DREAMS THAT MONEY CAN BUY: The Tragic Life of Libby Holman by Jon Bradshaw

DREAMS THAT MONEY CAN BUY: The Tragic Life of Libby Holman

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Anyone interested in Libby Holman the accused murderess (in the 1932 death of her rich young husband) will find a dense, vivid true-crime reconstruction in H.D. Perry's Libby Holman (1983). Those intrigued by Holman's later involvement with Montgomery Clift will do well with Patricia Bosworth's 1977 Clift biography. But, for readers who'd like the whole 1904-1971 rundown on Holman's spotty career and lurid/pathetic private life, Bradshaw (author of books on gambling) offers a gossipy, superficial gathering of anecdotes, kiss-and-tell hearsay, and breathy voyeurism. From a middle-class Cincinnati/Jewish background, Libby performed in high-school and college, equipped from the start with her distinctive sultry voice and her superb figure (""gorgeous breasts and hands""); soon after arriving in N.Y. her quick rise to torch-song celebrity began with The Garrick Gaieties, followed by The Little Show (""Moanin' Low"") and Three's a Crowd (""Body and Soul""). Meanwhile, her romantic/sexual hungers--which Bradshaw makes no attempt to clarify, let alone explain--had already led her into liaisons with boyish/ homosexual men and an affair with Du Point heiress Louisa Carpenter. Then came the manic courtship of tobacco heir Smith Reynolds--who wound up fatally shot in the first year of their doomed marriage. (Like Perry, Bradshaw favors the drunken-fight/accident theory.) And after the trial/pregnancy/inheritance ordeal, Libby lived on for 40 years with lots of cash but little comfort: uneven attempts at show-biz comebacks (drama, opera, clubs, folksinging with Josh White); the mountaineering death of her teenaged son (""Libby's crucifixion""); ""limited engagements and one-night stands"" with women and men (though ""indifferent to the sexual act itself""); bisexual tangles with Jane and Paul Bowles; the Clift obsession; liberal politics; Zen; and, before her apparent suicide, depression and alcoholism--""faced with the absolute meaninglessness of her life."" Meaninglessness is definitely the operative word here--but, despite the lack of insight or style, there'll probably be some faded, campy celeb-dirt appeal.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1985
Publisher: Morrow