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Poor Little Rich Girls

Updated: April 8, 2019

Did you ever wish you were born filthy rich? Then consider the following true-life tales of heiresses who might, in hindsight, have spit out their silver spoons.

All the pain that money can buy : the life of Christina Onassis
Wright, William, 1930-
Call Number: 92 O573Wr
Shipping heiress Christina Onassis was born into fabulous wealth, but the fairy tale ends right there. A plain little girl, Christina's self-esteem was not enhanced by her disinterested parents or her glamorous stepmother Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Christina plowed through drugs and men and was dead at 37, leaving behind a new little heiress. And the beat goes on...

Dead end gene pool : a memoir
Burden, Wendy.
Call Number: 92 B9493
Overly quirky account of Burden's upbringing by her jet-setting mother and Vanderbilt grandparents. Although witty and chock-full of sardonic humor, nothing escapes this chick's scathing condemnation; Burden even shines a merciless light on her infirm grandparents' bodily functions. Desperate, mean and entirely taste-free, but funny if you roll like that.

Debutante : the story of Brenda Frazier
Diliberto, Gioia, 1950-
Call Number: 92 F848Di
Now almost entirely forgotten, Brenda Frazier was one of America's original celebutantes, landing on the cover of Life magazine in 1938 solely because of her lavish (Depression-era!) coming-out party. Too much high living (and too little food, due to anorexia) left Brenda a haggard, broken-down recluse by the age of 45. Life is seldom kind to those who peak at 17.

Edie, an American biography
Stein, Jean.
Call Number: 812.092 S448St
Harrowing account of the short, intense life of Warhol Factory "superstar" Edie Sedgwick, a high society girl who lived on the edge in New York's Silver Sixties.

Empty mansions : the mysterious life of Huguette Clark and the spending of a great American fortune
Dedman, Bill.
Call Number: 92 C5938De

Multimillionaires are not like everyone else, and Huguette Clark is a prime example of that difference. She owned mansions she never set foot in, spent time ordering splendiferous dollhouses and wrote her favorite nurse checks totaling over $36 million. Huguette was the daughter of copper king W.A. Clark, one of the original Robber Barons of the late 19th century. The section on W.A. Clark alone is an engrossing read. And Huguette, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 104, lived a long, odd, interesting life—ornate, imaginative, even artistic—but ultimately rather empty, too, like her many dwellings.

The glitter and the gold.
Balsan, Consuelo Vanderbilt.
Call Number: 92 B196
Consuelo Vanderbilt was only 18 years old when she wed the Duke of Marlborough--a marriage arranged by her very strict mother, and one Consuelo wanted no part of. Her autobiography provides a fascinating glimpse into Consuelo's life as the Duchess of Marlborough, where she played hostess to monarchs and others of note at her Blenheim Palace estate. The book also recounts her second marriage, to French colonel Jacques Balsan, which was a love match. A sweeping yet intimate view of upper crust life during the Edwardian era.

Mrs. Astor regrets : the hidden betrayals of a family beyond reproach
Gordon, Meryl.
Call Number: 92 A8575Go
Chilling tale of elder abuse in the aristocracy. Philanthropist Brooke Astor's only child Tony was indicted in 2007 for misuse of his mother's fortune, having been turned in by his son Philip, who was appalled at the shoddy conditions in which his Alzheimer's-ridden grandmother was living. Brooke passed away at the age of 105 and, although he was convicted on 14 of 16 counts in 2009, Tony (who is now 87) filed an appeal and has yet to spend a day in jail.

Poor little rich girl : the life and legend of Barbara Hutton
Heymann, C. David 1945-
Call Number: 92 H984He
In 1933, 21-year-old Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton was the richest woman in the world, with a $42 million fortune ($2 billion today). When she died at age 66, only $3,500 remained. How could that possibly be? Barbara's lavish lifestyle, generous handouts, and reckless penchant for matrimony form a large part of the answer. Her seven husbands included actor Cary Grant, notorious playboy Porfirio Rubirosa and an array of "titled" ne'er-do-wells.

Trust no one : the glamorous life and bizarre death of Doris Duke
Schwarz, Ted, 1945-
Call Number: 92 D8773Sc
In contrast to her contemporary Barbara Hutton, tobacco heiress Doris Duke managed not only to hang on to her fortune, but to substantially increase it. She only married twice (once to Porfirio Rubirosa, who also wed Barbara) but had a lively social life, including friendships with such disparate types as Imelda Marcos and Pee Wee Herman. Where Barbara was a spendthrift, Miss Duke was a philanthropist, ultimately willing virtually all of her money to charitable foundations. But make no mistake - Doris was an oddball. And people are still asking of her death: "Did the butler do it?"

Why not say what happened? : a memoir
Lowell, Ivana.
Call Number: 823 B6325Lo

Born into the Guinness family, Ivana Lowell seemingly had every advantage and connection society could offer:  her grandmother's parties were attended by the Queen Mum, her mother's husbands included artist Lucian Freud and poet Robert Lowell.  And her mother was none nother than novelist Lady Caroline Blackwood.  All privileges aside, genetics, absent parenting, and hiddden family truths resulted in Ms. Lowell's erratic upbringing and unfortuante abuse.  The autobiography is a fierce patchwork of self-discovery.

The world of Gloria Vanderbilt
Goodman, Wendy.
Call Number: 709.2 V229Goo
Visually stunning photo-biography of the legendary Gloria Vanderbilt, whose life has been filled with both the smooth (a successful career in design, glittering friends, illustrious spouses) and the rough (a lonely childhood culminating in a bitter custody battle, the suicide of her son Carter). Crammed with gorgeous glossy color photos and featuring a foreword by her youngest child, CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper.