Eleanor Holm (Eleanor G. Holm)

Eleanor Holm

Eleanor Holm was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of a fireman; she 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, 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. In 1932, she was one of 14 girls named as a WAMPAS Baby Star, including Ginger Rogers, Mary Carlisle, 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.”[citation needed] 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 expelled her from the Olympic team. Holm admitted to having had a few drinks but subsequently maintained that her dismissal arose from a personal grudge held by Brundage.

Holm’s Olympic teammates petitioned unsuccessfully to overturn the dismissal. The top favorite for the 100-meter backstroke event, Holm watched from the stands as the gold medal 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. Although she appeared 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 expulsion 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 $267,546 today) in alimony and a lump sum of $200,000 (worth $1,783,643 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 1966 Eleanor Holm was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. She died of renal disease in Miami, Florida, on January 31, 2004 at the age of 90.

More Images

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  • December, 06, 1913
  • USA
  • Brooklyn, New York


  • January, 31, 2004
  • USA
  • Miami, Florida

Cause of Death

  • renal disease


  • Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum
  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • USA

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