The Phantom of Fifth Avenue

  • by Meryl Gordon
  • Narrated by Bernadette Dunne
  • 13 hrs and 40 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Born in 1906, Huguette Clark grew up in her family's 121-room Beaux Arts mansion in New York and was one of the leading celebrities of her day. Her father, William Andrews Clark, was a copper magnate, the second richest man in America, and not above bribing his way into the Senate.
Huguette attended the coronation of King George V. And at 22, with a personal fortune of $50 million to her name, she married a Princeton man and childhood friend, William MacDonald Gower. Two-years later the couple divorced. After a series of failed romances, Huguette began to withdraw from society - first living with her mother in a kind of Grey Gardens isolation, then as a modern-day Miss Havisham, spending her days in a vast apartment overlooking Central Park, eating crackers and watching The Flintstones with only servants for company.
All her money and all her real estate could not protect her in her later life from being manipulated by shady hangers-on and hospitals that were only too happy to admit (and bill) a healthy woman. But what happened to Huguette that turned a vivacious, young socialite into a recluse? And what was her life like inside that gilded, copper cage?

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

The Rich Are Different

This is the story of a wealthy heiress who shunned the spotlight and used her vast resources to maintain the illusions that kept her delicate psychology intact. The Clarks were the Kardashians of their day: famous for being famous, the minutiae of their lives scrutinized by the media. People are as interested to find out what happened to Huguette Clark as they would be if Kourtney or Kim Kardashian suddenly decided to hide from the public eye for decades.

I have three criticisms of the book: First, in an effort to connect far-flung events and explain why Huguette Clark became a recluse, the book suffers from too many time jumps that don't really add much to the story.

Second, the quotes from people who knew Huguette don't add much to the story, either. It's possible that, working from historical documents, the author didn't have much choice in regard to quotes. But even the people she interviewed in person come across as not having anything interesting to say.

Last, too much of the story focuses on the early life of Huguette's father, his first wife, and the children from that marriage. The book doesn't really find its stride until well over halfway through, when it begins to examine the forces in Huguette's young adult life that drove her to become a recluse.

In summary: this book had the opportunity to delve into Huguette's unusual psychology, and the psychology of recluses in general. There are hints throughout of psychological analyses, but no real focus on them. So, ultimately, the book left me disappointed.
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- Pam "Science writer in America's heartland"

The OTHER Huguette Clark Book

I reviewed "Empty Mansions" as well, since I read both. This book achieved something that the other did not - it brought us into Huguette's world. She takes the reader into her early unfulfilled romances and shows the connection between the dolls, dollhouses, painting lessons, photography, frame-by-frame cartoons and how, put together, they became art. Whereas the "Empty Mansions" authors see the glaring oddity of buying houses with no intention of even visiting them, Gordon sees the creative inner life of Huguette within her own walls.

There should be a Huguette Clark art show, at the Corcoran maybe. It could finish the work Meryl Gordon started - showing the results of a lifetime of creative collecting, modifying and documenting aspects of the material world (i.e., dolls and dollhouses, Japanese design and architecture). I would love to see the photographs she took of the staged settings in the dollhouses. Architecture played a major role in her life - houses huge, empty and forbidding, houses under construction, houses built for pride, bought as buffer zones and manned like gatekeepers to a distant castle, houses that Huguette tried to keep frozen in time, her world growing smaller and smaller around her . . . and the placement of the dolls in the photographs she staged may say something about her role within this world. Huguette documented her own life via photography - that may be her real "voice."
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- Teadrinker "World Champion Parallel Parker"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-27-2014
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio