Born 1912 in New York City, American debutante, socialite, heiress, and philanthropist Barbara Hutton was the only child of Edna Woolworth (1883–1917), a daughter of Frank W. Woolworth, the founder of the successful Woolworth five-and-dime stores, and Franklyn Laws Hutton (1877–1940), a wealthy co-founder of E. F. Hutton & Company (owned by Franklyn’s brother Edward Francis Hutton), a respected New York investment banking and stock brokerage firm.
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Heiress to one-third of the estate of her maternal grandfather, the retail tycoon Frank Winfield Woolworth, Hutton was one of the wealthiest women in the world. She endured a childhood marked by the early loss of her mother at age four to suicide and the neglect of her father, setting the stage for a life of difficulty forming relationships.
Married and divorced seven times, she acquired grand foreign titles but was maliciously treated and often exploited by several of her husbands. Publicly she was much envied for her possessions, her beauty and her apparent life of leisure; privately she remained deeply insecure, often taking refuge in drink, drugs, and playboys.
Hutton had one child, Lance Reventlow, with her second husband, but was an inconsistent and insecure parent and the subsequent divorce ended in a bitter custody battle. She later developed anorexia nervosa and perhaps thereby prevented further childbirth.
Her son died in a plane crash in 1972 at the age of 36, leaving her devastated. She died in 1979, at age 66. At her death, the formerly wealthy Hutton was on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of both lavish spending and exploitation by those entrusted to manage her estate.
Take a look at these vintage photos to see the beauty of young Barbara Hutton from between the 1930s and 1950s.