The Woodwards: Tragedy in High Society
Banks and Horses
Just two stables have ever had multiple Triple Crown winners and only one — Belair Stud in Maryland — can boast a father-son Triple Crown duo. The horses of Belair Stud were some of the greatest thoroughbreds in the world: Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox and Omaha (the father/son combination), Nasrullah, Nashua and many others made the stable a legend in American racing. Nashua alone won more than $1 million and only lost one race his entire career.
They were raising winners at Belair Stud back when Maryland was an English colony. In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, Belair Stud was the premier stable in America and one of the best in the world. The stable was down the road from Belair Mansion, home to the Woodward family, which owned the horse farm.
By the 1950s, the Woodward family was old money. In 1874 James T. Woodward joined the board of directors of Hanover National Bank (now Chase Manhattan and JP Morgan) and in 1876 he was elected president. He served in that capacity for 34 years, when he turned over the reins to his nephew, William Woodward.
William Woodward Sr. was the owner of Belair Stud and the father of Billy Woodward, who followed in his father's footsteps in both the horse business and banking industry. Billy might have come from money and privilege, but he was no shrinking violet. As an ensign in the U.S. Navy, Billy won a Purple Heart and managed to survive a torpedo attack that sank his ship.
Upon his return from the war, he became known as an "international sportsman" and horse breeder. He was passionate, reckless and the quintessential playboy. It was in 1943 that Billy returned to New York City, where his mother, Elsie, was the reigning queen of high society and his father was a force in the banking industry. William Sr. was also involved, albeit briefly, with a 27-year-old radio actress who had been born Angeline Crowell on a farm in Kansas but changed her name to the more theatrical Ann Eden.
Ann's lineage was as opposite Billy's as you could get. Her mother dispatched taxicabs and her father left soon after she was born. But she was beautiful, smart and talented and destined for things bigger than Kansas could provide. She managed to make her way to New York City, get a job in radio and by the mid-1940s, ise to the top of the field. She won the odd title of "Most Beautiful Woman in Radio" and in 1942, her beauty caught the eye of William Woodward Sr.