OTTO THE MAGNIFICENT: The Life of Otto Kahn by John Kobler

OTTO THE MAGNIFICENT: The Life of Otto Kahn

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KIRKUS REVIEW

During most of his 67 years, financier/art-patron Otto Kahn was regarded as something or a force of nature, pursuing commercial deals and compliant divas with equal gusto. Readers of this generally lackluster biography, however, will get little impression of Kahn's larger-than-life qualities. Kohler, biographer of John Barrymore, Al Capone, Henry Luce, and Stravinsky, has the facts about his subject in place but fails to bring the man himself to life. The son of a Jewish banking family in Mannheim, Germany, Kahn was initiated into the business at an early age, then sent as a young man to London to continue his career. After three years during which he hobnobbed with Whistler, Gilbert and Sullivan, Wilde, Ellen Terry, and Lily Langtry, he emigrated to New York and was soon a member of the prestigious Wall Street firm of Kuhn, Loeb. He flourished, married one of the partner's daughters, and before long was a respected leader of the American financial scene, specializing in railroads. In the process he put together a personal fortune worth millions. Always devoted to music, he became involved with the Metropolitan Opera, rising eventually to the post of president. During his 28 years with the opera company. he associated with such luminaries as Toscanini, Caruso, Chaliapin, and Farrar, bedding several of his female prot‚g‚es along the way. Despite his Midas-like life-style--his Long Island chateau boasted 127 rooms, 126 servants and an 18-hole golf course--Kahn was surprisingly liberal in his political and economic postures. Though never a practicing Jew and strongly attracted to the Roman Catholic Church, he nonetheless refused to convert to Christianity and objected strongly when gossip columnists such as Walter Winchell speculated on his religious affiliations. Kahn's story is a fascinating one, full of contradictions and complexities--but Kohler, owing to his sober-sided approach, misses his opportunity to do it full justice.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1989
Publisher: Scribners