The New York Times Book Review - Penelope Green
…[Gordon] is a tender and cleareyed biographer; The Phantom of Fifth Avenue teases out the ways in which some human relationships, at their core, may always be transactional.
Bestselling author Gordon (Mrs. Astor Regrets) takes on another heiress, the notorious recluse Huguette Clark, as the subject of her latest investigation into the world of New York's wealthiest. Clark was the youngest daughter of Montana robber baron William Andrews Clark, who made his fortune in copper and drew decades of media frenzy for his cash-fueled Senatorial races, fondness for fine art, and gaudy Fifth Avenue mansion. Meticulously researched, Gordon's account catalogues every juicy detail and eccentricity amassed over a century: Clark's years at the elite Spence School, under the Miss Spence; her painting lessons and prolonged flirtation with the famed Dutch portrait painter Tade Styke; her refusal, in the wake of her mother's death, to step outside of her Fifth Avenue apartments for just shy of two decades. Most headline-worthy of all were Clark's final years, spent (despite her net worth and supposed good health), in shabby Beth Israel Hospital quarters, avoiding her descendants and bestowing millions on her nurses, doctors, lawyer and accountant. Unsurprisingly, a massive money-grab unfolded in the wake of her death. But did Clark have diagnosable neuroses? Did she sit in her lonely rooms daydreaming about sex, family, fresh air, and every other characteristic of the normal life she denied herself? Readers who salivated over headlines like "Poor Little Rich Girl's Sad Life" (Courier-Mail) and "America's Antisocial Socialite" (Scottish Express) will be left wanting more. Yet this very unwillingness to speculate—Gordon's strict adherence to primary documents and witness interviews—makes for a rigorous, authoritative account of a 20th century enigma. (June)
Magazine writer Gordon (Journalism/New York Univ.; Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach, 2008) provides an illuminating biography of the reclusive, and largely forgotten, American heiress Huguette Clark (1906-2011). The youngest daughter of a ruthless Montana copper magnate and former U.S. senator, Clark was heir to wealth rivaled only by that of other American industrialist families such as the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Vanderbilts. As a child, Clark lived in a beautiful home in the most exclusive district in Paris, cocooned in "unimaginable luxury." She and her beloved older sister, Andrée, had everything from nannies and tutors to unlimited access to the best of French and European fine art. But Huguette was a shy child who "hated being on display." However much her parents' wealth sheltered her from the bitter realities of life, it could not shield her from the pain of her sister's untimely death at age 17 or the ensuing loneliness. Money, in fact, put her in the media limelight she hated, as became apparent after her brief 1928 marriage ended in divorce. From that point forward, Clark withdrew from public life and pursued her one enduring love, art. She remained close to her mother, who she believed had been unfairly treated by her much older half siblings. After a final retreat to her Fifth Avenue apartment in the 1970s, she communicated with the few people still remaining in her life via letter and telephone. In 1991, a bout with cancer eventually forced her out of seclusion into the hospital. After treatment, she lived as a full-time patient until her death in 2011 while dispensing, of her own free will, millions of dollars in largesse to those who cared for (and also manipulated) her. Insightful and intriguing, Gordon's book offers a rare glimpse into a privileged world—and twisted personal psychology—beyond imagining.
From the Publisher
"A thrilling read...Meryl Gordon delivers quite a page-turner for this true-life mystery."USA Today"
Insightful and intriguing, Gordon's book offers a rare glimpse into a privileged world-and twisted personal psychology-beyond imagining."Kirkus"
A perfect choice for the Grey Gardens set."Booklist"
Meticulously researched, Gordon's account catalogues every juicy detail and eccentricity amassed over a century....a rigorous, authoritative account of a 20th century enigma."Publishers Weekly
Well-respected journalist Gordon delves deeply into the enigmatic life of Huguette Clark (1906–2011), daughter of the Gilded Age copper baron and U.S. senator William Andrews Clark. Using exclusive interviews with those closest to the heiress and unprecedented access to thousands of her personal papers, the author delivers a balanced account of the peculiar 104-year existence of the childless, well-heeled recluse. Gordon's extensive research provides an understanding of how a relatively healthy, elderly multimillionaire chose to live the last decades of her life in a hospital all the while gifting significant portions of her assets to hospital staff and mere acquaintances. Gordon discusses why Clark was so resistant to creating a will and only when well into her nineties acquiesced to signing one under pressure from her attorney and personal nurse. The author provides insights from members of several branches of the Clark family, many of whom challenged the heiress's estate for a piece of the fortune. Although Clark's strange life was extensively covered in Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.'s Empty Mansions (2013), Gordon provides a more involved examination of the personal relationships and eccentricities of the woman—especially in her final years. VERDICT An engrossing account for those interested in the lengths that family, professionals, and others will go to appropriate the wealth of a seemingly desolate heiress.—Mary Jennings, Camano Island Lib., WA