Miss Bang Bang

Ann Woodward was born in Kansas but was smart and talented enough to get a job in radio in New York

She won the odd title of “Most Beautiful Woman in Radio” and in 1942, her beauty caught the eye of William Woodward Sr. 

image found here

At some point in 1942, William Woodward Sr. passed the 27-year-old Ann on to his son, five years her junior. It was love at first sight and very quickly the two were wed.

While her son’s marriage started off happy, Elsie Woodward, the socialite who ran the most exclusive parlor of the New York 400, saw her new daughter-in-law as a gold digger who latched on to her son merely to get her hands on his $10 million fortune.

Billy’s sisters also froze off Ann. Even though she had been famous in her own right — her work on radio had gained the notice of The New York Times — she was too gaudy and flashy for their tastes. She once made the unforgivable faux pas of wearing red shoes with a blue dress and was seen smoking in public long before such behavior was tolerated in their circles.

image found here

The friction Ann felt in high society contributed to the problems at home. Both had roving eyes that created fireworks. Billy’s rumored bisexuality only made things worse.

Billy and Ann had one of those relationships that was too fractious to keep together and too strong to break apart. They sparred openly in public over many things, not the least of which were her affairs with the likes of the Aga Khan and Franchot Tone and his with any number of debutantes.

Franchot Tone found here

In between fights there was obviously affection, as the couple soon had two children, William III (nicknamed Woody) and Jimmy, born in 1944 and 1947.

At a swank party for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Billy and Ann Woodward were noticeably agitated, guests would recall later, talking incessantly about the recent spate of burglaries in their upscale Oyster Bay, Long Island neighborhood.

image found here

No one at the party remembers Ann or Billy squabbling that night, although many guests do recall the event had been particularly boozy.

By the time the couple returned home, it was 1 a.m. and 11-year-old Woody and 7-year-old Jimmy were fast asleep in their beds. Ann and Billy bade each other good night and retired to their own rooms. Behind locked doors, Billy slept with a revolver nearby while Ann was armed with a double-barreled shotgun.

shotgun found here

Two hours later Ann awoke to find her dog, Sloppy, barking at her open door. Ann told authorities she saw a “shadowy figure” near Billy’s room, backlit against the pale moonlight streaming in from a hallway window. She reached for the 12-gauge shotgun and pulled the trigger.

“Almost immediately,” Ann testified later, “I realized it was my husband. I ran and fell on the floor beside him.” Ann pulled herself away long enough to call for help. She summoned an ambulance, police and, in a move that some would use to damn her, an attorney.

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In the face of widespread press coverage, the district attorney convened a grand jury to investigate the shooting. Shortly after she buried her husband, Ann Woodward appeared before the grand jury and told her account of events.

The jurors took just 30 minutes to deliberate and find that Ann had acted without malice and that the shooting was unintentional. She was completely exonerated in the eyes of the law.

Over petit fours and champagne, the grande dames whispered that Ann had once been a prostitute. She had been previously married and had killed Billy when he discovered that her first marriage had never been legally ended. Unfortunately for Ann, the rumors gained a measure of truth when it came out that her father was not the “late Col. Crowell,” as was listed in the Woodwards’ wedding announcement, but was, in fact, alive and well and estranged from his daughter (he erroneously thought the actress Eve Arden was actually his child).

image found here

The Woodward boys were whisked off to European boarding schools shortly after their father’s death. They had slept through the shooting and could offer no helpful information to investigators. The move would have profound ramifications in later years, as neither boy was ever given a satisfactory explanation by mother or grandmother about the events leading to their father’s death.

Jimmy Woodward managed to make it through Switzerland’s exclusive Le Rosey school (its alumni included Prince Rainier of Monaco, the Shah of Iran and the King of Belgium) and volunteered for service in Vietnam so he could serve with a friend who had been drafted. When his friend was killed, Jimmy turned to drugs and drink. 

Prince Rainier found here

Jimmy became paranoid and convinced that people were spying on him through his television set. He attempted suicide by jumping out the window of a friend’s apartment and succeeded in breaking his arms and legs. It was while Jimmy was convalescing that he started seeing notorious prostitute Xaviera Hollander, author of the book “The Happy Hooker.” Hollander included several stories about Jimmy in her second book, “Xaviera, Her Continuing Adventures,” in a chapter called “Jimmy, Don’t Jump Again.”

image found here

In time, the stories about Ann Woodward reached author Truman Capote, who ingratiated himself with Elsie’s circle and began collecting anecdotes and gossip. The idea for a novel based on real-life characters – began forming in Capote’s mind and Ann Woodward was at the center.

Capote never let the facts get in the way of a good story and wasn’t above using his skill as a storyteller to get back at those who had slighted him. When he and Ann quarreled at a debutante ball and Ann, her tongue loosened by drink, called him a “little faggot,” Truman responded by dubbing her “Miss Bang Bang.”

Capote found here

At the request of a friend who edited Ladies Home Journal, Truman penned a wicked story about a woman of loose morals known as “Madame Marmalade” by the boys of the French Riviera for a “trick she did using her tongue and jam.” The story proved too racy and too controversial for Ladies Home Journal and Capote looked elsewhere for a market.

image found here

In September 1975, Ann received a shocking telephone call from a friend in the publishing business. Capote had sold his story to Esquire magazine. “In a few weeks, everyone would be talking about the thinly disguised Capote story in which someone very like Ann Woodward turns out to be a bigamist and the former girlfriend of a gangster who traps her rich society husband into marrying her by becoming pregnant.”

Ann became increasingly forlorn and depressed. As she prepared for bed, she made up her face with makeup, lipstick, eye shadow and mascara. Then Ann Woodward lay down on her side on her bed, took a single cyanide capsule, and died.

Jimmy never recovered from his mother’s death. The cocaine and heroin, guilt and remorse took its toll on him and less than a year after Ann Woodward died, Jimmy did jump again. This time he was successful in ending his life.

Woody married in 1985 and lived overseas in a life of comfort. But in 1996, his wife filed for divorce. The divorce and separation from his child took its toll on Woody who suffered from bipolar disorder and in 1999, after revising his will to leave his $35 million estate entirely to his daughter, the 54-year-old Woodward followed in the steps of his mother and brother, and leapt out the window of his Manhattan co-op.

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38 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That’s a very sad story.

    • Such a tragic family

  2. Bloody hell they were not what you could call a happy family

  3. Wow… very sad indeed…

  4. Father’s should be careful as to what presents they choose to give their sons. Second-hand mistresses may not be the best idea.

    • Good point Archie

  5. Wow. From one tragedy to another.

    How does one walk in shoes like that without ballet training? My goodness, whoever wears stuff like that should make sure they have a massage therapist on retainer to deal with their screwed up back, hips, and knees.

    • I think so too ! Nasty shoes.

      • But an interesting and strangely beautiful image to me.

  6. Sad, but fascinating story. So many suicides!

  7. So tragic. Too much sadness n complications as if there was a curse.

  8. Calling your son Woody Woodward would seem to lack a certain foresight…

    A strange and miserable tale, thanks, I think.

    The King

    • Thankfully my parrot Woody is not a Woodyard

  9. And they say money can’t buy happiness.

  10. i have been told i have a face for radio.

    • Who said that? I’ll give them a tongue lashing!

  11. Oh how sad. Suicide seems to lead to more suicide. Makes me think of the Hemingways.

    • Oh yes… five of them in that family. How do the relatives cope?

  12. Wow. Tragic story.

    I can’t help but notice, though, that it all started to go wrong because of a barking dog. None of this would have happened if they’d had a cat instead.

    • Thanks for the comic relief Laura. Much needed with this post i think

  13. Oh wow… That was pretty tragic. :(

  14. Capote was such a bitch. Laura has a point, they should have got a parrot. Red shoes with a blue dress is a faux pas? Hell, I am guilty as sin, bring on the fashion police to shoot me.

  15. The moral of that story seems to be that plenty of money and mixing in the best social circles won’t necessarily make you happy. Jumping out of windows, cyanide pills, shootings – what a horrible mess.

    Mind you, I don’t think a blue dress and red heels would go down very well in my social circle either.

    • They would in mine. :)

      • Syncy, you and Cindy and I should go out on the town together

  16. Why do I think that Xaviera Hollander looks like Russell Brand in a straight blonde wig?
    Sx

    • Because she does. An uncanny likeness. Well spotted!

  17. One is always whisked, never taken, to boarding school. Though it’s sad that the boys survived boarding school, and not the ensuing decades thereafter.

    • How true. I was whisked…..

  18. Well, no happy ending there. I kept waiting for the punch but Ms. Bang-Bang was about as close as it got.

  19. Sad, very sad…

  20. “Want to smoke pot on probation?” Damn that is a ballsy lawyer.

    • I’m glad someone noticed that image

      • Allison the Dope attorney is fantastic, used to always have an ad in the local hipster free newspaper amid all the pages of ads for pot dispensaries, often with a bit more decolletage going on. I think when I need an attorney one who is familiar with low cut blouses and herbal products would be a fine choice. It’d go very well or very badly- no middle ground is the way to go.

  21. Such a sad, tragic family story.

  22. I cannot begin to tell you how many of my friendships have come to a grinding halt when my so-called chums wear red shoes with a blue dress. Unforgivable!

  23. I am not surprised that the boys were unstable, considering all the pills Ann took everyday, and probably while pregnant also.


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