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Publisher's Summary

Born in 1906, Huguette Clark grew up in her family's 121-room Beaux Arts mansion in New York and was one of the leading celebrities of her day. Her father, William Andrews Clark, was a copper magnate, the second richest man in America, and not above bribing his way into the Senate.

Huguette attended the coronation of King George V. And at 22, with a personal fortune of $50 million to her name, she married a Princeton man and childhood friend, William MacDonald Gower. Two-years later the couple divorced. After a series of failed romances, Huguette began to withdraw from society - first living with her mother in a kind of Grey Gardens isolation, then as a modern-day Miss Havisham, spending her days in a vast apartment overlooking Central Park, eating crackers and watching The Flintstones with only servants for company.

All her money and all her real estate could not protect her in her later life from being manipulated by shady hangers-on and hospitals that were only too happy to admit (and bill) a healthy woman. But what happened to Huguette that turned a vivacious, young socialite into a recluse? And what was her life like inside that gilded, copper cage?

©2014 Meryl Gordon (P)2014 Hachette Audio

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  • Pam
  • United States
  • 06-04-14

The Rich Are Different

This is the story of a wealthy heiress who shunned the spotlight and used her vast resources to maintain the illusions that kept her delicate psychology intact. The Clarks were the Kardashians of their day: famous for being famous, the minutiae of their lives scrutinized by the media. People are as interested to find out what happened to Huguette Clark as they would be if Kourtney or Kim Kardashian suddenly decided to hide from the public eye for decades.

I have three criticisms of the book: First, in an effort to connect far-flung events and explain why Huguette Clark became a recluse, the book suffers from too many time jumps that don't really add much to the story.

Second, the quotes from people who knew Huguette don't add much to the story, either. It's possible that, working from historical documents, the author didn't have much choice in regard to quotes. But even the people she interviewed in person come across as not having anything interesting to say.

Last, too much of the story focuses on the early life of Huguette's father, his first wife, and the children from that marriage. The book doesn't really find its stride until well over halfway through, when it begins to examine the forces in Huguette's young adult life that drove her to become a recluse.

In summary: this book had the opportunity to delve into Huguette's unusual psychology, and the psychology of recluses in general. There are hints throughout of psychological analyses, but no real focus on them. So, ultimately, the book left me disappointed.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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The OTHER Huguette Clark Book

I reviewed "Empty Mansions" as well, since I read both. This book achieved something that the other did not - it brought us into Huguette's world. She takes the reader into her early unfulfilled romances and shows the connection between the dolls, dollhouses, painting lessons, photography, frame-by-frame cartoons and how, put together, they became art. Whereas the "Empty Mansions" authors see the glaring oddity of buying houses with no intention of even visiting them, Gordon sees the creative inner life of Huguette within her own walls.

There should be a Huguette Clark art show, at the Corcoran maybe. It could finish the work Meryl Gordon started - showing the results of a lifetime of creative collecting, modifying and documenting aspects of the material world (i.e., dolls and dollhouses, Japanese design and architecture). I would love to see the photographs she took of the staged settings in the dollhouses. Architecture played a major role in her life - houses huge, empty and forbidding, houses under construction, houses built for pride, bought as buffer zones and manned like gatekeepers to a distant castle, houses that Huguette tried to keep frozen in time, her world growing smaller and smaller around her . . . and the placement of the dolls in the photographs she staged may say something about her role within this world. Huguette documented her own life via photography - that may be her real "voice."

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Wow! What an interesting story!

What did you love best about The Phantom of Fifth Avenue?

Just learning about what it may have been like to be a wealthy socialite in the earlier part of the century. Its something that very few people could ever relate to. I found Hugette's like so interesting and of course at the same time so sad.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Hugette of course.

What about Bernadette Dunne’s performance did you like?

She read the book really well.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It made me think a lot about how quickly life goes by. Hugette wanted to live forever. It was a strange feeling in general at the end of the book.

Any additional comments?

There is another book about the same topic that I have thought about reading to compare notes. May be worth it:)

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Well written biography

Where does The Phantom of Fifth Avenue rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Top 25%

What did you like best about this story?

That it is true

Which character – as performed by Bernadette Dunne – was your favorite?

Huguette Clark

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

No

Any additional comments?

I love biography and this was a very interesting one

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Dennis
  • Huntsville, OH USA
  • 04-16-15

Great story

Intriguing story, I could listen to it again, hope they make a movie sometime soon, highly recommended to anyone interested in history.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Very Entertaining

What did you love best about The Phantom of Fifth Avenue?

That my 8 year old daughter was as interested in listening to the book as I was.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Obviously Huguette Clark!

What about Bernadette Dunne’s performance did you like?

Very well spoken and great delivery.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a good book.

Any additional comments?

We live near Santa Barbara, CA which is where one of the properties that Huguette Clark owned all of her life and we thought it was fun to have that bit of a tie in. Honestly I probably never would have touched the book if not for that fact, and I think it would have been a loss for me had I not taken the time to read it. A very fascinating story and very well written.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Amazingly detailed

All great except the pronunciation of godmother in French was butchered and had me cringe each time it was said. Otherwise this was a great insight with thoughtful research

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Deborah Wyman
  • 10-21-14

Amazing story about a lovely lady...

If you could sum up The Phantom of Fifth Avenue in three words, what would they be?

How money corrupts

What did you like best about this story?

I enjoyed hearing about Huguettes life during the major events of the 20th Century. She lived to be nearly 105 so she saw and experience major changes.

What about Bernadette Dunne’s performance did you like?

The narrator was good - easy to listen to.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, it was a book which I needed to have breaks from to absorb the information. The chronology of the story is rather confusing as it goes from one era to the next then back again. I also found myself needing to think about Huguettes life, and the psychology of why she became a recluse - we are not given any conclusions as to why she lived like she did. It is left to the reader to make their own interpretation. It triggered lots of emotions in me and I needed time to reflect.

Any additional comments?

A wonderful story. The only hesitation I had with this book is that Huguette clearly wanted to live a private life. She never wanted to be a 'society girl', she was shy and hated being photographed or her life publicised. This made me feel a little uncomfortable about her life being dissected - albeit in sensitive and thoughtful way. This book made me think about the importance of childhood and how money cannot buy self esteem nor security that we need to be happy.

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  • Rach...
  • 01-17-17

Intriguing and sort of sad

Very interesting but all ended sadly. A very generous lady but at times taken advantage of.