Empty Mansions (Dedman)

Empty Mansions:  The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell , 2013
Random House
496 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780345534521



Summary
When Pulitzer Prizewinning 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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bios
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 its news website, topping 110 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, Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. (From the publisher.)


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 received a rare private tour of Bellosguardo, her mysterious estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara. (From the publisher.)



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

An exhaustively researched, well-written account.... [A] blood-boiling expose [that] will make you angry and will make you sad.
Seattle Times
 

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

A childlike, self-exiled eccentric, [Huguette Clark] is the sort of of subject susceptible to a biography of broad strokes, which makes Empty Mansions, the first full-length account of her life, impressive for its delicacy and depth.
Town & Country


(Starred review.) [R]iveting..... [A] regular in the society pages during her youth and even married for a short time, Clark later slipped into her own world and stayed there, quietly buying multi-million dollar homes for her dolls..... The authors provide a thrilling study of the responsibilities and privileges that come with great wealth and draw the reader into the deliciously scandalous story of Clark's choices in later life.
Publishers Weekly


[A] comprehensive account of the late copper mining heiress Huguette Clark.... The authors describe her lavish estates, art, jewelry, and musical instrument collections. They convey how, despite her affluence, Clark strangely chose to live her latter days as a relatively healthy recluse in a modest New York City hospital room.... An enlightening read for those interested in the opulent lifestyles...and the mysterious ways of wealth. —Mary Jennings, Camano Island Lib., WA
Library Journal


An investigation into the secretive life of the youngest daughter and heiress to a Gilded Age copper tycoon.... [Huguette] Clark was certainly eccentric, and her decisions, both financial and otherwise, definitely capture the imagination..... Though her father's fortune is central to the story...so much focus on his exploits early on makes Huguette seem like a secondary character. Clark is an intriguing figure with a story that will interest many, but the book misses the mark as an in-depth expose.
Kirkus Reviews



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