Barbara Woolworth Hutton (November 14, 1912 – May 11, 1979) was an American socialite, often dubbed ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ because of her troubled life.
Heiress to the retail tycoon Frank W. Woolworth, she endured a disturbed childhood that made it hard for her to form relationships. Seven times married, she acquired several grand foreign titles, but was cynically exploited by many of her husbands. Although much envied for her possessions and her life of leisure, she remained deeply insecure, often taking refuge in drink, drugs and playboys.
The only child of Edna Woolworth – who was the daughter of Frank W. Woolworth, the founder of the Woolworth department store chain – and Franklyn Laws Hutton, Barbara Hutton’s early years were tragic. Her father was a notorious philanderer, while her mother committed suicide when Barbara was only six-years-old. As a result, she was shunted between various relatives and raised by a governess.
On her 21st birthday, she inherited close to $50 million from her mother’s estate. She was portrayed in the press as the ‘lucky’ young woman who had it all. However, the public had no idea of the psychological problems she lived with that led to a life of victimisation and abuse.
Her difficult childhood had set the tone for what became a troubled private life, which was punctuated by no fewer than seven failed marriages, including a brief partnership with Cary Grant. She had her only child, Lance, with Court Haugwitz-Reventlow.
In 1933, she married Alexis Mdivani, a self-styled Georgian prince, but the pair divorced in 1935.
Her second husband was Count Court Heinrich Eberhard Erdmann Georg von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow, who used her great wealth to his advantage. They married in 1935 and he subjected Hutton to verbal and physical abuse that escalated so much that he hospitalised her. He was arrested. In 1937, he also persuaded Hutton to give up her American citizenship and take a Danish one – his native country – instead for tax reasons. They divorced in 1938, giving Hutton sole custody of their son Lance, who was raised by governesses.
By this stage, Hutton had descended into Seconal, a barbiturate-based tranquilliser, and anorexia. Both of these would affect her for her whole life.
Her most famous husband was her third Cary Grant. During the Second World War, Hutton gave money to assist the Free French Forces and used her high profile to sell war bonds. She met Grant in Hollywood and they wed in 1942. The press dubbed them ‘Cash and Cary’ but Grant received no money when they divorced in 1945, suggesting he genuinely cared for her.
In 1947, she married Prince Igor Troubetzkoy, who was a Russian royal of limited means. He drove the first Ferrari to compete in the Monaco Grand Prix in 1948. He filed for divorce in 1951. Following this, she attempted to commit suicide, which made headlines across the world.
Her next marriage to Dominican diplomat Porfirio Rubirosa lasted 53 days between December 1953 and February 1954 as the international playboy continued his affair with Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Hutton then married old friend and tennis star Baron Gottfried Cramm in 1955 but they divorced in 1959. In 1964, she married Prince Pierre Raymond Doan Vinh na Champassak but this proved to be short-lived, ending in 1966.
Over the years, apart from an important inheritance which included Old Master paintings and important sculptures,she also personally acquired a magnificent collection of her own which included the spectrum of arts, porcelain,valuable jewelry, including elaborate historic pieces that had once belonged to Marie Antoinette and Empress Eugénie of France, and important pieces by Fabergé and Cartier.
The death of her only son in an air crash in 1972 sent Hutton into a state of despair. By this time, her fortune had diminished, due to her extreme generosity (she had donated Winfield House to the United States government as a residence for their UK ambassador.) but also allegedly through questionable deals by her long-time lawyer, Graham Mattison. Eventually she began liquidating assets in order to raise funds to live, yet continued to spend money on strangers willing to pay a little attention to her. She spent her final years in Los Angeles, living at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where she died from a heart attack in May 1979, aged 66. It is said that at her death, $3,500 was all that remained of her fortune.