THE GILDED LEAF: Triumph, Tragedy, and Tobacco--Th by Patrick Reynolds

THE GILDED LEAF: Triumph, Tragedy, and Tobacco--Th

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A mean-spirited and selective history of the star-crossed tobacco clan; from an estranged scion whose only significant claim to fame is his status as an antismoking activist. Reynolds (who's 40) traces his lineage back five generations to the Piedmond farmlands of southern Virginia. The real story, though, starts with the 1850 birth of Richard Joshua. An entrepreneurial genius, he created a multinational enterprise (whose lines still boast a full range of branded tobacco products, including Camel cigarettes) from a backwater base in Winston-Salem, N.C. The founding father was survived by a young wife (30 years his junior), two daughters (bit players in the tawdry dramas to come), and a couple of scapegrace sons (who viewed the eponymous family firm mainly as a source of funds for their wanton life-styles). One, Zachary Smith, died of gunshot wounds at 20; his wife, bisexual torch singer Libby Holman, was charged with murder, but the case never went to trial. Smith's elder brother, the equally dissipated Dick Jr., lived long enough to sire six disinherited sons (and, possibly, a daughter) by four different wives; in 1964, he succumbed--at age 58--to emphysema and other of hedonism's afflictions. Here, Dick's self-absorbed son Patrick Cleveland makes an egregiously poor job of recounting the rise and fall of the House of Reynolds. A would-be actor whose money got him into the Euro-trash jet set but not show biz, he devotes the bulk of the haphazard text to speculative rehashes of old scandals and to settling personal scores (which have largely to do with his failure to secure more than a nominal piece of the patriarch's considerable fortune). All but ignored, for example, are the blood relations who built Reynolds Metals Co. into a world-class aluminum supplier. Nor does Patrick have much to say (good or bad) about his siblings. Despite the assitance of Shachtman (Decade of Shocks, et al.), the text is disorganized and replete with howlers (e.g., "he took to wearing jumpsuits, long hair, and other badges of the counterculture"). An aimless account of a failed dynasty's disintegration, which is almost wholly without redeeming social or literary value. There are 30 b&w photos--not seen.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1989
ISBN: 316-74121-3
Publisher: Little, Brown
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