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Suzy

Bette Midler is telling her friends that she would be too nervous to stand up and do comic material in front of billions of people as host of the Oscars. Which means forget it. She might be sensational. That walk of hers alone is...

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Bette Midler is telling her friends that she would be too nervous to stand up and do comic material in front of billions of people as host of the Oscars. Which means forget it. She might be sensational. That walk of hers alone is enough to bring down the house. Just leave that hideola red wig from "Gypsy" at home, honey. You're too Divine for that.

You have probably been reading bits and pieces lately about the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys, specifically about the terms of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Sonny) Whitney's will. If you care -- and people usually do when vast amounts of money are involved -- perhaps we can shed a little light. Even if you don't care....

First, the recently deceased (Sonny) Whitney -- he died about a year ago -- had four wives, three of whom he divorced: Marie Norton, who later married Averell Harriman; Gladys Hopkins, who later married Ambassador Josiah Marvel; Eleanor Searle, who later married the Texas oil millionaire James McCullogh, and, fourth and last, his widow Marylou Schroeder Hosford, who, so far, has married nobody. That is not to say she won't. However, Marylou always said she'd be the last Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney -- and when Marylou says something she usually means it. Strike that usually.

In Sonny's will, he left everything, about $100 million, to Marylou, but also upon his death, a trust fund of almost $50 million, created by his father, Harry Payne Whitney for "blood of his issue only" was released to Sonny's three living children, Nancy (whom he had not seen in 30 years); Searle, his son by Eleanor Whitney, and Cornelia, his daughter by Marylou. Also sharing in the trust were the three children of his already-deceased son, Harry Payne Whitney 2nd. So none of these offspring has to go out into the world cap in hand. When Harry died, Marylou and Sonny, then in his mid-'80s, were en route to China. Sonny did not return for Harry's funeral.
Sonny's entire estate was left to Marylou tax free, as federal law allows either spouse to dispose of his/her estate in this manner. Many people do this with the stipulation that the surviving partner will in turn leave the residue to the next generation. It is difficult to insure that this be done, and sometimes deathbed wishes are ignored. Such, some insist, was the case with Sonny's cousin, Joan Whitney Payson, who left her entire estate, tax free, to her husband, Charles Shipman Payson, a crusty sort, with the stipulation that he pass it on intact to their four children. Perversity prevailed, and Joan Whitney's money went to Charles's wife of a few years, the sports writer Virginia Kraft, cutting out all the Paysons' offspring. This, of course, engendered a nasty court case, with Virginia coming out on top.

Whether Sonny Whitney specified that Whitney Park, that vast tract in the Adirondacks, should go to Marylou's four Hosford children plus his Cornelia, his own child by Marylou, is speculative -- and, if true, probably not destined to happen. The State of New York covets the property for ecological and environmental reasons and may acquire it within the next few years, at which time Whitney Park as a private preserve may pass into history. The IRS is not interested in personal codicils as to how the heir (or heiress) leaves the estate. The IRS only recognizes the marital inheritance, not what the inheritor does with it. Such bequests, rest assured, would be taxed.

The Whitney compound in Saratoga, a rambling enclave of tennis courts, entertainment pavilions, swimming pools, an office building, staff cottages and a rustic chapel where services are held each Sunday, is being given to Sonny's stepdaughter, Heather Hosford Schlacter, and her children, who have always lived in Saratoga. But how Marylou Whitney will write her will down the road is anybody's guess.

Does that clear it up? If not, ask Marylou. She, believe me, is not inaccessible.

On the other hand, Jean Harvey Vanderbilt, the lithe and lovely divorced wife of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, a direct descendant of old Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the founder of the family fortune, would seem to be retrenching. She has sold her stunning apartment, and all its contents are to be auctioned at Christie's on March 24. This is the apartment that was done with panache by decorators Vincent Fourcade and Robert Denning, famous for their luxurious, over-the-top style. On sale will be the Regency-style double-sided bookcase (estimate $8,000-12,000) that divided the living and dining areas; a pair of Italian neoclassical console tables that once graced the dining room ($20,000-30,000), a George III gilt wood mirror ($25,000-35,000) and a set of Biedermeier-style fruitwood chairs ($10,000-15,000) plus the Sivar carpet of Russian design on which they all rested.
Also on the block is a massive Empire mahogany daybed, made by ebeniste Bernard Molitor, another Denning and Fourcade trademark. In the late Seventies, when the designers finished the apartment for Jean Vanderbilt, the daybed was set off by lush curtains and overstuffed furniture. Quoted at the time, Denning and Fourcade said, "Outrageous luxury is what our clients want; we have taught them to prefer excess!" They were merely going along with the Zeitgeist.

If you have the same exceptional taste as Jean Vanderbilt, you may be interested in her Chinese lacquer screen ($6,000-$9,000), a Brighton Pavilion Regency secretaire ($8,000-$12,000) and her beautiful French needlepoint carpet, circa 1870, which is expected to fetch between $12,000-$15,000.

Says Jean Vanderbilt, "I am now at a point in my life that demands less in terms of living space and interior furnishings. I have enjoyed living with all these wonderful pieces, but it is time to scale back my collection." May the prices hit the moon.

Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal's house in Bel Air has been condemned because of the earthquake, so they've had to move to their Malibu house, which, thank heaven, was not destroyed by fire. "They certainly pay for their thrills in California," said a friend of mine. You pay for your thrills everywhere. Think it over.

Princess Michael of Kent, the Valkyrie-like wife of Queen Elizabeth's first cousin, Prince Michael of Kent, is ensconsed in Freeport in the Bahamas as the guest of Jack and Frances Hayward at their beachfront estate. Her Royal Highness is alone. Her prince is back home in England performing his princely duties, and the children are at school. But she's not just poking about in the sand and soaking up the sun. She's writing a book, although who knows about what yet. It's not her first book, of course, and the idea is that she'll go on a nationwide book tour with this one as she did with the last. Hype's hype, and if you want to sell it you go out there and plug it, no matter what your title or the color of your blood. This is not Marie-Christine's (the princesses' given name) first time in Freeport. She and Prince Michael and their children spent last Easter there and simply loved "the solitude and simplicity of the place." We all are so very pleased, aren't we, because they all really catch hell at home.
(On Friday, read all about Paige Rense's Architectural Digest party at Mortimer's and how Georgette Mosbacher's girlfriends went biker-chic for her birthday luncheon at the Harley-Davidson Cafe. The little ladies were up to their ascots in leather. Vrooommmm!)
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