Published on May 28, 2012
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.
Born as Elizabeth Lloyd Holzman, in Cincinnati, Ohio to a Jewish lawyer and stockbroker. 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. Libby graduated from Hughes High School on June 11, 1920, at the age of 16 and from the University of Cincinnati on June 16, 1923, with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Libby Holman later subtracted two years from her age. Insisting she was born in 1906. She gave the Social Security Administration 1906 as the year of her birth.
In the summer of 1924, Holman left for New York City, where she first lived 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 gave her the nickname, "The Statue of Libby." Her Broadway theatre debut was in the play The Sapphire Ring in 1925 at the Selwyn Theatre, which closed after thirteen performances. She was billed as Elizabeth Holman. 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. Also in that show she sang the song "Can't We Be Friends?" The following year, Holman introduced "Something to Remember You By" in the show Three's a Crowd, which also starred Allen and Webb. 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), and the self-produced one-woman revue Blues, Ballads and Sin-Songs (1954).
Holman enjoyed a variety of intimate relationships with both men and women throughout her lifetime. Her famous lesbian lovers included the DuPont heiress Louisa d'Andelot Carpenter, actress Jeanne Eagels and modernist writer 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, whom she mentored.
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. Authorities initially ruled the shooting a suicide, but a coroner's inquiry ruled 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 that 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.
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 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 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.
For many years, Holman reportedly suffered from depression over the deaths of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, the recent presidential election loss by Eugene McCarthy, and the illness and deterioration of her friend Jane Bowles. She also was considered never the same after the death of Montgomery Clift in 1966. Friends said that she lost some of her vitality.
On June 18, 1971, Holman was found nearly dead in the front seat of her Rolls Royce by her household staff. She was taken to the hospital where she died hours later. Holman's death was officially ruled a suicide due to acute carbon monoxide poisoning.
Libby Holman - Am I Blue (1929)
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