Here is the second post on Barbara Hutton that I promised you!
Barbara Woolworth Hutton was born in New York City on November 14, 1912 and died May 11, 1979 in Beverly Hills. She was only 66 when she died. Decades before Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy or Kim Kardashian (for this generation) became famous, the original front page heiress/celebrity was Barbara Hutton. She was known as “the million dollar baby” and “the poor little rich girl”, the title of a Noël Coward 1920’s song. She became front page news (at age 5) when her mother died. After that, every event of her life was chronicled in the newspapers.
Barbara was the only child of Edna Woolworth, a daughter of Frank W. Woolworth, the founder of the successful Woolworth five and dime stores. Barbara’s father was Franklyn Laws Hutton, the wealthy co-founder of E.F. Hutton & Company. The other co-founder was Franklyn’s brother, Edward Francis Hutton of the respected New York investment banking and stock brokerage firm. Barbara was also a niece by marriage of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who was for a time, married to E.F. Hutton. Their daughter, actress-heiress Dina Merrill, was a first cousin to Barbara Hutton.
Still with me? The New York society set was close knit!
Franklyn (Barbara’s father) was a far cry from husband or father of the year. He was a workaholic, missing from the home front most of the time, and prone to extramarital affairs. His philandering and absence wore on Edna.
It is widely held that Edna, (Barbara’s mother) committed suicide by drinking poison. It was reported in the papers that she died from suffocation due to mastoiditis. No autopsy was ever done, so I don’t think we will ever know the truth. Five year old Barbara was the one that discovered her mother’s body, a formative moment that family and friends believe shaped the rest of her life. Rumor also has it that Barbara overheard a conversation between her father and her grandfather in which her father admits that he never wanted to have a child. After her mother’s death, Barbara went to live with her grandpa Woolworth and was very happy until he died two years later in 1919. For all practical purposes, she was abandoned by her father as a child.
After her grandfather’s death, Barbara lived with various relatives, including Dina Merrill and her family. She was it would seem, primarily raised by a governess.
The stage was set for a lifetime of difficulty forming lasting relationships, true friendships and emotional attachments. In 1924, Barbara’s grandmother Jennie Woolworth, the heir to most of the Woolworth’s fortune, died. She was at the time of her death, physically ill and mentally incompetent and she left Barbara about $28 million. The press was again, having a field day. Barbara was 12 years old!
On her 18th birthday in 1930, she was given a lavish debutante ball. The ball cost about $60,000 ($847,000 in today’s dollars). Rudy Vallee and Maurice Chevalier, top musical performers of the time, were the entertainment. Public criticism was so severe, that Barbara was sent on a tour of Europe to escape the onslaught of the press. Granted, the crash of 1929 had just happened, but the press became particularly brutal. They gave Barbara a new nickname,”rich bitch”.
Barbara Hutton at 18. The press called her “fat” which probably led to her anorexia and image issues.
By the time of her 21st birthday in 1933, her father had increased her trust fund to about $42 million (over $2 billion today). There were additional millions coming in from sound investments from her mother’s estate. Probably because she was legally able to do so, she begins to spend frivolously and extravagantly. It is also at this time, that she meets her first husband, the fake Prince Alexis Mdivani and marries him. He was at the time, the husband of a childhood friend. Mdivani spends her money well.
This is the beginning of Barbara Hutton’s lifetime interest in owning important jewelry and gems. She became a very knowledgeable connoisseur. Jewelers from around the world begin to approach first her father and then her, with incredible, historical jewels. These were jewels that had huge historical value. These were important pieces that had been owned by European royalty. After the war, Europe needed money and these jewels started to find their way to the United States.
Around this time, someone approached Barbara’s father about a single strand pearl necklace that was reported to have been owned by Marie Antoinette. It still is not known how the extremely rare and valuable pearl strand found its way to Mr. Hutton. I would guess that someone contacted her father knowing he had the means to buy almost anything. Marie Antoinette is believed to have inherited the necklace from Anne of Austria, (1601-1666) wife and queen consort of King Louis XIII (1601-1643). The necklace is composed of 44 natural graduated pearls that vary in size from approximately 8.7mm to 16.3mm. The pearls are white and nacreous and have near perfect spherical shapes.
Barbara Hutton wearing the Marie Antoinette Pearls on her wedding day in 1933. She is also wearing her Cartier Balinese style tortoise and diamond tiara.
Barbara Hutton on her first wedding day.
The Marie Antoinette Pearl Necklace purchased by Barbara Hutton.
The Hutton-Mdivani Jadeite Necklace presented to Barbara Hutton by her father on the occasion of her first wedding.
Barbara would marry six more times. At 23, her second marriage was to Count Court Haugwitz-Reventlow. She had her only child Lance with the Count. Reventlow bullied her through verbal as well as physical abuse. At one point he beat her so savagely that she was hospitalized and he was put in jail. He forced her give up her American citizenship and to take his native Danish citizenship for tax purposes. This is when her lifetime drug abuse begins and she develops anorexia which also plagues her for the rest of her life and leaves her unable to have any other children. After a bitter, prolonged divorce from Reventlow, she gains custody of their son. Unfortunately, she treats Lance like her father treated her, and leaves the raising of the child to a governess and private boarding schools. Her son died in a plane crash in 1972 at the age of 36. Barbara was devastated.
The press savaged her for renouncing her citizenship. No wonder she liked to buy pretty things!
The Ludo Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet commissioned for Barbara Hutton by her second husband in 1935.
Her third marriage was to the actor Cary Grant. She was back in the papers for marrying one of the biggest stars in the world at the time. The couple earned the nickname “Cash and Cary” because of their spending habits. Grant seemed to really care for her. He did not need her money and was the only one of her husbands not to take any money from her in a divorce settlement. They divorced because he “did not like her friends”. Both agreed on that. Mr. Grant said she surrounded herself with “yes men and hangers on”.
Cary Grant and Barbara Hutton on their wedding day in 1942. She was 30 years old.
Barbara Hutton went on to marry four more times. All ended in divorce and none lasted more than a few years. All of her husbands ended up with millions. No pre-nups I guess.
Barbara Hutton wearing the Pasha Diamond and the Grand Duchess Vladimir Emeralds.
Take a close look at this photo. The emeralds are rumored to have been from Catherine the Great’s emerald necklace. When Barbara Hutton purchased the emeralds from Cartier in 1935 they were known as both the Romanov emeralds and the Vladimir emeralds. They were first owned by Edith Rockefeller McCormick, who purchased them from Cartier who had purchased them from the Russian Grand Duchess Vladimir in or around 1919. Upon Edith R. McCormick’s death in 1935, the emeralds were returned to Cartier and re-sold to Barbara Hutton. Cartier purchased the emeralds for $480,000. Barbara Hutton acquired the emeralds for over one million dollars. The extravagance of this transaction, payment in excess of one million dollars to Cartier, made headlines. Ms. Hutton was 23 at the time. This was another important piece of jewelry she acquired early in her life. Initially wearing the emeralds as a ring, a pair of earrings and a sautoir, Miss Hutton, by then Princess Troubetzkoy, asked Cartier to re-imagine the gemstones as pendants to a Mughal-inspired tiara/necklace. In 1947, the tiara/necklace seen above was designed by Lucien Lachassagne and made by Cartier. When the necklace was sold, several of the larger diamonds made their way into Liz Taylor’s emerald necklace.
Note the large round diamond on Barbara Hutton’s left hand, it is known as the Pasha Diamond. In 1848 the Sultan of Egypt, Ibrahim Pasha, acquired a stone with mysterious origins: a diamond of almost 40 carats with a loose octagonal shape. It disappeared for many years until Bulgari bought it from King Farouk of Egypt. Barbara Hutton acquired it from Bulgari, but the shape was not to her taste so she asked Cartier to re-cut it. The diamond was re-cut to 38.19 carats and was mounted into a ring. It accompanied her wherever she went for the rest of her life.
In the 1980’s, the Pasha diamond was acquired by a New York jeweler and re-cut again. Today it is the biggest round cut diamond every recorded, weighing 36.22 carats and is owned by a private collector.
It would be fair to say that Ms. Hutton loved a tiara, she owned several. In 1967, Barbara Hutton instructed Van Cleef & Arpels to design a new head ornament for her. The firm created an extraordinary diadem, which had as a central motif a pear-shaped diamond of 54.82carats. It was further decorated by three other diamonds of 29.49, 10.95 and 10.67 carats, together with almost 80 carats of other diamonds. The light setting in platinum gave the impression that the stones were almost floating above her head. Story has it that on one of Pierre Arpels’ many visits, she was feeling unwell, so she asked him to visit her in her bedroom. There he found her lying in bed, her head resting on a pillow trimmed with lace and wearing the tiara.
I think we can all agree that Barbara Hutton had a really important jewelry collection. The last piece I am going to talk about is Queen Amelie of Portugal’s ruby necklace. Unfortunately, there are no fabulous photos of it. However, it had also been mounted so it could be worn as a tiara or a necklace.
This is a photo of Barbara Hutton wearing the magnificent ruby necklace in one of her best known portraits taken by photographer George Hoyningen-Huene. Notice that she is also wearing an Indian sari.
It is rumored that Barbara died with $3500.00 in her bank account. I don’t know if that is true or not but I do know that she still owned several of her important pieces of jewelry at the end of her life so she was not broke. It has been estimated that at the time of her death, she had spent an inflation adjusted $900 million during her lifetime. The Woolworth chain finally died in 1997, it is now Foot Locker. Hard to believe such a fortune could be spent so quickly.
I have developed compassion for Barbara Hutton over the course of this post. What an extraordinary but sad life. She was generous to a fault, she gave friends, family, even complete strangers valuable gifts, pieces of jewelry and large sums of money. Did you know that she donated her home, Winfield House in London to the U.S. Government? It is now the U.S. British ambassador’s residence. Set on 12 acres in Regent’s Park, the house was built by Barbara in 1937. Then married to Danish Count Court Haugwitz-Reventlow, she wanted a safe haven for their year old son Lance. At the time the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapping and death four years earlier was still a fresh horror. The quiet park’s location seemed secure and was patrolled by Royal Parks police at night. Hutton filed to divorce Reventlow in 1938. With the approach of war she returned to America, while Winfield House served Britain in various capacities, from hospital to officers’ club. She married Cary Grant in 1942 and three years later, she gave up both Grant and Winfield House, and donated the property to the U.S. government for use as the ambassador’s residence.
It almost would seem that she meant to spend it all. The money did not buy her happiness but made so many people around her happy when she gave them ‘something’. While publicly envied for her possessions, her beauty and her apparent life of leisure, privately she remained deeply insecure and unhappy and was often taken advantage of. I believe she did truly seek happiness but had no idea what it looked like.
Her jewelry was not just a display of wealth, it was also a source of comfort. She was a beautiful woman with a great sense of style. What she found in gemstones was the combination of durability and perfection that she was never able to find in the rest of her life.