Eleanor Holm

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 expelled from the 1936 Summer Olympics team after she was allegedly found intoxicated after attending a cocktail party on the transatlantic ship taking the team to Germany. She went on to have a high-profile celebrity career as a socialite and interior designer, and co-starred in a Hollywood Tarzan movie --- Tarzan's Revenge.[1] She appeared in that film with Glenn Morris, another Olympian.

Eleanor Holm
Holm c. 1936
Personal information
Full nameEleanor G. Holm
National team United States
Born(1913-12-06)December 6, 1913
Brooklyn, New York
DiedJanuary 31, 2004(2004-01-31) (aged 90)
Miami, Florida
ClubWomen's Swimming Association of New York
Medal record
Representing the United States
Olympic Games
1932 Los Angeles 100 m backstroke


Holm at the 1932 Olympics

Holm was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of a fireman and cousin to professional basketball player Bobby Holm.[2][3] 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.[4][5] 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 the gold medal in her favorite event, though defending champion Marie Braun had to forfeit the final due to an insect bite.[6] "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 the 14 girls named as WAMPAS Baby Stars, including Ginger Rogers, Mary Carlisle, and Gloria Stuart. One of her first assignments at Warner Bros. was to join a trainload of actors and Busby Berkeley chorus girls on a barnstorming trip across the country in early 1933 to publicize the movie musical 42nd Street and to show support for the newly elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt at his first inauguration in Washington, DC.[7]

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 nightclub. 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 qualified for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. After a drinking party aboard the SS Manhattan on the way to the Olympics, the team doctor found Holm in a state approaching a coma. According to David Wallechinsky in The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics, the Olympic team doctor's diagnosis was "[a]cute alcoholism". Various charges were made against her which Holm did not deny. U.S. Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage promptly expelled her from the Olympic team. Holm admitted to having had a few glasses of Champagne but subsequently maintained that her dismissal 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 and Art Jarrett in 1936

Holm's Olympic teammates unsuccessfully petitioned to have her dismissal overturned. Holm was the top favorite for the 100-meter backstroke event, and she 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.[8]

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. On November 10, 1939,[9] 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 per month (equivalent to $290,000 today) in alimony and a lump sum of $200,000 ($1,900,000 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.[10]

In 1966, Holm was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.[11] She died of renal disease in Miami, Florida, on January 31, 2004 at the age of 90.[12]

In popular culture

Holm is portrayed by Heidi O'Rourke in the 1975 film Funny Lady.

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.

See also


  1. The Independent, February 4, 2004.
  2. "Bob Holm". Peach Basket Society. January 19, 2016. Retrieved September 1, 2019.
  3. Guard, Sally (June 15, 1992). "Still Very Much in the Swim". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  4. Eleanor Holm. Sports-Reference.com
  5. "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. August 12, 1928. Retrieved July 25, 2012. ...Miss Eleanor Holm and Miss Lisa Lindstrom, New York youngsters, finished—fifth and sixth—respectively.
  6. Daley, Arthur J (August 12, 1932). "Miss Holm of Brooklyn Wins Olympic Swim". The New York Times. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  7. Talbot, Stephen (January 21, 2001). "On With the Show". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 31, 2020.
  8. Maraniss, David (2008). Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World. New York, Simon & Schuster. p. 415. ISBN 1-4165-3407-5.
  9. File:Billy Rose and Eleanor Holm 1939.jpg
  10. File:Eleanor Holm and Tommy Whalen 1954.jpg
  11. Eleanor Holm (USA) – Honor Swimmer profile at International Swimming Hall of Fame
  12. Richard, Goldstein (February 2, 2004). "Eleanor Holm Whalen, 30's Swimming Champion, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved July 25, 2012.


  • William O. Johnson, All That Glitters Is Not Gold
  • Lewis H. Carlson and John J. Fogarty, Tales of Gold