The late heiress Huguette Clark was known for her reclusive nature, rarely leaving her apartment and spending the last two decades of her life voluntarily living in a hospital.
But a new book reveals there was one hobby that drew Clark out of her shell: a lifelong infatuation with expensive dolls. In their new book “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune,” authors Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr. report that Clark amassed a doll collection worth an estimated $2 million.
Clark’s life was full of eccentric tales. For example, she owned two mansions in California and New York worth a combined $150 million — but she never visited either location. She also spent more than 20 years living in New York’s Beth Israel Hospital at a cost of more than $400,000 a year, even though she did not have any diagnosed illness.
She lived to be 104. Her father was 22 during the Civil War, and Clark lived to see the nation's first African-American president take office.
However, it was Clark’s passion, perhaps even obsession, for dolls and dollhouses that might be the most interesting fact about her life.
Clark’s passion for dolls and dollhouses was so strong it trumped her reclusive nature. In the late 1950s Clark reportedly left her Fifth Avenue mansion to attend a Christian Dior fashion show — so she could purchase clothes for her dolls.
In their book, Dedman and Newell write that Clark caused a stir when her name appeared on a guest list for the show:
"'Mrs. Huguette Clark!’ exclaimed the consul general, Baron Jacques Baeyens, who had married Huguette’s niece. ‘Look, she’s not going to come. She’s my aunt, and she never goes out.’ The representative from Christian Dior replied, ‘Oh, yes, she will. She wants to see the dresses to dress her dolls.’"
During a Tuesday appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” Dedman revealed that the doll collection was such a big part of Clark’s life that she would routinely call up the Austrian-Hungarian immigrant husband-and-wife team who constructed her dollhouses.
“The man and woman who fixed her dollhouses and did the curtains for her were pestered to death by her,” Dedman told host Jon Stewart. “She would call them every evening and say, ‘You know, the ceilings are too low in these dollhouses.’ She told them, ‘The little people are banging their heads.’”
But the dollhouse makers were amply rewarded for their hard work.
“She was very generous to them,” Dedman explained. “All the grandchildren of the couple who made her dollhouses went to college on the generosity of Huguette Clark.”