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...

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.
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