This was Then: Malcolm Forbes’ 70th, Part II

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Palais Mendoub, the site of Malcolm Forbes Birthday Party.

Photographs by Mary Hilliard

Malcolm Forbes was the most celebrated magazine publisher of his day although there were others far richer and with larger media empires. Forbes was famous for his lifestyle, which was viewed as a kind of flashy irreverence. He appeared to be the ultimate WASP who could “get down” with the best of them. He liked a good time. After a lifetime of marriage and fatherhood, he and his wife divorced in 1985. That added to his epicurean tastes as well as his affection for the spotlight, i.e. fame.

This birthday party was highly publicized at the time and the guest list of 800 was stellar with a mix of New York Nouvelle society, international socialites, billionaires, major corporate CEOs, media and their celebrities.

The weekend pass for Malcolm Forbes’ 70th birthday celebration on August 19, 1989.

There was much reportage as well as coverage arranged of course by the host’s officers. Julie Baumgold in New York magazine wrote a tour de force of social coverage. This was not Forbes’ first or only birthday party that year. He was a man whose image was his “branding.” He lived grandly with private big jets, big yachts, an estate in Far Hills, an apartment in New York, a French chateau, the palais in Tangier, location of the party, and much much more.

It was a flashiness that ran counter to his WASPish background, a kind of platinum-plated rebel that gave him his distinction. And he often threw extravagant glamorous entertainments and dinners for friends and acquaintances, always picking up the check. Plus he was a lot of fun and good company. Is it any wonder everybody wanted to know him?

Elizabeth Taylor was his co-host for this shindig. Baumgold follows the star’s presence(s) in amusing and fascinating detail. The guests were flown in from all over (especially the United States) on private or charter jets or Concorde. Or on their own yachts, such as Robert Maxwell and Gianni Agnelli. In retrospect it was a spectacular promotion of the brand, entertaining clients and would-be clients (advertisers) that enriched his popular business magazine.

The party map.

Malcolm Forbes died less than six months after this party, of a heart attack at home on his estate in Far Hills. Very shortly thereafter he was “outed” by journalist Michelangelo Signorile. This was long known by some and unknown to many. In his later years he became more of a partygoer. In retrospect one could conclude he was naturally making up for lost time. The “outing” was a surprise, to many who were not aware, or did not believe that he was gay. Signorile published the story more to show how “acceptable” a gay man is without the predictable tarnish of prejudice – i.e. our hypocrisy about these matters, especially if there is money in the picture. In this case, the band did not play on, but the party was a great spectacle in the replay, and for many, in retrospect, fun while it lasted, as you can imagine when you see. Enjoy the view of it all thanks to the eye and the camera of Mary Hilliard

Malcolm Forbes arrives.
L to R.: Walter and Betsy Cronkite.; Allison and Leonard Stern.
Pouring tea.
L to R.: Ann Getty.; Annette and Oscar de la Renta.
Malcolm and Liz.
L to R.: Arnold Scaasi and Gayfryd Steinberg.; Barbara Walters and Shirley Lord.
Carolyne Roehm, Henry Kravis, and Barbara Walters.
L to R.: Betsy Bloomingdale, Reinaldo Herrera, and Aline de Romanones.; Beverly Sills.
David and Helen Gurley Brown.
L to R.: Catie and Donald Marron.; Diane von Furstenberg.
Robert Maxwell.
L to R.: Ezra and Cecile Zilkha.; Pat and Bill Buckley.
L to R.: Kelly and Calvin Klein.; Laure Boulay de la Meurthes.
Hamish Bowles.
L to R.: Elizabeth Taylor.; Nancy Kissinger.
Henry Kissinger and Beverly Sills who sang Happy Birthday to the birthday boy.
L to R.: Marella Agnelli.; Robert and Blaine Trump with Carolyne Roehm and Henry Kravis.
Lucky Roosevelt.
L to R.: Susan Gutfreund and Pat Kluge.; Tommy and Nan Kempner.
The birthday tent.
Malcolm cuts the cake with Liz by his side.

The following day a “King’s Lunch” was held before the party guests returned home …

Pat Buckley arrives at the Sunday lunch.
L to R.: Arnold Scaasi and Gayfryd Steinberg.; Bill Buckley.
L to R.: Betsy Bloomingdale.; Ed Kosner, Mort Zuckerman, and Merv Adelson.
L to R.: Henry Kissinger.; Iris Love.
Walter Cronkite surveys the scene.
L to R.: Kay Graham.; Kay Graham and Walter Cronkite.
Lunch is served.
L to R.: Liz Arrives … ; Liz lunches (with Malcolm) …
Liz flashes …
L to R.: Kip Forbes, Mario Buatta, and Reinaldo Herrera.; Leonard Stern.
L to R.: Pat Buckley.; Robert Maxwell.
Tommy Kempner with Hillie and David Mahoney.
Pat and Bill Buckley on the way home.

Julie Baumgold’s New York piece, “That Party; More Than Malcolm Forbes Dreamed,” is a brilliant piece of journalism, the equivalent of a comparable documentary. After a detailed look at the cast of characters (and there were certainly some “characters” among them as history has since revealed), she delivers the denouement so you get it; always food for thought. Also fascinating to see the “role” that Elizabeth Taylor so deftly played, one of her greatest.

Click here to read Julie Baumgold’s New York mag piece, That Party; More Than Malcolm Forbes Dreamed.

Baumgold on Taylor’s presence: And then comes She. Not the She of Butterfield 8 [for which she won an Oscar] waking up in Laurence Harvey’s bed, pawing among the butts for a cigarette, picking up the dress he ripped off her, brushing her teeth with scotch (“good scotch,” she would tell Eddie Fisher), washing with perfume, and picking up the phone to say, ‘Hi, it’s Gloria,’ in that voice. Nor is she the natural evolution of the creature of National Velvet [the role that made her famous when she was 12] if life had been easier for her. But still She. On a yacht in gold-and-snakeskin high-heeled boots in 90 degrees and a gauze overblouse, bloomer pants tucked into the boots and artificial violets in a big clot pinned to the back of her head – the breast seemingly unfettered, as big as melons, the head large, the face rather orange – a beauty that violates every rule of modern beauty. It’s like looking at Elvis Presley. A mad, timeless beauty, impossibly compelling with that sweet, famous girl-voice. She is frighteningly different from other human beings, one of those people you must stare at, as do the lizard lids of Sao Schlumberger and the bright, wide eyes of Betsy Bloomingdale. There are eyes watching eyes watching this “terrible beauty” piling her plate …

You see what I mean about Baumgold’s take? I’m quoting her conclusions:

The weekend is a study in fame. There’s the minor New York-bound fame of Blaine and Carolyne. Then there’s the television fame of Kissinger and Walters. And, at a whole other level, the sick, desperate movie-star-freak fame, the merciless charge, the centipede movement of camera and crews pushing to the center, where Elizabeth Taylor stands like the defendant at a big trial. This what She always has and what he borrows for the weekend …

“This party wasn’t done for ego or to show opulence,” he (Forbes) says. It was done for the business, so that the name Forbes would be heard in Europe, where they are starting a German edition, as they may in Italy and Japan. It was done to get 300 chief executives who “would not go to another night at the Waldorf while we pat ourselves on the back.” And he knows he succeeded.

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