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.

image found here

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.