August 19, 1999– Malcolm Forbes:
“Men who never get carried away should be.”
The personality trait I most deplore in others? Entitlement. Here is a little tale:
Malcolm Stevenson Forbes probably means nothing to anyone under 50 years old. Yet, when he died 25 years ago at 70 years old, he was one of the most famous men in America, the result of his shameless, showoff smarts at self-promotion.
Forbes inherited Forbes Magazine from its founder, his father, B.C. Forbes, in the late 1950s when he was 38 years old. The magazine had long been a successful business magazine with a strong personal identification with B.C. Forbes. By the early 1970s, Malcolm Forbes, now the sole owner, turned it into a hugely successful business monthly. One of his great sensations was the magazine’s annual Forbes 400 Richest.
In the 1970s & 1980s, Forbes lived a luminous, lavish lifestyle, separate from his sedate base at his inherited estate & his large family. In those years he became more prominent & he took to the bright lights of NYC. It was also his public image, mainly because of his large yachts, his private jets, his residences around the world & his planeloads of famous, powerful friends.
In late August of 1989, on a weekend between the 18th & 20th, Forbes threw himself a 70th birthday party in Tangier where he owned a castle, Palais Mendoub. 800 guests were flown in on a chartered Concorde: famous friends, wealthy associates, USA Governors, CEOs of multinational corporations, Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters, Robert Maxwell & Forbe’s “date” for the event, Elizabeth Taylor.
It was a party of glitter, glamour & guise, comparable to Truman Capote’s infamous Black & White Ball 23 years earlier. The fete was well publicized in the fashion & society pages, with a big whack of fairy-dust in the daily papers. It was good for business, mingling advertisers & potential advertisers with the social elite of London & Manhattan & of course, Elizabeth Taylor. It was good for his social reputation. Transporting & taking care his very rich friends for free & in style in an exotic country with a Mediterranean climate was a win-win. The party’s entertainment was on a grand scale: a fantasy with 600 drummers, acrobats & dancers, & with a cavalry charge which ended with the firing of muskets into the air by 300 Berbers on horseback. The cost of this shindig was more than $4 million US dollars.
Forbes kicked the bucket less than 6 months after his birthday party, at home on his estate in Far Hills, NJ. Shortly after he checked out for good, Forbes was “outed” by gay journalist Michelangelo Signorile. Forbes was long known to be gay by a few, but unknown to many. In his later years he became quite the partier, making up for lost time. It’s always that way with Republicans. The unceremonious kick out of the closet was a shock to his friends who were not aware, or chose not to believe, that Forbes was a big ol’ homo. Signorile published the story in Outweek to show how more acceptable a gay man is without the predictable pale of prejudice. In Forbes’ case, the band did not play on.
When Forbes left this existence, he was held up by many conservatives as the great American capitalist. Signorile felt that the historical record also needed to show that he was homosexual. He interviewed people who knew Forbes as gay, some of them were men who’d been intimately involved with Forbes.
Highlighting how heated it was in 1990 to report on the undeclared gayness of a major public figure who was dead, let alone living, many newspapers viewed Forbes outing as shocking & scandalous. It took months for some papers to even get around to reporting it. The NY Times ran the story 4 months after the fact in a feature about outing & still would not identify Forbes by name, saying only that a “recently deceased businessman” had been outed by a gay activist. Years later, The NY Times would finally get around to reporting that Forbes was gay in a story about his son Steve Forbes’ campaign for President in 2000. Steve Forbes has always courted the Conservative Christian Right & he has come out publicly against Gay Rights & Marriage Equality while campaigning.
“Is our society so overwhelmingly repressive that even individuals as all-powerful as the late Malcolm Forbes feel they absolutely cannot come out of the closet?”
Some guy name Donald Trump, I don’t know if you have heard of him, said:
“Mr. Forbes’s death takes the excitement, creativity & genuine business leadership away from every American businessman.”
Forbes was born rich & spent his life getting richer. When he departed this world Forbes was worth 2.5 billion. His ashes were scattered on his private island in Fiji along with his 700 motorcycles. You can take it with you.