fireworks and freeloaders

It never ceases to amaze me what rich folk spend their money on. In the 1940s Huntington Hartford was one of the wealthiest men alive and his money was burning a hole in his pocket.

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The fireworks were imported from the Riviera. The chartered jet flew in from New York with a cargo of famous stars and freeloaders. Zsa Zsa was there, and so was model Cristina Paolozzi, famed for her recent bare-breasted exposure in Harper’s Bazaar, and now doing penance in the form of a needlepoint sampler that reads NUTS TO YOU (“For my mother,” she explained).

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For super glamour there were the Prince and Princess of Windisch-Graetz, Lady Sassoon, the Earl of Hardwicke, Baroness Peggy de Gripenberg, four U.S. Senators and two people named Connie and Nonnie van Vlaanderen. By rough count there were 850 sparkling personalities jammed onto little Hog Island in Nassau harbor in the Bahamas for its transformation into Paradise Island, a brand-new Caribbean resort. The champagne, the swimming, the golf and the jet were all provided free.

Paradise Island

H.H. also set up a foundation for artists, composers and writers, who were invited to spend up to six months at an estate in Los Angeles’ Rustic Canyon. He founded the Huntington Hartford Theatre in Hollywood, built his own art gallery in Manhattan and tried his hand at playwriting with an adaptation of Jane Eyre for Broadway. It flopped.

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Hundreds of thousands of dollars went into Hartford’s researches on graphology believing that some day it would be possible to predict human behavior through handwriting analysis. “My handwriting,” said he modestly, “shows I’m something of a perfectionist.” And so he was. At Paradise Island, for example, he devoted more than an hour of serious conversation with an aide to the question of whether to charge guests $1.50 or $2 for the use of the tennis courts.

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His free-spending ways and roving eye for attractive young women made him a darling of the tabloids in his youth. He sank millions more into Show magazine, which was devoted to highbrow arts but also featured a girl-of-the-month picture spread that Hartford insisted on. Some of Hartford’s domestic disarray became public in 1981 when his neighbors ousted him from a 21-room Manhattan apartment, saying undesirables streamed through his doors at all hours.

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He had a sad end to his long life, filing for bankruptcy after receiving squalor warnings from the Health Department. I suppose some of it must have been fun but it’s not the way I would live if I had oodles of money. Though sewing a needlepoint sampler on a Caribbean island would be nice for at least one month of the year…..

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Published in: on September 7, 2010 at 9:59 am  Comments (46)  
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