New York|Daily Style Phile

Daily Style Phile: A Look Back At Mysterious Heiress & Socialite Huguette Clark

Huguette Marcel Clark, the youngest daughter of former US Senator, William Andrew Clark, was born June 9, 1906 and died yesterday at the age of 104.  A partying socialite in her younger years, mystery clouded her later life as she turned into a doll hoarding recluse involved in a scandal concerning her $500 million fortune.

The last known photograph of Huguette Clark [via]

History

The Clarks were part of the era of epic New York families that included the Rockefellers, the Guggenheims and the Astors. As a result of mining copper out West, William A. Clark was once the second-richest man in the US, second only to Rockefeller. The senator's infamous reputation due to political bribery for a Montana senate seat amongst other things is summed up by Keith Edgerton, a professor of history at Montana State University-Billings, who is working on the senator’s biography:

"The cumulative sentiment here is that he made a fortune off of the state’s resources in the free-wheeling laissez-faire times of the late nineteenth century, prostituted the political system with his wealth and power, exploited the working class for his own gain, left an environmental wreck behind and took his millions to other places to benefit a handful of others. And in some ways, the state has never really recovered from it all."

Huguette and her father WIlliam A. Clark, [via]

Huguette's Fortune & The Mystery Surrounding Her

She left behind a fortune totaling $500 million including a 44-room apartment considered the largest apartment on 5th Avenue , an estate in Santa Barbara, California estimated at $100 million and a $24 million chateau in Connecticut.

The 5th Avenue Apartment [via]

However, Hughette had not been inside any of these homes in 22 years when she checked herself into the Beth Israel Medical Center under a false name and was denied visits from her friends and family by her lawyer, Wallace Bock who claimed he was acting on behalf of Clark and her wishes to keep her location secret.

A year ago, Hughette’s relatives got wind that she had donated $1.5 million to build a security system at an Israeli settlement where Bock’s daughter resides, sensed foul play involving Hughette's finances, and attempted to seek an independent guardian to manage Hughette's fortune but were refused by the judge. Investigations are pending as to whether her accounts were mishandled by her lawyer or her accountant, Irving Kamsler.

Ongoing Speculation

Her choice to become a recluse has been speculated for the past year since she was brought to the media’s attention by her family’s lawsuit against her lawyer. According to MSNBC, reasons include:

  • The death of her sister Andrée, from meningitis in 1919
  • Embarrassment of her divorce in 1930 from William MacDonald Gower
  • The tell-all book by a former employee of the family, William D. Mangam's "The Clarks: An American Phenomenon," which questioned whether Huguette was Senator Clark’s daughter and claimed that she broke up her brief marriage by failing to consummate
  • The death of her mother in 1963.

Huguette pictured with her father and sister, Andrée [via]

A Child At Heart?

Several people from Hughette’s past have been interviewed and the stories culled from these interviews paint a picture of a very sad, slightly demented woman. Her antiques dealer Robert Samuels of French & Co. reported that Hughette always dealt with him from behind a closed door and used very childish conversation and referred to “how Mommy wanted things” even though her mother had been long dead by these interactions.

Hughette’s only known friend in the 70’s and 80’s was a Madame Pierre, the wife of Hughette’s physician. Hughette shared with Pierre her distrust of people and their motivations when it came to her money which Pierre gave as an excuse as to why Hughette clung so fervently to her vast and very expensive collection of dolls well into her late years. There’s a story that circles amongst those that know her that she once bought two first class plane tickets for a doll to travel with its courier from Paris to New York so that the doll had its very own seat and no harm came to it.

1928 cartoon poking fun at Huguette [via]

Who Was She Really?

The last photograph taken of Hughette was over 80 years ago, the day her divorce became final. The lack of press coverage of Hughette since is a far cry from the type of attention she used to garner in her society heydays when her and her family’s images were splashed onto newspapers and tabloids in New York and national news. A 1928 cartoon, "A Day in the Life of Little Huguette Clark" portraying Hughette as a spoiled dilettante evokes our modern day starlet who is also famous for doing very little, Paris Hilton.

Hughette’s case has dredged up comparisons to that of Brooke Astor, the New York socialite whose son and lawyer were convicted in 2009 of having defrauded her of millions of dollars before her death, at 105, in 2007. No wonder Clark regressed into the company of lifeless dolls, the world she was a part of only took notice of her when it was too late. Sadly, her death has left more questions than answers as people attempt to draw a story from the sordid gossip and black and white photographs left behind.

Early 19th century tabloid mocking Huguette's divorce from William MacDonald Gower [via]