NYT’s Fascinating Huguette Clark Chronicles

From our Late to the Party of the First Part desk

For the last several years the New York Times has run a series of stories about Huguette Clark, “a copper heiress whose father was once one of the richest men in America.”

A copper heiress who also wasn’t seen in public for over two decades.

And whose last will and testament is being challenged by relatives who haven’t seen her in almost five decades.

Representative sample of Times coverage:

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 11.36.41 PM

Interesting how many different bylines appear in that list. Apparently there was no Huguette Clark beat reporter at the Times.

Regardless, now comes the latest installment, by Anemona Hartcollis:

The Two Wills of the Heiress Huguette Clark

With flawless etiquette, every year from 1977 to 2010, Katherine Hall Friedman sent a Christmas card to the home of 15CLARK2-articleInline-v2her distant relative Huguette Clark, a copper heiress whose father was once one of the richest men in America. She never got an answer.

For many of those years, Mrs. Friedman, a branding consultant known professionally as Carla Hall, lived just across Manhattan, an easy taxi ride or a meandering walk through Central Park from Mrs. Clark, who died in 2011 at 104, but she never tried to meet her.

Why not stop by? “I was brought up to believe that she was a private person,” Mrs. Friedman said recently in a sworn deposition, “and that everybody in the family respected her privacy. I never expected to meet with her.”

Now, that very privacy has been exploded by a court case brought by 20 of Mrs. Clark’s grandnephews, grandnieces, great-grandnephews and great-grandnieces, including Mrs. Friedman. They are challenging the disposition of her estate, which has been estimated at more than $300 million.

But wait – there’s more.

In 2005, according to the Times, Mrs. Clark “executed two wills, just six weeks apart.” The first gave virtually all of her estate to members of her family. The second “cut them out with a nasty Dickensian flourish”:

“I intentionally make no provision in this my Last Will Testament for any members of my family, whether on my paternal or maternal side, having had minimal contacts with them over the years. The persons and institution named herein as beneficiaries of my Estate are the true objects of my bounty.”

The big bounty would go to a foundation for the arts, leaving scraps of Huguette Clark’s fortune for her goddaughter, her primary doctor, he accountant, her lawyer, and “Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, where she lived for the last 20 years of her life.”

Huguette Clark’s story is indeed Dickensian as detailed by the Times:

By many accounts, Mrs. Clark was a real-life Miss Havisham, a virtual spinster, alienated from most of her family, isolated in one candlelit room of her grand apartment on Fifth Avenue at 72nd Street, until she became so sick and emaciated that she was forced to go to the hospital.

Mrs. Clark arrived at the hospital in 1991 with skin cancer of her face that was so bad she could not hold food in her mouth, and that had carved “large deep ‘rodent’ type ulcers” where her lower right eyelid should be, according to notes by Dr. Singman. “She resembled an advanced leper patient,” he wrote.

By any standard, this is one corker of a story.

We heartily recommend you dive in.


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2 Responses to NYT’s Fascinating Huguette Clark Chronicles

  1. Todd Wallack says:

    Didn’t Bill Dedman at NBCNews.com break this story in 2010? He now has a book out on the subject called Empty Mansions. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/38810137 (Dedman spent a few years at the Boston Globe.)

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