Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The man who disposed of one of America's greatest fortunes is dead:
Huntington Hartford, who died on May 19 aged 97, was born into one of the wealthiest families in America and inherited a $90 million fortune at the age of 12, but blew it on a series of quixotic artistic and commercial ventures and expensive wives.

Born in New York on April 18 1911, he was named George Huntington Hartford after his grandfather, a Maine tea merchant who had founded the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) in 1859. ....

...Hartford entered the family business, but found it difficult to concentrate on stock lists of pound cake and was fired six months later after playing truant to watch the Harvard-Yale football match.

In 1940 he put up $100,000 towards the founding of a new New York newspaper, PM, for which, fancying himself a writer, he became a reporter. But he soon gained a reputation for missing deadlines....

After the war Hartford moved to Los Angeles....

Encouraged by his new wife to make a name as a patron of the arts, Hartford set up an artists' foundation and, in 1954, converted an old cinema into a theatre where he staged his own adaptation of Jane Eyre with Jan Brooks as Jane and a hopelessly drunk Errol Flynn as Mr Rochester.

The script was panned by critics and Flynn dropped out but, undaunted, Hartford took the show to New York, where it played to empty houses for six weeks. Other ventures at this time included a "handwriting institute" (he even wrote a book on graphology) and an automated parking business in Manhattan which lost $1.8 million.

In 1959 Hartford sold $40 million of his shares in A&P to buy Hog Island, a two-mile strip of farmland 600 yards off Nassau, hoping to develop it into the St Tropez of the Bahamas. He renamed it Paradise Island and built the Ocean Club, a luxury resort with 35 acres of gardens modelled on those at Versailles and featuring a 12th-century French Augustinian monastery originally purchased and dismantled by William Randolph Hearst. ....

...the Ocean Club suffered because of Hartford's failure to obtain a gambling licence. Resorts International eventually bought him out for $1 million, leaving him with losses of around $30 million. In the early 1960s he built the Huntington Hartford Museum in Manhattan as a showcase for modern art, but he had decidedly unfashionable tastes, preferring "realistic" works (mainly, oddly enough, by Salvador DalĂ­) to "vulgar" cubism and abstract expressionism.

The gallery opened in 1964 to withering reviews both for its design ("a die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops") and contents. The whole venture cost Hartford $7.4 million before he abandoned it.

.... "At least I tried to do something artistic with my money," Hartford would say. "What did Paul Getty ever do but make more?"

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