“Men who never get carried away should be.”
The personality trait I most deplore in others? Entitlement. Here is a little tale:
Today, Malcolm Stevenson Forbes probably means nothing to anyone under 60-years-old. Yet, when he died 28-years ago at 70-years-old, he was one of the most famous men in America, the result of his shameless, showy smarts at self-promotion.
Forbes inherited Forbes Magazine from his father, its founder, 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 personality identification with B.C. Forbes. By the early 1970s, Malcolm Forbes, now sole owner, turned it into a hugely successful business monthly magazine. One of his great sensations was the magazine’s annual Forbes 400 Richest People.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Forbes lived a luminous, lavish lifestyle, separate from his sedate base, on an inherited estate with his large family. In those years, he became more prominent and he took to being a big deal among the bright lights of NYC. His very public image was defined by his large yachts, his private jets, his residences around the world, and his planeloads of famous, powerful friends.
On a weekend in late August 1989, Forbes threw himself a 70th birthday party in Tangier, where he owned a palace, the Palais Mendoub. 800 guests were flown in on a chartered Concorde: famous friends, wealthy associates, USA Governors and other politicians, CEOs of multinational corporations, Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters, Robert Maxwell, and the birthday boy’s “date” for the event, Elizabeth Taylor. Not the first time Taylor had been a beard.
It was a party of glitter, glamour and guise, comparable to Truman Capote’s Black And White Ball 23-years earlier. It was well publicized in the fashion and society pages, with a big whack of fairy-dust in the daily newspapers. The event was good for business, mingling advertisers and potential advertisers with the elites of London and Manhattan and of course, Elizabeth Taylor. It was good for his social reputation, transporting and taking care of his very rich friends for free and in style in an exotic country with a Mediterranean climate. The party entertainment was on a grand scale: 600 drummers, acrobats and dancers, a fantasy with a cavalry charge which ended with the firing of muskets into the air by 300 Berber horsemen. The cost of this shindig was more than $5 million.
Forbes died less than six months after his party, at home on his estate in Far Hills, NJ. Shortly after he died, he was “outed” as gay by journalist Michelangelo Signorile. Forbes was long known to be gay by some and unknown to many. In his later years, he became quite the partyer, making up for lost time. The “outing” was a shock, especially to his friends who were not aware, or chose not to believe, that he was gay. Signorile published the story with the intention of showing how acceptable a gay man could be without the predictable pale of prejudice. In Forbes case, the band did not play on.
When Forbes died, he was held up by Conservatives as The Great American Capitalist. Signorile felt that the historical record also needed to show that he was queer. He interviewed many people who knew Forbes as gay, some of them were men who’d been intimately involved with Forbes.
Highlighting how heated it was, at that time, to report on the gayness of a public figure who was dead, let alone living, many newspapers viewed Signorile’s story as shocking and scandalous and it took months for some papers to report on it. The NY Times ran the story four months after the fact. But, it was an article about the act of outing, and they still would not identify Forbes by name, saying that a “recently deceased businessman” had been outed.
Years later, the NY Times finally reported that Forbes was gay, in a story about his son Steve Forbes’ run for POTUS. Steve Forbes had courted the Conservative Christian Right and had come out publicly against Gay Rights and Marriage Equality while campaigning.
Too bad Malcolm Forbes didn’t live in our era. He could have married the closeted Koch brother and been at the very top of FORBES 400 list.