Malcolm Forbes is a name that only vaguely, if that, resonates with anyone under fifty today. Yet when he died 27 years ago at the age of 70, he was one of the most famous personalities in America as a result of his flashy talent for his great publishing success as well as other business success and the art of self-promotion.
In his heyday — the ’70s and ’80s — Malcolm Forbes lived a glittering, lavish lifestyle, one which became increasingly separate from his more sedate base on an estate in Far Hills with a large family. In those years he became more and prominent and took to the bright lights of the city.
Alice Mason, the queen of high end private residential real estate in those years, was famous in the community for her monthly sit down dinners for sixty of the most prominent people in town. Malcolm Forbes was the only one to always be on her list. And that was because, as she explained, “he was so much fun, so enthusiastic, and loved the dinners.”
That was also his public image, although mainly because of his large yachts, his private jets, his multi-residences around the country and the world, and his planeloads of famous and powerful friends.
On the weekend of his birthday, August 19, 1989, from the 18th to the 20th, Forbes gave himself a 70th birthday party in Tangier, Morocco where he owned a palace, the Palais Mendoub. 800 guests were flown in on a chartered Boeing 747, a DC-8 and a Concorde, which included friends and associates from the world’s rich and famous, from the US and Europe, as well as half a dozen US governors, scores of CEOs of mulinational corporations and the highest of the mucky mucks like Gianni Agnelli, Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters, Robert Maxwell, and the birthday boy’s “date” for the event: Elizabeth Taylor.
It was a party festooning in ballyhoo, in glitter and glamour and illusion, comparable to Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball twenty-three years before in New York. It was well publicized also, especially in the fashion and society press, with a healthy dose of fairy-dust in the dailies. It was obviously good for business, mingling advertisers and potential advertisers with the elites of London and Manhattan and Elizabeth Taylor. And it was good for his social reputation, transporting and putting up his very rich friends all for free and in high style to an exotic land in a Mediterranean climate amidst a Who’s Who of partygoers.
The party entertainment was on a grand scale, including 600 drummers, acrobats and dancers and a fantasia — a cavalry charge which ends with the firing of muskets into the air — by 300 Berber horsemen. The cost of the whole affair was estimated at more than $2.5 million.
Mary Hilliard was in attendance and recorded the three-day celebration with her camera, from arrival to the actual birthday party, to departure.
Surely one of the most glamorous and fun events I’ve photographed in the last 25 years was Malcolm Forbes’ 70th birthday in Tangier, Morocco. The jet set lived up to its name.
At the airport Friday, the day of the guests arrivals, hundreds of Moroccans in colorful native dress lined the runway to greet the fashionable flock winging in by chartered, commercial and private plane to be on hand for the weekend celebration.
The weekend from Mary Hilliard’s photo archive, the first of a two-part series …
The following day, guests were treated to a day of sailing and shopping before the night of the party.
Photographs by Mary Hilliard.