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Vulture Culture

What happens when an ancient heiress falls ill.

Dec 8, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 12 • By JUDY BACHRACH
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Gone, too, was the wonderful Childe Hassam painting, which Brooke had always intended to bequeath to the Metropolitan Museum. In 2002, she had sold it for $10 million (a paltry sum, as it turned out, since it was subsequently resold by a gallery for twice that amount). "Tony wanted me to sell the painting, because I'm running out of money," Brooke told the deeply puzzled de la Renta, who found it impossible to suppose her friend was actually hurting for funds.

With excellent reason, as things turned out. A few years later the old lady was evidently so flush with cash and securities that Tony, as he would later acknowledge, received $2.38 million as recompense for the delightful job of managing his mother's money--five times his usual annual salary.

Well, that was then. If he's convicted of first degree larceny, as Gordon points out, Tony could serve up to a quarter of a century in jail. But that isn't likely because it would mean he would be 109 at the time of his release. But even an acquittal would yield very little. Tony has two sons, one of whom blew the whistle on him. He had a mother who turned out to be generous toward him only as her mental capacities failed. His mother's social friends despise him. He has lawyers (four of them to date) and a wife people snub. And he has a reputation that was, is, and will be for many, many months the stuff of headlines, some of them based on fact.

In this time of economic distress, it is instructive to realize that, while money can most certainly buy you love and lots of other things, the one thing it still can't get you is good press.

Judy Bachrach is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair.