THE HELMSLEYS: The Rise and Fall of Harry and Leona by Richard Hammer

THE HELMSLEYS: The Rise and Fall of Harry and Leona

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A journalist's unsparing--and always absorbing--audit of a decidedly odd couple whose arrogance and avarice have cost them dearly. Even without cooperation from his subjects, Hammer (The CBS Murders, The Vatican Connection, etc.) has compiled a detailed and damning dossier on the Helmsleys. Unlike Michael Moss (Palace Coup, 1989), the author enjoyed the advantage of having attended the trial at which Leona and two underlings were convicted on tax-evasion charges. Although indicted as well, Harry got a pass when he was judged unable to assist in his own defense. By the author's inculpatory account, however, Bronx-born Harry, 80, has as much to answer for as his spouse. A tough operator with a keen eye for property values, he built a coast-to-coast real-estate empire that put him in the billionaire class. The unexpected collapse of a handshake deal during the mid-1960's, Hammer argues, induced Harry to forsake his essentially gentlemanly ways and start cutting ethical corners. The arrival of Leona, a hard-driving, much-married apartment broker once employed by a Helmsley subsidiary, completed Harry's moral metamorphosis. Wed in 1971 (after Harry's divorce from his Quaker wife), the pair quickly became pillars of Manhattan's monied cafe-society. Harry also ventured into luxury hotels, a field that gave his ambitious consort a chance to make a name for herself (via promotional campaigns touting Leona as ""Queen"" of the Palace chain). In the meantime, the king was chiseling limited partners in Helmsley enterprises and condoning (tacitly, anyhow) his fellow sovereign's schemes to bill a wealth of personal expenses to corporate accounts. Federal and state prosecutors eventually brought them both to book, pending appeal. While Hammer dishes the dirt on a designing woman and her grasping swain with evident relish, he also offers an evenhanded bill of particulars that makes their sorry, cautionary tale ring true throughout. The text has eight pages of photographs (not seen).

Pub Date: April 30th, 1990
Publisher: New American Library