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Holm on cover of Time magazine, 1939.
|Full name||Eleanor G. Holm|
|National team||United States|
December 6, 1913|
Brooklyn, New York
|Died||January 31, 2004
|Club||Women's Swimming Association of New York|
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 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. 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 told Olympic sprinter Dave Sime that Brundage held a grudge from an incident in which he propositioned her and she turned him down.
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 (worth $263,457 today) in alimony and a lump sum of $200,000 (worth $1,756,382 today) to be paid in 10 yearly installments, according to the New York Times. This sensational divorce trial was called "THE WAR OF THE ROSES" and is the subject of a chapter in Louis Nizer's book "My Life in Court." Several months later she married Thomas Whalen, an oil-drilling executive.
In popular culture
A protagonist based on Eleanor Holm, with the fictionalized name Eleanor Emerson, appears in the 2012 novel Flight from Berlin by David John, published by HarperCollins.
- The Independent 4 February 2004
- Guard, Sally (15 June 1992). "Still Very Much In The Swim". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- "5 MORE SWIM TITLES TAKEN BY U.S. TEAM; Americans Roll Up 175 Points and Carry Off Olympic Honors by Wide Margin". The New York Times. 12 August 1928. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
...Miss Eleanor Holm and Miss Lisa Lindstrom, New York youngsters, finished--fifth and sixth--respectively.
- Daley, Arthur J (12 August 1932). "Miss Holm of Brooklyn Wins Olympic Swim". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- Maraniss, p. 415
- Richard, Goldstein (2 Feb 2004). "Eleanor Holm Whalen, 30's Swimming Champion, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- Maraniss, David (2008). Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World. New York, Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1-4165-3407-5.
- William O. Johnson, All That Glitters Is Not Gold
- Lewis H. Carlson and John J. Fogarty, Tales of Gold
- Eleanor Holm – Olympic athlete profile at Sports-Reference.com
- Eleanor Holm (USA) – Honor Swimmer profile at International Swimming Hall of Fame
- Eleanor Holm at Find a Grave
- Eleanor Holm at the Internet Movie Database