Zachary Smith Reynolds

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Zachary Smith Reynolds (November 5, 1911 - July 6, 1932) was an American amateur aviator and younger son of R. J. Reynolds. The Zachary Smith Reynolds story was the basis for two movies, Reckless, starring Jean Harlow, and the popular 1950s classic, Written on the Wind. The latter was loosely based on a novel by Robert Wilder. In addition, the film Sing, Sinner, Sing was loosely based upon the allegations surrounding Reynolds' death.

Early life[edit]

Reynolds (also known as Z. Smith Reynolds, or just Smith) was the youngest child of R. J. Reynolds, founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Mary Katherine "Katherine" Smith Reynolds.

R.J. Reynolds died in 1918 of pancreatic cancer, and Katherine Reynolds died in 1924. The Reynolds children then went to live with their uncle, William Neal Reynolds, and his wife Kate, who did not have children of their own.[1] Reynolds quit school as a teenager to focus on flying planes, for which he had a talent.[1] He was scheduled to receive $17 million from his father's estate at the age of 21.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Reynolds married Anne Cannon in York, South Carolina at midnight on November 16, 1929 soon after he turned 18. She was the daughter of Joseph Franklin Cannon (July 23, 1876 - June 21, 1939) of the Cannon Mills fortune and Annie Hunt Ludlow (December 9, 1887 - March 10, 1965). They had one child, Anne Cannon Reynolds II (August 23, 1930 - May 11, 2003). Due to Reynolds's affair with singer and actress Libby Holman, the Reynoldses were divorced in Reno, Nevada November 23, 1931. After their divorce, Anne Reynolds married and divorced Charlotte, North Carolina realtor Frank Brandon Smith, Jr. (May 21, 1906 - June 25, 1967) in 1934.

Smith Reynolds married Libby Holman on November 29, 1931 in the parlor of Monroe, Michigan Justice of the Peace Fred M. Schoepfer, just six days after his divorce from Cannon was final.[1] Reynolds had asked Holman to marry him while still married to Cannon and had reportedly told her he would kill himself if she refused his offer.[1] Holman, although a celebrated Broadway actress, gave up her career to preside over the Reynolds estate, Reynolda House.[1] They threw many parties there.[1]

Holman gave birth to Christopher Smith "Topper" Reynolds three months prematurely on January 11, 1933 in Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the baby weighed 3.5 pounds. Topper Reynolds died in August 1950 at age 17 in a climbing accident on Mount Whitney.

Aviation[edit]

Reynolds was an avid aviator like his older brother R. J. Reynolds, Jr., also known as "Dick". Smith bought a S.56C amphibian biplane built by American Aeronautical Corporation in Port Washington, New York under license from Italian manufacturer Savoia-Marchetti in the spring of 1931, it was customized for him to have a single seat and extra fuel capacity as he planned to fly it around the world. After a couple of aborted starts, Reynolds began a long-distance flight (London to Hong Kong) in December 1931 right after his marriage to Holman. She was touring the United States in a road production of Three's A Crowd, reprising her Broadway theatre role. His solo flight was not really publicized and he was completing the ocean portions via boat. His flight journal survives.

Death[edit]

Reynolds died under mysterious circumstances from an automatic .32 caliber Mauser pistol shot through his head on the early morning of July 6, 1932, after a 21st birthday party for his friend Charles Gideon Hill, Jr. (July 5, 1911 - October 18, 1960), who was also Anne Cannon Reynolds's first cousin, at his Winston-Salem, North Carolina estate known as Reynolda.[1] His wife Libby Holman Reynolds was pregnant with their child.

Reynolds' boyhood friend and personal assistant Albert Bailey "Ab" Walker[2] had stayed over after the party, and he reported that he heard a gunshot from downstairs and immediately afterwards Holman ran to the balcony and shouted, "Smith's killed himself!"[1] Walker said he found Reynolds bleeding and unconscious upstairs, with a bullet wound in his right temple.[1] With Holman's help, Walker brought Reynolds to North Carolina Baptist Hospital, where he was pronounced dead four hours later at 5:25AM on July 6.

The death was originally ruled a suicide, but a coroner's inquiry subsequently ruled the death a murder.[1] Both Walker and Holman were considered suspects in his death and were both indicted for first-degree murder of Reynolds—Holman for the murder itself and Walker as an accomplice.[1] The murder attracted national attention.[1] Reporters printed allegations that Holman had conducted an affair with Walker.[1] Reynolds' uncle William Neal Reynolds told the district attorney that the family supported dropping the charges; the prosecutor eventually did so for lack of evidence, and no trial was ever held.[1]

Zachary Smith Reynolds is buried in the Salem Cemetery in Winston-Salem.

Legacy[edit]

Reynolds' siblings underwent a prolonged fight to receive their share of Reynolds' estate, after which they established a trust in his name that provided for his namesake foundation, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.[1] As a result, many things in the Winston-Salem, NC area are named for Reynolds. The local airport (Smith Reynolds Airport) and the main library at Wake Forest University are named in his honor.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Tursi, Frank (1994). Winston-Salem: A History. John F. Blair, publisher. p. 194. 
  2. ^ (December 10, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois - August 2, 1954) who died of lung cancer at North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Winston-Salem, North Carolina)

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