POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL: The Life and Legend of Barbara Hutton by C. David Heymann

POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL: The Life and Legend of Barbara Hutton

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There are two ways in which a 400-page biography of much-married heiress Barbara Hutton might rise above mere, stale gossip: it could, through brio and style and viewpoint, offer sheer entertainment; or it might, through interpretation and insight, offer an absorbing case-study in personality, in social history. Unfortunately, however, Heymann's well-researched, flatly written workup succeeds in neither of those areas--and the result is a tasteless yet zestless chronicle, one that will attract an audience almost solely through the sexual details excerpted from Hutton's private notebooks. (Before her death Heymann interviewed Hutton and was given access to a ""trunkload"" of memorabilia.) Granddaughter of the founding Woolworth, niece of E. F. Hutton, little Barbara--after grandpa's death and mother's suicide--came into a trust fund of $28 million, the equivalent of about a half-billion in today's currency. Her childhood was spent with relatives, at posh schools, with her philandering father. Adolescence brought European socializing, first sex with a British tennis pro (""It is not altogether pleasant, and it certainly isn't very graceful""), scads of publicity, and husband #1 (a Russian ""prince""). But, though ""one reason for Barbara's meteoric rise was her ability to transform herself physically from a pretty girl with money into a luminous beauty with money,"" she was forever insecure, publicity-hungry, lacking in self-esteem, anorexic. So, while the press lambasted her ostentious high-living, she moved from spouse to spouse, lover to lover. Hubby #2 was cold, kinky Count Reventlow, the Danish count who sired son Lance, persuaded BH to renounce US citizenship, and turned ugly in a series of lawsuits. Cary Grant was #3, providing ""a fleeting moment when the aimlessness of her life seemed to dissolve. . ."" (Typically, however, Heymann also includes, with inadequate justification or editing, a long chunk of anti-Grant nastiness from an ex-servant: ""He could be a terrible bastard, that one."") And the others included a Russian cyclist/bagman, a German homosexual, a Buddhist chemist, and--for 53 days--playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, whose sexual endowments and techniques Barbara recorded. (""Priapic, indefatigable, grotesquely proportioned."") Meanwhile, though there were myriad lovers (Howard Hughes, James Dean, both detailed), ""Barbara developed a reputation as a fag hag""--with a campy coterie in Tangier, Paris, Palm Beach. She became increasingly dependent on booze and pills, erratic in behavior, eventually ""isolated, feeding on fantasy and drugs. . . regressing to a child-like state""--while her fortune dwindled. Quite a story? Well, yes and no--since there's basically just more-of-the-same, only-worse, for chapter after chapter. Matters aren's helped, either, by Heymann's clichÉ-ridden prose, his giving of equal weight to the relevant, the irrelevant (the Duchess of Windsor's sex life), the documented, and the rumored (""Another tidbit that made the rounds. . .""). Still, while occasional references to Barbara's poetic side barely register, some readers may keep wading through--for the famous names, the rich-life details, the bedroom diary-jottings.

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 1983
Publisher: Random House