The Philadelphia Inquirer called him a “wealthy Greek land developer.” The Miami Herald called him “Aris Nyad, of Greek shipping interests….” Some thought him a military hero, others a college professor, and others a wild, gun-wielding duke. When he eloped with Lucy Sneed, Diana Nyad’s mother, the Miami Daily News dubbed him a “wealthy mystery man about town.”
Except for the “mystery” part, Aris Z. Nyad was none of those things: he was a pathological liar and a con man. He scooped Lucy up into his gorgeous Greek arms and hied her to the altar, thus wedding himself both to her and her bank accounts. For a brief time, Lucy’s money gave Aris everything he wanted: access to multiple homes, to yachts, and to opportunities for mingling with the rich and famous while pretending to be one of them.
Early in her career, Diana Nyad spoke frankly about her step-father:
An aristocratic bum. A goodlooking, big, muscular Greek type, big curly Afro hair, very statuesque-looking, and he looked so terrific, and talked so well, spoke seven foreign languages, and he taught at Oxford for two years, and was very—knew everybody and everything. And, I even knew as a 10-year-old: I knew he was a liar. [“What Makes Diana Nyad Swim“]
She was more succinct in the New York Times’ “Marathon Woman,” declaring that her step-father was…
…remarkably handsome and pathologically devious.
Aris Comes to America
1940, 28 May—ARRIVAL in U.S. (possible).
The manifest for the ship Nea Hellas lists an “Aristot. Naidis” under the heading, “DESERTED SEAMEN (Continued).” The Nea Hellas left Piraeus, Greece, on 11 May, arriving in New York on the 28th:
- “Statement of Master of Vessel Regarding Changes in Crew Prior to Departure”: lo-res | hi-res
- First page of the Nea Hellas passenger manifest (for reference): lo-res | hi-res
The First Mrs. Nyad
1940, Oct 5—MARRIES Mary Kalamaridis in New Jersey:
1940, Oct 28—DEMONSTRATES at the Greek consulate in New York. On the day Italy invaded Aris’s homeland, he joined “scores of young men [who] visited the consulate to express readiness to go to Greece to aid in the fight” (NY Herald Tribune, 29 Oct 1940). Aris, however, may have attended more in body than spirit. “[A] drive for funds for the Greek Red Cross” presented a grand opportunity for the fetching and fraudulent military hero to gather funds for himself. (See also “New York Herald Tribune Archive Holds Nyad-related Gems.”)
1941, Nov—DEPORTED to Canada from New York. See “Wined, Dined Visitor Branded Imposter,” a 1943 article that mentions 1941 arrest.
1941, 29 Nov—ARRIVES in Canada to join the Royal Canadian Air Force.
See also the 6 Dec 1941 Lethbridge Herald, which reports that Aris is “the first Greek war flier to enlist” in the RCAF.
Update: I just came across a more detailed article about this episode— “Greek War Flier Joins Air Force.” It answers at least one question that the previous article raises, i.e. how did Aris manage to stay out of the cockpit given that he probably didn’t know how to fly an airplane? What we’ve got here is a potential failure to communicate:
He is starting from the bottom in the Canadian service, hoping to become a full-fledged pilot. He speaks English fairly well although he has had little chance to really learn it, and admits the language will be a serious difficulty in enabling him to obtain his wings.
The article does NOT clarify who was lying to whom. Did U.S. authorities lie to Canadian authorities about Nyad? Or did Canadian authorities know about Nyad but lie to the press? Or…?
Also see 6 Dec 1941 Saskatoon Star Phoenix, “Greek Enlists in Canuck Air Force.”
Here’s another “We’re with Aris” article:
1942—ARRESTED in Malone, New York, for entering the U.S. Illegally. See “Member of RCAF….”
1943—ARRESTED in Beverly Hills for immigration violations and gun possession while posing as a Greek military hero. From “Hollywood Trip Ends in Arrest”:
He said he served seven or eight years in the Greek navy as a flyer, was wounded, and came to this country to spur Greek morale.
See also “Posed as a Hero, Greek is in Bad” (Spokane Dail Chronice, 14 Jan 1943), which emphasizes the “Aris Notaras” angle.
1943—SENTENCED to 6 months in jail. See “Illegal Wearing of Uniform Costly“:
The Second Mrs. Nyad
1944, Nov 12—BIRTH of Aryne Nyad, daughter Aris Nyad and Charlotte V. Stratford.
1945, Mar —MARRIES Charlotte V. Stratford.
1945, Apr 26—PETITIONS FOR NATURALIZATION in New Orleans.
1946, Mar 6—ENLISTS in U.S. army.
1947, Oct 25—ARRIVES in the U.S. from military posting in Egypt.
1947, Dec 31—DANCES at Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, likely in quest of a benefactor (detail / complete). Year is approximate since the article’s author, born in 1936, was remembering his childhood. It’s more likely that the dancing occurred in 1951 or ’52. Aris, however, did get around.
The Third Mrs. Nyad ¹
1949, Feb 2—SENTENCED in absentia in Athens, Greece, to three years in prison for smuggling.
1951, January—IN PRISON in Zurich, Switzerland.
1951, July 28—ARRIVES in NYC from France
The Fourth Mrs. Nyad
1953, Nov 29—MARRIES Lucy Sneed, Diana’s mother. Five months after Lucy files for divorce from William Lent Sneed Jr., Diana’s father, Lucy and Aris sneak off to Arizona to get hitched. See…
1954 (Jun 15, 16 or Jul 2)—BIRTH of Eliza Nyad, Lucy and Aris’s daughter, Diana’s half-sister. U.S. Public Records Index gives the June dates. The Palm Beach Post society page nudges the date into July—perhaps to avoid an aroma of impropriety.
1953-1958—LIVIN’ THE LIFE IN FT. LAUDERDALE with multiple homes, a yacht (the Dianaliz), society parties, fashion shows, etc. A few examples:
1959—SELLS New Hampshire residence, perhaps marking a beginning of an end.
Things Go South
1960—TAKEN TO COURT by Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for unpaid bills.
1961—TAKEN TO COURT for kiting checks.
1963—DIVORCE from Lucy becomes official.
…and that’s the last I can find of Aris Nyad.
Many questions remain, including:
→ What became of Aris after 1963?
→ When and how did he die?
And then there’s Nelly…
Nelly Nyad: A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma Wrapped in Balenciaga
In 1948, Aris Nyad marries Nelly Spaar or Frohlich in England. By 1950, the elegant Nelly Nyad appears as a fashion model in Paris. In early 1955, she flies from Paris to New York and back again, after which she disappears. Here are the traces she left:
early 1950s: In France with “her lover, a very rich and powerful duke [who] was threatening to shoot [the photographer] and not with a camera.” (See “Paris Fashion Week Story: Nelly Nyad.”)
This sounds familiar. Ten years earlier, Aris had passed himself off as a Greek military hero. With his looks and charm, playing royalty would be a piece of baklava. And we know of his fondness for firearms (see 1943 arrest for gun possession above and 1958 skeet shooting competition).
1952, fall—In NYC. See “Models for Annual ‘Diamonds U.S.A.’ Show.”
1953, Jun 25—As Nelly Frohlich, flies with French industrialist Gilbert Fenal from Paris to New York.
1953, Jul 15—Flies as Frohlich with Fenal from New York to Paris.
1953, summer—Vacationing with Fenal in Cannes.
1955, Feb 24—Flies from Paris to New York with three other models: Patricia Prunonosa, Bernadette Dufrene, and Janine Lacombe.
1955, Feb 27—Flies from New York to Paris with Prunonosa, Dufrene, and Lacombe.
That’s the last I can find of Nelly. If you discover anything else, please let me know!