Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Tale Of Two Heiresses

Compare and contrast. These two well known American Hotel Heiresses died within week of each other.

One made the news for a day, being a well known Philanthropist and clothes horse.

The other, well even dead she is still the Queen of Mean. And she gets more posthumous press than her more liberal counterpart.

One suffered at the hands of her son while her grandson exposed how badly his father had treated her. The other is making her grandchildren suffer.

Brooke Astor, 105, aristocrat of the people, dies

Astor's image as a benevolent society matron was overshadowed last year by that of a victimized dowager at the center of a very public family battle over her care and fortune. Yet for decades she had been known as the city's unofficial first lady, one who moved effortlessly from the sumptuous apartments of Fifth Avenue to the ragged barrios of East Harlem, deploying her inherited millions to help the poor help themselves.

Among the rich of New York, she was perhaps the last bridge to the Gilded Age, when "society" was a closed world of old-money families, the so-called Four Hundred, who were ruled over by a grandmother of Astor's by marriage, Mrs. William Backhouse Astor.

Helmsley's dog gets $12 million, but leaves 2 grandchildren zilch

Leona Helmsley's dog will continue to live an opulent life, and then be buried alongside her in a mausoleum. But two of Helmsley's grandchildren got nothing from the late luxury hotelier and real estate billionaire's estate.

Helmsley left her beloved white Maltese, named Trouble, a $12 million trust fund, according to her will, which was made public Tuesday in surrogate court.

She also left millions for her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, who was named to care for Trouble in her absence, as well as two of four grandchildren from her late son Jay Panzirer - so long as they visit their father's grave site once each calendar year.

Otherwise, she wrote, neither will get a penny of the $5 million she left for each.

Helmsley left nothing to two of Jay Panzirer's other children - Craig and Meegan Panzirer - for "reasons that are known to them," she wrote.

But regardless of their personal peccadilloes they both represent inherited wealth. One from the Robber Barons of 19th Century American Capitalism the other from the modern day Robber Barons of Property Speculation.

THE concept of
richesse oblige has various dimensions. The bottom line is that those who have come into oodles of money should give some of it back; the second-to-bottom line is that they should cut a certain style while doing so. Both Brooke Astor and Leona Helmsley, who died within a few days of each other, gave millions of dollars away. And their similarities ended there.

The Astor money, more than $120m by the time it was Brooke's to disburse, was old, from New York land and the fur trade. The Helmsley money, $5 billion by the time Leona got her hands on it, was pretty new, from property speculation. Both fortunes came from late third marriages to cunning husbands. But whereas Mrs Astor, aside from writing features for House & Garden, merely let the markets increase her pile and relished spending the capital (something, she admitted, that John Jacob Astor would have thought as outrageous as dancing naked in the street), Mrs Helmsley worked like a dragon to build up and expand her husband Harry's hotel empire. As a Manhattan hatter's daughter with several competitive siblings, she was used to graft and struggle. Mrs Astor, a solitary and dreamy child who had come by money almost magically, treated it like fairy dust to the end of her days.

The arrogance of big money, Mrs Astor wrote once, “is one of the most unappealing of characteristics”. Mrs Helmsley, though fun to her friends, was arrogance personified: “Rhymes with rich”, was Newsweek's caption for her portrait on its cover. “We don't pay taxes,” she was said to have told a housekeeper once; “only the little people pay taxes.” Mrs Astor, a gentle soul, was upset when her first father-in-law, a colonel, yelled at his secretaries. Mrs Helmsley believed staff existed to be barked at, slapped and called fags if appropriate; two of them sued her for firing them because they were gay. On visits to underprivileged areas Mrs Astor, gloved and immaculate because this was what the ordinary person expected of the rich, would happily sip from a paper cup and praise the hot-dog mustard on her paper plate. At the sight of a paper-cup-carrier in any of her reception areas, Mrs Helmsley would get her doormen to throw the offender out.

Rich Getting Richer

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