"Not even then. Above all, not then. At the Olympics, Paavo Nurmi mattered more than ever."
ELEANOR HOLM, EX-DECORATOR
She is 58, saucy as ever, with that stunning, fresh, huge smile which captivated the world in 1936 after she was canned from the U.S. Olympic team for drinking and staying up late during the voyage to Europe. "I was drinking champagne!" she said. "If it had been whiskey or gin, well, all right."
She now lives in a penthouse apartment in a Miami Beach condominium loaded with pink French provincial furniture, carved wooden chests, bureaus and tables, and Oriental lamps. On her walls are two Dalis and a Renoir. Much of this came from her second husband, the late Billy Rose, after they were divorced in 1954.
Eleanor Holm first went to the Olympics at Amsterdam in 1928. She was 14. Her father was a New York City fire captain. She won no medals, but in Los Angeles in 1932 she won a gold in the 100-meter backstroke and she doubtlessly would have won another in Berlin if she had been allowed to compete.
"The afternoon before I was kicked off the team I won a couple of hundred dollars playing craps with the reporters in the first-class cabins," she recalled. "I didn't give it back either, and I'm sure this didn't sit too well with the officials. Of course, they were all in first-class cabins and they didn't like my being there. I tried to buy my own ticket to go first class, but they wouldn't let me. I was an athlete! To them athletes were cattle and they had to be fenced off. So they put us down in steerage, four to a room, way down in the bottom of the boat! God, everything smelled like liniment. Yukkk!"
Eleanor Holm speaks almost exclusively in italics and exclamation points, always with gestures and usually wielding a lighted cigarette to lend further emphasis to her remarks. "Well, it was such a mess! I was no baby.... Hell, I was married to Art Jarrett and he was the star at the Cocoanut Grove and I had been singing for his band before the '36 Games. I'd been working in nightclubs when I made the team.
"I guess it was the second night out of New York and I was sitting around with the newspaper boys when this chaperone came up and told me it was time to go to bed. God, it was about nine o'clock, so I said to her, 'Oh, is it really bedtime? Did you make the Olympic team or did I?' I had had a few glasses of champagne. So she went to Brundage and they got together and told me I was fired. I was heart broken!"
Well, not permanently heartbroken. In Berlin, Eleanor was the belle of the Games. "I had such fun! You know, athletes don't think much about politics at all. I enjoyed the parties, the Heil Hitlers, the uniforms, the flags and those thousands of cleaning ladies with their gray dresses and brooms.
"Goering was fun. He had a good personality. So did the little one with the club foot [Joseph Goebbels]. Goering gave me a sterling-silver swastika. I had a mold made of it and I put a diamond Star of David in the middle."