Elizabeth Lloyd Holzman, best known as
Libby Holman (May 23, 1904 –
June 18, 1971), was an American singer and actress who also achieved
notoriety for her complex and unconventional personal life.
1 Early life
2 Theatrical career
3 Personal life
3.1 Death of Zachary Smith Reynolds
4 Later years
4.1 Death and legacy
6 Musical theater credits
7 Hit records
9 External links
Elizabeth Lloyd Holzman was born May 23, 1904, in Cincinnati, Ohio,
the daughter of a lawyer and stockbroker, Alfred Holzman (August 20,
1867 – June 14, 1947) and his wife, Rachel Florence Workum Holzman
(October 17, 1873 – April 22, 1966). Her family was Jewish. Their
other children were daughter Marion H. Holzman (January 25, 1901 –
December 13, 1963) and son Alfred Paul Holzman (March 9, 1909 –
April 19, 1992).
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. She graduated from the
University of Cincinnati
University of Cincinnati on
June 16, 1923, with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Holman later subtracted
two years from her age, insisting she was born in 1906, the year she
Social Security Administration
Social Security Administration 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".
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
Clifton Webb and
Fred Allen in the 1929 Broadway revue
The Little Show, in which she first sang the blues number, "Moanin'
Low" by Ralph Rainger, 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
Kay Swift and Paul James
song, "Can't We Be Friends?"
The following year, Holman introduced the
Howard Dietz and Arthur
Schwartz standard "Something to Remember You By" in the show Three's a
Crowd, which also starred Allen and Webb. Other Broadway
The Garrick Gaieties
The Garrick Gaieties (1925), Merry-Go-Round
(1927), Rainbow (1928), Ned Wayburn's Gambols (1929), Revenge with
Music (1934), You Never Know (1938, score by Cole Porter), during
which production she had a strong rivalry with the tempestuous Mexican
actress Lupe Vélez; and her self-produced one-woman revue Blues,
Ballads and Sin-Songs (1954).
One of Holman's signature looks was the strapless dress, which she has
been credited with having invented, or at least being one of
its first high-profile wearers.
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Holman was married three times, and had a variety of intimate
relationships with both men and women throughout her lifetime.
Her famous lesbian lovers included the DuPont heiress Louisa d'Andelot
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
Holman took an interest in one fan, Zachary Smith Reynolds, the heir
R. J. Reynolds
R. J. Reynolds tobacco company. He was smitten with her from
the start, despite being seven years younger. They met in Baltimore,
Maryland in April 1930 after Reynolds saw Holman's performance in a
road company staging of The Little Show. Reynolds begged friend Dwight
Deere Wiman, who was the show's producer, for an introduction to
Holman. Reynolds pursued her all around the world in his plane.
With the persuasion of her former lover, Louisa d'Andelot Carpenter,
Holman and Reynolds, who went by his middle name, married on November
29, 1931 in the parlor of a house in Monroe, Michigan. Reynolds wanted
Holman to abandon her acting career, she consented by taking a
one-year leave of absence. During this time, however, his conservative
family was unable to bear Holman and her group of theater friends, who
at her invitation often visited Reynolda, the family estate near
Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Accusations and arguments among them
Death of Zachary Smith Reynolds
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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 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 and
a supposed lover of Holman, were indicted for murder.
Louisa d'Andelot Carpenter paid Holman's $25,000 bail at the
Rockingham County Courthouse in Wentworth, North Carolina, with Holman
appearing in such a dark dress and heavy veil many bystanders and
reporters thought she was black or mixed race. 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.
Milt Machlin investigated the death of Smith Reynolds and
argued that Reynolds committed suicide. In his account Holman was a
victim of the anti-Semitism of local authorities, and the district
attorney involved with the case later told Machlin that she was
In 1934, Broadway producer Vinton Freedley offered Holman the starring
role in the
Cole Porter musical Anything Goes, but
she declined. A 1933 film, Sing, Sinner, Sing, was loosely based upon
the allegations surrounding Reynolds' death.
Holman married her second husband, film and stage actor Ralph
(pronounced "Rafe") 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
aircraft on August 12, 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.
Holman adopted two sons, Timmy (born October 18, 1945), and Tony (born
May 19, 1947). Her natural son Christopher ("Topper") died on August
7, 1950 after falling while mountain climbing. Holman had given him
permission to go mountain climbing with a friend on California's
highest peak, Mount Whitney, not knowing that the boys were
ill-prepared for the adventure. Both died. Those close to Holman claim
she never forgave herself. In 1952 she created the Christopher
Reynolds Foundation in his memory.
In the 1950s, Holman worked with her accompanist, Gerold Cook, on
researching and rearranging what they called earth music. It was
primarily blues and spirituals that were linked to the African
American community. Holman had always been involved in what later
became known as the Civil rights movement, and became a close friend
and associate of Martin Luther King Jr.
After the death of her son Christopher, she created the Christopher
Reynolds Foundation in his name. Its purpose from the start has been
towards supporting goals such as international disarmament, the
resolution of environmental and ecological issues, the pursuit of
peace and equality… But throughout the years, they have narrowed
down their scope to more specific causes: such as U.S./Cuban relations
for example. She also contributed to the defense of Dr. Benjamin
Spock, the pediatrician and writer arrested for taking part in antiwar
It was through this foundation, that she would ultimately provide the
necessary funds for Dr. King's trip to India with his wife, Coretta
Scott King, in an effort to meet followers of Mahatma Gandhi (whom
he referred to as "the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent
During World War II, she tried to book shows for the servicemen with
her friend, Josh White, but they were turned down on the grounds that
"we don’t book mixed company."[page needed]
Libby and Josh were beyond brave, although perhaps she did not quite
realize what she was taking on in 1940s America. When they started
rehearsals for their first show in a New York club, she arrived at the
front door and was welcomed. Josh was directed to the staff entrance
round the back. Libby waited till the day they were due to open, after
the owners had spent a vast amount on publicity, and told them she was
not going to sing in their club until they changed their racial door
policy. She won. In Philadelphia, Josh was refused a room at the hotel
in whose bar they sang nightly. Libby ranted and told them: "Take down
the American flag outside and fly the fucking swastika, why don't
you!" When they were told by officials that the US Army did not
tolerate mixed shows, Libby replied: "Mixed? You mean boys and
Her third and last husband was well known abstract artist/sculptor
Louis Schanker. They married on December 27, 1960. Although Holman did
not have to work after her marriage to Reynolds, she never completely
gave up her career, continuing to perform and make records. One of
her last performances was at the
United Nations in New York in 1966.
She performed her trademark song, "Moanin' Low".
Death and legacy
For many years, Holman reportedly suffered from depression from the
combined effects of the deaths of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr., the recent presidential election loss by Eugene
McCarthy, the deaths of young men in the Vietnam War, her anguish over
the untimely death of her own son and the illness and rapid
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. In view of her
frequent bouts with depression and reported past suicide attempts,
none of Holman's friends or relatives was surprised by her death. She
was cremated and her ashes scattered at “Treetops”.
The Treetops Mansion viewed from Treetops State Park.
Holman's papers are at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center of
Boston University. In 2001, a successful effort was made by local
citizens to save her Connecticut estate, Treetops, from development.
It straddles the border of Stamford and Greenwich. As a result, the
pristine grounds were preserved. Treetops is part of the Mianus River
State Park, which is overseen by the Connecticut Department of
Environmental Protection. Treetops is located just south of the Mianus
River Park. The mansion itself is now in private ownership. The
grounds are magnificent and the house has undergone extensive
restoration. In 2006, Louis Schanker's art studio, located on a hill
overlooking the property, began a new life as the home of the Treetops
Chamber Music Society.
Dreams That Money Can Buy
Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947)
Musical theater credits
The Sapphire Ring - Selwyn Theatre (1925)
The Garrick Gaieties
The Garrick Gaieties - Garrick Theatre (1925)
Greenwich Village Follies - Shubert Theatre (1926)
Klaw Theatre (1927)
Rainbow - Gallo Theatre (1928)
Ned Wayburn's Gambols - Knickerbocker Theatre (1929)
The Little Show
The Little Show -
Music Box Theatre
Music Box Theatre (1929)
Three's a Crowd - Selwyn Theatre (1930)
Revenge with Music-
New Amsterdam Theatre
New Amsterdam Theatre (1934)
You Never Know -
Winter Garden Theatre
Winter Garden Theatre (1938)
Blues, Ballads, and Sin Songs (1954)
"Am I Blue?"
"Find Me a Primitive Man"
"Why Was I Born?"
"Body and Soul"
"Something to Remember You By"
"Love for Sale"
"I'm One of God's Children"
"You and the Night and the Music"
^ Boardman, Sam (Winter 2006). "Not Quite White: Sam Boardman Jacobs
on the turbulent career of the torch singer - and political activist
– Libby Holman". Jewish Quarterly (Number 204). Retrieved 9 August
2012. Zach’s family had always disapproved of Libby, and her Jewish
ancestry was publicly known to play a large part in that
^ "At "Reynolda"". Time. 1932-08-15. p. 2. Retrieved
^ Social Security Death Index: SSN 073-14-3155 under the name
"Elizabeth Schanker", ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com; accessed December
^ a b New York Times: Jack Cavanaugh, "Treetops: An Aura of Glamour, a
Trail of Tragedies," May 18, 1997, accessed January 7, 2011
^ Original sheet music for "Something to Remember You By" is inscribed
with the subtitle "Introduced by Libby Holman."
^ "Lupe Vélez/MEXICAN SILENT CINEMA".
cinesilentemexicano.wordpress.com. Retrieved 4 February 2018.
^ Scheper, Jeanne.
Libby Holman profile, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive
Historical Encyclopedia, March 1, 2009; accessed March 25, 2013.
^ Casstevens, Frances H. (2006). Death in North Carolina's Piedmont:
tales of murder, suicide and causes unknown. Charleston, SC: History
Press. p. 74. ISBN 9781596291966.
^ Bowie, Angie (2002). Bisexuality. Harpenden , Herts: Pocket
Essentials. p. 58. ISBN 9781903047910.
Libby Holman was a
Jewish American who invented the strapless gown and was a celebrated
^ Waggoner, Susan (2001). Nightclub nights : art, legend and
style, 1920-1960. New York: Rizzoli. p. 18.
ISBN 9780847823314. Then there was the scandalous Libby Holman,
whose accomplishments ranged from challenging race and gender
stereotypes to popularizing the strapless evening gown.
^ a b Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of
Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America (Penguin Books, 1991), p.
175; ISBN 0-231-07488-3
^ "Jane Bowles,
Libby Holman Reynolds and Barbara Hutton". The
Authorized Paul Bowles Web Site. www.paulbowles.org.
^ Milt Machlin, Libby (NY: Tower Books, 1980)
^ "Sing, Sinner, Sing: Moans, Groans, And Murder on a Gambling Ship,"
^ Determeyer, Eddy (2008). Rhythm Is Our Business: Jimmie Lunceford
and the Harlem Express. University of Michigan Press. p. 65.
^ "Milestones". Time. 1945-12-03. Retrieved 2009-02-06.
^ Scheper, Jeanne (2009-03-01). "
Libby Holman profile". jwa.org.
Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Retrieved
Libby Holman profile". jwa.org. Retrieved 2017-10-10.
^ King, Jr, Martin Luther (July 1959). "My Trip to the Land of Gandhi"
(PDF). Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project.
^ Perry, Libby Holman, Body and Soul (Little, Brown, 1982)
^ a b "The Jewish Quarterly".
Libby Holman discography".
^ Machlin, Libby, 353
^ Nash, Jay Robert (2004). The Great Pictorial History of World Crime.
Rowman & Littlefield. p. 1246. ISBN 1-928831-22-2.
^ Frasier, David K. (2002).
Suicide in the Entertainment Industry: An
Encyclopedia of 840 Twentieth Century Cases. McFarland. p. 147.
^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000
Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 21849-21850). McFarland
& Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
^ "Friends of the Mianus River Park: History of Treetops State Park".
Retrieved 21 June 2011.
^ Friends of Mianus River State Park: Harry Day, "Libby Holman, the
SLCT and the Treetops Legacy," Spring 2009, accessed January 7, 2011
^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories: 1890-1954. Record Research.
Book: Libby Holman
Libby Holman by Kenneth Lisenbee
Hughes High School history
Books of the Times:A Torch-Song Life
Libby Holman at the
Internet Broadway Database
Internet Broadway Database
Libby Holman on IMDb
Libby Holman at Find a Grave
"Am I Blue?"
"Why Was I Born?"
"Body and Soul"
"Love for Sale"
"You and the Night and the Music"
ISNI: 0000 0001 0998 0541
BNF: cb14187623j (data)