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Empty Mansions

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Empty Mansions

The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERNAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Janet Maslin, The New York TimesSt. Louis Post-Dispatch Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader's Circle...
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERNAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Janet Maslin, The New York TimesSt. Louis Post-Dispatch Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader's Circle...
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Description-
  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
    Janet Maslin, The New York Times
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch

    Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader's Circle for author chats and more.

    When Pulitzer Prize--winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed in 2009 a grand home for sale, unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled through a surprising portal into American history. Empty Mansions is a rich mystery of wealth and loss, connecting the Gilded Age opulence of the nineteenth century with a twenty-first-century battle over a $300 million inheritance. At its heart is a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, a woman so secretive that, at the time of her death at age 104, no new photograph of her had been seen in decades. Though she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, why had she lived for twenty years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Why were her valuables being sold off? Was she in control of her fortune, or controlled by those managing her money?

    Dedman has collaborated with Huguette Clark's cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have frequent conversations with her. Dedman and Newell tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter, born into a family of extreme wealth and privilege, who secrets herself away from the outside world.

    Huguette was the daughter of self-made copper industrialist W. A. Clark, nearly as rich as Rockefeller in his day, a controversial senator, railroad builder, and founder of Las Vegas. She grew up in the largest house in New York City, a remarkable dwelling with 121 rooms for a family of four. She owned paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls. But wanting more than treasures, she devoted her wealth to buying gifts for friends and strangers alike, to quietly pursuing her own work as an artist, and to guarding the privacy she valued above all else.

    The Clark family story spans nearly all of American history in three generations, from a log cabin in Pennsylvania to mining camps in the Montana gold rush, from backdoor politics in Washington to a distress call from an elegant Fifth Avenue apartment. The same Huguette who was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11 held a ticket nine decades earlier for a first-class stateroom on the second voyage of the Titanic.

    Empty Mansions reveals a complex portrait of the mysterious Huguette and her intimate circle. We meet her extravagant father, her publicity-shy mother, her star-crossed sister, her French boyfriend, her nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts, and the relatives fighting to inherit Huguette's copper fortune. Richly illustrated with more than seventy photographs, Empty Mansions is an enthralling story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.

    Praise for Empty Mansions

    "An amazing story of profligate wealth . . . an outsized tale of rags-to-riches prosperity."--The New York Times

    "An evocative and rollicking read, part social history, part hothouse mystery, part grand guignol."--The Daily Beast

    "Fascinating . . . [a] haunting true-life tale."--People

    "One of those incredible stories that you didn't even know existed. It filled a void."--Jon Stewart, The Daily Show

    "Thrilling . . . deliciously scandalous."--Publishers Weekly (starred...
 
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One


    Doctors Hospital was not the place that a New Yorker with a lifethreatening illness normally would select. It was better known as a fashionable treatment center for the well-to-do, a society hospital, a great place for a face-lift or for drying out. Michael Jackson had been a patient, as had Marilyn Monroe, James Thurber, Clare Boothe Luce, and Eugene O'Neill. The fourteen-story brick structure on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, between Eighty-Seventh and Eighty-Eighth streets by a bend in the East River, gave the impression of being an apartment building or hotel, with a hair salon offering private appointments in patient rooms and a comfortable dining room where patients could order from the wine list if the doctor allowed. When it opened in 1929, it had no wards and no interns, allowed no charity care, and included hotel accommodations for family members of patients. In its early days, it was often used as a long-term residential hotel or spa, and finally in the 1970s it added modern coronary units and intensive care.

    Huguette checked in to a room on the eleventh floor with a lovely view down to a city park and Gracie Mansion, the Federal-style home that is the official residence of the mayor of New York.

    After living mostly alone at home for so many years, now Huguette was in a hospital with its constant noises and staff coming and going. At first she was a difficult patient, swathed in sheets and refusing to let anyone see her. A nurse wrote in the chart that she was "like a homeless person--no clothes, not in touch with the world, had not seen a doctor for 20 years, and threw everyone out of the room."

    A week into her stay, Huguette was evaluated by a social worker, who filled out the standard initial assessment. The patient, just short of age eighty-five, was scheduled for surgery to remove basal cell tumors and to reconstruct her lip, right cheek, and right eyelid. She had been "managing poorly at home--reclusive--not eating recently" and was dehydrated. Her only support system was her friend Suzanne Pierre, "helping with her affairs," and a maid--no family. Her mental status was always awake and alert, but she was skittish: "Patient refused to speak with social worker. Patient has not been to doctor in many years--had refused medications in past. Patient anxious and uncooperative at times."

    Her plans after treatment? "Spoke with friend, Mrs. Pierre--feels patient will need convalescent care in facility but does not want to go to nursing home which she feels would be depressing. . . . Patient may need to go to a hotel with a nurse to recuperate."
    As for financial problems, "none noted."

    Huguette did not move on to a hotel. Within just over two months, she was an indefinite patient, a tenant, with Doctors Hospital charging her $829 a day. Eventually the rent rose to $1,200, or more than $400,000 a year.
    Huguette had a series of surgeries in 1991 and 1992, with Dr. Jack Rudick removing malignant tumors and making initial repairs to her face. She was healthy, though she still needed a bit of plastic surgery, especially on her right eyelid. "It is not necessary," she told her doctors. "I am not having any surgery. I don't like needles." She was not badly disfigured by the cancer. And there might have been another reason, Dr. Singman speculated. "This she has steadfastly put off," he wrote in her chart in 1996, "I presume to avoid the final treatment and then possible discharge home."

    A board-certified specialist in internal medicine, cardiology, and geriatrics, Dr. Singman assured her that she could have round-the-clock nurses at home, and he would visit daily. "I had strongly urged that she go...

About the Author-
  • Bill Dedman introduced the public to heiress Huguette Clark and her empty mansions through his compelling series of narratives for NBC, which became the most popular feature in the history of the news website, topping 105 million page views. He received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting while writing for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe.

    Paul Clark Newell, Jr., a cousin of Huguette Clark, has researched the Clark family history for twenty years, sharing many conversations with Huguette about her life and family. He once received a rare private tour of Bellosguardo, her mysterious estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara.

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The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
Bill Dedman
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Bill Dedman
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