statue of Libby

Libby Holman (1904-1971) was the youngest woman to graduate from the University of Cincinnati and a well known torch singer. Sadly, murder, millionaires, death, and suicide were morbid recurring themes in Libby’s life.

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At nineteen, she moved to New York with dreams of Broadway. Her big break came in 1925 in the musical revue, The Garrick Gaieties. Her nearsightedness provided an unexpectedly alluring stage persona, while her palate, an eighth of an inch askew, helped produce her strangely throaty sustained laments and a grunting style she liked to call her “vomit.” Entrenched in New York’s bohemian, dance-and-bathtub-gin culture, Holman swore, drank, and made regular late-night excursions to Harlem’s Cotton Club and Inferno.

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Her unusual basso contralto, Betty Boop lips, and untraditional beauty created what critic Brooks Atkinson labeled a “dark purple menace.”  During this period, she was introduced to Louisa Carpenter, a millionaire member of the du Pont family. By October 1930, Carpenter and Holman had become inseparable lovers. Her bisexuality became the talk of Broadway and she scandalized some by also dating much younger men, such as fellow actor Montgomery Clift.

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Zachary Smith Reynolds, heir to the Reynolds tobacco fortune, began, literally, to follow Holman’s career. An aviator, he flew from city to city courting her attentions until the two were married by a justice of the peace in Michigan. The famously ill-fated marriage ended tragically at the Reynolds estate, “Reynolda,” in North Carolina. On July 5, 1932, Reynolds was shot in his bedroom; he died the next morning in the hospital and the coroner declared the death a suicide. Even after being presented with accusations of tampered evidence, two antisemitic grand juries approved murder charges against Holman, and against Ab Walker, Reynolds’ best friend with whom it was suspected she had been having an affair.

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Louisa Carpenter paid her $25,000 bail, and eventually the case was dropped through the influence of the Reynolds family who wanted no publicity. When Holman gave birth in January 1933, it brought a new heir to the Reynolds tobacco fortune and became one of the biggest news stories of the year.

Louisa Carpenter found here

Holman married her second husband, film and stage actor Ralph Holmes, in March 1939. He was twelve years her junior. She had previously dated his older brother, Phillips, who was killed in a collision of two military planes in August 1942. When Ralph returned home in August 1945, the marriage quickly soured and they separated. In November that year, Ralph Holmes was found in his Manhattan apartment, dead of a barbiturate overdose at age 29.

Phillips Holmes found here

Holman adopted two sons, Timmy (born October 1945), and Tony (born May 1947). Her natural son Christopher died in August 1950 after falling while mountain climbing. Holman had given him permission to go mountain climbing with a friend in California, not knowing that the boys were ill-prepared for the adventure. Both died and those close to Holman claim she never forgave herself.

In June 1971, Holman was found unconscious in the front seat of her Rolls Royce by her household staff. She was taken to the hospital where she died hours later. Few of her friends believed the coroner’s report that she had committed suicide. How did the slight, aging Holman open and close a heavy, manually-operated garage door?

Another mysterious death closed the life of  the woman known as “The Statue of Libby”

construction of the statue of liberty found here

sealing wax and other things

Writer Leo Tolstoy came from a rather eccentric family, with Fyodor Ivanovich Tolstoy (1782 – 1846) being perhaps the most unruly of all his relatives.

His comrades at that time described Fyodor Tolstoy as an excellent shooter and a brave fighter. His wild character, along with his taste for women and card games, gave him frequent cause for arguments with his comrades and higher officers that often ended in a violation of discipline.

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In 1803 Fyodor went on a circumnavigation of the world as a member of the sloop Nadezhda. His behavior on board, where he was unencumbered by official duties, was very unpredictable. He often provoked quarrels with the crew, including the captain himself and played jokes on those that he did not like: for example, once he intoxicated a priest and when the latter lay dead drunk on the floor, Tolstoy stuck his beard to the deck boards with sealing wax. When the priest came to, he was obliged to cut off his beard to free himself.

poppy seed beard found here

On another occasion, when the Captain was out, Tolstoy sneaked into his cabin with an orangutan that he had bought while the ship was moored on an island in the Pacific Ocean. He took out the logbook and showed the ape how to cover the paper with ink. Then he left the orangutan alone in the cabin, drawing on the notebook. When the Captain returned, all his records had been destroyed.

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Similar behavior more than once caused Tolstoy to be put under arrest. Finally, the Captain lost patience and abandoned his passenger during a stop at Kamchatka. From Kamchatka Tolstoy managed to get to Sitka island, where he spent several months among Alaskan natives.

Russian Church in Sitka found here

During his sojourn on Sitka, he acquired multiple tattoos, which he later displayed with pride to curious acquaintances. The afore-mentioned orangutan, which was left on land with Tolstoy and whose later fate is unknown, gave rise to a great deal of gossip in aristocratic circles. According to one of the rumors, during his stay in Kamchatka, Tolstoy lived together with the ape; according to others, he ate it.

Alaskan tattoos found here

Tolstoy returned to European Russia via the Far East in August 1805. He developed a love of gambling and became famous for it during his years in Moscow. He did not hide the fact that he sometimes cheated. According to the memoirs of his contemporaries, he did not like to rely on luck during a game, preferring, by way of cardsharping, to “play for certain”, as he liked to say.

image by Georges de La Tour

Even more famous was Tolstoy’s participation in a number of duels, the reasons for which were often found in card games. It is unknown how many duels he fought, but some accounts state that he killed eleven men altogether. In his early years in Moscow, Tolstoy’s love affairs provided copious material for rumor and gossip in society. He married the gypsy dancer Avdotya Tugayeva on January 10, 1821, but only after having lived with her for several years.

19th century gypsy found here

Tolstoy suffered greatly from the death of his children, especially when his eldest daughter, Sarra, died at the age of seventeen. At the end of his life he  grew devout and considered the death of his eleven children to be God’s punishment for his killing of eleven men in duels.

He carefully noted the names of those he had killed in his diary. He had twelve children, who all died in youth, except for two daughters. As each child died, he would cross out the name of one person he had killed and wrote the word “quit” (repaid). When he lost his eleventh child, he crossed out the last of the names and said, “Well, thank God, at least my curly-haired gipsy girl will live.”

Harvey Keitel in Ridley Scott’s The Duellists

Tolstoy died in 1846, after a short illness, in the presence of his wife and only surviving daughter Praskovya. Before his death he summoned a priest and confessed to him for several hours. He was buried in the Vagankavo Cemetery. His widow Avdotya outlived him by fifteen years but died a violent death: she was stabbed by her own cook in 1861.

Published in: on April 14, 2011 at 8:41 am  Comments (39)  
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