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Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune

4.2 185
by Bill Dedman, Paul Clark Newell

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Janet Maslin, The New York Times • St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

When Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Bill Dedman noticed



Janet Maslin, The New York Times • St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

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.

Praise for Empty Mansions
“An amazing story of profligate wealth . . . an outsized tale of rags-to-riches prosperity.”The New York Times
“An evocative and rollicking read, part social history, part hothouse mystery, part grand guignol.”—The Daily Beast
“Fascinating . . . [a] haunting true-life tale.”People
“One of those incredible stories that you didn’t even know existed. It filled a void.”—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show
“Thrilling . . . deliciously scandalous.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“An amazing story of profligate wealth . . . an outsized tale of rags-to-riches prosperity.”The New York Times
“A fascinating investigation into the haunting true-life tale of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark.”People

“An exhaustively researched, well-written account . . . a blood-boiling expose [that] will make you angry and will make you sad.”The Seattle Times
“An evocative and rollicking read, part social history, part hothouse mystery, part grand guignol.”The 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
“One of those incredible stories that you didn’t even know existed. It filled a void.”—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show

“So well written . . . such a gripping, gripping story.”—Bill Goldstein, NBC 4 New York
“A compelling account of what happened to the Clark family and its fortune . . . a tremendous feat.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A fascinating story.”Today
“Meticulous and absorbing.”Bloomberg Businessweek
“Brilliantly researched, tough-minded, and fair . . . a fascinating read.”Santa Barbara Independent

“Riveting . . . deliciously scandalous . . . a thrilling study of the responsibilities and privileges that come with great wealth.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A spellbinding mystery.”Booklist
“Enlightening.”Library Journal

Empty Mansions is a dazzlement and a wonder. Bill Dedman and Paul Newell unravel a great character, Huguette Clark, a shy soul akin to Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird—if Boo’s father had been as rich as Rockefeller. This is an enchanting journey into the mysteries of the mind, a true-to-life exploration of strangeness and delight.”—Pat Conroy, author of The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son
Empty Mansions is at once an engrossing portrait of a forgotten American heiress and a fascinating meditation on the crosswinds of extreme wealth. Hugely entertaining and well researched, Empty Mansions is a fabulous read.”—Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire
“In Empty Mansions, a unique American character emerges from the shadows. Through deep research and evocative writing, Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., have expertly captured the arc of history covered by the remarkable Clark family, while solving a deeply personal mystery of wealth and eccentricity.”—Jon Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
“Who knew? Though virtually unknown today, W. A. Clark was one of the fifty richest Americans ever—copper baron, railroad builder, art collector, U.S. senator, and world-class scoundrel. Yet his daughter and heiress Huguette became a bizarre recluse. Empty Mansions reveals this mysterious family in sumptuous detail.”—John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Empty Mansions is a mesmerizing tale that delivers all the ingredients of a top-notch mystery novel. But there is nothing fictional about this true, fully researched story of a fascinating and reclusive woman from an era of fabulous American wealth. Empty Mansions is a delicious read—once you start it, you will find it hard to put down.”—Kate Alcott, bestselling author of The Dressmaker
“More than a biography, more than a mystery, Empty Mansions is a real-life American Bleak House, an arresting tale about misplaced souls sketched on a canvas that stretches from coast to coast, from riotous mining camps to the gilded dwellings of the very, very rich.”—John A. Farrell, author of Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly
★ 09/16/2013
Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., a cousin of the book's subject, reconstruct the life of reclusive copper heiress Huguette Clark (1906-2011) in this riveting biography. The authors bring Huguette's odd past into clear perspective, including the hilariously corrupt political schemes of her father, W.A. Clark, who was a Montana senator. Though less celebrated than his compatriots Rockefeller and Carnegie, W.A. Clark was at a time wealthier than they, and by extension, so was his daughter. She was 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. Kind and unspeakably generous to those who worked for her and usually suspicious of family, she wrote a few big checks to people she hardly knew. Other family acquisitions, valuable musical instruments and jewelry among them, she simply gave away. 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, the question of Clark's presence of mind always at issue. Hewn from Huguette's stories, purchases, phone calls, gifts, and letters, the tale of where and how Huguette Clark found happiness will entrance anyone. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Drawing on extensive research by Newell, a cousin of the subject, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Dedman (NBC News) provides a comprehensive account of the late copper mining heiress Huguette Clark (1906–2011). Unlike the Rockefellers, the Clark family had all but been forgotten by history until Dedman's 2009 television and msnbc.com pieces on the enigmatic heiress and her "empty mansions" in California and Connecticut set the stage for this book. 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. Nurses, acquaintances, and distant relations vied for her fortune during her life; the biographers tell how her entire estate is now contested and awaiting legal settlement. VERDICT Although William Mangam's The Clarks: An American Phenomenon (1941) examined Huguette's father, Gilded Age millionaire W.A. Clark, and C.B. Glasscock's The War of the Copper Kings includes him, this is the first book on Huguette. An enlightening read for those interested in the opulent lifestyles afforded the offspring of the Gilded Age magnates and the mysterious ways of wealth.—Mary Jennings, Camano Island Lib., WA
Kirkus Reviews
An investigation into the secretive life of the youngest daughter and heiress to a Gilded Age copper tycoon. Huguette Clark (1906–2011) lived for more than a century and never once wanted for money. At her death, she was estimated to be worth--incorrectly, as it turned out--about $500 million. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Dedman stumbled onto her tale and wrote a series of stories about the Clark family, their fortune and the mystery surrounding Huguette. Here, with the assistance of Huguette's cousin Newell, the author expands his search for information about the heiress who disappeared from public view in the 1980s--though she lived for another three decades. After an introduction to Clark's fortune, Dedman moves his focus to her lifestyle and pursuits, always following the money. Clark was certainly eccentric, and her decisions, both financial and otherwise, definitely capture the imagination. She chose to live in seclusion after her mother's death and then lived out the last few decades of her life in a hospital, despite being healthy. She spent money seemingly without thinking, giving away tens of millions of dollars to friends and employees, even selling off prized possessions to do so. As Clark aged, her family became concerned that her gifts were not necessarily voluntary and went looking for her. The story picks up steam with the family's search for their wealthy relative and its aftermath. Unfortunately, this thread ends soon after the conflict is introduced, and it isn't fleshed out as well as the rest of the book. Though her father's fortune is central to the story--he is considered to have been one of the 50 richest Americans ever--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 exposé.

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Read an Excerpt

From day one at Doctors Hospital, Huguette had private nurses twenty-four hours a day. The nurse on the day shift, assigned randomly to Huguette in the spring of 1991, was Hadassah Peri. She would work for her “Madame” for twenty years, becoming, it seems probable, the wealthiest registered nurse in the world.
Doctors Hospital was not the place that a New Yorker with a lifethreatening illness normally would select. It was better known as a fashionable treatment center for the well-to-do, a society hospital, a great place for a face-lift or for drying out. Michael Jackson had been a patient, as had Marilyn Monroe, James Thurber, Clare Boothe Luce, and Eugene O’Neill. The fourteen-story brick structure on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, between Eighty-Seventh and Eighty-Eighth streets by a bend in the East River, gave the impression of being an apartment building or hotel, with a hair salon offering private appointments in patient rooms and a comfortable dining room where patients could order from the wine list if the doctor allowed. When it opened in 1929, it had no wards and no interns, allowed no charity care, and included hotel accommodations for family members of patients. In its early days, it was often used as a long-term residential hotel or spa, and finally in the 1970s it added modern coronary units and intensive care.
Huguette checked in to a room on the eleventh floor with a lovely view down to a city park and Gracie Mansion, the Federal-style home that is the official residence of the mayor of New York.
After living mostly alone at home for so many years, now Huguette was in a hospital with its constant noises and staff coming and going. At first she was a difficult patient, swathed in sheets and refusing to let anyone see her. A nurse wrote in the chart that she was “like a homeless person—no clothes, not in touch with the world, had not seen a doctor for 20 years, and threw everyone out of the room.”
A week into her stay, Huguette was evaluated by a social worker, who filled out the standard initial assessment. The patient, just short of age eighty-five, was scheduled for surgery to remove basal cell tumors and to reconstruct her lip, right cheek, and right eyelid. She had been “managing poorly at home—reclusive—not eating recently” and was dehydrated. Her only support system was her friend Suzanne Pierre, “helping with her affairs,” and a maid—no family. Her mental status was always awake and alert, but she was skittish: “Patient refused to speak with social worker. Patient has not been to doctor in many years—had refused medications in past. Patient anxious and uncooperative at times.”
Her plans after treatment? “Spoke with friend, Mrs. Pierre—feels patient will need convalescent care in facility but does not want to go to nursing home which she feels would be depressing. . . . Patient may need to go to a hotel with a nurse to recuperate.”
As for financial problems, “none noted.”
Huguette did not move on to a hotel. Within just over two months, she was an indefinite patient, a tenant, with Doctors Hospital charging her $829 a day. Eventually the rent rose to $1,200, or more than $400,000 a year.
Huguette had a series of surgeries in 1991 and 1992, with Dr. Jack Rudick removing malignant tumors and making initial repairs to her face. She was healthy, though she still needed a bit of plastic surgery, especially on her right eyelid. “It is not necessary,” she told her doctors. “I am not having any surgery. I don’t like needles.” She was not badly disfigured by the cancer. And there might have been another reason, Dr. Singman speculated. “This she has steadfastly put off,” he wrote in her chart in 1996, “I presume to avoid the final treatment and then possible discharge home.”
A board-certified specialist in internal medicine, cardiology, and geriatrics, Dr. Singman assured her that she could have round-the-clock nurses at home, and he would visit daily. “I had strongly urged that she go home,” he said. She was, however, “perfectly happy, content, to remain in the situation she was in.” When one of the first night nurses kept urging her to move back home, Huguette fired her. In the end, Dr. Singman accepted her decision, writing in her chart in 1996, “I fervently believe that this woman would not have survived if she had been discharged from the hospital.”
Dr. Singman’s backup, internist Dr. John Wolff, said he agreed. Huguette “was so content and so secure in the environment. There’s no question in my mind that’s really where she chose to be.” He brought her flowers on her birthday and liked to stop in. “She was a lovely woman, and we would talk. Her mind was clear. There was no confusion about her. Very warm, gracious, sweet, gentle, interested in other people, independent, guarded.”
Huguette was hardly ever sick. She refused to take a flu shot—she didn’t believe in medicine, she told her nurses, and felt that “nature should take its course.” Her only persistent medical issues were mild: osteopenia, a decrease of calcium in the bones not advanced enough to be called osteoporosis; a slightly elevated systolic blood pressure (150/80); and two nutrition issues, a mild electrolyte disorder and a mild salt depletion. Her illnesses passed quickly, usually with her refusing antibiotics. She had a bout of pneumonia, the seasonal flu, and a surgery to check out a suspicious lump that was benign.
In other words, from age eighty-five to well past one hundred, a stage when most people need elaborate pillboxes marked with the days of the week, Huguette was remarkably healthy, requiring no daily medications other than vitamins. Yet she was living in a hospital.
Dr. Singman said Huguette at first was “extremely frightened” of new people. She refused most medical treatments unless her day nurse, Hadassah, was there to hold her hand and talk calmingly. Hadassah and Huguette had a bond from the beginning, with Hadassah able to read Huguette’s feelings and help her overcome her distress. When they couldn’t reach Hadassah, the other nurses would sometimes pretend that they were talking with her on the phone, telling Huguette that Hadassah said that she had to eat now or she should allow them to check her blood pressure.
“You have to convince her,” explained Hadassah later. A small, compact woman with warm, dark eyes and black hair flecked with gray, Hadassah described patience as the key to her chemistry with Huguette. “You have to explain it to her, you have to educate her who is coming, what is that for—at times we have some difficulty.”
Hadassah Peri was born Gicela Tejada Oloroso in May 1950 to a politically prominent and eccentric family in the Philippine fishing town of Sapian. Gicela received a nursing degree before immigrating to the United States in 1972. She worked first at a hospital in Arkansas, then moved to New York in 1980. She passed her New York exams as a licensed practical nurse, then a registered nurse, and started working as a private-duty nurse. Born a Roman Catholic, she had married an Israeli immigrant and New York taxi driver, Daniel Peri, in 1982, converting to his Orthodox Judaism and using the name Hadassah Peri, although she didn’t change her name legally until 2011. Even today, she is a bit embarrassed about her English, though it’s quite good, despite some confusion over pronouns: “Madame love his favorite shoes.”
When she was assigned to Huguette, the Peris owned a small apartment in Brooklyn. They had three children born in the 1980s, two boys and a girl.
Private-duty nurses are temp workers, always hoping for a long-term assignment. Taking a day off means having a replacement nurse, one who might step into the regular role. So despite the Orthodox prohibition against working on Saturday, and despite having three school-age children, for many years Hadassah worked for Huguette from eight a.m. to eight p.m., twelve hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. She was up and out of the house before her children left for school and home close to bedtime. It would be several years before she took a day off. Hadassah was paid $30 an hour, $2,520 a week, $131,040 a year, but she described her self-sacrifice for Huguette as extreme. “I give my life to Madame,” Hadassah said.
The private hospital room was perfectly ordinary, a small room for one patient with a hospital bed, recliner, chest of drawers, bedside table, small refrigerator, TV, radio, closet, small bathroom. “She like a simple room,” Hadassah said.
Once an outdoorsy youth, Huguette now didn’t want any daylight. The cancer had left her eyelid unable to close properly. She kept her shades drawn, though she often asked her nurses about the weather, and she did look out on the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks. The room wasn’t entirely dark, with an overhead light usually on, and Huguette had a reading lamp as well. Drawings by the nurses’ children and doctors’ grandchildren sometimes were hung on the walls. The door was closed, and Huguette would see only the visitors she knew. Dr. Singman called it a cocoon, a safe place, but not unpleasant.
The doctor said he asked Huguette once to see a psychiatrist, not because he thought she was mentally ill but because he thought talking with another doctor might help persuade her to return home. She declined to discuss it, and neither the doctor nor the hospital ever mentioned it again.
“The woman was an eccentric of the first order,” Dr. Singman said, but “she had perfect knowledge of her surroundings, she had excellent memory . . . a mind like a steel trap. . . . At that point she was perfectly happy, content, to remain in the situation she was in. . . . The hospital setting . . . was a form of security blanket for her. . . . I didn’t think there was going to be any great help from a psychiatrist to change her attitude about what she was doing. . . . The woman was perfectly conversant at all times, never demonstrated any . . . disturbances of her mind. . . . I didn’t think her behavior was that of one suffering from a psychiatric illness.” At most, said her doctor, she showed “eccentricity and neurotic behavior”—not exactly distinguishing characteristics in New York City.
Huguette dressed in hospital gowns, hardly ever wearing her clothes from home. When she was cold—and she was often cold—she would wear layered sweaters, always white button-front cashmere cardigans from Scotland, her only hint of luxury.
The daily routine began with Huguette drinking two cups of warm milk that the night nurse, Geraldine Lehane Coffey, had left for her. Hadassah would arrive with The New York Times. (Huguette always read the obituaries, as older people do, followed the progress of wars and weather emergencies, and delighted in finding stories about Japan and royalty.) Hadassah would greet Huguette and give her kisses. Huguette could walk to the bathroom by herself and give herself a sponge bath. Then Huguette would blow into the incentive spirometer, the little plastic tube where each deep breath makes the plastic ball rise, which helped ward off pneumonia. Huguette could make the ball go up five times, sometimes eight times. She would do coughing and deep-breathing exercises. Then it was time for breakfast: oatmeal and eggs, pureed, and her French coffee with hot milk, or café au lait.
Most of Huguette’s diet was liquid, taken through a straw because of the wound to her lip. Dinner was usually a soup that Hadassah had made at home, such as potato leek, made with eggs to provide protein. At night she would ask the nurse for a warm glass of milk before bed. Between meals, she drank Ensure nutritional drinks. For a special treat, Madame Pierre brought her steamed artichokes or asparagus with a rich hollandaise sauce, made in the classic French fashion with egg yolks and fresh butter, because Huguette said she couldn’t stand hospital food.
After breakfast, it was time for Huguette’s morning walk, three or four times around the room. She and Hadassah called this their “walk in Central Park.” Then it was personal time for Huguette. She made phone calls on her Princess telephone with the lighted dial, calling Madame Pierre sometimes three to five times a day. “Mrs. Clark liked to speak French with my grandmother,” said Suzanne’s granddaughter Kati Despretz Cruz, “because she didn’t want her nurses to understand what they were talking about.”
Huguette called her coordinator of art projects, Caterina Marsh, in California to make changes in a Japanese castle. She read The New York Times and followed the financial markets on CNN. “She would watch the stock,” said one of the night nurses, Primrose Mohiuddin, “and she would say to me, ‘Oh, NASDAQ has gone down. That’s terrible!’ ” She paid particular attention to news of presidents and royalty. “When President Clinton was in trouble,” her assistant Chris Sattler said, “she was asking Mrs. Pierre and me about the Monica Lewinsky thing. She didn’t get it, and she wanted us to explain it to her. And we sort of let it go, if you know what I mean.”
She kept a few personal items in shopping bags on the floor by the window. Her address book and recent correspondence. A deck of cards. Dr. Singman taught her solitaire and bought her a book of rules of card games, which she used to learn many variations.
Because Huguette kept information about herself tightly controlled, on a need-to-know basis, Dr. Singman knew little of her art projects and her correspondence with friends in France. To his view, solitaire was her main activity. “She was a wiz,” he said. “She could shuffle a deck like I haven’t seen anybody except in a gambling house.”
She no longer painted but would watch her videotapes of cartoons, studying the animation and enjoying the stories. She liked to make flip books of still images captured from videotapes, so she could see the animated stories in her hands. Her favorite cartoons were The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Smurfs, and a Japanese series called Maya the Bee. These cartoons came in particularly handy when Huguette tired of a conversation with a doctor or hospital official. She’d start up The Smurfs as if to say, No, I’ve made up my mind.
And she would look at her photo albums, which contained snapshots from her early days with her father, mother, and sister. She’d show her nurses and doctors the photos: Andrée on a bicycle. Huguette on a horse at château de Petit-Bourg outside Paris. (She told them how the Germans had burned the house down.) The girls visiting their father’s copper mine in Butte. One of herself at her First Communion, and also surrounded by dolls on the porch of her father’s first mansion, in Butte, where she remembered the pansies on the stoop. Anna smiling as she sat on a park bench during a summer sojourn in Greenwich, Connecticut. Huguette’s Aunt Amelia, her mother’s sister, standing on the grand marble staircase at the old Clark mansion on Fifth Avenue. The rooms and gardens at Bellosguardo. Anna and W.A. on the beach at Trouville, laughing. Little Huguette in her Indian costume and headdress, hugging her father.
She would talk, Hadassah said, mostly about “her dear father, her dear mother, her dear sister, Aunt Amelia.” Huguette liked to tell the nurses about the summers at the beach in Trouville, how her father built the beautiful Columbia Gardens so the people of Butte could have something to enjoy, how Duke Kahanamoku carried her on his shoulders on a surfboard. And she would share somberly how her sister had died on the trip to Maine. “She talked dearly about that,” Hadassah said. “Talked all the time about her sister and parents. Yes, that affected her very much.”
Huguette’s eyesight had declined, but she was able to read with eyeglasses and then a magnifying glass until past age one hundred. Her hearing was poor in the right ear, but she could hear well out of her left if one talked right at it, and she refused a hearing aid. She didn’t deny that her hearing was poor, but she didn’t want anything put into her ears, nothing like her mother’s primitive squawk box. Hadassah bought a telephone with big numbers and adjustable volume, but Huguette refused to use it, saying she could hear fine with the regular phone.
Doctors and nurses described Huguette as a woman who knew her own mind. “She was remarkably clear,” said Karen Gottlieb, a floor nurse who brought her warm milk at bedtime. “Clear in her wants, and things she didn’t want. Yes meant yes, and no meant no.” Gottlieb said that she never saw any family try to visit, that Huguette’s real family seemed to be Hadassah.
The regular hospital staff rarely saw Huguette. One exception was in 2000, when Hadassah herself was in the hospital for back surgery. Huguette arranged for Hadassah to be in a room just down the hall, two or three doors away. Huguette then went to visit Hadassah, dressing up in street clothes and walking down the hall. She wore her favorite Daniel Green shoes.
“That’s one day everybody in the floor almost dropped dead,” Hadassah said. “They saw Madame coming out of the door with heel shoes.”
Hadassah described Huguette as “a beautiful lady. Very loving. Very respectful. Love people. Very refined lady. Very cultured. Good heart— good soul and good heart. Never hurt anybody. Very, very generous, Madame.”
Dr. Singman said he saw that Hadassah and Huguette were very close. “Hadassah was very good to her and was a good nurse for her and worked hard with her.”
Huguette’s first question in the morning would be “When is Hadassah coming?” She would call nearly every night to make sure Hadassah got home safely and to be reassured that Hadassah would be coming in the next day. Sometimes she’d call just as Hadassah got home, and the answering machine would pick up first. Here is a recording from about 2007, when Huguette was 101. We hear Huguette’s sweet, high-pitched French, and Hadassah’s Filipino accent, shouting to make sure she is heard.
Hadassah: Madame, I love you.
Huguette: I love you, too. Good night to you.
Hadassah: Have a good night.
Huguette: Have a good night.
Hadassah: Thank you, Madame.
Huguette: Will I see you tomorrow?
Hadassah: Yes, Madame.
Huguette: Thank you.
Hadassah: I love you.
Huguette: I love you, too.
Hadassah: Good night.
Huguette: Good night, Hadassah.

Meet the Author

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, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe.
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.

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Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 185 reviews.
JBecker55 More than 1 year ago
Empty Mansions is a curious book. It details the life of Huguette Clark, a recluse millionaire and her family. There is lots of information on this little known child of wealth. Author Bill Dedman does a fine job providing details of the family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just about to finish and this is some story - or lives!!! A mega rich corrupt Democratic sentator - who bought out the state media to win and has a questionable marriage to a lady 40 years younger - begins the biography and then continues with their daughters, mostly the younger daughter. This all takes place beginning in the late 1800's. Things just don't change. This is an eye opening book. Don't miss it. Another great book on the Nook is "The Partisan" by William Jarvis. This book is about a rich family with values that fights against evil.
SarahMcClurg More than 1 year ago
Empty Mansions is a fantastic book about the life of Huguette Clark. Told in the words of Bill Dedman, the book does a fantastic job of depicting the life of millionaire recluse Clark. Empty Mansions provides a very interesting history lesson.
adrianna More than 1 year ago
This book is well written and details the life of Miss Clark, who was extremely rich and way too generous with her money. It also tells of the rotten people that took advantage of her kindness especially her nurse..which thank goodness according to recent news has to return some of the gifts and money given to her. A good story about a good woman.
usmc_brat More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful story! So much history. Bill Dedman & Paul Neville Clark worked together to bring Hugette Clark's life to us. Recluse or not, she lived in an age & knew people personally that we can only read about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a real eye-opener into the life of a child who grew up with the best, and in the end didn't know what life was about outside of her chosen room. Beautifully written. A lesson in the history and well worth taking the time to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting, well researched book on the life of Ms. Clark. Can't imagine why I haven't read more about her in the news now that she has passed on. Would recommend to anyone who enjoys true stories/biographies/autobiographies...hard to put down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an avid reader with an interest in historical fiction, this amazing book had me hooked at the first chapter. A true rags to riches story with mind boggling wealth that so few attain. Fascinating insight as to just who lives in those massive apartments on Park Avenue (people not that different from you or I). Certainly one of the best books I've read this year. So written and intriguing, many late nights were spent on this page turner. .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not the usual story of "poor little rich girl". A mostly unknown history of how this family gained its immense wealth, and a pretty bizarre story of the daughter and her extremely unusual life. You'd like to understand the psychological underpinnings of her extreme behavior, but that information isn't available. Because the initial reason for the book was her strange last 20 years and the will and distribution of wealth, it's too bad that the book was written before the will was settled (although surely that will take years and years.) Found the whole thing fascinating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I started reading this book and could not put it down. I enjoyed getting lost in the history of the Clarke family. A must read!
Brunette_Librarian More than 1 year ago
      This fascinating story begins with Huguette’s father, W.A. Clark, a man so despicable, Mark Twain wrote articles disparaging him. Clark comes from humble beginnings and actually struck out during the gold rush. Instead of finding gold though, Clark found his fortune through opportunity and chance. He would travel for days with bread, clothing, eggs, and other necessitites not easy to find out at mining camps. These miners would pay good money for eggs, which would both finance the next trip for more supplies and gave Clark a hefty profit. Moving into the big leagues and actually purchasing businesses and even mines helped W.A. Clark become one of the richest men in America during his lifetime.       Now this is where I became fascinated in the life of the Clark’s. The money aspect didn’t interest me, but the pure will it took to live and become what he did just fascinated me. Clark, rich and powerful, was married and had several children. It was during his second marriage to the much younger Anna Eugenia La Chapelle, that he had two children; Andree and Huguette.        Huguette had everything a child could ask for. Dolls, clothing, prestige, cars, wonderful foods, maids, nannies...everything. W.A. Clark didn’t let his family want for everything, and when he was gone, his second wife Anna didn’t go without either. Throughout Huguette’s lifetime she was relatively reclusive, shunning publicity but being fodder for the newspapers all the same. After her Mother passed away, if anything, Huguette became more of a recluse, only speaking with few people, hardly any family, and relying on personal nurses for her most basic needs. She even spent the last several years of her life, by herself, in a personal hospital room, which blows my mind even now.       Empty Mansions tells this incredible story of wealth, the rise of power, and Huguette Clark in such a warm and inviting way it doesn’t seem at all as a stuffy nonfiction book. Well researched and do I mean well researched, they give you an insight into this world of the uber rich. The question raised now, did Huguette know what she wanted to do with her vast fortune after her death? An ongoing dramatic story, I fell in love with Empty Mansions from the beginning. The wonderful descriptions of Huguette’s childhood and throughout her adulthood stunned me into disbelief at times.        Gritty and honest, the authors do a wonderful job of making these characters, who while are real people, seem real to you as a reader. They aren’t one dimensional creatures who fit into a stereotype, which I think would have been easy given the material to work with. I’m not a fan of nonfiction, but Empty Mansions took me in and never let me leave until the end. Fantastic job and easily one of my favorite books of 2013.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent history lesson! Author does a fantastic job of researching this huge piece of unknown American history. Despite the privacy, why don't we know more about this family? It was hard to put this book down.
Dominican More than 1 year ago
This is the most amazing book. Huguette Clark is a fascinating woman with all of her interests (Japanese dolls and culture, Smurfs, animated films) and the problems excessive amounts of money can bring. Eccentric is hardly a strong enough word for her. She knows exactly what she is doing, is generous to a fault and can spot a scam when she sees one. She owns multiple mansions, but doesn't live in any of them. While healthy, she chooses a hospital room instead. One of the rooms from the New York house is now in the Corcoran Art Gallery, but the mansion has been replaced with apartments.
LovetoReadinPortland More than 1 year ago
Found Huguette's life a fascinating story, but a very sad one. The point of view of the authors was a little slanted toward the family, and quite negative on the hospital and nurse staff. So I researched the trial after finishing the book. I will not spoil it for other readers, but I was very surprised to say the least. I think it helps to research a little more to get a concise picture. I still am baffled that a woman with her money could maintain that level of privacy on her own, so I tend to agree with some others that she was manipulated and that she had some form of mental illness. Enjoyed the part about her father's history, and found his rise to power so fascinating. Enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book. Well researched and written. I read the book in two days and was fascinated by the story of Hugette Clark. It is amazing that this woman spent her last years living in a hospital and nobody ever questioned it. I really could not take sides in this story (the family and the people who took her money as gifts.) The hospital does not come off as being too nice. They really shouldn't get anything. But then neither should the family and the nurse, her lawyer and accountant were not exactly stellar people either. All that money and Hugette Clark lived as a recluse. How very sad.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A loving and inspirational story that needed to be told...a life of integrity indeed. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would love to have had a fairy godmother like the late Huguette Clark. She was the daughter of William Andrews Clark, owner of Jerome, Arizona’s legendary United Verde copper mine, and, in his lifetime, one of the richest men in the world. Huguette was the rich princess bestowing gifts of great worth with her magic wand throughout her 105-year life. The book, written by Bill Dedman and Paul Calrk Newell, Jr., was published in 2013 by Ballatine Books. I loved the story of Gwendolyn Jenkins, an immigrant from Jamaica who became a nurse’s aide. Jenkins helped take care of Irving Gordon, a Madison Avenue stockbroker who helped handle Huguette’s investments and died of cancer. After his death, Huguette wrote her a lovely note, “a proper note” thanking her for his care.  “She included a ‘little gift,’ “a check for three hundred dollars.” Her daughter said, “You’d better sit down, Mother, and let me read this letter over to you. This check is for thirty thousand dollars!” In another story, Huguette waved her magic wand to find the illustrator Felix Lourioux, who illustrated fairy tales in the French weekly, “La Semaine de Suzette,” a favorite in her youth, and commissioned several works by him. Lourioux was also the early illustrator of Mickey Mouse books. She lavishly supported him and his wife Lily throughout their lives. Huguette spent a great deal of her considerable fortune on her very personal tastes in art and people. She supported as many as a hundred families in her lifetime—artists, craftspeople illustrators, and musicians; William Gower husband of less than a year and his new family; the Frenchman Etienne de Villermont, the love of her life whom she refused to marry and the wife he eventually married; relatives, friends, staff that helped take care of her many properties and nurses. The surprise of the book was that Huguette’s passion was dolls. She spent millions of dollars on buying and outfitting them with costumes. She meticulously researched the period in which each doll came from and directed the building of the ‘house’ or ‘castle’ some were to live in as well as furniture and accessories to go with them. She extravagantly paid the artisans, sent gifts to their wives, children and grandchildren and continued to support the families after they died. (The collection is valued at $1.7 million.) I loved the story of the Japanese artist Saburo Kawakami who was hired to build a replica the lavish Hirosaki Castle, which included cutting shingles from a rare Japanese cedar for its roof. Huguette loved Japanese culture and history and collected rare Japanese Hina and other period dolls. As portrayed in the book, Huguette was exceptionally private, well-mannered, introverted, shy, generous, and kind, absorbed daily in private passions that gave her a great deal of pleasure. Not much more of her personality than that can be gleaned from the book. To his credit, Dedman tried hard—plugging through archives, bank drafts and written documents and interviewing anyone alive who knew her. Co-author Newell’s scant five sidebars of conversations with Huguette on the telephone don’t add much by way of illumination and left me wondering why the book included them. If I have a quarrel with the book it is that the book is very much a prize-winning journalist’s approach to writing about someone whose life was so carefully guarded. Perhaps only a third of the book is about what can be gleaned about Huguette from descriptions of her art and doll collection, descriptions of the lavish homes she lived in and abandoned, and the people that received some of her generous gifts. Even the major love of Huguette’s life (“Love of Half a Life”) with the Marquis Etienne de Villermont gets a scant five pages, taken up in part with a few short affectionate notes between them: “It’s Valentine’s Day and I am thinking of you with great affection. I send you this bouquet but the mimosas are under the snow. We will take the boat in the middle of March, the United States. It will be a joy to see you. I can’t wait, I hope you are well, will try to call you. Much love, always, Etienne.” Another page or so of this segment describes the friendship that continued after he became married to someone else, which included Huguette’s gifts to help them adopt a child and a description of some of the gifts she sent to that child. You have to admire a woman who was able to guard her privacy to that extent and live quite a full life absorbed by the pleasures and people she was drawn to. Up until her twenty-year stay at Beth Israel Medical Center, she stayed clear from fortune hunters, gossip, media attention, and family or friends that might only have cozied up because of that fortune. What is interesting is that the book documents the sadness of those aspects of a very wealthy person’s life—attempts by Beth Israel to get her to sign over much of what remained of her fortune (politely called ‘cultivating the donor’). Equally sad is the lawsuit instigated by remnants of her family, most of whom had never met her, who wanted a piece of her fortune. Sad too the controversy surrounding Hadassah Peri, the nurse that devoted her life to taking care of Huguette while she was in the hospital and became perhaps her only friend and confidante. Huguette supported her with huge donations to her and her family ($31 million!) and left a considerable portion more to her in the will. There's a lot of captivating detail to interest the reader who can’t get enough of the lives of the rich and famous. The most interesting and valuable segment  of Empty Mansions is the 125 pages or so (almost a third of the book) devoted to William Andrews Clark, Huguette’s father. For me, It is single best biography yet written about W.A. Clark, from his birth to a not so poor family, to his education, growth of his business empire, the building of his mansion in New York, and the dissolution the mansion and sale of the United Verde mine. The book offers a much more complex and interesting portrait of him than the one of Huguette. Perhaps this is where Newell added a great deal of value to Empty Mansions. Newell’s father was Clark’s uncle and Clark often visited him when he was in Los Angeles. Newall was writing a biography about Clark but “his health was failing, so only fragments of that work were completed.”  Newell took up that his father’s work by organizing the archives, visiting museums and historical societies and developing friendships with some of the relatives that had known Clark. It was a visit to the Corcoran Gallery that revealed that Huguette was still alive (by this time she was already ensconced in Beth Israel Medical Center). Newell Jr. was quick to say that even his father had never met the very shy and reclusive Huguette. The segment on Clark included 18 pages of rich new information bout the battles between Marcus Daly (owner of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company) and Clark for control of political power in Butte.  These include debunking some of the allegations of Clark’s bribery for the United States Senate and its aftermath, which included the Daly Camp’s bribery of some of the Montana legislators that had initially voted for Clark to recant their testimony. Clark eventually resigned in the swirl of controversy, then was reappointed to fill the vacancy. Newall also debunks the veracity of Mark Twain’s now famous and oft-quoted excoriation of Clark.  “He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag." (It goes to show that negative accusations always stay more firmly in the mind that positive ones, especially when they are well-written.) Turns out Twain had been saved from bankruptcy and was a close friend of Henry Huttleston Rogers, CEO of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, the company which took over Daly’s Anaconda Copper, a fabulous stock swindle story all on its own. Empty Mansions contains twenty-four pages of wonderful (and rare) color photographs and many black and white ones. My favorites were the black and white photo of Anna Clark’s bedroom with her harp at Bellosguardo taken in 1940 by Karl Obert and the full page photo of the very lovely Huguette taken in 1943. In summary: Empty Mansions is a good read—especially for those of us who love the history of Jerome and all the byways it can take us on.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What an interesting family history, initially paralleling quite an adventurous time in our country's history. Hugette herself would appreciate the book. I think she was shy and unimpressed with her wealth. Wealth effects people in many different ways.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not withstanding the robber barons that everyone has heard of, it was interesting to learn about a woman from the golden age that had managed to live so very privately despite her great wealth that no one knew who she or her family was. My main disappointment was hoping for more pictures of her various estates, the ghost apartments on 5th avenue and her vast collections of dolls and the dollhouses she had specially commissioned
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting to try and figure out what makes people tick! Was a little disappointed to never really know, but it was still a good read. Enjoyed the photos.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree with the other 5-star reviewers: A good one, especially for those who like history and biographies. I hope there's a sequel -- but I won't give away why I say that for those who haven't yet enjoyed this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting book about a family that had a large impact across American history and yet they are not in our history books like Rockefeller or Carnegie. Excellent research and personal interviews.
lgervais More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book about a time lost of millionaire mansions and when wealth mattered more than your personality. It's truly fascinating to read about what happened to one of Americas most wealthiest families that no one really knew about until the heiress was older and leaving her fortune. This book is, in my opinion, not just a mystery but a book of historical significance. The pictures are beautiful and it was a quick yet interesting read.
AF-REMF More than 1 year ago
The Clark family has had an important place in our history - you either love them or despise them; however, this peek into their lives through the exploitation story of heiress Hugette Clark makes me keenly aware of how vulnerable the elderly are and how unethical some medical caregivers can be. A good read for anyone who deals with the elderly as a family member or social services. It was worth every penney!