DELMARVA ALMANAC

A Lesser Known DuPont Legacy

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Louisa d'Andelot Carpenter was a DuPont heiress who made a lesser known legacy to Delaware's cultural heritage.

Adventuresome socialites of the jazz age were stock characters in films of the 1930's. Delaware's own Louisa d'Andelot Carpenter could have been the inspiration for many of the screwball comedies and romantic dramas of the period.

Born in 1907 into the wealthy DuPont family of Wilmington, Delaware, Louisa was a tall attractive blond and full of fun. She could have cared less about the trappings of being an heiress. She preferred trousers to more conventional women's dresses. She loved the outdoors, horseback riding, and fox hunting. A progressive feminist, she was the first female master of the hounds in the United States. She was also one of the first American women to become a licensed pilot. She was known as a theatrical producer investing her inheritance in a variety of Broadway productions.

Her parents tried to contain her rebellious Bohemian joi-de-vivre insisting that she settle down. So, according to some sources in order to avoid disownment, she married a rising young DuPont executive named John Jenney. Undeterred by domestic life, she became a favorite member of the new jet set, hanging out with celebrities like Tallulah Bankhead, Louise Brooks, Noël Coward, and Greta Garbo.

Louisa's family owned property just south of Rehoboth Beach here on Delmarva. This became known as Carpenter Beach and later Poodle Beach. She was famous locally for her Sunday night parties there. Louisa and local artists friends was visited by her Hollywood luminaries and stars from the Broadway theater crowd, which in later years included Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Montgomery Clift.

The party goers were accepting of a broad diversity of lifestyles and backgrounds. Gay couples were openly welcomed there. These were known to be sophisticated shoreline picnics with games of chess, backgammon, and volleyball. These parties continued well into the 1970's.

But in 1932 Louisa's own life took a turn toward high drama. One of her closest friends and lovers, was a cabaret singer named Libby Holman known for the signature song 'Moanin' Low'.

Their on again off again affair had begun before Louisa's marriage and It was common knowledge to most who knew them. Libby herself had just married an unstable and sensitive young man named Zachary Smith Reynolds who was an heir to the Reynolds tobacco fortune. Their rocky marriage ended on his twenty-first birthday after a night of heavy drinking led to accusations of Libby's infidelity and questions about their son's paternity. Somehow poor Reynolds was fatally shot. The facts around this remain unclear.

The scandal that followed filled the tabloids across the country. Libby was charged with murder. Louisa rushed to her rescue in North Carolina bailing her out of jail to the tune of $25,000 and committed to paying her legal expenses. Dressed in slacks and a jacket locals presumed she was a man. The charges were eventually dropped, the death being ruled a suicide, in hopes that the notorious rumors would be hushed.

In 1935 Louisa and John Jenney divorced. That same year Libby's story was made into a movie called "Reckless" by the famous producer David O. Selznick with many details changed to meet the censors' code. Lesbian love was all but removed from the screenplay as was any suggestion of Louisa. It had an all star cast including Jean Harlow as Libby's character, along with screen greats William Powell, Franchot Tone Mickey Rooney, and Rosalind Russell. Harlow at first resisted taking the role because her own second husband Paul Bern had committed suicide. With production almost complete MGM studio executives decided to change it from a straight drama to a musical. The resulting movie failed miserably much to the relief of Louisa and Libby.

For sometime following the tragedy Louisa and Libby lived together, retreating from more public activities to raise Libby's son. In those days this was refered to by some as a "Boston Marriage". They adopted a daughter together. The two women were often seen in matching clothes and haircuts. Libby Holman continued her singing career and eventually became an active supporter of the Civil Rights movement. Though they initially were devoted to one another, sadly Louisa and Libby eventually grew apart and they separated. Libby settled in Connecticut and years later after a period of depression committed suicide in 1971.

Louisa adopted two more children and lived on her horse farm near Easton, Maryland. In 1966 she purchased a home in the artists' colony of Henlopen Acres just north of Rehoboth Beach. Throughout her life she continued to hold her beloved beach gatherings until 1976 when she perished after crashing her small airplane into a Delmarva farm field.

Despite all the tragedy in Louisa's life she left behind a legacy by her example. She clearly loved life. She was loyal to her friends and had a fearless approach to every challenge. Her parties helped nurture the community of talented and irrepressible artists that has since flourished on Delmarva's coast. Here's to you Louisa!

References:


Rehoboth's Gay History

Fried and True
By Fay Jacobs
Bold Strokes Books - Valley Falls, New York - 2009

Louisa d'Andelot Carpenter
Wikipedia

The Du Pont, The Torch Singer, and The Tobacco Heir
Rehobothgocup.com
Monday, August 29, 2005

Dreams That Money Can Buy: The Tragic Life of Libby Holman
by Jon Bradsha
W. Morrow - New Yourk, New York - 1985

Sing Out!: Gays and Lesbians in the Music World
Boze Hadleigh
Barricade Books, 1991

Reckless
1935 - Internet Movie Database

Moanin' Low
Sung by Libby Holman in 1929
Music Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Howard Dietz

Torch Singer May End Stage Career
The Freelance Star - January 25, 1933

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