Magazine writer Gordon (Journalism/New York Univ.; Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach, 2008) provides an illuminating biography of the reclusive, and largely forgotten, American heiress Huguette Clark (1906-2011).
The youngest daughter of a ruthless Montana copper magnate and former U.S. senator, Clark was heir to wealth rivaled only by that of other American industrialist families such as the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Vanderbilts. As a child, Clark lived in a beautiful home in the most exclusive district in Paris, cocooned in “unimaginable luxury.” She and her beloved older sister, Andrée, had everything from nannies and tutors to unlimited access to the best of French and European fine art. But Huguette was a shy child who “hated being on display.” However much her parents’ wealth sheltered her from the bitter realities of life, it could not shield her from the pain of her sister’s untimely death at age 17 or the ensuing loneliness. Money, in fact, put her in the media limelight she hated, as became apparent after her brief 1928 marriage ended in divorce. From that point forward, Clark withdrew from public life and pursued her one enduring love, art. She remained close to her mother, who she believed had been unfairly treated by her much older half siblings. After a final retreat to her Fifth Avenue apartment in the 1970s, she communicated with the few people still remaining in her life via letter and telephone. In 1991, a bout with cancer eventually forced her out of seclusion into the hospital. After treatment, she lived as a full-time patient until her death in 2011 while dispensing, of her own free will, millions of dollars in largesse to those who cared for (and also manipulated) her.
Insightful and intriguing, Gordon’s book offers a rare glimpse into a privileged world—and twisted personal psychology—beyond imagining.