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Libby Holman
Born Elizabeth Lloyd Holzman
May 23, 1904(1904-05-23)
Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Died June 18, 1971 (aged 67)
Stamford, Connecticut
Other name(s) Elizabeth Holman
Occupation Actress, singer
Spouse(s) Zachary Smith Reynolds (1931-1932)
Ralph Holmes (1939-1945)
Louis Schanker (1960-1971) (her death)

Libby Holman (May 23, 1904 – June 18, 1971) was an American torch singer and stage actress who also achieved notoriety for her complex and unconventional personal life.

Contents

Early life

Holman was born Elizabeth Lloyd Holzman to a Jewish lawyer and stockbroker, Alfred Holzman (August 20, 1867 - June 14, 1947), and his wife, Rachel Florence Workum Holzman (October 17, 1873 - April 22, 1966), in Cincinnati, Ohio. Their other children were daughter Marion H. Holzman (January 25, 1901 - December 13, 1963) and son Alfred Paul Holzman (March 9, 1909 - April 19, 1992). In 1904, the wealthy family grew destitute after Holman's uncle Ross Holzman embezzled nearly $1 million of their stock brokerage business. At some point, Alfred changed the family name from Holzman to Holman.[1] She graduated from Hughes High School on June 11, 1920, at the age of 16, then entered the University of Cincinnati, graduating on June 16, 1923, with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Theatrical career

In the summer of 1924, Holman left for New York City, where she initially took up residence at the Studio Club. Her first theater job in New York was in the road company of The Fool. Channing Pollock, the writer of The Fool, recognized Holman's talents immediately and advised her to pursue a theatrical career. She followed Pollock's advice and soon became a star. An early stage colleague who became a longtime close friend was future film star Clifton Webb, then a dancer. He bestowed upon her the nickname, "The Statue of Libby." Her Broadway theatre debut was in the play The Sapphire Ring in 1925 at the Selwyn Theatre, she was billed as Elizabeth Holman, it closed after thirteen performances. Her big break came while she was appearing with Clifton Webb and Fred Allen in the 1929 Broadway revue, The Little Show, in which she first sang the blues number, "Moanin' Low", which earned her a dozen curtain calls on opening night, drew raves from the critics and became her signature song. [2] The following year, Holman introduced the Dietz and Schwartz standard "Something to Remember You By" in the show Three's a Crowd (which also starred Allen and Webb). [3] Other Broadway appearances included The Garrick Gaieties (1925), Merry-Go-Round (1927), Rainbow (1928), Ned Wayburn's Gambols (1929), Revenge with Music (1934), You Never Know (1938, score by Cole Porter), and the self-produced one-woman revue Blues, Ballads and Sin-Songs (1954).

Personal life

Holman enjoyed a variety of intimate relationships with both men and women throughout her lifetime.[4 ] Her famous lesbian lovers included the DuPont heiress Louisa d'Andelot Carpenter, actress Jeanne Eagels and Jane Bowles. Carpenter was to play a significant part throughout Holman's lifetime. They raised their children and lived together and were openly accepted by their theater companions. She scandalized some by dating much younger men, such as fellow American actor Montgomery Clift,[4 ] whom she mentored.

Holman took an interest in one particular fan, Zachary Smith Reynolds, the heir to R. J. Reynolds's tobacco company, was smitten from the start, despite their seven-year age difference. They met in Baltimore, Maryland in April 1930 after Reynolds watched Holman's performance in a road company staging of the play The Little Show. Reynolds begged friend Dwight Deere Wiman, who was the show's producer, for an introduction to Holman. Reynolds pursued her all around the world in his plane. With the persuasion of her former lover, Louisa d'Andelot Carpenter, Holman and Reynolds, who went by his middle name, married on Sunday, November 29, 1931 in the parlor of Monroe, Michigan Justice of the Peace Fred M. Schoepfer. Their marital bliss did not last long. Reynolds wanted Holman to abandon her acting career, she consented by taking a one-year leave of absence. During this time, however, his conservative family was unable to bear Holman and her group of theater friends, who at her invitation often visited Reynolda, the family estate near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Accusations and arguments among them were common.

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Husband's death

In 1932, during a 21st birthday party Reynolds gave at Reynolda for his friend and flying buddy Charles Gideon Hill, Jr., a first cousin to Reynolds's first wife Anne Ludlow Cannon Reynolds, Holman revealed to her husband that she was pregnant. A tense argument ensued. Moments later, a shot was heard; friends soon discovered Reynolds bleeding and unconscious with a gunshot wound to the head. The authorities initially ruled the shooting a suicide, but a coroner's inquiry led them to rule it a murder. Holman and Albert Bailey "Ab" Walker, a friend of Reynolds's and a supposed lover of Holman's, were indicted for murder.

Louisa Carpenter paid Holman's $25,000 bail in Wentworth, North Carolina, appearing in such mannish clothes bystanders and reporters thought she was a man. The Reynolds family contacted the local authorities and had the charges dropped for fear of scandal. Holman gave birth to the couple's child, Christopher Smith "Topper" Reynolds, on January 10, 1933.

The following year, Broadway producer Vinton Freedley offered Holman the starring role in the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes, but she declined. Ethel Merman got the part of Reno Sweeney.

Later years

Holman married her second husband, film and stage actor Ralph (pronounced "Rafe") Holmes, in March 1939; he was twelve years her junior. She had previously dated his older brother, Phillips Holmes. In 1940, both brothers (who were half-Canadian) joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Phillips was killed in a collision of two military planes in August 1942. When Ralph returned home shortly after V-J Day in August 1945, the marriage quickly soured and they soon separated. On November 15, 1945, Ralph Holmes was found in his Manhattan apartment, dead of a barbiturate overdose at age 29.[5]

Holman adopted a son, Timmy (born October 18, 1945); and later adopted a second son, Tony (born May 19, 1947). Her natural son Christopher ("Topper") died on August 7, 1950 after falling while mountain climbing. Holman had given him permission to go mountain climbing with a friend on California's highest peak, Mount Whitney, not knowing that the boys were ill-prepared for the adventure. Both perished. Those close to Holman claim she never forgave herself. In 1952 she created the Christopher Reynolds Foundation in his memory.[6]

In the 1950’s, Holman worked with her accompanist, Gerold Cook, on researching and rearranging what they called earth music. It was primarily blues and spirituals that were linked to the African American community. Holman had always been involved in what later became known as the Civil rights movement. During WWII, she tried to book shows for the servicemen with her friend, Josh White, but they were turned down on the grounds that “we don’t book mixed company.”[7] In 1959, through the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, she underwrote a trip to India by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, both of whom became close friends with Holman and her husband, Louis Schanker. Holman also contributed to the defense of Dr. Benjamin Spock, the pediatrician and writer arrested for taking part in antiwar demonstrations.[8]

Her third and last husband was well known artist/sculptor Louis Schanker, they married on December 27, 1960. Although Holman didn't have to work after her marriage to Reynolds, she never completely gave up her career, making records and giving recitals. One of her last performances was at the United Nations in New York in 1966. She sang her trademark song, "Moanin' Low."

Death

On June 18, 1971, Holman was found nearly dead by her household staff, in the front seat of her Rolls Royce. She was taken to the hospital where she died hours later.[9] Holman's death was officially ruled a suicide due to acute carbon monoxide poisoning.[10]

According to the Holman biography Dreams That Money Can Buy by Jon Bradshaw, few of Holman's friends believed the coroner's report that she had committed suicide. Some of the circumstances didn't add up, in particular the question of how the slight, aging Holman could even open and close the heavy, manually-operated garage door. The book, which the NY Times reviewer described as a, "flat, unsympathetic narration of Miss Holman's life there are few insights to be had." fails to take into account that there was a side door to the garage. Also for many years Holman was depressed over the Vietnam war, and loss of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King and the recent presidential election loss by Eugene McCarthy. She took all of these events personally as she was a strong supporter of each. The final years of her life were spent in a quest for an explanation to these events and the tragedies in her life.[11]

Musical theater credits

References

  1. ^ "At "Reynolda"". Time. 1932-08-15. pp. 2. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,744163-2,00.html. Retrieved 2009-02-06.  
  2. ^ New York Times, May 18, 1997
  3. ^ Original sheet music for "Something to Remember You By" is inscribed with the subtitle "Introduced by Libby Holman"
  4. ^ a b Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, Penguin Books Ltd, 1991, page 175. ISBN 0231074883
  5. ^ "Milestones". Time. 1945-12-03. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,852521,00.html. Retrieved 2009-02-06.  
  6. ^ 01,9171,813123,00.html "Milestones". Time. 1950-08-28. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article 01,9171,813123,00.html. Retrieved 2009-02-06.  
  7. ^ "Perry, Libby Holman, Body and Soul 1982, Little, Brown and Co."
  8. ^ "New York Times, May 18, 1997"
  9. ^ Nash, Jay Robert (2004). The Great Pictorial History of World Crime. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 1246. ISBN 1-928-83122-2.  
  10. ^ Frasier, David K. (2002). Suicide in the Entertainment Industry: An Encyclopedia of 840 Twentieth Century Cases. McFarland. pp. 147. ISBN 0-786-41038-8.  
  11. ^ >"Personal communication, Florence Siegel, niece."

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