RICH WAS BETTER: A Memoir by Philip Van Rensselaer

RICH WAS BETTER: A Memoir

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An oh-so, precious reminiscence of a singularly shallow life by the scion of one of New York's oldest, most aristocratic families. Van Rensselaer (Million Dollar Baby, 1979, etc.) describes his childhood, spent in such moneyed milieus as the Waldorf Towers and the Hamptons. His parents were divorced, and his mother, Adele Richardson Van Rensselaer, was eager to make a second ""advantageous"" marriage. Young Philip resented the liaisons Adele formed with such wealthy suitors as ""the Copper King,"" Frederick Lewisohn, but was not above enjoying all the financial benefits these liaisons made possible--vacations on the Riviera, Rolls Royces. Within a few years, the young man was a familiar figure on the CafÉ Society circuit. But when the still-unmarried Adele died, the truth came crashing in on the author: he was nearly penniless. Not to worry. For the next 30 years, Van Rensselaer provided giggles and gossip for a series of jaded international celebrities--including the oft-married Barbara Hutton, various maharanis, and the Count and Countess Brando Brandolini--in exchange for entrÉe into the haut monde. Van Rensselaer misses no opportunity to assure his readers just how adorable he was. Nancy Mitford dubbed him ""Prettikins""; Diana Barrymore called him ""Dorian""; and Tennessee Williams assured him he was ""a male Blanche DuBois."" It was only when he was caught trying to peddle some FabergÉ bibelots he'd stolen from the Brandolinis that Van Rensselaer was finally ostracized. All this is told in a manner so arch it makes Lady Bracknell seem positively down-to-earth. And, in the final chapters, when Van Rensselaer reports on realizing the superficiality of his former existence, the ""epiphany"" never rings true.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1990
Publisher: Wynwood