JOHNSON V. JOHNSON by Barbara Goldsmith
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A piece of extended investigative journalism chronicling the surly case of the Johnson children against their stepmother, Basia Johnson, who went from Polish maid of Seward Johnson of the pharmaceutical family to nearly the richest woman in the world, all within 15 years. Goldsmith (Little Gloria. . .Happy At Last) here tiptoes through a veritable jungle of passions, hatreds, corruption, and greed. After detailing the history of the Johnson clan and of Seward in particular, Goldsmith relates with chilling finality the utter contempt in which Seward held his six children. The man had only one concern--the fulfillment of his hedonistic pleasures (sometimes he satisfied his sexual needs with daughter Mary Lea). ""The legacy that Seward Johnson was to leave his children was one of abundant inherited wealth and nothing more--no work ethic, no stress on education, little religion."" Enter Basia. A Polish emigrant, hired as a maid for the Johnsons, she quickly insinuated herself into Seward's affections, marrying him after Johnson demanded a divorce from his first wife. Suddenly, Johnson had a new lease on life. Basin, 42 years his junior, and carrying a vast hunger for the good life, spent millions on great art works, which she displayed in their new estate, Jasna Polana in Princeton--at $30 million, the most expensive home in America. When Johnson died in 1983, the children were shocked to find that he had left his entire $500-million estate to Basia, thanks to a complicated tangle of deathbed legal machinations. Thus began a trial which could simply be described as a lawyer's paradise. The transcript of the trial reads as if the major foes and the ones with the most to gain were the lawyers. (Indeed, the total legal fees, after the final settlement, ran to $24 million. Had Basia prevailed, Nina Zagat, one of her legal advisors, would have benefited to the tune of $30 million.) As Goldsmith writes, we like to revel vicariously in opulence, while cherishing tales of the comeuppance of the rich. ""We still need to hear that the rich are corrupt, unhappy, lead empty lives, and are plagued with misfortune."" This sad saga demonstrates that the Johnsons all too well fulfilled that need. Life Styles of the Rich and Famous with a vengeance.

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf