Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rich Girls Should Have More Fun

Washington Mews. 2:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Thursday, May 25, 2011. Warm and very sunny in New York. Like a lovely summer day.

Rich Girls Should Have More Fun. Several reporters have called me about Huguette Clark, the 104-year-old heiress who died at Mount Sinai Medical Center where she had lived 23 years. That seems odd that she would live in a hospital, but she was already 81 and ailing and without family, and all the money in the world to have what she wanted. Some people love hospitals. They probably think it’s going to keep them alive. Or so it would seem.

The focus in the media is of course on ALL that she had and never used. The estate on the Pacific, the estate in New Canaan, the floor and a half of 907 Fifth Avenue at 72nd Street – just down the block from where she grew up when she grew up as a kid in the city during the first two decades of the 20th century.
The house of Senator William A. Clark of Montana, on 77th Street and Fifth Avenue where 960 Fifth exists today. Huguette Clark grew up in this house of her father's, and went to Spence.
Look at that house where she grew up. That’s someone’s idea of reality, and no doubt that’s what it was for little Huguette growing up, whether she liked it or not (I’ll bet she didn’t).

After the old man died, they were out of there and it was torn down and replaced with the still very tony 960 Fifth Avenue co-op. The house is the first clue to her future: a mentally unmanageable behemoth for anyone to call home.

Mother and daughter and father in the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue, circa 1914.
Louise Clark, Senator Clark, and sister Huguette.
There are probably a few individuals out there who have an “idea” of the story. People who served her in one way or another either through domestic, legal, financial and medical professions. The trivial facts were buried long ago except for a memory or two of the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the butlers and maids, doctors and lawyers and dealers who served Miss Clark and her eccentric ways.

Butlers do talk, as you’ve probably learned by now. And they do know what it’s like to live like a fly on the wall in someone else’s life, so they can speak with some authority. However, they can also be as unreliable as a fly. Eventually the life becomes a rumor.

She was reclusive, we know. At least the staff and certain antique dealers knew something about her personality and therefore had a window into the woman.The only evidence that remains of her long and singular existence is her real estate and her family history. And even that’s cloudy.

This was a family that never developed beyond the first generations. Huguette’s father, the Senator, and his first wife had five children, three of whom lived into the 1930s, all half-siblings of Huguette, who was the child of the second wife the senator acquired as a “ward” when she was a teenager, after his first wife died. They married when she was 23 and he was 62 in 1901.

They had two daughters, Louise, who was born five years before Huguette, and who died at 17 of meningitis. Of the Senator’s seven children, four outlived him but by the end of the 1930s, Huguette was the only surviving child.

The Clarks were never considered society in New York in the society that existed then. They certainly had the money but perhaps not the style for it. The house was considered garish and nouveau riche by the bluebloods, although God knows they probably loved talking about what a quel horreur it was. Louis Comfort Tiffany contributed to the interior. But by that time, wealthy New Yorkers like Vanderbilt and Astor scions had become “gentlemen” and “sportsmen.”

Senator Clark, with his teenage ward who became his wife, was a businessman, an operator, a prospector of fortune. Even Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart wouldn’t have wanted him. By the time he died at 86 he was almost a forgotten man among the rich, and so was his family.
The adolescent Huguette after the death of her sister Louise. Huguette Clark in 1930.
His wife, Huguette’s mother, survived him by almost forty years. Then the two of them had only each other until 1963 when mother died. Huguette was 56. Dolls and a mother. There’s the story, and whatever it is; we will probably never know. Betty Davis? Or Joan Crawford; who would you cast?

After that her best friend was her personal secretary. No wonder she thought people were after her money. They were on her payroll; of course they were. Most personal secretaries have no interest whatsoever in becoming a “friend” of their boss. They prefer getting home at a decent hour and having their own lives. A motivation to stay beyond the appointed hour takes on a different slant.

Miss Clark’s half brother – William Andrews Clark Jr., who was 30 years older than she, had two wives and one son (from his first wife), all of whom pre-deceased him. He lived his adult life in Los Angeles where he had a mansion in the West Adams section of the city.
Huguette's estate in New Canaan, Connecticut.
The property in Santa Barbara, California, which she had not visited in decades.
Until the growth of the motion picture business as it was referred to, and which changed the socio-eonomic demographic of the city, West Adams and Lafayette Square was where the city’s elite lived, well into the late 1920s and early 30s.

William Clark occupied himself with culture and the arts. He collected rare books and manuscripts. He acquired one of the greatest collections of letters, notes and manuscripts of Oscar Wilde. His interest in music led him to be part of the founding of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and later the building of the first Hollywood Bowl.

The collection was the center of his life just as his younger-half sister’s center evidently was her collection of dolls. In the mid-1920s, he had his house demolished and on the property he built a museum for his collection. That museum today, the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, is now part of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), as was his wish when he built it in memoriam of his father.
The William Andrews Clark Library of UCLA, built in memoriam by his son, and Huguette's half-brother, William Jr. in Los Angeles in 1926.
By mid-century most Los Angelenos had never heard of William Clark or his Library and collections, despite its great intellectual value. There was, however, a rumor that lived on in certain circles of the community for many decades after his death. And that was that Mr Clark, dying childless and a widower, left his fortune to his housekeeper -- whose son had been Mr. Clark’s younger lover, who also predeceased him.

True or not, it was a long-standing rumor that provided, if nothing else, a reference, another scenario about the grit of the bright sunlight that makes for the tales of the City of Angels.

And so it was: ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Huguette Clark, relieved of it all.
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