Saturday, 18 April 2015

REMEMBERING ... Dominick Dunne, Chronicler of Crime.

After serving in the military, Dunne moved to New York City, where he became a stage manager for television. He was later brought to Hollywood by Humphrey Bogart, who wanted Dunne to work on the television version of The Petrified Forest. He later went on to work on Playhouse 90 and became vice-president of Four Star Television. He hobnobbed with the rich and the famous of those days. In 1979, beset with addictions, Dunne left Hollywood and moved to rural Oregon, where he says he overcame his personal demons and wrote his first book, The Winners. Early in his career he was a movie producer and friend of Elizabeth Taylor as described in a recently updated biography on Elizabeth Taylor.

In November 1982, his daughter, Dominique Dunne, best known for her part in the film Poltergeist, was murdered. Dominick Dunne attended the trial of John Thomas Sweeney, who was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. According to Dunne's account in Justice, Sweeney was sentenced to six-and-a-half years, but served only two and a half after his conviction. Dominick Dunne wrote the article "Justice: A Father's Account of the Trial of his Daughter's Killer" for the March 1984 issue of Vanity Fair.

Dunne went on to write for Vanity Fair regularly, and fictionalized several real-life events, such as the murders of Alfred Bloomingdale's mistress Vicki Morgan and banking heir William Woodward, Jr., in several best-selling books. He eventually hosted the TV series Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege, and Justice on CourtTV (later truTV), in which he discussed justice and injustice and their intersection with celebrities. Famous trials he covered included those of O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bulow, Michael Skakel, William Kennedy Smith, and the Menendez brothers. Dunne's account of the Menendez trial, "Nightmare on Elm Drive," was selected by The Library of America for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American true crime writing, published in 2008.

In 2005, California Congressman Gary Condit won an undisclosed amount of money and an apology from Dunne, who had earlier implicated him in the disappearance of Chandra Levy, an intern from his U.S. House of Representatives district, with whom Condit had been carrying on an extramarital affair. In November 2006, he was sued again by Condit for comments made about the former politician on Larry King Live on CNN,  but the suit was eventually dismissed.

While rumored in early 2006 that he intended to cease writing for Vanity Fair, Dunne stated the opposite in a February 4, 2006, interview with talk show host Larry King. "Oh, I am at Vanity Fair. I'll be in the next issue and the issue after that. We went through, you know, a difficult period. That happens in long relationships and, you know, you either work your way through them or you get a divorce. And I didn't want a divorce and we've worked our way through and Graydon and I are close and he's a great editor and I'm thrilled to be there."

Dunne frequently socialized with, wrote about, and was photographed with celebrities. A review of his memoir, The Way We Lived Then, recounted how Dunne appeared at a wedding reception for Dennis Hopper. Sean Elder, the author of the review, wrote: "But in the midst of it all there was one man who was getting what ceramic artist Ron Nagle would call 'the full cheese,' one guy everyone gravitated toward and paid obeisance to." That individual was Dunne, who mixed easily with artists, actors and writers present at the function. The final line of the review about Dunne quoted Dennis Hopper wishing he "had a picture of myself with Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer."

In 2008, at age 82, Dunne traveled from New York to Las Vegas to cover O.J. Simpson's trial on charges of kidnapping and armed robbery for Vanity Fair magazine, claiming it would be his last. During the trial, an unidentified woman approached and kissed him, causing her to be ejected from the courtroom. Later, when he collapsed from the sudden onset of severe pain and had to be rushed to the hospital, he expressed amazement at how fast the word spread at his fan site,

Dunne's adventures in Hollywood as an outcast, top-selling author and reporter, were catalogued in the release of Dominick Dunne: After the Party. This film documents his successes and tribulations as a big name in the entertainment industry. In the film, Dunne reflects on his past as a World War II veteran, falling in love and raising a family, his climb and fall as a Hollywood producer, and his comeback as a writer.

In September 2008, Dunne disclosed that he was being treated for bladder cancer. He was working on Too Much Money, his final book, at the time of his death. On September 22, 2008, Dunne complained of intense pain, and was taken by ambulance to Valley Hospital. Dunne died on August 26, 2009, at his home in Manhattan and was buried at Cove Cemetery in the shadow of Gillette Castle in Hadlyme, Connecticut.

On October 29, 2009 (what would have been Dunne's 84th birthday), Hollywood friends and some reporter friends, along with new Hollywood figures, gathered at the Chateau Marmont to celebrate Dominick Dunne's life. Vanity Fair magazine paid tribute to Dunne's life and extensive contributions to the magazine in its November 2009 issue.

After his death, Dominick's son, Griffin Dunne, confirmed his father's bisexuality and 20-year celibacy, marveling that his father had kept this central part of his personality to himself almost until he died.

August 27, 2009
Dominick Dunne, Chronicler of Crime, Dies at 83

Dominick Dunne, who gave up producing movies in midlife and reinvented himself as a best-selling author, magazine writer, television personality and reporter whose celebrity often outshone that of his subjects, died Wednesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 83.

The cause was bladder cancer, a family spokesman said. The spokesman had initially declined to confirm the death, saying the family had hoped to wait a day before making an announcement so that Mr. Dunne’s obituary would not be obscured by the coverage of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s death.

In the past year Mr. Dunne traveled to the Dominican Republic and Germany for experimental stem-cell treatments to fight his cancer, at one point writing that he and the actress Farrah Fawcett, who died in June, were in the same Bavarian clinic.

He sprang to national prominence with his best-selling novels “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles” in 1985 and “An Inconvenient Woman” in 1990, both focused on murders in the upper realms of society. He later chronicled high-profile criminal trials and high society as a correspondent and columnist for Vanity Fair magazine.

He achieved perhaps his widest fame from his reporting of the O. J. Simpson murder trial in 1994 and 1995 and later as the host of the program “Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice,” on what was then Court TV (now TruTV).

Last year, as a postscript to his Simpson coverage, Mr. Dunne defied his doctor’s orders and flew to Las Vegas to attend Mr. Simpson’s kidnapping and robbery trial.

Mr. Dunne’s magazine career was weighted toward the coverage of sensational murder trials. He made no secret of the fact that his sympathy generally lay with the victim, and he was vocal about what he considered the misapplication of justice.

Sympathetic Stance

 He never hesitated to admit that his sympathetic stance stemmed from the murder of his daughter, Dominique, by John Sweeney, her ex-boyfriend, in 1982. Ms. Dunne, a 22-year-old actress, was found strangled, and Mr. Sweeney, who was found guilty only of voluntary manslaughter and a misdemeanor for an earlier assault, served less than three years.

“I’m sick of being asked to weep for killers,” Mr. Dunne often said. “We’ve lost our sense of outrage.”

During the trial, Tina Brown, who was the editor of Vanity Fair at the time, suggested he keep a journal. The account, “Justice: A Father’s Account of the Trial of His Daughter’s Killer,” was published in Vanity Fair in 1984.

“He never pretended to be objective in covering trials,” Graydon Carter, the current editor of Vanity Fair, said Wednesday. “He was always writing from the point of view of the victim because of what happened to his daughter, and he had a riveting way of knowing, almost like Balzac, what to tell the reader when.”

Mr. Dunne went on to cover the trials of Claus von Bulow, Michael C. Skakel, William Kennedy Smith, Erik and Lyle Menendez, and Phil Spector, as well as the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

“I realized the power writing has, and it has also helped me deal with my rage,” he said in an interview with The New York Times for this obituary in 2000. “It gave me a lifelong commitment not to be afraid to speak out about injustice.”

Mr. Dunne’s brother was the writer John Gregory Dunne, the husband of the writer Joan Didion. He died in 2003.

High-Profile Clashes

Mr. Dunne’s speaking out led to a lawsuit for slander filed by Gary Condit, a Democratic congressman from California, over remarks Mr. Dunne had made on national radio and television in 2001. Mr. Condit had been scheduled to testify in a deposition about his relationship with Chandra Levy, a federal government intern who disappeared in May 2001 and whose body was found in a Washington park in 2002.

Mr. Dunne quoted a man who asserted that he had heard that Mr. Condit had talked about his relationship with a woman whom he had described as a clinger. Mr. Dunne said this had created an environment that led to Ms. Levy’s disappearance. Mr. Condit’s suit, originally seeking $11 million in damages, was settled for an undisclosed sum and an apology. A later suit by Mr. Condit was dismissed.

Mr. Dunne also clashed with the Kennedy family about his involvement in the 2002 trial of Mr. Skakel, a first cousin of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Mr. Skakel was sentenced to 20 years to life in the murder of Martha Moxley in 1975. Her body was found beneath a tree on her parents’ property in Greenwich, Conn.

In 2003, in a 14,000-word article in The Atlantic Monthly arguing that the case against his cousin was flawed and had left reasonable doubt, Mr. Kennedy accused Mr. Dunne of intimidating prosecutors and helping to drive the news media into “a frenzy to lynch the fat kid.”

Mr. Dunne said in The Times interview that he had also been a source of information for a book that Mark Fuhrman was writing about the Skakel trial. He had met him when Mr. Fuhrman testified during the O. J. Simpson murder trial. “I had some hot information about Skakel,” Mr. Dunne said, “and I knew Fuhrman would bring it to attention.”

Mr. Dunne, known as Nick to his friends, was a ubiquitous figure in both American and European society. He attributed his success to his being a good listener. “Listening is an underrated skill,” he said in discussing his interviews with political figures and celebrities like Imelda Marcos, Elizabeth Taylor, Diane Keaton and Mr. von Bulow.

Dominick Dunne has met them all--stars and slugs, criminals and victims, the innocent and the hideously guilty--and now his two provocative collections of Vanity Fair portraits are in one irresistible volume. From posh Park Avenue duplexes to the extravagant mansions of Beverly Hills, from tasteful London town houses to the wild excesses of million-dollar European retreats, here are the movers and shakers--and the people who pretend to be.

Among colorful profiles and revealing glimpses of Elizabeth Taylor, Claus von Bülow, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Aaron Spelling, discover who dumped an heiress the night before the wedding to run off with the best man . . . what happens when the ex-husband of a movie legend becomes president . . . why a beautiful singer fell in with the mob . . . and, in Dunne's most personal story, how a lying murderer and a limelight-loving judge denied justice to his family after his daughter's life was brutally destroyed.

Filled with pathos and wit, insight and sass, this candid, controversial volume gives you an extraordinary peek into the rarefied world of the rich, the royal, and the ruined. For Dunne is the man who knows all their secrets--and now those secrets are out.

The Rockefeller and the Ballet Boys
Another spectacular will contest is dividing the dinner parties of tony America. The recently deceased was Margaret Strong, a plain-Jane Rockefeller who always attracted effete men. Her first husband was the ballet-mad Marquis de Cuevas. Her second was nearly forty years her junior: Raymundo de Larrain, who gave her a wheelchair and new teeth for the wedding. And then, according to her children, milked her out of $30 million. On the eve of the trial, the author investigates a society redolent of black orchids.

The apex of the social career of George de Cuevas was reached in 1953 with a masked ball he gave in Biarritz; it vied with the Venetian masked ball given by Carlos de Beistegui in 1951 as the most elaborate fête of the decade. France at the time was paralyzed by general strike. No planes or trains were running. Undaunted, the international nomads, with their couturier-designed eighteenth-century costumes tucked into their steamer trunks, made their way across Europe like migrating birds to participate in the tableaux vivants at the Marquis de Cuevas’s ball, an event so extravagant that it was criticized by both the Vatican and the left wing. “People talked about it for months before,” remembered Josephine Hartford Bryce, the A&P heiress who recently donated her costume from that ball to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Everyone was dying to go to it. The costumes were fantastic, and people spent most of the evening just staring at each other.” As they say in those circles, “everyone” came. Elsa Maxwell dressed as a man. The Duchess of Argyll, on the arm of the duke, who would later divorce her in messiest divorce in the history of British society, came dressed as an angel. Ann Woodward, of the New York Woodwards, slapped a woman she thought was dancing too often with her husband, William, whom she was to shoot and kill two years later. King Peter of Yugoslavia waltzed with a diamond-tiara’d Merle Oberon. And at the center of it all was the Marquis George de Cuevas, in gold lamé with a headdress of grapes and towering ostrich plumes, who presided as the King of Nature. He was surrounded by the Four Seasons, in the costumed persons of the Count Charles de Ganay, Princess Marella Caracciolo, who would soon become the wife of Fiat king Gianni Agnelli, Bessie, his daughter, and her then husband, Hubert Faure. As always, Margaret de Cuevas did the unexpected. For days beforehand, her costume designed by the great couturier Pierre Balmain, who had paid her the honor of coming to her for fittings, hung, like a presence, on a dress dummy in the hallway of the de Cuevas residence in Biarritz. But Margaret did not appear at the ball, although, of course, she paid for it. She may have been an unlikely Rockefeller, but she was still a Rockefeller, and the opulence, extravagence, and sheer size (four thousand people were asked and two thousand accepted) of the event offended her. She simply disappeared that night, and the party went on without her. She did, however, watch the arrival of the guests from a hidden location, and a much repeated, but unconfirmed, story is that she sent her maid to the ball dressed in her Balmain costume.

George de Cuevas increasingly made his life and many homes available to a series of young male worldings who enjoyed the company of older men. In the early 1950s Margaret de Cuevas purchased the town house adjoining hers on East Sixty-eighth Street in New York. The confirmation-of-sale letter from the realty firm of Douglas L. Elliman & Co. contained a cautionary line: “The Marquesa detests publicity and would appreciate it if her name weren’t divulged.” An unkind novel by Theodore Keogh, called The Double Door, depicted the marriage of George and Margaret and their teenage daughter. The double door of the title referred to that point of access between the two adjoining houses, beyond which the wife of the main character, a flamboyant nobleman, was not permitted to go, although the houses were hers. The drama of the novel revolved around the teenage daughter’s clandestine romance with one of the handsome young men beyond the double door. Inevitably, the marriage of George and Margaret de Cuevas began to founder, and for the most part they occupied their various residences at different times. They maintained close communication, however, and Margaret would often call George in Paris or Cannes from New York or Palm Beach to deal with a domestic problem. Once when the marquesa’s temperamental chef in Palm Beach became enraged at one of her unreasonable demands and threw her breakfast tray at her, she called her husband in Paris and asked him to call the chef and beseech him not only not to quit but also to bring her another breakfast, because she was hungry. George finally persuaded the chef to recook the breakfast, but the man refused to carry it to Margaret. A maid in the house had to do that.

At this point in the story, Raymundo de Larrain entered the picture. “Raymundo is not just a little Chilean,” said a lady of fashion in Paris about him. “He is from one of the four greatest families in Chile. The Larrains are aristocratic people, a better family by far than the de Cuevas family.” Whatever he was, Raymundo de Larrain wanted to be something more than just another bachelor from Chile seeking extra-man status in Paris society. He was talented, brilliant, and wildly extravagant, and soon began making a name for himself designing costumes and sets for George de Cuevas’s ballet company. A protégé of the marquis’s to start with, he soon became known as his nephew. An acquaintance who knew de Larrain at the time recalled that the card on the door of his sublet apartment first read M. Larrain. Later it became M. de Larrain. Later still it became the Marquis de Larrain.

In Bessie de Cuevas’s affidavit in the upcoming probate proceedings, she emphatically states that although various newspapers have described de Larrain as the nephew of her father and suggested that he was raised by her parents, there was no blood relation between the two men. In a letter to an American friend in Paris, she wrote, “He is not my father’s nephew. I think he planted the word long ago in Suzy’s column. If there is any relationship at all, it is so remote as to be meaningless.” Yet as recently as November, when I spoke with de Larrain in Palm Beach, he referred to George de Cuevas as “my uncle.” The fact of the matter is that Raymundo de Larrain has been described as a de Cuevas nephew and has been using the title of marquis for years, and he was on a familiar basis with all members of the de Cuevas family. Longtime acquaintances in Paris remember Raymundo calling Margaret de Cuevas Tante Margaret or, sometimes, perhaps in levity, Tante Rockefeller. In her book The Case of Salvador Dali, Fleur Cowles described the Dali set in Paris as follows: “On May 9th, 1957, the young nephew of the Marquis de Cuevas gave a ball in honour of the Dalis. According to Maggi Nolan, the social editor of the Paris Herald-Tribune, the Marquis Raymundo de Larrain’s ball was ‘unforgettable’ in the apartment which has been converted … into a vast party confection,” with “the most fabulous gala-attired members of international society.” Fleur Cowles then went on to list the guests, including in their number the Marquis de Cuevas himself, without his wife, and M. and Mme. Hubert Faure, his daughter and son-in-law. Although Cowles did not say so, George de Cuevas almost certainly paid for Raymundo’s ball.

Along the way de Larrain met the Viscountess Jacqueline de Ribes, one of the grandest ladies in Paris society and a ballet enthusiast to boot. “Before Jacqueline, no one had ever heard of Raymundo de Larrain except as a nephew of de Cuevas. Jacqueline was his stepping-stone into society,” said another lady of international social fame who did not wish to be identified. The viscountess became an early admirer of his talent, and they entered into a close relationship that was to continue for years, sharing an interest in clothes and fashion as well as the ballet. Raymundo de Larrain is said to have made Jacqueline de Ribes over and given her the look that has remained her trademark for several decades. A famous photograph taken by Richard Avedon in 1961 shows the two of them in exotic matching profiles. At a charity party in New York known as the Embassy Hall, chaired by the Viscountess de Ribes, Mrs. Winston Guest, and the American-born Princess d’Arenberg, Raymundo de Larrain’s fantastical butterfly décor was so extravagant that there was no money left for the charity that was meant to benefit from the event. In time the viscountess became known as the godmother of the ballet, and she, more than any other person, pushed the career of Raymundo de Larrain.

After the publication of The Double Door, the de Cuevases were often the subject of gossip in the sophisticated society in which they moved, but somehow they had the ability to keep scandal within the family perimeter. The relationship of both husband and wife with the unsavory Jan de Vroom, however, almost caused their peculiar habits to be open to public scrutiny. A family member said to me that at this point in Margaret de Cuevas’s life she fell into a nest of vipers. Born in Dutch Indonesia, Jan de Vroom was a tall, blond adventurer who dominated drawing rooms by sheer force of personality rather than good looks. A wit, a storyteller, and a linguist, he had an eye for the main chance, and like a great many young men before him looking for the easy ride, he attached himself to George de Cuevas. De Vroom was quick to realize on which side the bread was buttered in the de Cuevas household, and, to the distress of the marquis, who soon grew to distrust him, he shifted his attentions to Margaret, whom he followed to the United States. At first Margaret was not disposed to like him, but, undeterred by her initial snubs, he schooled himself in Mozart, whom he knew to be her favorite composer, and soon found favor with her as a fellow Mozart addict. He got a small apartment in a brownstone a few blocks from Margaret’s houses on East Sixty-eighth Street and was always available when she needed a companion for dinner. She set him up in business, as an importer of Italian glass and lamps. From Europe, George de Cuevas tried to break up the deepening intimacy, but Margaret, egged on by her friend Florence Gould, ignored her husband’s protests. As the friendship grew, so did de Vroom’s store of acquisitions. He was a sportsman, and through Margaret de Cuevas’s bounty he soon owned a sleek sailing boat, a fleet of Ferrari cars, a Rolls Royce, and—briefly, until it crashed—an airplane. He also acquired an important collection of rare watches.

Raymundo de Larrain and Jan de Vroom detested each other, and Jan, in the years when he was in favor with Margaret, refused to have Raymundo around. De Vroom had no wish to join the ranks of men who made their fortune at the altar; he was content to play the role of son to Margaret, a sort of naughty-boy son whose peccadilloes she easily forgave. A mixer in the darker worlds of New York and Florida, he entertained her with stories of his subterranean adventures. Often, in her own homes, she would be the only woman present at a dining table full of men who were disinterested in women.

In 1960 the Marquis de Cuevas, in failing health, offered Raymundo de Larrain, with whom he was now on the closest terms, the chance to create a whole new production of The Sleeping Beauty, to be performed at the Théâtre de Champs-Élysées. De Larrain’s Sleeping Beauty is still remembered as one of the most beautiful ballet productions of all time, and it was the greatest box-office success the company had ever experienced. The marquis was permitted by his physicians to attend the premiere. “If I am going to die, I will die backstage,” he said. After the performance he was pushed out onto the stage in a wheelchair and received a standing ovation. George de Cuevas attended every performance up until two weeks before his death. He died at his favorite of the many de Cuevas homes, Les Délices, in Cannes, on February 22, 1961. Margaret, who was in New York, did not visit her husband of thirty-three years in the months of his decline. In his will George left the house in Cannes to his Argentinean secretary, Horacio Guerrico, but Margaret was displeased with her husband’s bequest and managed to get the house back from the secretary in exchange for money and several objects of value.

Although Margaret had never truly shared her husband’s passion for the ballet, or for the ballet company bearing his name, which she had financed for so many years, she did not immediately disband it after his death. Instead she appointed Raymundo de Larrain the new head of the company. There was always a sense of dilettantism about George de Cuevas’s role as a Maecenas of the dance—not dissimilar to the role Rebekah Harkness would later play with her ballet company. The taste and caprices of the marquis determined the policy of the company, which relied on the box-office appeal of big-star names. This same sense of dilettantism carried over into de Larrain’s contribution. The de Cuevas company has been described to me by one balletomane as ballet for people who normally despise ballet, ballet for society audiences, as opposed to dance audiences.

De Larrain’s stewardship of the company was brief but not undramatic. In June 1961 he played a significant role in the political defection of Rudolf Nureyev at the Paris airport when the Kirov Ballet of Leningrad was leaving France. The story has become romanticized over the years, and everyone’s version of it differs. According to de Larrain, Nureyev had confessed to Clara Saint, a half-Chilean, half-Argentinean friend of de Larrain’s, that he would rather commit suicide than go back to Russia. In one account, Clara Saint, feigning undying love for the departing star, screamed out to Nureyev that she must have one more kiss from him before he boarded the plane and returned to his homeland. Nureyev went back to kiss her, jumped over the barriers, and escaped in a waiting car as the plane carrying the company took off. De Larrain says that Clara Saint had alerted the French authorities that there was going to be a defection, and she advised Nureyev during a farewell drink at the airport bar that he must ask the French police at the departure gate for political asylum. He says that Nureyev spat in the face of the Russian security official. For a while Nureyev lived in de Larrain’s Paris apartment, and the first time he danced after his defection was for the de Cuevas company, in de Larrain’s production of The Sleeping Beauty. “He danced like a god, but he also had a spectacular story,” de Larrain told me. At one of his first performances the balcony was filled with Communists, who pelted the stage with tomatoes and almost caused a riot. People who were present that night remember that Nureyev continued to dance through the barrage, as if he were unaware of the commotion, until the performance was finally halted.

In Raymundo de Larrain’s affidavit for the probate, he assesses his role in Nureyev’s career in an I’m-not-nobody tone: “With the help of Margaret de Cuevas we made him into one of the biggest stars in the history of ballet.” The professional association between de Larrain and Nureyev, which might have saved the de Cuevas ballet, did not last, just as most of de Larrain’s professional associations did not last. “Raymundo and Rudolf did not have the same point of view on beauty and the theater, and they fought,” explained the Viscountess de Ribes in Paris recently. “Raymundo had great talent and tremendous imagination. He had the talent to be a stage director, but neither the health nor the courage to fight. He was very unrealistic. He didn’t know how to talk to people. He was too grand. What Raymundo is is a total aesthete, not an intellectual. He wanted to live around beautiful things. He was very generous and gave beautiful presents. Even the smallest gift he ever gave me was perfect, absolutely perfect,” she said. Another friend of de Larrain’s said, “Raymundo had more taste and knowledge of dancing than anyone. His problem was that he was unprofessional. He couldn’t get along with people. He had no discipline over himself.” When the Marquesa de Cuevas decided in 1962 not to underwrite the ballet company any longer, it was disbanded. Then, under the sponsorship of the Viscountess de Ribes, de Larrain formed his own ballet company. He began by producing and directing Cinderella, in which he featured Geraldine Chaplin in a modest but much publicized role. The Viscountess, however, couldn’t afford for long to underwrite a ballet company, and withdrew after two years. Raymundo de Larrain then took to photographing celebrities for Vogue, Town & Country, and Life. His friends say that he had one obsession: to “make it” in the eyes of his family back in Chile. He mailed every newspaper clipping about himself to his mother, for whom, de Ribes says, “he had a passion.”

For years Margaret de Cuevas’s physical appearance had been deteriorating. Never the slightest bit interested in fashion or style, she began to assume the look of what has been described to me by some as a millionairess bag lady and by others as the Madwoman of Chaillot. “Before Fellini she was Fellini,” said Count Vega del Ren about her, but other assessments were less romantic. Her nails were uncared for. Her teeth were in a deplorable state. She had knee problems that gave her difficulty in walking. She covered her face with a white paste and white powder, and she blackened her eyes in an eccentric way that made people think she had put her thumb and fingers in a full ashtray and rubbed them around her eyes. Her hair was dyed black with reddish tinges, and around her head she always wore a black net scarf, which she tied beneath her chin. She wrapped handkerchiefs and ribbons around her wrists to hide her diamonds, and her black dresses were frequently stained with food and spilled white powder and held together with safety pins. For shoes she wore either sneakers or a pair of pink polyester bedroom slippers, which were very often on the wrong feet. Her lateness had reached a point where dinner guests would sit for several hours waiting for her to make an appearance, while Marcel, her butler of forty-five years, would pass them five or six times, carrying a martini on a silver tray to the marquesa’s room. “She drank much too much for an old lady,” one of her frequent guests told me. Finally her arrival for dinner would be heralded by the barking of her Pekingese dogs, and she would enter the dining room preceded by her favorite of them, Happy, who had a twisted neck and a glass eye and walked with a limp as the result of a stroke.

Her behavior also was increasingly eccentric. In her bedroom she had ten radios sitting on tables and chests of drawers. Each radio was set to a different music station—country-and-western, rock ’n’ roll, classical—and when she wanted to hear music she would ring for Marcel and point to the radio she wished him to turn on. For years she paid for rooms at the Westbury Hotel for a group of White Russians she had taken under her wing.

In the meantime Jan de Vroom had grown increasingly alcoholic and pill-dependant. “If someone’s eyes are dilated, does that mean they’re taking drugs?” Margaret asked a friend of de Vroom’s. “I’ve been too kind to him. I’ve spoiled him.” Young men—mostly hustlers and drug dealers—paraded in and out of his apartment at all hours of the day and night. In 1973 two hustlers, whom he knew, rang the bell of his New York apartment. On a previous visit they had asked him for a loan of $2,000, and he had refused. When de Vroom answered the bell, they sent up a thug to frighten him and demand money again. Jan de Vroom, in keeping with his character, aggravated the thug and incited him to rage. A French houseguest found his body: his throat had been cut, and he had been stabbed over and over again. Although he was known to be the person closest to Margaret de Cuevas at that time in her life, her name was not brought into any of the lurid accounts of his murder in the tabloid papers. De Vroom’s body, covered from the chin down to conceal his slit throat, lay in an open casket in the Westbury Room of the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel at Madison Avenue and Eighty-first Street. Except for a few of the curious, there were no visitors. A little-known fact of the sordid situation was that, through the intercession of Margaret de Cuevas, the body was laid to rest in the Rockefeller cemetery in Pocantico Hills, the family estate, although subsequently it was shipped to Holland. The killers were caught and tried. There was no public outcry over the unsavory killing, and they received brief sentences. It is said that one of them still frequents the bars in New York.

Into this void in the life of the Marquesa Margaret de Cuevas moved Raymundo de Larrain. People meeting Margaret de Cuevas for the first time at this point were inclined to think that the cultivated lady was not intelligent, because she was unable to converse in the way people in society converse, and they suspected that she might be combining sedatives and drink. The same people are uniform in their praise of Raymundo de Larrain during this time. For parties at her house in New York, Raymundo would invite the guests and order the food and arrange the flowers, in much the same way that her late husband had during their marriage, and no one would argue the point that Raymundo surrounded her with a better crowd of people than Jan de Vroom ever had. He would choreograph a steady stream of handpicked guests to Margaret’s side during the evening. “ ‘Go and sit with Tante Margaret and talk with her, and I will send someone over in ten minutes to relieve you,’ ” a frequent guest told me he used to say. “He was lovely to her.” Another view of Raymundo at this time came from a New York lady who also visited the house: “He was so talented, Raymundo. Such a sense of fantasy. But he got sidetracked into moneygrubbing.” Whatever the interpretation, Margaret de Cuevas and Raymundo became the Harold and Maude of the Upper East Side and Palm Beach. Bessie de Cuevas, in her affidavit, acknowledges that “Raymundo was always attentive and extremely helpful to my mother, particularly in her social life, which consisted almost exclusively of gatherings and entertainments at her various residences.”

On April 25, 1977, at the oceanfront estate of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson C. Lucom in Palm Beach, the Marquesa Margaret de Cuevas, then eighty years old, married Raymundo de Larrain, then forty-two, in a hastily arranged surprise ceremony. The wedding was such a closely guarded secret that Margaret de Cuevas’s children, Bessie and John, did not know of it until they read about it in Suzy’s column in the New York Daily News. Bessie de Cuevas’s friends say that she felt betrayed by Raymundo because he had not told her of his plans to marry her mother. Among the prominent guests present at the wedding were Rose Kennedy, Mrs. Winston Guest, and Mary Sanford, known as the queen of Palm Beach, who that night gave the newlyweds a wedding reception at her estate. In her affidavit Bessie de Cuevas states, “I had visited with my mother at some length at her home in New York just about two months before. She was clearly aging but we talked along quite well about personal and family things. She said she would be leaving soon to spend some time at her home in Florida. She did not in any way suggest that she was considering getting married. After I read the article, I called her at once in Florida. She could only speak briefly and seemed vague. I assured her that of course my brother John and I wanted anything that would make her comfortable and happy, but why, I asked, did she do it this way. Her reply was simply, ‘It just happened.’ ”

Wilson C. Lucom, the host of the wedding, was also married to an older woman, the since deceased Willys-Overland automobile heiress Virginia Willys. Lucom, who had trained as a lawyer, never practiced law, but had served on the staff of the law secretary of state Edward Stettinius. Shortly after the wedding, in response to an inquiry from the Rockefeller family, he sent a Mailgram to John D. Rockefeller III, the first cousin of Margaret Strong de Cuevas de Larrain, stating his position as the representative of the marquesa and now of de Larrain. “Do not worry about her or be concerned about any rumors you may have heard,” the Mailgram read. “She was married at our house with my wife and myself as witnesses. It was a solemn ceremony, and she was highly competent and knew precisely that she was being married and did so of her own free will being of sound mind.” Bessie de Cuevas says in her affidavit, “I had never met or heard my mother speak of Mr. Lucom.”

For the wedding, Raymundo told friends, he gave his bride a wheelchair and new teeth. He also supervised a transformation of her appearance. “You must understand this: Raymundo cleaned Margaret up. Why, her nails were manicured for the first time in years.” He got rid of the white makeup and blackened eyes, and he supervised her hair, nails, cosmetics, and dress. “Margaret was never better cared for” is a remark made over and over about her after her marriage. De Larrain would invite people to lunch or for drinks and wheel her out to greet her guests; he basked in the compliments paid to his wife on her new appearance. However, lawyers for the Chase Manhattan Bank, which represents Bessie and John de Cuevas’s interests, told me that the two health-care professionals who cared for the marquesa at different times in 1980 and 1982 recalled that de Larrain did not spend much time with his wife, and that she would often ask about him. But when attention was paid by him, it would be lavish; he would send roses in great quantity or do her makeup. Since he had arranged it so that no one would become close to his wife, “she was particularly vulnerable to such displays of charm and affection.” During her second marriage, she became known as Margaret Rockefeller de Larrain. Although this was illustrious-sounding, it was incorrect, for it implied that she was born Margaret Rockefeller rather than Margaret Strong. “The snobbishness and enhancement were de Larrain’s,” sniffed a friend of her daughter’s.

Shortly after the marriage, Sylvia de Cuevas, the then wife of John de Cuevas, took the marquesa’s two granddaughters to visit her in Palm Beach. She says she was stopped at the front door by an armed guard, who would not let them enter until permission was granted by Raymundo. Soon other changes began to take place. Old servants who had been with the marquesa for years, including her favorite, Marcel, were fired by de Larrain. Bessie de Cuevas claims in her affidavit that he accused them of stealing and other misdeeds. Long-term relationships with lawyers and accountants were severed. Copies of correspondence to the marquesa from Richard Weldon, her lawyer for many years, reflect that her directives to them were so unlike her usual method of communication that they questioned the authority of the letters. Shortly thereafter both men were replaced.

Another longtime secretary, Lillian Grappone, told Bessie de Cuevas that her mother had complained of the fact that there were constantly new faces around her. During this period the many houses of the marquesa were sold or given to charity, among them her two houses on East Sixty-eighth Street in New York, which had always been her favorite as well as her principal residence. Bessie de Cuevas claims in her affidavit that her mother sometimes could not recall signing anything to effect the transfer of these houses. At other times she would talk as if she could get them back. On one occasion she acknowledged having signed away the houses but said she had been talked into it at a time when she was not feeling well. Her father’s villa in Fiesole, where she had grown up, was given to Georgetown University. The house in Cannes was given to Bessie and John de Cuevas. Her official residence was moved from New York to Florida, but she was moved out of her house of many years on El Bravo Way in Palm Beach to a condominium on South Ocean Boulevard. Several people who visited her at the condominium said that she seemed confused as to why she should be living there instead of in her own house. Other friends explain the move as a practical one: the house on El Bravo Way was an old Spanish-style one on several floors and many levels, badly in need of repair, and for an invalid in a wheelchair life was simpler in the one-floor apartment.

During this period the financial affairs of the marquesa were handled more and more by Wilson C. Lucom, the host at the wedding. Bessie de Cuevas states in her affidavit, “I think my mother’s belief that Lucom would safeguard her interests against de Larrain only highlights her lack of appreciation for the reality of her circumstances.” Bessie de Cuevas tells of an occasion when she visited her mother at the Palm Beach condominium and Lucom “taunted” her by boasting that he and de Larrain were drinking “Rockefeller champagne.” “My mother’s total dependence on de Larrain is reflected in an explanation she gave for why she did not accompany de Larrain to Paris on a trip he made concerning her holdings there. De Larrain told her no American carrier flew to Paris any longer, and since my mother did not care for Air France, it was best for her not to go. Plainly, my mother had lost any independent touch with the real world.”

Access to her mother became more and more difficult for Bessie de Cuevas. When she called, she was told her mother could not come to the telephone. Some friends who visited the marquesa say that she would complain that she never heard from her daughter. Others say that messages left by Bessie were never given to her. In 1982 Raymundo de Larrain took his wife out of the country, and they began what lawyers representing the de Cuevases’ interests call an “itinerant existence.” She never returned. They went first to Switzerland, then to Chile, where he was from and where they had built a house, and finally to Madrid, where de Larrain was made the cultural attaché at the Chilean Embassy. There Margaret died in a hotel room in 1985. Bessie de Cuevas saw her mother for the last time a few weeks before she died. Neither Bessie nor her brother has any idea where she is buried.

Certainly there was trouble between the Rockefeller family and the newlywed de Larrains from the time of the marriage. After the change of residence from New York to Florida, David Rockefeller urged his cousin to donate her two town houses at 52 and 54 East Sixty-eighth Street to an institution supported by the Rockefeller family called the Center for Inter-American Relations. The appraisal of the two houses was arranged by David Rockefeller, and the appraiser had been in the employ of the Rockefellers for years. He evaluated the two houses at $725,000. Subsequently Margaret de Larrain was distressed to hear that these properties, which she had donated to the Center for Inter-American Relations, were later sold to another favorite Rockefeller forum, the Council on Foreign Relations, for more than twice the amount of money they had been appraised at.

Raymundo de Larrain, in his affidavit for the probate proceedings, says that his wife’s male Rockefeller cousins discriminated against the females of the family. “Not only did her cousin-trustee [John D. Rockefeller III] want to dominate her life and tell her how to spend her trust income, but wanted also to dictate and approve how she spent her non-trust personal principal and income. My wife strongly resented their intrusion in her personal life.… Her position was that her money was hers outright, not part of her trust, and that she and she alone was to decide how she spent it or what gifts she—not they—would make.” Late in the affidavit, de Larrain says that his wife’s trustees “wanted her to give virtually all her personal wealth away to her children long before she even thought of dying. Then they would control her through their control of her trust income.”

De Larrain said that his wife had been generous with her two children, but that they were not satisfied with her gifts of millions to them. “They wanted more and more.” After giving her children more than $7 million, she refused to transfer her personal wealth to them. Even after her gift of $7 million, he claimed, the trustees cut her trust income. “My wife was shocked and distressed at the unjust and cruel and illegal actions of the cousin-trustees in pressuring her to give millions to her children and then breaking their agreement not to cut her trust income. This further alienated her from her family. She felt cheated and a victim of a plan by the family and the Chase Manhattan Bank.”

On February 21,1978, a year after her marriage, Margaret de Larrain, at age eighty-one, revoked all prior wills and codicils executed by her. “I have personally destroyed the original wills in my possession, namely, two original wills dated February 14, 1941, and an original will dated April 26, 1950, and an original will dated May 14, 1956, and an original will dated May 17,1968, and an original will dated June 11, 1968.” Thereafter, Margaret de Larrain added two codicils to a new will of November 20, 1980. In the first, she stated that she had already transferred her fortune to her husband, and she made him the sole beneficiary and sole personal representative of her estate. In the second, she expressed her specific wish that her only two children and two grandchildren receive nothing. De Larrain ended his affidavit with this statement: “There is also abundant testimony that my wife was entirely competent when she later added the two codicils which expressed that she wanted to give the property to me, her husband. She did this because her children neglected her and she had provided abundantly for them in her lifetime by giving them approximately $7 million in gifts.”

It might be added that Margaret’s will did not set a precedent in the stodgy Rockefeller family. Her mother’s sister Edith Rockefeller McCormick, who divorced her husband, Henry Fowler McCormick, heir to the International Harvester fortune, and then engaged in a series of flamboyant affairs with male secretaries which caused her father great embarrassment, in 1932 bequeathed half of her fortune to a Swiss secretary.

Pending the upcoming court case, Raymundo de Larrain has dropped out of public view. When he is in Paris, he lives at the Meurice hotel, but even his closest friends there, including the Viscountess de Ribes, do not hear from him, and he has dropped completely out of the smart social life that he once pursued so vigorously. On encountering Hubert Faure, the first husband of Bessie de Cuevas, in the bar of the Meurice recently, he turned his back on him. In Madrid he stays sometimes at the Palace Hotel and sometimes at less well known ones. He has been seen dining alone in restaurants there. Sometimes he nods to former acquaintances, but he makes no attempt to renew friendships. He has also been seen in Rabat and Lausanne. In the past year he has made two substantial gifts to charity. He gave a check for $500,000 to Georgetown University to supplement the gift of his late wife’s father’s villa in Fiesole to Georgetown. “You have to figure that if Raymundo gave a million dollars to the Spanish Institute before the trial, he must have already squirreled away at least $10 million,” said a dubious Raymundo follower in Paris recently.

This is not a sad story. The deprived will not go hungry. If the courts are able to ascertain what happened to Margaret Strong de Cuevas de Larrain’s fortune in the years of her marriage and to decide on an equitable distribution of her wealth, already rich people will get richer. As a woman friend of Raymundo de Larrain’s said to me recently, “Raymundo will be bad in court, nervous and insecure. If there’s a jury, the jury won’t like him.” She thought a bit and then added, “It’s only going to end up wrong. If you don’t behave correctly, nothing turns out well. I mean, would you like to fight the Rockefellers, darling?”

Dominick Dunne is a best-selling author and special correspondent for Vanity Fair. His diary is a mainstay of the magazine.

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