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Eleanor Holm

by David Westheimer


In 1936 she had the world on a string.  Young, 22, beautiful, shed won the gold in the backstroke at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and was on her way to Berlin on a  luxury liner, the SS Manhattan, where she was expected to win another in the 1936 Olympics.  She partied in the first-class lounge with Helen Hayes and Hayes almost equally famous husband, playwright Charles McArthur.  She had a glass of champagne.  Maybe two.

And they kicked her off the Olympic team for it.

The team chaperons, who were drinking nearby, saw her imbibing and sent her to the athletes quarters.  The American Olympic Committee, despotic Avery Brundage president, threw her off the team.  Sixty years later, in an interview in her Miami condo,  she referred to him as that old poop, Mr. Brundage.   And she was still baffled by the AOCs over-reaction.

All I did was drink a couple of glasses of champagne.  I was married  (to singer-bandleader Art Jarrett), singing in my husbands band (at Hollywoods Coconut Grove). I was not exactly a child.

She remembered crying when she watched the Olympic opening parade from the stands instead of being in it.

It hurt.  I could have brought home another gold.

 But back in 1936 Holm was as resourceful and resilient as she was gorgeous and picscatorily proficient.  She got herself a job as Hearst International News Service Correspondent (her column was ghost written) and saw the Games from a box near Hitlers.  She hobnobbed with Nazi bigwigs.  This was before Nazism had fully revealed its evil face.

 In another interview years after her dismissal, she told Craig Lord of the London Times, Goehring was fun.  Lots of chuckling.  And so did the little one with the club foot (Goebbels).  Hitler asked me Id got drunk and I said No! 
Goehring found her so winning he took an Iron Cross off his tunic and gave it to her.

When she returned to the States she found Being kicked off the team made me a bigger star than I really was.

 She made a big splash as headliner for Billy Roses water spectacular, Acquacade, which toured the country (how do you tour a water show?).  When she joined the show, Billy Rose was married to comedienne Fanny Brice.  When she left it, he was married to Eleanor Holm.

 In 1938 she was Tarzan Johnny Weissmullers (another Olympic swimmer) Jane in Tarzans Revenge.

Holm gave up sports after hip surgery in 1997 at the age of 83.

Old, she told Orlando Sentinel reporter Jeff Kunerth in her 13th floor condo in Miami, whose walls display more than 70 swimming medals (29 National Championships, nine National golds, six world records) is not being able to do any athletics.

Instead, she plays cards and does charity work.

Its what all old ladies do, she told him.

But she still works out on her treadmill and plays golf and tennis.  Her condo building has a swimming pool but shes never been in it.

Ive spent too much time in the water over the years.

Including the hot water in 1936.

Editor's Note: At 83, David Westheimer continues to write, and not just for Senior Women.  His latest effort, "The Great Wounded Bird", his recollections of World War II, winner of the Texas Review 1999 poetry prize, was published this year by Texas Review Press and may be ordered from Amazon Books, where it is 1,458,159th on their sales list, from Barnes & Noble and Borders Books.


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