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Little Princess Lost

A sign of the times: While the media obsess over J-Lo, Jacko, and Britney, they drop the ball on the Liesel Pritzker story.

11:00 PM, Dec 12, 2002 • By DAVID BROOKS
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I AM APPALLED by my journalistic colleagues' failure to fully exploit the Liesel Pritzker story. Once upon a time, the American media knew how to treat beautiful heiresses--exhaustively. They were our royalty. Now it's Jennifer Lopez. That represents a profound shift in our culture (I would say that, wouldn't I).

Let's review: The Pritzkers are one of the richest families in the world. The Chicago-based family's assets include Hyatt Hotels, Royal Carribbean Cruises, the Pritzker Realty Group, and a couple of casinos. The Pritzker Prize is one of architecture's loftiest awards. Young Liesel is everything an heiress should be--glamorous and smart. You may remember her as Harrison Ford's beautiful daughter in the movie "Air Force One." She was also the star of the movie "The Little Princess," which came out in the mid-1990s.

Her parents divorced in 1989 and engaged in a vicious custody battle. They even fought over whether she could own a pet ferret. Then in 1994, her father read in the paper that she was going to star in a movie, using the name Liesel Pritzker-Bagley (adopting her then-stepfather's name). Her father, Robert, insisted to the court that she must appear as Liesel Pritzker and threatened to prevent her from appearing in the film. The parties settled when Liesel settled on the stage name Liesel Matthews. Matthew is her brother's name.

Now the battling Pritzkers are splitting up the $15 billion estate. Liesel, who is now 18 and a student at Columbia, has recently asserted that her trust funds, which are supposed to be worth about $1 billion, were stripped bare, with the funds distributed to other members of the family. She's suing her father, her uncles, and her half-brothers to get her money back.

If this were the 1930s, the entire country would be up in arms over this story. Life magazine would put it on the cover. Society pages all over the nation would write about nothing else.

Today, of course, there is no Life. Nor are there society pages. Inherited wealth doesn't have the prestige it used to have. The aristocratic network of big money families is no longer very important. You can still get a few people to care about crack-ups in the Bingham, Koch, or Pritzker families, but these stories are midgets compared to the epic soap operas, which concern Whitney, Mariah, Michael Jackson, and such.

We've become more democratic in our scandal-mongering, more infatuated with the commercial/media phenoms and less with the rarefied upper crust. We've become more American and less pseudo-European.

I suppose that's good news, but I wouldn't mind seeing more of Liesel Pritzker.

David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.