Fortune Hunters: Dazzling Women and the Men They Married
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Fortune Hunters: Dazzling Women and the Men They Married

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by Charlotte Hays

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From Madame de Pompadour, the famed mistress of Louis XV, to Pamela Harriman, who married into the English aristocracy and the American plutocracy, there is a rich history of women who have found glamour and wealth in the arms of a billionaire. But what kind of woman does it take to make the Midas marriage? Exploring the lives of the great fortune hunters of our


From Madame de Pompadour, the famed mistress of Louis XV, to Pamela Harriman, who married into the English aristocracy and the American plutocracy, there is a rich history of women who have found glamour and wealth in the arms of a billionaire. But what kind of woman does it take to make the Midas marriage? Exploring the lives of the great fortune hunters of our day, reporter and former gossip columnist Charlotte Hays answers this tantalizing question. You'll learn about the South Carolina woman who took a trip around the world with a shadowy shipping magnate—only to meet and marry a philandering marquis. You'll see what methods they use to lure their powerful men, including one playful fortune seeker who, at a very high society soirée, hurled a piece of bread at her intended beau, starting a food fight. You'll meet the New York socialite who remarried so quickly after a divorce, her ex claimed she was a bigamist.

What are their recipes for riches? Can a genuinely nice woman pursue this career? What does love have to do with it? With original interviews and photos, Hays casts a light on the determination, skill, and yes, sometimes, ruthlessness that have shaped some of the most successful—and lucrative—unions of our time.

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“A deliciously scandalous book.” —Social Life magazine

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St. Martin's Press
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The Fortune Hunters

Dazzling Women and the Men They Married
By Hays, Charlotte

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2007 Hays, Charlotte
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312246464

Chapter One Prospecting for Gold: What Kind of Woman Does It Take? After the feminist shenanigans of recent decades, it is not politically correct to speak of great fortune hunters unless you’re referring to those who dive into the ocean to hunt for sunken treasure. Yet many of the most dynamic women of our day launched themselves the old-fashioned way, through a dazzling marriage. Even Hillary Rodham Clinton, the standard-bearer of feminist values, began her march to fame and fortune with a trek to the altar and went on to solidify her stature by standing by her man, a character-building duty the fortune hunter is not infrequently called upon to perform. Fortune hunting, like diving for treasure, is a real job. Some women strive to be CEOs; others prefer to wed them. Is one endeavor really morally superior to the other? I once knew the daughter of a prominent feminist, a nice woman, struggling to make it in an intellectual profession. I always felt she’d have been happier as, say, a real-estate agent who spent her time off shopping and accessorizing. Why are some jobs more “authentic” than others? Fortune hunters are not dopes who sit by the pool all day readingHarlequin romances. They are talented women who make a conscious decision to pursue a particular career path. Of course, it is not always possible to know a woman’s inner thoughts and real motivations, though her life story allows for reasoned speculation. Indeed, the best way to assess the job requirements is to look at the lives of women who’ve succeeded. Though the ladies in this book are all different, you will pick up certain common themes that run through their lives. Fortune hunting has been a valid occupation for women throughout the ages. It probably started when the first Neanderthal fortune hunter made goo-goo eyes at the fellow with the largest collection of pelts.
The roster of worthies includes the Byzantine striptease artist, famed for the lewdness of her dancing, who became the Empress Theodora, helpmeet to Justinian; Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who wasn’t endowed with the wealth to support the grand life to which she was accustomed; and plus-size model Anna Nicole Smith, who zeroed in on her Adonis when he had one foot in the grave and then battled his children in court over the estate. The issue of how to marry super rich is something we don’t talk about in polite company. Still, mothers from time immemorial have told their daughters that it’s just as easy to love a rich man as a poor one. As a single former gossip columnist, I might seem an odd cicerone for travel in these realms of gold. But I have devoted much of my professional life to observing the rich and what it takes to succeed in this highly competitive arena. The requirements may not be what you expect at all. Beauty is the first thing that leaps to mind as a requirement. Beauty helps, no doubt about it. But it is not a sine qua non for fortune hunting. Several women in this book are drop-dead gorgeous; others work hard to make themselves attractive. All take pains to maximize nature’s gifts, whether extravagant or modest, with diet, exercise, and designer couture. If necessary, there is also the magic of a good plastic surgeon. The aspirant who happens to be blessed with natural beauty recognizes the value of her asset. But she knows that she cannot afford to be passive with it. She is well aware that even great beauty can be squandered. We’ve all heard about ravishing women who’ve ended their days in trailer parks. What makes one stunning woman waste her advantage on a poor man while a less beautiful one comes within a constitutional crisis of becoming queen of England? Marrying super rich is more a matter of talent and enterprise than beauty. “You’ll never make it on your face, so you’d better be interesting,” New York socialite Nan Kempner recalled her father, the millionaire California Ford dealer Albert Schlesinger, admonishing her. Instead of sulking because she wasn’t a natural knockout, Kempner made sure she was fascinating. She cultivated a self-deprecating wit (she was amusingly frank about her plastic surgery and love of shopping), joie de vivre, love of couture—and a svelte figure that was often compared to a celery stalk. Intelligence, she showed, always counts more than awe-inspiring looks. None of the women in this book are bimbos (though some do a good imitation). Smart and versatile, they are a special breed distinguished by a specific set of qualities.
All, to some degree, embody these traits. Just what are they? A fortune hunter is a woman who doesn’t wait for her ship to come in—she swims out to meet it. More than anything, she is an activist who believes that she is in control of her destiny. Cinderella she is not. (Left to her own devices, Cinderella would have been stuck in a dead-end housekeeping job.) Nor is the fortune hunter a Sleeping Beauty. Nobody is more wide-awake than the fortune hunter. She may dream of a bright future, but she doesn’t simply build castles in the air. She must be tough enough to withstand rough patches and bad publicity because the rich—and the would-be rich—are prone to messy scandals. (This is particularly true if Mr. Rich happens to be married to another woman at the outset of their courtship.) Her resilience is such that some have called into question the depth of her feelings. She is not somebody who, as the Victorian author of doggerel put it, “looks before and after, and pines for what is not.” One woman in this book was so unstoppable that she managed to marry a richer man so quickly after a nasty divorce—as in the next day—that the discarded mate publicly accused her of bigamy. Did she die of shame? Did she cower in her room? She sailed along serenely, head held high, on the arm of her new billionaire. A fortune hunter is a chameleon who is able to pick up the hues of her surroundings. Her vivid imagination enables her to reinvent herself as circumstances unfold. When one door closes, she opens another. A Chicago-bred Pan Am attendant in this book transformed herself into a New York sophisticate who claimed to have grown up in a thatched cottage in England. Some have enough diversity on their résumés for a dozen ordinary women. Arianna Huffington is a virtuosa of variety whose curriculum vitae includes brainy Oxford undergraduate, highbrow critic’s ingenue, bestselling author, cult aficionado, gal about town, multimillionaire’s wife, divorcée, right-wing hostess, and left-wing pundit. Acting, closely allied to reinvention, is another basic skill. A fortune hunter is always a consummate actress, though smart enough never to upstage her mate. Princess Diana forgot this rule, and Prince Charles was not pleased by the realization that the crowds had not come to see him. Acting can be designing a whole new persona or telling little white lies. When Georgette Paulsin wanted to meet Robert Muir, the Los Angeles real-estate baron who became her first husband, she pretended to be a reporter from Time magazine. In contrast, there is also the woman who is so lovely that she seems to have simply slipped into a Midas marriage without premeditation—New York’s reigning socialite, the designer Tory Burch, did this. Twice. When on the prowl, all women try to be in the right place. The quintessential fortune hunter takes this to the next level and is always in the right place at the right time. She familiarizes herself with the terrain.
Her research is often as simple as asking a friend about a man or checking the obituary pages to keep abreast of what rich widowers have recently come on the market, a tactic employed by small-town hunters reading the Town Tatler as well as big-game hunters studying the New York Times obits. Every serious fortune hunter must confront the question of venue. She must ask: Where shall I ply my trade? Sheilah Graham addresses this question in her classic How to Marry Super Rich: or Love, Money, and the Morning After. “What,” Graham asks, “does a woman—or a man—have that others do not, to close the deal? You can sleep with a man for twenty years and you are lucky to get bus fare. If you dig in a coal mine, you are likely to come up with coal. If you go to Coney Island, you get a Nathan’s hot dog. You have to go where the rich are.” Outside of certain places the fortune hunter would never dream of setting foot—Appalachia comes to mind—millionaires are widely dispersed. You can find them even in Arkansas and Mississippi. However many eligible men there may be in many parts of the country, they tend to congregate in certain centers of wealth. New York—in Graham’s day and ours—is a particularly happy hunting ground. Not only do the richest of the rich live there, New York is not a closed society. You can be a chorus girl one minute and Mrs. Donald Trump the next (and an ex–Mrs. Trump the next). Texas, of course, is a superlative breeding ground of multimillionaires, as is Palm Beach (if your taste runs to the more mature rich). The important thing, whether you are on the Riviera or in a small town in Arkansas, is to get out and see and be seen—by rich men. Melania Knauss was—unusually for a supermodel—given to spending quiet evenings at home. If she hadn’t been talked into attending a party at New York’s Kit Kat Club (where Donald Trump was another guest), she might still be the singular Miss Knauss rather than the third Mrs. Trump. It is not without significance that in a New York magazine piece on how to be an “It” girl, Nan Kempner advised aspirants to entertain “constantly.” “I’ve always liked being noticed, and I work hard at it,” Kempner admitted. A fortune hunter can turn the wrong place into the right place. New Orleans, even before Katrina, was not a town known for its profusion of the very rich. Yet one woman in this book got her start while working as a maître d’ in a New Orleans restaurant, proof that character triumphs over an inauspicious beginning. Still, it should be pointed out that most of the women in this book courageously left the provinces for greater opportunity. Wherever she settles, the fortune hunter wisely minimizes contact with the non-rich. There’s the story (told by Graham) of the boy whose grandfather asked if he’d like to marry a rich girl. “I guess so, Grandpa” he said. “Here’s how to do it,” his grandfather offered. “Don’t date poor girls.” Cultural attainments are highly desirable.
Believe it or not, a good art history course can do you as much as regular Botox injections. Though a deep academic background would be a waste, if not downright annoying, a familiarity with antiques and other finer things of life comes in handy. A rich man doesn’t want a nitwit who might embarrass him. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is the best possible role model. Though not an intellectual, she was clever and sophisticated and she created a White House that wowed Nobel laureates, novelists, and nabobs. Jackie’s mentor, New York socialite and art collector Jayne Wrightsman, learned the hard way. She had not had Jackie’s advantages. Her husband, Charles, employed tutors and curators to make up the deficiency. He was “brutally demanding.” “If she didn’t do everything perfectly,” a Wrightsman friend told writer Francesca Stanfill for a Vanity Fair profile, “he made it clear that there would be consequences.” A patina of culture has always been advisable, but now more may be required. “The trophy wife doesn’t exist anymore,” John Fairchild, who made W magazine the authoritative handbook for social climbers, wrote in 1995. “Now a wife has to be more than beautiful. She has to have brains.” Older fortune hunters were more inclined to skip college and work as models (still a popular career choice). Younger ones frequently are professionals. Carolyn Bessette, though beautiful enough to be a model, was a fashion publicist instead. Marie-Josée Kravis, a respected economist, displaced dress designer Carolyne Roehm as the wife of eighties leveraged buyout king Henry Kravis. A self-made man is particularly susceptible to the allure of a cultivated woman. A socialite who preferred to remain anonymous recalled a proposal of marriage from such a man. On the night they met, “I got myself out of the gutter and into good clothes,” this romantic stated, “and now I need to marry somebody like you to take me to the next level.” She declined, but you get the idea: You may have to settle for somebody less gracious than Lord Fauntleroy. The fortune hunter, said a woman who knows, must be willing to live in a world that is “full of self-made men who got where they are with total ambition and still have raw elbows. It’s sometimes not a place of kindness, thank-you notes, and flowers.” The fortune hunter may have to take a page from the gossip columnist’s book. I once had a call from a snooty public relations man who, pompously informing me that his clientele was made up of members of real society, chided me for writing about new-money types. He asked me to a fund-raising event that supported some patrician-approved charity. There I met some lovely people, received several kind invitations to Tuxedo Park, a blue-blood stronghold in New York state, and had an absolutely scintillating chat about the art of portraiture. Not to belabor the point, I felt as if I’d been in an exotic aviary. The next day I called the publicist. “Goody for you to be able to prey on old money,” I said. “But as a gossip columnist, I am forced to prey on new money.” The simple fact is that most money is new money, and even the most brilliant fortune hunter may not become Mrs. Astor right off the bat. A 1998 survey by the U.S. Trust Corporation, which manages money for the very rich, shows that only a minuscule 4 percent of those surveyed said that they had been born rich. Slightly more than a fourth (26 percent) said they hailed from the upper middle class. Still, take heart, because as you’ll see, one of the least pleasant husbands in this book was the possessor of a grand name redolent of American wealth. For the most part, it is the rich who make fortune hunting such a challenging profession. Fortune hunting is demanding because the rich are demanding.
That certainly is what F. Scott Fitzgerald had in mind when he remarked that they are different from you and me. Whether spoiled by inheriting lots of easy money or growing ruthless in the pursuit of lucre, they expect—no, they require—deference. When Princess Diana became angry with Prince Charles, he simply didn’t know how to react. She was supposed to defer to him. Living with the super rich without running afoul of them and being cut out of the will requires the utmost in self-control. You can’t throw a tantrum when things aren’t going your way. The golden rule: He who has the gold gets to make the rules. The aforementioned Jayne Wrightsman was a paragon of self-control. When Wrightsman died, he left everything to Jayne. One of their grandchildren famously remarked that nobody could begrudge her the money—she had earned it. Of course, the rich aren’t always ogres. Some are as nice as you and me. And then there’s sex. When a major stockholder meeting was taking place, Sid Bass didn’t show up. A friend staying in the same hotel was asked to get him to the meeting. She said it might not be easy. “They’re moving furniture up there from morning ’til night,” she reported. You can know every painting in the Louvre, but if you can’t play the courtesan, forget it. A fortune hunter is a woman who can never have a headache. It may not be true that one of the best fortune hunters of our day perfected her skills under the tutelage of the renowned Madame Claude, doyenne of an exclusive brothel. True or not, the undying canard says something about the job. The fortune hunter lives with the certain knowledge that there are all too many women eager to replace her. Along with time’s winged chariot, she fears younger women. Fortune magazine noted, in the story that coined the term trophy wife, that having a sexy, young wife “dispels the notion that men peak sexually at eighteen.” The bedroom is important, but it is not the only room in which the courtesan plies her trade. The geisha role is twofold—sex and pampering. Rich men like their women to hover around them. They have needy egos and want to be told they are great, just like the rest of mankind. Learning to cook is a very good idea, even if you know you’ll eventually have a large staff. Until the end, Ambassador Francis Kellogg spoke dreamily of the meals his ex-wife, Mercedes, prepared before she hooked a Bass. The wife of a rich man must make his comfort the main purpose of her life. She must make sure that he doesn’t get bored. Mercedes Bass goes so far as to ask hostesses in advance who Sid’s dinner partners will be, though, truth to tell, nobody is quite sure whether she’s trying to ensure that he does or doesn’t enjoy the woman seated next to him. Mercedes knows well what perils lie in wait at a dinner party. She and Bass began their flirtation at a black-tie dinner. A fortune hunter must be an incomparable wife, but she is all too often no great shakes as a mother. The single-minded focus on Mr. Filthy Rich is the reason. Children often are left at home and go to boarding school before they are out of short pants. Successful fortune hunters would rack up millions of frequent-flyer miles per annum—that is, if they took commercial flights—making sure that their husbands don’t spend too much time alone. (One New York woman is so intent on keeping a watchful eye on her portfolio that she refuses to let bad knees prevent her from sharing his morning jog—she bicycles by his side.) But, of course, sometimes Mr. Rich jogs off the straight and narrow and into the arms of another woman. Few things call upon the fortune hunter’s sangfroid more than this challenge. She must refuse to panic—and she must refuse to bolt unless she knows that bolting will make her richer than Mr. Rich. Nan Kempner faced this challenge when husband Thomas Kempner, chairman of Loeb Partners, the investment banking firm founded by his grandfather, set up housekeeping with his longtime mistress in the mid-1990s. Nan did not hang her head in shame. She did not abandon the couple’s lavish Park Avenue apartment to another woman.
She did what had to be done. “Nan Kempner threatened to take him to the cleaners,” Fox News gossip columnist Roger Friedman reported, “so Tom returned.” Nan died in July 2005, still married to Tom. Still, a fortune hunter should walk down the aisle knowing that a marriage lived in the spotlight will die in the spotlight if it fails. Even golden girl Blaine Trump, the well-bred Mrs. Trump—she was married to Robert Trump, Donald’s brother—was forced to learn this lesson in 2005. She had been married to Robert for twenty years. “Blaine was alerted to the relationship by anonymous phone calls, WWD reported yesterday,” the New York Daily News reported. “Blaine is extremely popular, but in New York, the friends tend to follow whoever gets the money,” the article went on to note (attributing the quote to “a realist”). But Blaine herself is a realist: I’ll never forget the day she was kind enough to phone me on her car phone and out of the blue. I was a gossip columnist at the Daily News—her call was my first sign that media-savvy Blaine’s pet, William Norwich, engaged in hush-hush negotiations with his employer, had left his perch at the New York Post only a few hours before our most pleasant chat. Don’t count Blaine out—a woman who prepares for the translation of her Boswell may well survive the loss of a husband. Perhaps we’re dwelling too much on the demands and not enough on the rewards. Mr. Rich may require constant pampering. But I’ve put up with some pretty awful bosses in my time, and not a single one has ever whisked me off to St. Moritz on his private jet, turned me loose at the diamond counter in Tiffany’s, or bought me an apartment on Fifth Avenue. These are the sorts of gifts regularly bestowed on fortune hunters. In return for playing second fiddle, she lives in a world of addictive comforts (imagine never standing in line at a ticket counter). She can go anywhere, see anything. Museums name wings after her. And, if she is patient, she will most likely inherit. A successful fortune hunter might even flip the roles and end up with a charming boy toy of her own late in life. We must all get our daily bread, and who’s to say that making money is more virtuous—or more fun—than marrying it? There is one weighty issue that remains to be addressed. What’s love got to do with it? When I began this book, I didn’t expect to discover much in the way of love. I had assumed that the women who famously married big money had gone about it coldly, methodically, and with calculation, just as you would any high-stakes business deal. Romance be damned. “This is not a book about love stories,” I repeatedly told friends. You will find, as you meet these women, that I was not entirely right. As Mother said, it is just as easy to love a rich man—sometimes. Copyright © 2007 by Charlotte Hays. All rights reserved. 


Excerpted from The Fortune Hunters by Hays, Charlotte Copyright © 2007 by Hays, Charlotte. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Charlotte Hays has been a gossip columnist for the New York Daily News, The New York Observer, and The Washington Times. She is coauthor of Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Southern Ladies' Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral and Somebody Is Going to Die If Lilly Beth Doesn't Catch that Bouquet: The Official Southern Ladies' Guide to Hosting the Perfect Wedding.

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Fortune Hunters: Dazzling Women and the Men They Married 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this book. Well researched. A thorough accounting of some of the world's wealthiest women by marriage.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago