Way before Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, there was Barbara Hutton. This “poor little rich girl” made headlines because of her many affairs, her lavish lifestyle, but most especially her tragic beginning and end. Though her name might not make the papers today, she was the heiress of the 20th century. Here are 42 facts about Barbara Hutton.
Barbara Hutton Facts
1. A Female Richie Rich
Barbara Hutton was the only child of Edna Woolworth, who was herself an heiress to the Woolworth dime-store fortune. The paternal side of the Hutton family tree was nothing to sneeze at, either: Barbara’s father Franklyn Laws Hutton was the founder of an investment banking and stock brokerage firm in New York. In other words: money money moneyyyy.
2. The Royal Wedding(s)
Hutton’s long list of ex lovers reads like a royal decree. She married three princes, one count, one baron, and a diplomat—plus one Hollywood mega-star, Cary Grant. Sadly, all of these marriages ended in tragedy, but oh, we’ll get to that…
3. Desperate Housewife
The Hutton family may have seemed happy on the surface, but nothing could be further from the truth. Franklyn was a cruel father and an infamous philanderer, and Edna responded to his infidelities by having a revenge affair or two of her own. Barbara, meanwhile, was lost in the shuffle, and spent most of her childhood with nurses or governesses.
4. My One and Only
Throughout her life, Hutton had only one child: A son named Lance with her second husband Count Kurt Haugwitz-Reventlow.
5. A Tragic Childhood
When Hutton was only five years old, utter tragedy struck. Her mother Edna passed away under very mysterious circumstances—and though the official story said she died from an ear infection, the rumors were a lot darker. Many claimed Edna actually committed suicide because of her chronically unhappy and unfaithful marriage.
The Huttons went to great lengths to suppress the truth, even paying off city officials to avoid an autopsy.
6. Growing up Too Fast
Tragically, it was reportedly little Barbara who found her mother’s body.
7. Hello, Mrs. Robinson
In between her marriages, Hutton allegedly had a one-night stand with Hollywood heartthrob James Dean. Though Dean was her son’s friend and almost 20 years her junior, Hutton admitted, “it seemed the right and natural thing to do.” Honestly, if baby James Dean makes this tragic woman happy, I say let her have it.
8. Lonely in Luxury
After her mother’s untimely death, Hutton’s father left her with her maternal grandparents. Even then, it was far from happily ever after. Her grandmother had premature dementia and had very little to do with her young charge. Instead, the little girl filled her time in their Long Island mansion by eating in silence in the formal dining room.
9. Someone Loves You
Though most of Hutton’s childhood was truly lonely, her grandfather was the girl’s one bright spot. “Woolly was a little loony, but he was sweet to me,” Hutton later wrote in one of her many notebooks. The elderly man spoiled his granddaughter and called her “princess.” She stayed with him until his death in 1919.
10. Pet Names
When Hutton was with Cary Grant, the press dubbed the couple “Cash and Cary.”
11. Mar-A-Let’s Get Away From Here
Hutton’s relatives actually owned the now presidential Mar-A-Lago. The luxury vacay spot turned Commander-in-Chief headquarters previously belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post, Hutton’s aunt and heiress to the Post cereal estate. Mar-a-Lago was also a much-needed oasis for the young girl; Post was horrified at Barbara’s bleak life, and often invited her to stay over.
12. Unloved and Unhappy
Unsurprisingly, Hutton was introverted and withdrawn as a child, with one account describing her as “a wistful, imaginative, lonely child with no family and few friends.”
13. My Only Friend
Growing up, one of Hutton’s only friends was her maternal cousin Jimmy Donahue, who also inherited a hefty sum from the Woolworth estate. Unfortunately, he had a sinister side. Donahue inherited some bad habits from his family, including a substance abuse problem that he then introduced to Hutton. Drug dependency would follow her for the rest of her life.
14. Poetic Justice
Hutton liked to write about her feelings. She especially enjoyed writing poetry, where she often expressed her disenchantment with her riches. She even had two volumes published privately: The Enchanted in 1934 and The Wayfarer in 1957.
15. On My Own
At the age of 16, Hutton moved into her own 26-room apartment. The house was opulently furnished with chairs and couches done up in the Louis XIV style, and the teen even had a complete household staff to make sure everything ran smoothly. This was one house where having uninvited guests pop in would clearly not be an issue.
16. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Thanks in part to her horrific childhood, Hutton thought she was “ugly, fat, and awkward” and utterly undeserving of love. To make matters worse, she often felt that if anyone did love her, it would only be because of her money and not because of her own qualities. Sadly, her fears turned out to be eerily prophetic…
17. The Ball That Sank a Thousand Ships
No high society girl’s life is complete without a debutante ball, and Hutton had hers in 1930 when she turned 18—except it was an absolute disaster. Oh sure, it was luxurious enough: The guest list was full of Astors, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts, and the cost of the event’s flowers alone was in the tens of thousands.
The trouble? This was right at the start of The Great Depression, and Hutton’s lavish coming out party cost three times more than any of the other balls held at the time. The public—and the vengeful press—thought the vulgar display of wealth was incredibly tone deaf for the lean times. C’mon, read the room, Barbara.
18. The Great Escape
In order to escape the media firestorm surrounding her society debut, Hutton’s family carted the girl off to Europe for some rest, relaxation, and burying her head in the sand. Talk about running away from your problems!
19. Upper Crust
When people said Barbara Hutton was rich, they really meant it. By the time she turned 21, she was worth over $1 billion in today’s money, and was one of the wealthiest women in the world.
20. The Marrying Mdivanis
Hutton met the dashing Alexis Mdivani in France when she was barely in her 20s, but her beau was hiding a dark secret. The Mdivani family were notorious social climbers known as the “Marrying Mdivanis,” and Alexis’s sister Roussie had orchestrated their meeting to try their luck. Even worse, Alexis was already married—to Hutton’s friend Louise Van Alen.
21. The Crown Jewels
Hutton was obsessed with precious gems from a young age. Her father even once bribed her into accompanying him to Europe by offering to buy her a stone of her choice. Hutton ended up choosing a Cartier ruby that cost papa $50,000—ten times more than he had imagined spending. His deep pockets chose to be good sports about it, though.
22. Leave It to Roussie
In order to marry up her brother Alexis, Roussie Mdivani came up with an ingenious plan. One day, Roussie arranged it so that Barbara and Alexis were alone in a country cottage together. When Alexis started putting on the moves, the rest of the group “discovered” them and pretended to be outraged at the scandal.
Roussie then blackmailed Hutton with negative press attention unless she married her dear brother.
23. Church Bells Ring
In the end, the Marrying Mdivanis got their way: The unhappy couple were wed on June 22, 1933, and Hutton’s father provided a tidy $1 million dowry to the swindlers.
24. Money Can Buy Mobility
When Hutton’s mobility started declining in her later years, she infamously said there was no reason to walk when she could “pay someone to do it.”
25. A Royal Whopper
Though Hutton’s first husband Alexis Mdivani claimed to be a Slavic prince, the truth was much different. This was probably a bold-faced lie; the family fled Tbilisi in Georgia after the Soviet Invasion and soon started spreading the falsehood.
26. Pony up
After bagging himself the heiress, Mdivani quickly got to work going through her money. He spent millions from her inheritance on a house, ponies, clothing, jewelry and the like. Unsurprisingly, they divorced in March 1935, less than two years after their nuptials.
27. Second Chance
Hutton was chronically unlucky in love. She announced her second marriage to Count Kurt Haugwitz-Reventlow a bare 24 hours after her divorce from Alexis Mdivani went through, and the union only got worse from there. Obsessed with her fortune, Reventlow forced Hutton to renounce her American nationality and become a Danish citizen so she would pay less taxes.
28. Pretty Vicious
In the early 20th century, socialites had infamously bitter rivalries—but Hutton’s feud with the beautiful Doris Duke is legendary. The childhood friends were born less than 10 days apart from each other, but they began to drift apart as adults. Duke was envious of Hutton’s beauty, while Hutton called Duke “cheap” because she was more careful with her money. But that was just th beginning…
29. Truly Outrageous
The public outcry after Hutton renounced her citizenship was nothing short of shocking. Americans thought she was ungrateful to the country that made her, spurring angry workers to demand a living wage in the streets. Columnist Walter Winchell denounced her as “Society’s most outrageous child,” and even the New York Times snarled that she was “despicable.”
30. YOU Get a Car, and YOU Get a Car!
Hutton was extremely generous with her money, to a fault. She donated regularly to charities, but she was also just as likely to give a complete stranger a lavish gift.
31. Don’t Count on Me
By all accounts, Hutton’s second husband Count Reventlow was a nasty piece of work—and his tax evasion was just the beginning of the nightmare. He was emotionally and physically abusive to Hutton, and even once beat her so badly, she had to be hospitalized. Proving there is some justice in the world, Reventlow was thrown in jail.
32. Not Without My Son
When Hutton divorced the flaming pile of human garbage that was her second husband Count Reventlow, he couldn’t let her leave without destroying her life a little more. Soon enough, the couple were embroiled in a bitter custody battle for their young son Lance. Initially, the court granted the Count custody until Lance went to school; a year later, Hutton regained her son.
33. Cary-ed Away
In Hutton’s case, third time really was the charm. Her 1942 marriage to Hollywood actor Cary Grant was probably her most successful union, though that bar was really low. Nonetheless, Grant seemed to have genuine feelings for Hutton and vice versa. Moreover, with his own successful acting career making bank, he didn’t need her money. For a short time, it must have felt like paradise.
34. Wealthy But Unhealthy
By the end of her life, Hutton had developed a rampant eating disorder—and its origin story is heartbreaking. According to some, the habit really crystallized after her first husband Alexis Mdivani called her “too fat” on their wedding night. Hutton quickly went on a crash diet, drinking only black coffee for weeks at a time and dropping around 40 pounds.
35. All Time Reventlow
Hutton’s self-harm only increased with her second marriage to Count Reventlow; after her first child Lance, her anorexia was so bad that she couldn’t biologically have any more children.
36. If They Can’t Make It, Who Can?
Sadly, Hutton and Cary Grant’s marriage was doomed to a heartbreaking end. Hutton simply couldn’t get over the psychological scars left from a lifetime of manipulation and abuse, and Grant despised her insecure and uncontrollable need to surround herself with “a consortium of fawning parasites.” After three years of marriage, they divorced in 1945.
37. Four Times a Fool
After divorcing Grant, Hutton claimed she would never marry again because she could “not go on being a fool forever.” Well, she was a fool again. In 1948, she married her fourth husband, the impoverished Russian prince Igor Troubetzkoy. Troubetzkoy was a hard-living man who loved fast cars and loose women; he was even the first to drive a Ferrari in Grand Prix Motor Racing.
38. Let Them Wear Pearls
One of Hutton’s most precious jewels was a pearl necklace that had once belonged to Marie Antoinette. It was a present from her father on her first wedding.
39. Poor Little Rich Girl
When Hutton’s fourth marriage to Troubetzkoy fell apart, her reaction was utterly disturbing. She attempted suicide. The story caught flame with the press, who soon gave her the lasting moniker “the poor little rich girl.” I mean..on both counts, yes.
40. Misters Before Sisters
Hutton’s fifth husband was the Dominican diplomat Porfirio Rubirosa, and even this union had its share of scandal. In another jab at her rival, Rubirosa was actually Doris Duke’s ex husband. When Duke found out about the nuptials, she was reportedly enraged and claimed that Hutton had always been jealous of her and had “always wanted what I have.”
41. Seeking Validation
In her older age, Hutton was notorious for “spending time” with younger men.
42. Blink and You’ll Miss It
Hutton’s marriage to Rubirosa was her shortest: It lasted all of 53 days, and he was having an affair with Tinseltown diva Zsa Zsa Gabor the entire time. Despite this, Rubirosa made an absolute killing in the divorce proceedings, acquiring a string of polo ponies, a plane, a coffee plantation, and millions of dollars in settlement from his ex-wife.
43. Reverse Harem
Hutton’s final two marriages were dreary affairs that followed her first five. Her sixth husband was old friend and German tennis player Baron Gottfried von Cramm; the couple got divorced quietly after four years of marriage in 1959. Her final husband was yet another Prince, Pierre Raymond Doan Vinh na Champassak. They divorced two years later, in 1966.
44. Final Heartbreak
Hutton didn’t have a happy life by any means, but the final blow was the most tragic. In 1927, her beloved son Lance died in a plane crash at only 36 years old. Now truly alone, Hutton was overcome with grief and never truly recovered. People close to her claimed she lost all interest in living after the senseless accident.
45. Fading Health
Hutton’s anorexia affected her health, as did her dependence on drugs and alcohol. By the end of her life, her sight was failing and her bones were weak. The heiress was so apathetic that when she fell and broke her hip, she delayed getting treatment for the injury. More often than not those days, she refused to even get out of bed.
46. The End of Hutton
The last chapter of Hutton’s life was as tragic as the first one. She passed away in Los Angeles’s Beverly Wilshire Hotel in 1979 from a heart attack at just 66 years old. Sadly, just 10 people attended her funeral.
47. Hang in There
Hutton’s fifth husband Porfirio Rubirosa was the epitome of “International Playboy,” and he had a notorious reputation among the elite. However, he was also reportedly very well-endowed—and not with money. In Paris, when waiters wanted someone to hand them a tall pepper shaker, they’d say “Pass me the Rubi.” Ahem.
48. Flying High
Hutton’s most well-known love affair was with the famously strange director Howard Hughes. The tryst was as steamy as it was brief, and Hughes spent a series of afternoons with Hutton at the Savoy Hotel in London. According to Hutton’s glowing recommendation, Hughes “Doesn’t bombard you with a barrage of ideas, doesn’t pry, never argues. The charming thing about Howard is that he isn’t charming.”
49. Easy, Lover
Though Hutton took to Howard Hughes, he wasn’t exactly the best lover. Apparently, the first night they were together, Hughes was obsessed with pleasuring Hutton, but when she wouldn’t, er, rise to the occasion, he quickly lost interest. As Hutton recalled, “He could not take it when a woman lost herself in pleasure because he felt he must absolutely be in control of a situation.”
50. Homestyle Showdown
Doris Duke once invited Hutton over to her mansion in Hawaii while she was gone—but she quickly regretted it. Instead of behaving like any other guest, Hutton took it upon herself to entirely redecorate the abode, throwing out Duke’s antiques and replacing them with modern Japanese pieces. When she came home, Duke understandably forced Hutton out.