Mystery in Mustique
Already shaken by the stroke suffered by Britain’s Princess Margaret on Feb. 23, the 646 residents of Mustique-the much-ballyhooed private hideaway in the eastern Caribbean-were hardly prepared for the mysterious death of fellow vacationer Susan Musberger on Feb. 27.
Musberger, a French citizen and longtime island visitor-she was a fixture on Mustique for about a quarter of a century-was found early that Friday morning, dead in her bed with her throat slit and a knife next to the body. Although the local police have yet to disclose the official cause of death, Jimmy Prince, Officer of Information for St. Vincent and the Grenadines (which jointly administer Mustique), said, “It could look like a suicide … but [if so,] it was not too well done.”
Until recently, probably the biggest scandal ever to hit the Caribbean island-which, in addition to Princess Margaret, is home to Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger and model wife Jerry Hall, and Le Bernardin proprietress Maguy LeCoze-was the perceived ugliness of Tommy Hilfiger’s new house. The mild stroke that the Princess experienced during dinner at her house on Mustique garnered three items in London’s Guardian. (The Princess is reported to be recovering nicely.)
Strangely, though, with the exception of a brief capsule on the Associated Press wire dated Feb. 27, Musberger’s death has gone unreported. According to island sources, that may have more than a little to do with the iron grip of the Mustique Company, the property management group that enjoys total control over the tiny island’s goings-on.
With the exception of Mr. Prince, who confirmed the basic details of the mysterious death, The Transom’s half-dozen phone calls to various government offices in St. Vincent went either unreturned or without comment.
Frequent travelers to the island were unsurprised by the management company’s stonewalling. Celebrities like Mr. Jagger vacation on Mustique precisely because of the island authorities’ mania for privacy and exclusivity. For instance, according to one source familiar with the culture of the island, when a cadre of reporters flew to Mustique to interview-ambush the vacationing Paul Channon, the British transportation minister, after the crash of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, the Mustique Company protected Mr. Channon by simply not letting the journalists off the plane.
The few snippets of information about Musberger’s death that were available came from Mr. Prince, who admitted to The Transom that islanders were, to say the least, concerned about Musberger’s passing. “People are upset, yes,” he said, “and they’re kinda lying low until they can decide what’s really happening.” He added that French authorities had flown to Mustique to aid with the investigation, which so far has yielded no suspects-at least none for public disclosure.
According to island vacationers, despite the perennial cattiness of the local community-which is both small and well-heeled because of the reported $15,000 a week it costs to rent a house there-Musberger was not known to have enemies. A person who identified himself as David Robbins, the manager of Basil’s Bar and Restaurant, one of two nightspots on the island’s two-square-mile expanse, remembered Musberger patronizing the bar. “She would come in now and again,” he said, “sometimes she [would] come with friends, you know.”
Still, he could not recall whether the 57-year-old Musberger was single or married, only that “she’s a friendly person.” Eventually, he told The Transom, “Come on down and see what’s happening, ’cause I’m talking to someone I don’t even know.”
Every Democratic wonk in the room knew that Betsy McCaughey Ross was part of the right-wing cabal that killed President Bill Clinton’s health-care bill. So when the Lieutenant Governor announced that “a woman’s right to choose is only truly a meaningful choice if she has a place to exercise it,” and that “if pro-choice leaders don’t speak out on the issue, as I have, [then] the promise of Roe v. Wade will become a hollow promise,” one of those gathered for a debate on Feb. 26 among Democratic candidates for Governor went a little nuts.
In an attempt to depict the Lieutenant Governor as a lip-servicing poser, fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidate James Larocca, a Long Island businessman, argued that access to reproductive services, and health care in general, was only currently endangered because the “conservative right-wing in this country” had “trashed” President Clinton’s universal health care bill in 1994. How, Mr. Larocca seemed to be asking, could the Lieutenant Governor now say she wanted to protect access to health care when, in a New Republic article titled “No Exit” on Feb. 7, 1994, Ms. McCaughey Ross had attacked the universal health-care bill as a recipe for an Orwellian disaster. Conservative leaders hailed her ideas as the Truth, and Ms. McCaughey Ross, then but a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, instantly became a Republican political star.
Asked by The Transom about the subtext of his comments, Mr. Larocca concurred that he saw Ms. McCaughey Ross as part of the conservative right-wing cabal. (The fact that some Democrats at the time also criticized the legislation apparently escaped him.) But he stopped short of calling Ms. McCaughey Ross a bullshit artist. “I’m pleased to hear that this many years later, the Lieutenant Governor has more positive things to say about the need to cover people who are not covered and to make [health care] more affordable for everyone,” he said with a touch of sarcasm.
Ms. McCaughey Ross called the implication of Mr. Larocca’s statements “preposterous,” and while she admitted her article denounced the universal health care bill, she claimed “the President and I always agreed on the goal: universal coverage.”
Boss on the Boards:
Rodgers & Hammerstein
The notion of Bruce Springsteen performing show tunes in the Hamptons may seem like yet another sign that the world will indeed come to an end with the new millennium. Alas, it’s true. Mr. Springsteen (or Mr. Springstein, as they referred to the Boss in a recent issue of The New York Times) has agreed to perform a song from the Rodgers & Hammerstein oeuvre when the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor dedicates its stage to Elaine Steinbeck on April 4. (Guess that rules out something from My Fair Lady. )
Ms. Steinbeck, the wife of the novelist John Steinbeck, was one of Broadway’s first female stage managers, and Oklahoma! was one of her first big productions. Hence, Bay Street executive director Stephen Hamilton said that the group is hoping that Mr. Springsteen will choose a song from that particular Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, but that the final choice will be up to him. Mr. Hamilton also said that Mr. Springsteen, who apparently struck up a friendship with Ms. Steinbeck when he was putting together his Grapes of Wrath- inspired album, The Ghost of Tom Joad, may also perform a song of his own.
Mr. Springsteen won’t be the only performer feting Ms. Steinbeck. He’ll be joined by actor Gary Sinise, the songwriting team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, actor Roddy McDowall and others. Tickets are $500 for the performance and dinner, $150 for the performance and cocktails.
The Transom Also Hears
… Petty mortal, New Yorker editor Tina Brown has no time for silly phone tricks. The guy at Time’s 75th-anniversary awards who stood at the pay phone by the downstairs ladies’ room at Radio City Music Hall and asked passing celebrities to say hello to his Aunt Sophie, was getting a bit cocky. He’d gotten actress Rita Wilson (Mrs. Tom Hanks) to say a few kind words to his soi-disant aunt both coming and going from the loo. So he set his sights on bigger prey. As Ms. Brown headed for bathroom entrance, the man called out her name and held out the phone receiver. Ms. Brown instinctively reached for it, then hesitated and asked the man what this was about. Upon learning that it was a prank, Ms. Brown looked as if she had swallowed curdled milk and rebuffed the man, leaving him alone with Sophie.
… Someone at Barneys has a sense of humor. A shopper was recently browsing through the Pressman family’s Madison Avenue store when the Vapors’ new-wave classic “Turning Japanese” began blaring on the store’s sound system. The tune, which is really about masturbation, is an odd choice, given that Tokyo-based Isetan Company, which originally bankrolled the Pressman family’s expansion, is now its biggest and most contentious creditor in Barneys’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.