband the origins of a lavish gift she'd received from her lover (used as the second example above) dates to a 1948 collection of anecdotes and jokes. In that version, the cuckolded husband not only deprives his errant wife of her ill-gotten gains, but does so in a way that lets her know he's figured out how she'd come by the mink in the first place.

Yet the basic story is older even than that. It had the honor of being included in a 1946 round-up of overused plots, wherein it was described thusly:
An unfaithful wife receives a number of expensive gifts from her lover. Then, one day, the fellow gives her a gorgeous mink coat. Knowing that she cannot possibly show it to her husband — it is far too costly — she pawns it. That night, she shows her husband the pawn ticket and tells him she had found it on the street ... There are any number of endings for this one. One goes thus: The husband, who strongly suspects what is going on, forces his wife to give him the ticket. He says that he will visit the pawnbroker and see what the ticket is for. When he returns that evening, his wife expects the mink coat. Instead, the husband says: "My dear, that ticket was for an old cigarette case. I sold the case for ten dollars, which are yours, of course, darling."
However, older even than that is the tale's appearance in the 1939 film Day-Time Wife. In that movie, a wife working without her husband's knowledge is presented with a fur coat by her lecherous employer. A friend suggests the "found pawn ticket" dodge as a method whereby she will be able to explain the expensive coat to her husband. She drops by his office ostensibly to extract $20 from him with which to redeem the mystery pawned item, but he Mink coat relieves her of the ticket, giving it and the $20 to his secretary along with instructions for her to retrieve the item. That evening he presents a ratty fur piece to his expectant wife. (Later in the film it is revealed the husband's secretary helped herself to the luscious coat without the husband's knowledge.)

Since that long-ago start, the legend has popped up in a number of venues. In a 1959 Roald Dahl story, "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat," a New York matron is given a mink coat during her final encounter with her Baltimore boyfriend who is ridding himself of her. To explain away this expensive acquisition without her spouse figuring out what she'd been up to, she pawns the coat locally and gives the pawn ticket to her dentist husband, claiming to have found it on the seat of a taxi. He agrees to collect whatever the ticket was for from the pawn shop on his way to work the next day.

He rings her from his office to say he's picked up the mystery package and she's sure to be excited by its contents because it's mink. Thrilled at having gotten away with the ruse, the smug wife travels downtown to meet her cuckolded husband to collect her ill-gotten gains. Ah, but what she's handed turns out to be a bit of a surprise in itself: it's mink all right, but it's a ratty fur neckpiece, not the gorgeous coat she'd been trying to sneak into the house.

As she disappointedly gets into the elevator for the ride back down to the lobby, she spies her husband's dental assistant heading off for her own lunch. The young lady is wearing a new mink coat.

Coming in right on the heels of the Roald Dahl story, a 1960 movie credited to another writer (Hugh Williams) used a slightly twisted but highly recognizable form of the switched mink story to further its plot. In The Grass Is Greener, Cary Grant plays an unspeakably civilized British lord whose wife (Deborah Kerr) is cheating on him with a rakish American (Robert Mitchum). Mitchum's attempts to woo Kerr away from her husband include giving her a luxurious mink coat, but the
gift proves problematic — how does one explain the fur back home without admitting to the affair? (Grant, of course, knows about matters, but the two cheaters are unaware he's on to them.)

Kerr and Mitchum cook up a scheme whereby the misbehaving wife will assert she found a Victoria Station cloakroom check in the back of a taxi, went there, turned in the ticket, and got a battered old suitcase in return, which she has yet to open because she lacks the key. Once the lie is stammered out at the house, Grant absents himself to go in search of his master keyring and returns bearing his keys just as the servant drags in the suitcase from another direction. When the mysterious valise is opened before all in the drawing room, it is found to contain a stuffed fish mounted on a wall plaque and a hip wader. The switch renders Kerr and Mitchum unable to inquire about the mink because to do so would reveal they'd known what the suitcase originally held, an admission they dare not make if the adultery is to remain their secret.

The Grass Is Greener presents a wronged husband who seizes upon the opportunity to both punish his wife and slyly let the errant pair know he's on to them. (The fish and the wader were pointed references to a double entendre conversation he'd earlier had with Mitchum). This version fits the 1948 anecdote quoted above where the redeemed ticket fetches a copy of Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, another surprise "find" that gets the wronged husband's point across. He may be wearing horns, but she isn't going to be wearing mink!

The 1959 Dahl story turns the legend in a different direction: the equally guilty spouse remains unaware of his wife's carryings-on even as he exposes his own by passing the "lucky find" to his office amour. Whose adulterous affair is being revealed shifts from one spouse to the other, but in both cases the cheating wife cheats herself out of her own mink.

Barbara "fur tiff behavior" Mikkelson

Sightings:   As mentioned above, the 1960 film The Grass Is Greener turns on this legend. The Roald Dahl story was made into an episode of television's Alfred Hitchcock Presents (also titled "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat," original air date 27 September 1960).

Last updated:   24 February 2010

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Sources:

    Botkin, B.A.   Sidewalks of America.
    New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1954   (pp. 520-521).

    Cerf, Bennett.   Shake Well Before Using.
    New York: Simon and Schuster, 1948   (p. 173).

    Scott, Bill.   Pelicans & Chihuahuas and Other Urban Legends.
    St. Lucia, Queensland: Univ. of Queensland Press, 1996.   ISBN 0-702-22774-9   (p. 144).

    Young, James.   101 Plots Used and Abused.
    Boston: The Writer, Inc., 1946   (p. 30).