Skip to main content

Helen Inherits

Written by Kim van Alkemade

My second novel, Bachelor Girl, was inspired by this obscure headline about a surprise bequest.

In January 1939, Helen Weyant’s mysterious inheritance was front page news in papers across the country. No one seemed to know—least of all Helen—why Col. Jacob Ruppert, millionaire beer brewer and owner of the New York Yankees, made an unemployed ex-actress his heiress. When the real Helen got the news of her inheritance, she was frightened and bewildered, saying she had no idea why Ruppert—“an old friend of my family” whom she had known since she was a child—left her a fortune.

That’s where my imagination took over. The story you read in Bachelor Girl is fiction inspired by fact, but the novel does not pretend to explain the mystery behind the real Helen’s inheritance. Instead, I made up a story that rubbed up against history, blurring the lines as I invented the circumstances that linked Helen and Ruppert.

The woman you meet in my novel, Helen Winthrope, is an imagined character, but I did draw on some facts about the real Helen that I gleaned from old newspapers and the archives of The New York Times. Here’s what’s true: Helen’s brother, Rex, really did work for the Yankees; Helen lived with her mother in an apartment on West 55th Street; she had been a chorus girl; she loved dogs; she wasn't interested in marriage; she often played hostess at Ruppert’s Hudson River estate; and she accompanied Ruppert to the docks when the expedition he sponsored set sail for Antarctica. Helen did inherit $300,000 outright and a third of Ruppert’s holdings, including the Yankees baseball team, but he did not really leave her Eagle’s Rest, which was sold for back taxes in 1945 and is now a home for children in need.

So, what’s made up? Pretty much everything else! I think of Bachelor Girl as fiction set in the past, where the headlines of the day sometimes show up in the newspapers the characters in the novel are reading. Why did Ruppert leave Helen a fortune? I don’t claim to know, but Bachelor Girl has a story to tell.