James Hazen Hyde

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But by now this was not enough; the papers wanted Hyde out altogether, and his allies, thoroughly demoralized, put up only a feeble defense: one loyalist claimed, with desperate cheer, that Hyde had done nothing a successful champagne merchant wouldn’t. The welter of charges and countercharges about Hyde’s management of Equitable brought on an investigation of the whole industry. With scalding vigor, young Charles Evans Hughes dissected the workings of the companies—the interlocking directorates, the inflated salaries (Hyde himself drew $127,000 annually), the nepotism, the fictitious loans. The next year new government regulations overhauled the entire business.

Hyde wasn’t around to see it happen. On December 28 he sailed for Paris, where he lived until the Nazi army overran it. He married a Frenchwoman, and was so fast a friend to his adopted country that he not only was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor but also had a dessert named for him by Durand’s restaurant: “Poached peach à la James Hazen Hyde.”

Perhaps his love of the ancien régime had worn a little thin in his last days: before his death in the centennial year of Equitable’s founding, he had taken to describing himself as a “capitalist.” It was a title the young king of the insurance industry might have kept honestly throughout his life, had he paid more attention to the career of Louis XVI and less to that of his royal predecessor.