Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Empty Mansion: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. (2013)

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the rich are different, and Huguette Clark was the different-est.  Because she had more money than God (to paraphrase Steel Magnolias), she was able to avoid ending up being on Hoarders.  Dedman's book (Newell, Clark's relative, gets co-authorship but I'm not exactly sure how much he wrote, that was sort of unclear) is both a history of Huguette and a history of the late Gilded Age - with Montana and Las Vegas thrown in (Clark County is named after Hugette's father).

Huguette spent her final twenty years living in a hospital in New York City, sort of like Eloise in the Plaza, and some of its staff, particularly her nurse Haddasah Peri, lived high on the hog off of her (the hospital didn't so so well).  Although nothing illegal was apparently undertaken - at least by the hospital staff (Hugette's lawyer and accountant are another story), the ethics behind accepting millions of dollars from an infirm and maybe mentally ill patient seem pretty clear:  don't take the money, or at least not so much.  

The book ends with an unresolved court case, in which the descendants of Huguette's father are contesting the will.  Since the book's publication, the court granted in favor of the descendants, and forced the nurse to pay back $5 million bucks; the lawyer and accountant had their executor duties stripped as well.  That's a messy case to decide, because the family wasn't around to take care of Huguette in her final years, these other people were - and apparently by Huguette's choice.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American FortuneEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the rich are different from the rest of us, and Huguette Clark was different-er than them.  Being a reclusive billionairess has its perks, one of which is you don't end up featured in an episode of Hoarders, which Huguette could have easily done otherwise.  Dedman's book is a biography of the strange daughter of one of the founders of Las Vegas (Clark County), from her Richy Rich beginnings to her strange last years.  The book is also a biography of the last years of the Gilded Age, as Clark's father was a Copper Baron and Senator straight out of Mark Twain (or  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington); Huguette was the last of the Edith Wharton class (although her family was too Western and déclassé to be a part of the 400). It's interesting to think that she lived long enough to see the barons of the new Gilded Age.  Dedman's book is great fun; it's not exactly "how the other half lives" because even the other half wasn't 1)this rich and 2) this crazy.  


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