About Eleanor G. Holm
Eleanor G. Holm (December 6, 1913 – January 31, 2004) was an American competition swimmer and Olympic gold medalist. She is best known for having been suspended from the 1936 Summer Olympics team after she attended a cocktail party on the transatlantic cruise ship taking her to Germany. She went on to have a high-profile celebrity career as actress and singer, socialite and interior designer, and co-starred as Jane in a Hollywood Tarzan movie.
Born the daughter of a fireman in Brooklyn, New York, Holm learned to swim while very young. Winning her first national swimming title at age 13, she was selected to compete in the 1928 Summer Olympics, where she finished fifth in her specialty, the 100-meter backstroke. She was talented in several other strokes as well, winning several American titles in the 300-yard medley event.
At the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California, Holm won her favorite event, though defending champion Marie Braun had to forfeit the final due to an insect bite. "I was hardly dry at those Olympics when I was whisked from one studio to another—Warner Brothers, MGM, Paramount—to take screen tests," she told the New York Times in 1984. Also in 1932, she was one of 14 girls named as a WAMPAS Baby Star alongside Ginger Rogers and Gloria Stuart. The following year, on September 2, 1933, she married her first husband, Art Jarrett, a fellow graduate of Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, after a whirlwind five-month romance. He was a singer and bandleader at the Cocoanut Grove night-club. She even performed with his band while wearing a white bathing suit and white cowboy hat with high heels, singing "I'm an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande."
Competing as Eleanor Holm Jarrett, she was selected for the 1936 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately, after a drinking party aboard the ship transporting the team, Holm was found, according to the team doctor, in a state approaching a coma. According to David Wallechinsky in The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics, the Olympic team doctor reported that she was suffering from acute alcoholism, but Holm denied it.
Team leader Avery Brundage promptly suspended her from the Olympic team. Holm, admitting to having had a few drinks, subsequently maintained that her suspension arose from a personal grudge held by Brundage.
"This chaperone came up to me and told me it was time to go to bed. God, it was about 9 o'clock, and who wanted to go down in that basement to sleep anyway? So I said to her: 'Oh, is it really bedtime? Did you make the Olympic team or did I?' I had had a few glasses of Champagne. So she went to Brundage and complained that I was setting a bad example for the team, and they got together and told me the next morning that I was fired. I was heartbroken."
Holm's Olympic teammates petitioned unsuccessfully to overturn the suspension. The top favorite for the 100-meter backstroke event, Holm watched from the stands as the title went to Dutch swimmer Nida Senff. Decades later Holm confided in fellow Olympian Dave Sime that Brundage's grudge stemmed from an incident in which he propositioned her sexually and she turned him down.
Though she would appear in at least four films as herself, Holm appeared in only one Hollywood feature film, starring opposite fellow Olympian Glenn Morris in the 1938 film Tarzan's Revenge.
In 1939, a year after Jarrett divorced her, claiming that his wife's suspension from the 1936 Olympics and her affair with another man had caused him embarrassment, she married her lover, impresario Billy Rose, who had divorced first wife Fanny Brice. At the 1939 New York World's Fair she did 39 shows a week at Rose's "Aquacade", co-featured with Tarzan swimmer Johnny Weissmuller and, later, Buster Crabbe. In 1954, she divorced Rose—receiving $30,000 a month in alimony and a lump sum of $200,000 to be paid in 10 yearly installments, according to the New York Times—and several months later married Thomas Whalen, an oil-drilling executive.
Eleanor Holm Whelan died of renal disease in Miami, aged 90.
Glamor girl and swimmer Eleanor Holm turned down a chance to join the Ziegfeld Follies in order to concentrate on her athletic endeavors. In 1927 she won her first of many amateur championships. She placed fifth in the 100-meter backstroke at the 1928 Olympics but won the Gold Medal in that event in 1932. Upon her return from the Olympics she signed a film contract with Warner Brothers but never made an films for the studio.
In 1933 Holm married Ted Weems vocalist Art Jarrett. When Jarrett formed his own orchestra in 1936 she became his female vocalist. She was also prepared to make a return to the Olympics in 1936 but was caught drinking by American Olympic officials during the voyage to Europe and kicked off the team. The incident worked in her favor, however, making her an even bigger celebrity than before.
After the Olympics Holm starred in Billy Rose's touring water show, Aquacade. Rumors flew that she and Rose were having an affair. Those rumors proved true when she divorced Jarrett and married Rose in 1939. She and Rose divorced in 1954. The ensuing messy court battle became known in the press as the War of the Roses.
Holm starred in one film, Tarzan's Revenge, in 1938. She later worked as an interior decorator and retired to Miami Beach, Florida. Eleanor Holm passed away due to kidney failure in 2004.