Forbes’ Bleak House: Family Sells Victoriana

The Victorian artworks found on Forbes@Christies.com are certainly beautiful to behold, but there’s something even more beguiling about their titles. Arrange them in a certain order and you can create a story, even if the images don’t exactly lend themselves to the telling. For instance, you could begin with Kate Hayllar’s A Thing of Beauty Is a Joy Forever , follow it with Jessica Hayllar’s A Coming Event , Frederic, Lord Leighton’s life-size white-marble sculpture An Athlete Wrestling with a Python , John Martin’s Pandemonium , Marcus Stone’s My Lady Is a Widow and Childless , and end it with James Jacques Joseph Tissot’s ” Good bye”-On the Mersey .

In that order, the titles would loosely mirror the fate of the Forbes family’s renowned collection of Victorian paintings, from which each of the above titles come. Next month, the bulk of that collection, which rivals the Tate’s and the Victoria and Albert’s collections-not to mention composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s-will become the latest chunk of the Forbes’ art and antiquities holdings to be sold off as the publishers of Forbes magazine struggle against a brutal economic downturn. The paintings-which required three volumes to catalog-will be auctioned off, not on the Mersey, but at Christie’s auction house in St. James, London, on Feb. 19 and 20.

But Christopher (Kip) Forbes, who said he devoted “30 years of hard work and dedication” to amassing the collection, won’t be saying “‘Good bye’-On the Thames.” Mr. Forbes is none too happy about the auction. “I won’t go,” he told The Transom. “It will be too sad to see it departing.”

Indeed, Mr. Forbes seemed upset enough about the sell-off of the Victorian collection to break with the official explanation for the auction offered by both Forbes spokeswoman Monie Begley and Christie’s flack, Margaret Doyle: The quote from the late Forbes patriarch Malcolm Forbes’ memoirs, More Than I Dreamed , in which he noted, “I’ve often told my children I hope that, if they decide to be done with one of the collections, that they will put it back on the auction block so that other people can have the same vast fun and excitement that we did in amassing it.”

According to Kip Forbes, however, he was not yet “done” with the art collection that he began in 1969 when, according to Christie’s press material, he persuaded his father that he could “assemble the best collection of Victorian pictures for the price of a lovely, but relatively unimportant, Monet Waterlilies which hung in his office.”

“This was a familial decision,” Mr. Forbes said of the Victorian painting auction. “I’m not allowed to make these decisions one way or another.”

That decision was made last summer, he said, when he and his three other brothers-Steve Forbes, president of the company and editor in chief of the magazine; Timothy Forbes, chief operating officer; and Robert Forbes, president of Forbes Global-sat down and decided what parts of the family estate they would auction off. In late 2001, the family auctioned off part of its collection of American paintings, drawings and sculpture for $4.6 million. Then they sold 434 documents from their American Historical Documents collection, including the handwritten manuscript of Lincoln’s last public address, in two sales, one in the fall of 2002 and another in the spring. Combined, the two auctions brought in $30 million, and last April they sold 61 Fabergé pieces for $6 million. “My two older brothers were more sorry about the autographs, though-not as much about this,” said Kip Forbes, who is in charge of the advertising and promotion departments at the company.

Mr. Forbes acknowledged that the auction was to raise money, but not necessarily for the business-media company’s survival in a grisly bear market. Mr. Forbes said profits from the sale would be divided among the five Forbes children. (The brothers’ sister, Moira Mumma, does not work in the family business.) Although he did not elaborate, Mr. Forbes did say: “If I could have the money and not have to sell the paintings, I wouldn’t sell them.”

Martin Beisly, head of Victorian Painting for Christie’s, sketched out a similar scenario. “I think the proceeds are going to the family,” he told The Transom. “We’ll make out one check divided among the family by Christopher. The check did not say Forbes Inc. It was to the family, not the business itself. The receipt says, ‘Care of C. Forbes.’”

Ms. Begley said the decision to sell the collection was made by “the entire family. They have had it for 30 years,” she said matter-of-factly. She also declined to discuss whether the sale had anything to do with the company’s financial state, saying, “They never disclose financials.”

That said, Forbes has been cost-cutting since 2001, and last October closed its quarterly Forbes supplement ASAP . Meanwhile, the magazine’s January 2002 ad pages were off by 40.8 percent from the previous year, and advertising dollars were off by 39.38 percent. The company also suspended matching contributions to its 401(k) plan and cut senior managers’ salaries.

If the money from the Christie’s sale does go toward bolstering the Forbes organization, it could be a boon. The auction house’s press materials indicate that Christie’s expects the paintings to fetch in the neighborhood of $35 million.

Mr. Beisly said that the Forbes’ collection was one of the four largest collections of Victorian art in the world. “First would be the Tate,” he said, “then the Victoria and Albert. Then competing for the top private collection would be composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Forbes collection.”

The collection includes 361 works by Holman Hunt, Millais and Rossetti, as well as G.F. Watts, Albert Moore and Tissot, some of which belonged to Queen Victoria. “I like pictures where I don’t need a psychoanalyst to tell me about what’s in it,” said Mr. Forbes, who wrote a college thesis on Victorian art when he attended Princeton and, after beginning his family’s collection, created a Victorian Society to encourage the appreciation of the period. But, he added, “other than me, nobody else [in my family] was all that interested, and the market has been … pretty good for Victorian painting right now.”

The Forbes family will retain some of their most valuable Victorian-era works-including, Mr. Beisly said, “an old pair of knickers that once belonged to Queen Victoria”-but they will sell two very important works by Millais, titled Trust Me and For the Squire . “I’m sure Andrew [Lloyd Webber] would have loved to have bought some of [Kip's] paintings,” said Mr. Beisly.

And maybe he will-though as Mr. Forbes said before, he won’t be around to watch the bidding. “We don’t want to inhibit anyone buying the paintings with our crying over it,” he said with an unconvincing laugh.

-Alexandra Wolfe

Sporting a Woody

It’s nothing that remarkable for a young woman to move to Manhattan and, a few years later, find herself on the arm of a billionaire-but one has to be impressed with Holly Newman, a 30-year-old investment banker. For the past year, Ms. Newman has been the discreet main squeeze of one of the richest men around, fiftysomething philanthropist and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson.

Although the couple are said to dislike publicity, that rare breed of gossip lovers who follow both sports and society said the two can be seen at Jean Georges restaurant-Mr. Johnson lives above the restaurant at that swinging bachelor building, 1 Central Park West-or on the sidelines of Jets games.

Though Ms. Newman declined to comment and Mr. Johnson didn’t return a call seeking comment, friends said that Ms. Newman grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., where her father is a successful lawyer and her mother is a retired librarian. She attended the University of Michigan, where she majored in international relations, and also studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

After moving to New York in 1996, Ms. Newman got a job at Oppenheimer & Co., then worked at Daniels & Associates and Gleacher & Co. before moving on to Communications Equity Associates, where she’s now vice president.

“She was great; clients loved her,” said a source who knows Ms. Newman. “She’s attractive, fun, she’s spunky, she’s all those things. Buxom, attractive, Jewish-very attractive girl. And she’s broken hearts. Holly is who she is. I mean, she comes from a very solid Jewish background with very solid family values. Her parents call her every day.”

Friends said that Ms. Newman has also excelled at the relationship game. Before she met Mr. Johnson in Florida, she dated a wealthy hedge-fund manager named Michael Charles, whom she met at Mayor Bloomberg’s Upper East Side townhouse.

As one friend put it: “Holly gets what Holly wants.”

Of course, because Ms. Newman has bagged a desirable bachelor, there are certain women in town who are suspicious of her motives.

“She’s a girl with a mission, but there’s lots of them in New York City,” said one acquaintance of the petite, dark-haired and athletic Ms. Newman. “She’s not a movie star; she’s sort of an Energizer Bunny. She’s persistent, she has a way of endearing herself …. She mesmerizes [men].”

But talk to some men who know Ms. Newman and another story emerges. “She is mesmerizing,” said an investment banker in his 50′s who said he dated her for two years, got hurt, but is still friends with her.

“She’s perfect for Woody,” said the jilted guy, “because she’s energetic, she’s enthusiastic, she plays sports, she knows about football, she can throw a perfect spiral across the room even though she weighs about 100 pounds. She’s perfect. She’s a guy’s girl. Guys go out with her and then they want to marry her. But by the time you want to marry her, she’s gone.”

He stressed that Ms. Newman was no gold digger, but rather “a free woman.” “You know what? She does what guys do. They go out with people serially, and she’s entitled to do that. She’s young, she’s single, she’s beautiful, she can go out with who she wants. But I will tell you this: I believe that if she marries Woody, she will be completely faithful to him and a great wife.”

-George Gurley

Barry Air

If things don’t sit well with USA Networks president Barry Diller, there’s going to be trouble. Just ask the repair company charged with refurbishing his private Gulfstream IV jet.

Mr. Diller’s name appears in a $3.7 million lawsuit that his company, USA Interactive, recently filed against the Savannah Air Center, an airplane repair company. The suit accuses the Savannah, Ga.–based company of “breach of contract and negligent repair” in the refurbishment of his plane.

But though the case was originally filed in U.S. District Court here in Manhattan-Mr. Diller’s jet is registered with New York State-it was transferred to Federal District Court in Georgia in August because, as District Judge Louis L. Stanton concluded, almost all of the contested repairs to Mr. Diller’s Gulfstream took place in Georgia and all of the defendant’s witnesses-including “an engineer, a lead avionics/electronics employee, a lead upholsterer, a lead installer, a lead cabinet maker, and two sheet metal workers”-reside there as well.

“The only physical work in New York,” according to the judge, “was the test-sitting in a seat by USA’s president [Mr. Diller] to see that it was comfortable for him.”

The seat must have suited Mr. Diller’s derrière since, according to court papers, that particular improvement “is not a part of plaintiff’s claim that the completed work was substandard.”

The lawsuit, filed on May 14, alleged that USA hired Savannah Air Center to refurbish the new aircraft with new circuitry, plumbing, cabinetry, seating, interior design and audio systems within an agreed-upon 18 weeks for $2,529,000.

In a response to the lawsuit filed by S.A.C. on Aug. 17 in Georgia, lawyers for the company-which bills itself on its Web site as “The Industry’s Premier Interior/Exterior Corporate Aircraft Refurbishment Center”-admitted that “the refurbishment [to Mr. Diller's plane] took more than eighteen weeks and cost more than the contract price,” but that these problems were due to “design changes and additions to the scope of the work requested by” Mr. Diller.

According to USA’s complaint, which was obtained by The Transom, the repair work on Mr. Diller’s jet was due to be finished in June 2000, but was not completed until August of that year. When it was finished, the suit claims that “USA discovered the existence of serious electrical problems,” including broken wires in the temperature-control system, a faulty circuit breaker in the lavatory water system, and a severed wire in the cabin-to-cockpit communication system. There were also “latches, doors and drawers that stuck,” “severe fit and finish problems” with the cabinetry, and plumbing fixtures which “could not function” because they had been “installed backwards.”

The defendant’s response also includes the admission that during the prolonged repairs, USA Interactive requested that S.A.C. “pay for Barry Diller’s transportation costs while the work was being completed.” USA claims that this cost, “a short term lease of a comparable Gulfstream IV,” would be the $3.7 million asked for in their suit.

USA returned the plane for further repairs on Sept. 5, 2001. Based on the work done in 2001, S.A.C. has filed a counterclaim against USA which alleges that “Plaintiff is indebted to Savannah Air Center in the amount of $50,907.59″ for the labor and materials he had not yet paid for.

In addition to the 50 grand, the countersuit asked that USA pay all legal fees and “such other and further relief as this Court deems just and proper.”

Patrick O’Connor, the lawyer for Savannah Air Center, said that because the case is currently pending in the U.S. District Court in Savannah, he was unable to comment on it, except to say that “we are vigorously defending the case.”

Douglas Kuber, who is representing USA Networks, also said that District Court rules bar him from commenting on the case.

-Rebecca Traister, with additional reporting by Zoë Slutzky

Lew Who?

Has the ghost of Time Warner chairman Steve Ross gotten it up for one final beyond-the-grave cockfight with fellow late movie mogul, MCA chairman Lew Wasserman?

Eagle-eyed media junkies noted that Wasserman, who died on June 3 at the age of 89, was-strangely-not mentioned in either Time or People magazines’ annual year-end roundups of the media heavies who have gone to the great commissary in the sky.

Time magazine, keystone of the Time Warner empire built by Ross in the 1980′s, didn’t include Mr. Wasserman in “The People Who Left Us in 2002″ layout in the Dec. 30–Jan. 6 “Persons of the Year” issue. The section did include brief passages on deaths of Eppie (Ann Landers) Lederer, rapper Jam Master Jay, comedian Milton Berle, and beloved Hollywood director and Wasserman contemporary Billy Wilder.

The omission seemed especially odd in light of Time rival Newsweek ‘s year-end spread on the dead, which included a photograph of Wasserman in his famous thick-rimmed black glasses, and a short piece that noted that director (and Steve Ross pal) Steven Spielberg had once called Wasserman the “chief justice” of Hollywood.

Though Ross and Wasserman weren’t known to have any great personal animosity toward each other when they roamed the earth, they are often mentioned in the same breath as two of Hollywood’s most powerful titans, each of whom changed the nature of the entertainment industry.

Early in his career, Wasserman encouraged Hollywood to accept television, invented the summer blockbusters with a deft publicity campaign for Jaws and, with his wife Edie, became a generous Democratic Party supporter. In 1990, in the face of an industry dominated by multimedia conglomerates like Time Warner, Wasserman sold MCA to Matsushita Electric Industrial Company of Japan. Wasserman famously regretted the decision, especially when, in 1995, the Japanese corporation sold 80 percent of the company to the beverage company Seagram, which turned MCA into Universal and left Wasserman a mere figurehead.

Steve Ross, once America’s highest-paid corporate executive, took over the shambles of Warner Brothers-then called Warner-Seven Arts-in 1969. He later proposed and engineered the merger with Time, creating one of the conglomerates, along with Columbia Sony, Walt Disney, and 20th Century Fox, that forced Wasserman to sell to Matsushita. Ross died in 1992 of prostate cancer.

A spokeswoman for Time pointed the Transom to the magazine’s June 17 obituary for Wasserman, which ran at 129 words and called Wasserman “the last of Hollywood’s legendary movie moguls.”

According to Time managing editor Jim Kelly, however, “Lew Wasserman is just a small part of this story.” Mr. Kelly said that not only did Ross keep Wasserman out of the magazine “from beyond the grave,” he “picked ‘Whistleblowers’”, Time ‘s controversial “Persons of the Year” cover.

An insider at Time Warner’s People magazine also told The Transom: “We wish Steve Ross were here, God bless him-but sadly, he’s long gone.”

Time Warner entertainment magazine Entertainment Weekly was alone in running a piece on Wasserman, written by legendary lady-killer, producer, cocaine addict and stroke victim Robert Evans. In the brief piece, Mr. Evans wrote that Wasserman, his first agent, “had the most brilliant career in Hollywood history,” and that he spent the last 10 years of his career eating alone in the Universal cafeteria, because “they didn’t know who he was.”

-R.T.