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