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Barbara Hutton, born November 14, 1912 in New York City, United States – died May 11, 1979 in Los Angeles, California, was a wealthy American socialite dubbed by the media as the "Poor Little Rich Girl" because of her troubled life.
Barbara Hutton was the only child of Edna Woolworth (1883-1918) who was the daughter of Frank W. Woolworth, the founder of the enormously successful Woolworth department store chain. Barbara's father was Franklyn Laws Hutton (1877-1940), a wealthy co-founder of the respected E. F. Hutton & Company , a New York Investment banking and stock brokerage conglomerate. She was a niece by marriage of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and a first cousin of the actress-heiress Dina Merrill (née Nedenia Hutton).
Born into a highly dysfunctional family, Barbara Hutton's father was a notorious philanderer whose conduct drove her mother to suicide when Barbara was only six years old. After her mother's death, her father wanted nothing to do with raising a child and she was shuffled between various relatives, raised by a governess. She became an introverted child who had limited interaction with other children her own age. Her closest friend and only confidante was her homosexual cousin Jimmy Donahue , the son of her mother's sister. Donahue grew up to become a personable and charming member of the first "jet-set" crowd of the 1950s who befriended the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. In his 2000 book, , author Christopher Wilson tells a much-debated story of a sexual relationship between a 35-year-old Donahue and the then 54-year-old Duchess.
In accordance with New York's high society traditions, at age 18 Barbara Hutton was given a lavish debutante ball where guests from the Astor and Rockefeller families, amongst other elites, were entertained by stars such as Rudy Vallee and Maurice Chevalier. Three years later, on her 21st birthday, Barbara Hutton inherited close to 50 million dollars from her mother's estate, an enormous amount of money at the time. Her inheritance made her one of the wealthiest women in the world and the target for every fortune hunter around.
Portrayed in the press as the "lucky" young woman who had it all, the public had no idea of the psychological problems she lived with that led to a life of victimization and abuse. Barbara Hutton married seven times:
- 1933 – Alexis Zakharovitch Mdivani , a so-called Russian prince, divorced 1935;
- 1935 - Count Curt Heinrich Eberhard Erdmann Georg von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow , divorced 1938;
- 1942 – Cary Grant, divorced 1945;
- 1947 - Prince Igor Nicolaeivitch Troubetzkoy , divorced 1947;
- 1953 – Porfirio Rubirosa, divorced 1954;
- 1955 - Baron Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt von Cramm, divorced 1959;
- 1964 - Prince Pierre Raymond Doan Vinh na Champassak , divorced 1966.
Her first two husbands had their own dysfunctional backgrounds and could not deal with the needy girl. They used her great wealth to their advantage, especially the extremely abusive Curt Haugwitz-Reventlow with whom she had her only child, a son named Lance. Curt Reventlow dominated her through verbal and physical abuse that escalated to a savage beating that left her hospitalized and him in jail. Hutton's divorce gave her custody of their son, and like her father had done to her, she left the raising of Lance Reventlow to a governess and private boarding schools. The physical and sexual abuse led to drug abuse and Hutton developed anorexia nervosa which would plague her for the rest of her life. Her need for gratification led to an addiction to shopping, but like all addictions it only gave her tortured mind temporary relief.
With World War II raging in Europe, Hutton gifted her London mansion Winfield House to the United States government and moved to California. Back home, Hutton became active during the war, giving money to assist the Free French Forces and donating her yacht to the U.S. government. Using her high profile image to sell War bonds, she received positive publicity after being derided by the press as a result of her marriage scandals. In Hollywood, she met and married Cary Grant, one of the biggest movie stars of the day. Grant did not need her money or to benefit from her name and genuinely cared for her. Nevertheless, Cary Grant had his own child abandonment issues which combined with Hutton's addictions led to the failure of this marriage too.
Barbara Hutton left California and moved to Paris, France before acquiring a mansion in trendy Tangier. Hutton then began dating Igor Troubetzkoy, another expatriate Russian prince of very limited means but world renown. In the spring of 1948 in Zurich, Switzerland, she married him. That year, he was the driver of the first Ferrari to ever compete in Grand Prix motor racing when he raced in the Monaco Grand Prix and later won the Targa Florio. For the second time she had married a man who actually loved her and the Prince did everything to help her overcome her addictions but to no avail. He ultimately could not deal with her problems and filed for divorce. Hutton's attempted suicide made headlines around the world. Mocked by the press as the "Poor Little Rich Girl," her life nevertheless made great copy and the media exploited her for consumption by a fascinated public.
Her next husband was the celebrated German tennis star, Baron Gottfried von Cramm. A completely messed up Barbara Hutton sought safety and friendship with the homosexual von Cramm with whom she had been friends for years. This situation could only lead to disaster and they soon divorced. He died, in an automobile crash, near Cairo, Egypt, in 1976.
Barbara Hutton's next marriage lasted 53 days. Porfirio Rubirosa, one of the most notorious of international playboys, only married the vulnerable woman for her wealth and reputation while continuing his affair with the actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. Hutton then met James Douglas, a handsome young American who, though gay, cared for her and managed to get her off drugs and alcohol for a time. (She also had a intense though platonic relationship with another goodlooking young American, Philip Van Rensselaer.) However, her lavish spending continued, and although already the owner of several mansions around the world, in 1959 she built a luxurious Japanese style palace on a 30 acre (120,000 m²) estate in Cuernavaca, Mexico . For a time she seemed happy but when her neglected 23-year-old son Lance visited and unleashed his anguish over his upbringing, Hutton was unable to cope and reverted to her addictions. (Her son later married the actresses Jill St. John and Cheryl Holdridge, a former Mouseketeer who is now known as Cheryl Reventlow Post.)
Extremely volatile when drinking, Hutton had to be restrained on an airplane flight after which she began suffering from drunken blackouts. No longer caring about public perceptions, she frequently appeared drunk in public and her rash spending continued unabated. Over the years, she had acquired a large collection of valuable jewelry, including elaborate historical pieces that had once belonged to Marie Antoinette and Empress Eugénie of France. In her drunken stupors, Hutton began sleeping with numerous younger men, total strangers to whom she gave money, diamond bracelets and other pieces of expensive jewelry.
In Tangier, she fell victim to her seventh husband, Raymond Doan, for whom she bought an Laotian title. (Other sources indicate that his title came through his late-in-life adoption by the head of the Champassak family, deposed Indochinese royalty.) His sole motive was to get at her wealth which by then had shrunk considerably from years of reckless spending. This marriage, too, was short lived.
The 1972 death of her son in an airplane crash sent Barbara Hutton into a state of permanent drunken despair. Her fortune had shrunk to the point where she began liquidating assets in order to raise funds to live on. Nonetheless, she continued to spend money on strangers willing to pay a little attention to her. A pathetic Barbara Hutton spent her final years living at the Beverly Hills Hotel where she wasted away to little more than a skeleton. She died bedridden in November of 1979 and was interred in the Woolworth family mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.
Over the years, numerous books have been written about Barbara Hutton the best known of which are:
- by C. David Heymann
- by Philip Van Rensselaer
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