Monday, September 26, 2022 Sep 26, 2022
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At her villa on the French Riviera, the stormy benefactress of the Dallas Museum of Art sounds off on fame, sex, beauty, the love of her life, nasty art critics, and the proper way of taking her picture.
By Glenna Whitley |

HURRY UP! HURRY UP!” AS I STEPPED from the car, gazing around in amazement at the lush grounds, I heard a high girlish voice shouting from the front of the villa, 50 feet away, down a flagstone path. A tall, regal woman bathed in leopard skin stood in the doorway, flanked by two maids in pink uniforms. “Come on, ” Wendy Reves called, motioning with an arm held high, Since I’d spent the past three days waiting for an audience, her eagerness came as something of a surprise. A month before, I had called her from the United States, requesting an interview. She agreed, admonishing me to “use your little headie and do your homework. ” I followed up with a letter, explaining that I would be on the French Riviera on other business during certain dates in May and hoped to interview her-one of the most important art patrons in the history of Dallas-after that. There was no response to my letter, but I knew from speaking to her Dallas friends that she was expecting me, and that she would be returning from her chalet in Switzerland-“where the money is, ” she had told me-to her Villa La Pausa shortly before the days I had set aside to see her. I planned to wrap up my other business on a Thursday, and hoped to see her Friday, Saturday, and possibly Sunday.

After finishing my work on Thursday, I rushed to my hotel in nearby Nice and called her. There was no answer. Later I would learn that Wendy never answers the phone after 8 p. m.

The next morning I called and got the grande dame herself. Friday was out of the question, she said. She had to have 24 hours notice before receiving anyone. And Saturday and Sunday were completely impossible. “I never see anyone on the weekends, ” Ms. Reves told me, explaining that her servants were off on those days. “I’ll see you on Monday. At 4 p. m. “

Panic began to set in. Our other work finished, photographer Joseph Vento and I were scheduled to leave France on Monday. I imagined myself, sweating under white lights, trying to explain to my editor/ interrogator how I managed to spend so much money (on the French Riviera, yet) and come back without a story on Reves. I told Wendy I had to leave on Monday. She said, “Oh, then I’ll see you in Dallas when I come in November. ” A slight note of hysteria entered my voice. I cajoled, begged, groveled. But nothing would change her mind.

You see, you simply don’t drop in on Wendy Reves.

In the end, we rearranged our travel plans and cooled our heels for three expensive days. At exactly 4 p. m. on Monday, we were met at the mairie (town hall) near Rocquebrune-Cap-Martin, a small village above Monaco, by Wendy’s houseman and jack-of-all-trades, Flavio Berio.

As our tiny car climbed up narrow roads behind Berio’s midget vehicle, he pointed out the window at hang gliders sailing high above rocky cliffs hugged by the azure Mediterranean. Reves’s villa, built in 1927 by the Duke of Westminster for his mistress Coco Chanel, sits on a 5-acre plot called La Pausa, so named because Gallic legend says that Mary Magdalene, fleeing Jerusalem after the Crucifixion, stopped in the area to rest in a grove of olive trees. There, the story says, a chapel sprang up.

Today, seven of the 20 rooms at the Villa La Pausa have been recreated at the Dallas Museum of Art. They house the paintings and furnishings collected by Wendy and Emery Reves over the years since they bought the villa in 1953. Valued at more than $260 million, the collection includes a concentration of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings by van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Gauguin, Manet, Pissarro, Cezanne, Seurat, and Degas, as well as important sculpture, furniture, and ceramics.

But nothing in the DMA prepares you for just how beautiful the Villa La Pausa really is. After following the narrow road-avoiding a laughably small backhoe repairing potholes-you pass through a large wrought-iron gate that is always locked behind visitors. The driveway curves around to stop in front of the white stucco house, with its shutters a startling shade of lavender. (Wendy later says the color is not white, but extremely light olive, to blend with the olive] trees. ) The villa was smaller than I had anticipated-but beautifully proportioned, surrounded by luxuriant grass and simple landscaping, like a pearl nestled in green velvet.

Since the early 1980s, people from Dallas have made the pilgrimage to La Pausa. Ironically, the late Emery Reves, a European writer who made a fortune with a unique press service that published the views of world leaders (among them his good friend Winston Churchill), never set foot in Dallas. For that matter, until Wendy Reves donated the collection to the DMA after Emery’s death, neither had she. Though she had grown up in Marshall, Texas, the young woman left the state at 17 and married a young officer in Hawaii. She met Reves while modeling in New York.

From the moment the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection opened at the DMA, it has caused controversy-as has Wendy Reves herself. Her critics deride her for the strictures she’s placed on the collection, for the exceptional level of control she exercises over what is undeniably a generous gift. She has publicly feuded with Rick Brettell, the director of the DMA, who replaced her beloved Harry Parker. Listening to some of the stories can make you imagine Lucrezia Borgia, or a bad-tempered Mafioso princess making an offer you can’t refuse.

But meeting Wendy Reves is like meeting your best friend’s wonderfully eccentric grandmother, Auntie Mame, with fabulous taste, a theatrical flair, and a somewhat ribald sense of humor.

She’s dressed much as she is in a portrait painted by Malel in 1989-leopard print pants, top, and jacket; black lamé headband taming abundant blond curls; and dark-tinted glasses. (The portrait now hangs at The Wendy and Emery Reves Center for International Studies, another pet project, at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. )

Smiling, she urges us into the entry of the house and beckons me to sit. I oblige, and one of the pink-bedecked ladies takes off my sandals and begins to scrub the soles. Joseph is divested of his shoes altogether and given a pair of slippers. Though almost everything of value in the house has been shipped off to Dallas, there are still valuable rugs on the floors, Reves points out.

First on her agenda is a glass of white wine. Joseph, remembering the difficult roads we must drive to get back to the hotel, declines. This worries Wendy. I accept, however, so she’s happy again. The pink ladies bring out a plate of hors d’oeuvres, tidbits of pate and egg.

Reves tells the ladies they can go home, but not before she brings out the most recently hired to show us how much prettier she’s gotten since she came to work at La Pausa. The villa seems to make everyone who stays there more beautiful, Reves says. It’s unclear if the young woman speaks enough English to know that her skin and hair are being discussed: Exhibit 1 in the mystery of La Pausa. But the servant smiles and backs away as she is dismissed.

Then the grande dame sweeps us on a tour of the house, a tour of her life, a tour of the world according to Wendy.

THAT WAS THE LIBRARY HERE. ” SHE SAYS. “EVERYTHING that was here is now in the Dallas museum. They stripped this room. They stripped the salon, the bedroom, dining room, everything. Can you imagine that when the last truck went out of here, everything was bare? There wasn’t a table, lamp, a chair, or anything.

“Everybody says to me, ’How did you feel? It must be terribly difficult. ’ Not at all. I had made up my mind that I wanted to give it to Emery. ” Today, she’s surrounded not by new purchases but by furniture she bought years ago for the various buildings and rooms at La Pausa where her servants lived.

“When I came here first, because we had such a big life and everything, I had to have so many personnel-five femmes des chambres, a first and second maitre d’hotel. I had a chef, plus two aides in the kitchen. ” Today, she has Berio and the two female servants, as well as part-time help with the gardening.

Throughout the house, little “grandmother” touches rub up against the fine art and furniture still in her home, Like a needlepoint pillow: “Good Girls Go To Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere. ” She giggles when asked about the pillow. “That’s true. I’ve been everywhere. I’m the ultimate bad girl. “

Reves, a bom collector, has not abandoned that pursuit. “I’m buying a lot of bronzes. When [former DMA director] Harry Parker was here he was just thrilled. He said, ’Oh, Wendy, this is new. Oh, Wendy, that’s new. ’ Everybody says it’s so wonderful for me to go on collecting now. “

Despite Parker’s 1987 move to head a San Francisco museum, they remain close friends. “He’s just darling, ” Reves gushes. “He’s a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful person. ” She was devastated when Parker left the DMA. “He didn’t leave, they kicked him out, ” Reves says. “He would still have been there but for that little [Vince] Carrozza man in there, you know. ” (Carrozza was the president of the DMA board in 1987. )

Reves coughs. “Excuse me, ” she giggles, reaching for her wine glass. “I’m losing my voice. ” Then she adds teasingly, “Good excuse to get drunk. “

The impact of Parker’s departure was catastrophic. Reves says. “Harry was the one who took it out of the ballpark. He was the one that got it [the DMA building] built, he was the one that got me, he was the one that did everything. He was in a go, go. go mood. But they [the museum’s board] just-grrrrrr-put on the brakes. One whole year completely lost because they didn’t have anyone to replace him and things were stagnant… a whole year just dead. And then when they did get Brettell, he came in trying to change everything. “

Reves doesn’t want to rehash her strife with Brettell. Today, they are friends. She points to a pot of beautiful white orchids, her favorite flower-Brettell’s present for her 75th birthday on May 2. He also called to wish her a happy birthday, something he might not have done a year ago.

The main problem in their relationship, say observers, was that Brettell was not sufficiently reverent toward either the collection or Wendy. Reves says, “He came in and he said that he was going to take all the barriers down and all the people can walk through and touch everything. ” (Brettell has long contended that he wanted to move some of the major paintings so that patrons could see them better. ) “And I’m sitting over here frantic and going, ’What?’ It was probably the first three months that he just kind of lost his head, but then maybe I blamed him… for more times than he really deserved.

“He had the wrong ideas and thoughts in the beginning, and he knows that; in fact, he’s terribly cute. We were sitting at the dinner table together and he was telling me over and over, ’Wendy, I was such a fool; I was so rude. ’ And I said, ’Eat your dinner and stop eating crow!’ And we had a big laugh. He kind of hopes that I would forgive him because he did keep saying what a mistake he made, and he did make a grave, grave mistake.

“He’s turned around completely; ’ Reves says. “He has completely, completely changed. I think that he really and truly not only likes me, he might even care very deeply for me, which is wonderful. He has great admiration for me and I for him. I still can never associate him with the museum yet, because he hasn’t really done what I was expecting, or what Harry did. “

But boy, can he dance. In fact, Brettell seduced her into breaking one of her promises to Emery.

“I gave up many, many things-I didn’t have to, I just did-when I lost Emery. I gave up dancing because it was one of the things that I loved the most, and I wanted to give up everything that I loved the most like sex, like dancing, like… well, that’s about it! Those are the two best things! And never to show my legs. I went into pants because I had the greatest legs in the world.

“You know every man is a leg man or a breast man. Flavio’s a breast man, but my husband was a leg man, and when the two of them would go down the street, one’s eyes were up at the breasts and the other’s were down at the legs. ” Berio, sitting nearby, nods impishly,

At a Dallas party thrown by Nancy Hamon and Caren and Vin Prothro, a jazz band was playing. “Then Rick comes on the floor, ” Wendy says. “I know people who can dance, but I have never seen anyone dance like that guy. I almost felt my feet just going out and so all of a sudden, he comes over and he’s dancing right in front of me and he said, ’Why don’t you come and dance with me?’ I looked up and said, ’Pucy [her pet name for her late husband], don’t look. ’ So I got up and we slayed them. “

Despite Brettell’s footwork, Harry Parker, who’s now the head of the Wendy and Emery Reves Foundation, has been Wendy’s boy wonder since 1981. In 1977. the Reveses agreed to allow the DMA to bring several dozen people to La Pausa to view their art collection. The group was also going to view another well-known collection on the Riviera, but Emery became ill, and Wendy had to cancel the visit after buying house slippers for all the Dallas guests. Parker, instead of being upset, was very solicitous.

Not long after Emery’s death, Reves remembered Parker’s kindness. She was trying to find a suitable home for the La Pausa collection, a way to honor her late husband. Giving it to the French was out of the question.

“The French officials came in and looked at everything and then sat down with Emery in the library and said, ’And how many millions are you going to leave with this?’ Emery had the feeling that what they were really interested in was the money and that probably they might even go and sell some of our things. You know, the French are not really to be trusted.

“England wanted it. Switzerland wanted it, but I really wanted it to come to America, ” she says.

Wendy Reves is a British citizen. But around her home are a few touches-a flag, a needlepoint “I Love America”-that reveal her roots. “I’m more American today by living in Europe… than I ever was in my life. I miss my country and I miss my people, I love the American food. I love black-eyed peas. I love fried chicken, cornbread, all the Negro food. I love Negroes. I love Mexicans. I love everything that’s American. “

A book published by the DMA tells of some of Wendy’s early experiences growing up in Marshall-experiences that included seeing a man tarred and feathered by the Ku Klux Klan. “Texas was a horrible place in those days. And I’ve always been pro-Negro. Some of my closest friends are Negro. For instance, on my birthday, one of the greatest Negroes called me-Inez Jenkins [professor emeritus of religion and philosophy at Wiley College in Marshall]. She’s in Who’s Who in America.

It’s time to take Reves’s photograph. Vento has placed lights around the stone staircase, running extension cords over rugs and giving Wendy much concern. She’s forbidden any photographs of the villa, especially the spectacular views from outside.

“I have forbidden all sorts of big magazines to come here-House Beautiful, Architectural Digest, ” Reves says. “I do not want publicity about the villa. Then somebody would say, ’Look at all that, ” then come and crash the gate in. I have guards at night. Still, I am very alone. If you were to show the views, they could figure out where it is. “

She has agreed to have her own portrait made, but now that things are set up, she is balking. “Joseph, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to stand. I’m a cozy person, Joseph. I’m not one of those static people like you see in the rotogravure in Dallas. I’m down-to-earth and natural. And if you can’t do it casually, we just better forget it. “

Vento promises to take one standing and one sitting. She finally agrees. “I’m not pleased, Joseph. ” But she stands, and he begins shooting. She gets a brainstorm and sends Berio for several of her feather boas- a Reves trademark. He brings three; they pick the black one.

What Reves can’t understand is why the press in Dallas seems to have it in for her, Other than Nancy Smith, the gossip columnist at the Dallas Times Herald, whom she speaks to almost every day, and Maryln Schwartz at The Dallas Morning News, Reves says her coverage has been extremely negative, especially by the art critics.

“What they criticized was the fact that the paintings were far away, ” Reves says. “What people are saying is that in Dallas they haven’t even understood what you’ve given them. I didn’t give them a line of paintings. I gave them a beautiful interior. I gave them a way of life. This is the coming thing in museums today. The Metropolitan [Museum] was already doing it in one way.

“I think people are bored, bored, bored with going into an art gallery and seeing one painting after another, even if they’re Rem-brandts. I think people are more interested today to see how somebody lived. ” And if there’s one thing the Reves Collection does, it shows how an expatriate American and her wealthy European husband lived on the French Riviera in the Fifties and Sixties.

“They just don’t understand this in Dallas, and they’ve never forgiven the fact that two Renoirs are on a back wall. I mean, what the hell, they want to get up and kiss them?”

WENDY REVES’S ROAD FROM MAR-shall, Texas, to La Pausa and back to Texas is a long one, paved with unbridled ambition and tenacity. After marrying a young army officer at 17, she divorced him. Later she moved to New York and began working as a model. She married and divorced again. Her birth name was Wyn-Nelle Russell, but actor Franchot Tone began calling her Wendy, and she decided it fit. A model with the Powers Agency in the 1940s, she appeared in ads for Macy’s and many of the other top stores of the time. She began showing up in society columns, her name linked with celebrities like Burgess Meredith.

Wendy was looking for something more, but that something wasn’t Emery Revesat least at first.

“Darling, I was in those days going with Cary Grant, ” she says. “Errol Flynn was my flirt. There was John Garfield. So that when I saw him [Emery], he didn’t seem to be, at that moment, one of those glamour guys. ” In fact, Wendy suggested Reves, a Hungarian expatriate, go out with her mother instead.

But two years later, in 1947, they met again. This time Wendy was interested. “What happened was, I changed. I no longer wanted the glamour of a Cary Grant, or Er-rol Flynn. I never really did like terribly good-looking men. For instance in the movies, I liked Claude Rains.

“I was quite a man’s woman. It wasn’t like [I was] a Marilyn Monroe. Men saw in me someone they could have as a pal. See? Not just sexual. They were taken to me because I was fun and I was intelligent and alert and I was a good friend and I was kind and I was a good listener. I had all these qualities.

“So I had much more than someone like Marilyn Monroe or Lana Turner. They always got the bad men. I got good men. I always have had good men. What men saw in me… “

She trails off, then fetches a photograph of herself as a young woman-slim, tall, flat-chested, boyish even, with legs up to her neck.

Wendy adopts a confiding tone: “I’ve found this in men. Almost every man has an inside feeling for men. They don’t like that. But it’s there. That’s why there’s so much homosexuality all the time, all through history. Most men do not want to admit that, but it is basically a part of them. And when they could find a feminine, sweet, lovely, gay, charming girl who was just like a boy, it had more impact than Marilyn Monroe. I had several men tell me that. It’s very quirky, but it makes sense. “

After their first meeting, Wendy found out more about Emery Reves. He was the talk of New York; his book. The Anatomy of Peace, a seminal postwar analysis of nationalism and other forces that had led to World War II, was the rage.

Wendy, who never went beyond high school, had started her own business providing clothing and props to photographers. She wanted to be more than a “mannequin, ” a clotheshorse. “I thought to myself, with this man, I could learn something. I can’t learn much from Cary Grant. After all, he’d started as a circus act. I can’t learn with Er-rol Flynn; he’s still playing in the movies. I can learn with this man, and he’s very attractive and very nice. “

She says it was love at first sight for him, but not for her. “He fell in love with me before he met me. Every morning. Emery had every newspaper. He’d open them up and see these legs. And this girl. “

Wendy didn’t realize she was in love until later, in 1949, when Reves had made himself available in London and Paris, where she was working on modeling jobs. “He had to go away on business for three days. And everybody in Paris was at my feet. I was going out, I had dinner parties given for me. In those three days, I missed him terribly. I kept feeling something was missing. I said, “Jesus, Wendy, you’re in love. ’

“What was beautiful was that I stayed in love and still am in love. “

Wendy and Emery spent 15 years together before they finally married in 1964 in order to ensure that she would be his legal heir. In the years before his death in 1981, they bought and refurbished Villa La Pausa, and they collected. Paintings. Furniture. Sculpture. And people. Perhaps her most celebrated guest, Winston Churchill, spent months at La Pausa. writing and painting.

But there were other glamorous names: Greta Garbo. Aristotle Onassis, the Duke of Windsor, Anthony Eden, Eugene and Jeanne Rothschild, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, novelist Somerset Maugham, Rose Kennedy, fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy. Wendy mastered the fine art of hostessing: planning menus, throwing parties, playing the warm, lively mistress of the villa to Emery’s cooler, intellectual personality.

“It was a match well made. ” she says. “He had a tremendous passion for me, but it was not that kind of a passion, that a man has, to go to bed and all of that. He was crazy about me and he admired me, and I excited him. but it wasn’t just the bed. It was everything else. When I hear about someone having a sexual attraction, I say to myself, uh-oh. Soon it will be over. It doesn’t last and it shouldn’t last. What is good is that two people come together and they revere each other and they respect each other and they like each other. And that they want to build something together. This is what we did. “

Since Emery’s death, Flavio Berio and his family have become her family. Reves says. “I love Berio. He’s very devoted to me. He loves the house. He loves the villa. I love his daughter. I love his wife. They’re my family. I don’t have any family.”

Actually, Reves does have a son, a college professor in California, by her first marriage. But friends say they are estranged. “I have no one, ” Reves says. “When I die, Berio will bury me.”

IT’S TIME FOR THE SECOND PHOTO-graph, this one seated. Before sitting, Reves serves more hors d’oeuvres and refills my wine glass. “This is homemade paté, ” she says. “Try the egg. ” Then she turns to Joseph. “Sit in front of the door?” Reves says. “This is not cozy. “

She sits and poses. It’s clear that Reves has been often photographed. “Where are you going to cut it? Here?” She hides her hands-she hates her hands-and lifts her chin. “How does that look?”

She does look wonderful-her skin more like that of a woman in her 40s than mid-70s. Reves gets up every morning at 5: 30 and spends several hours caring for her skin and hair. When her servants arrive at 7: 30 or so, she’s dressed, coifed, and made up.

“I think you are given yourself and you must try to do the best you can with yourself, ” Reves says. “It’s not easy. Until I was 30, yes, it was easy. It’s not easy after that. ” She pats her throat. “I don’t want to get a gobble-gobble here. “

The photos finished, she gets up with a flourish: “You’ve worked your balls off, ” she tells Joseph. “You can get drunk now. You’re nice. I’ll remember you. I get along very well with Scorpios. I believe in astrology, I really do, ” In addition to astrology, Reves says she believes in God; she calls him “my Father. ” In tough times, she says, she prays to her Father, and there have been some tough times. Reves was deeply shocked and injured when she came to Dallas for the official opening of the Reves Collection-having stripped her home of virtually everything of value to give to the city-only to read stories lambasting the way the art was presented.

While the art critics’ venom hurt Reves, she’s learned to put it behind her. “I had scars all over the inside of me. I came back here after that. I was so wounded, I just wanted to sit and cry all by myself. I gave everything to them. But that’s over. I’m no longer wounded. I know that the people in Dallas love me. I’m not interested any longer about the art critics. I’m more interested today in the human element, having these great, tremendous, marvelous friends. “

At last count, she had about 60 very close friends in Dallas. Reves says. Though an old friend warned her that Dallas was a “closed shop, ” an interwoven, intermarried social world where she’d never get her foot in the door, she has been embraced by many.

“I didn’t go there to get my fool in the door. But I must tell you that getting my foot in the door has been so wonderful. Those people have been so marvelous to me. “

Oddly, she has more friends in Dallas than in Europe.

“Darling, there’s no one left here. When we came here there were masses of people who had lovely villas. France is very difficult to live in now. Taxes, everything. One by one. all the English went away. One by one, all the Americans went away. All of our friends are gone. I’m here quite, quite, quite alone. I’m always alone. I am a people person. But it has to be the right people. “

On her birthday, delivery trucks were kept busy bringing white orchids and birthday greetings. All from Dallas. She speaks to her Dallas friends on the phone almost every day. Each fall she comes to Texas to spend several weeks being wined and dined and partied. The people she cares most about are in the United States. “I really would love to come back to my own country. “

But she will never leave France, despite her longings. “When I was here it was because of Emery. He was European and had all of his businesses here. There was a reason for me being here. Now there isn’t, except for La Pausa and my chalet. I cannot leave them. This villa is a part of my skin. “

Reves says that she will fulfill all her commitments to the DMA. But she’s ordered that upon her death, the villa and the chalet and all their contents-she estimates the value at $50 million-should be sold by the Reves Foundation. “I’ve already preserved everything I want to preserve, ” she says.

Before he died. Emery asked her to cremate his body and strew his ashes in the garden of La Pausa. “I didn’t do it. I won’t do it. His ashes will be buried in my coffin with me. I don’t know what will happen when I’m not here. There may come a high-rise here. “

Wendy will be in Dallas this November to see her friends and to preside over the Dallas Symphony’s special presentation of a symphony composed by Marvin Hamlisch, and commissioned by her in Emery’s honor. He’s calling it “Anatomy of Peace. “

It’s been a long road from Marshall to Dallas. Wendy remembers growing up, sitting on the porch, shelling black-eyed peas and wondering about the road that stretched to Waco, to Fort Worth, but most importantly, to Dallas. She dreamed about going to Dallas. “And we were so poor that I never could get there. When they gave me the key to the city of Dallas, I said I had to go by Paris, by London, by Zurich, by every place in order to finally arrive in Dallas. “

In many ways-despite the fortune, despite the glamorous life-Wendy may still be that lonely, dreamy little girl shelling peas on the front porch and pinning pictures of movie stars to her bedroom wall in Marshall. Listening to her talk, it seems that among the most important things in her life are those connections she’s made in Dallas-not only with the people who wrote her fan mail and became her good friends, but with the entire city. Despite the art critics.

“What is wonderful is that the Dallas people have just taken me up, ” she says. “I’ve become an object of love. If I go in Neiman Marcus, for instance, and I walk up to a counter and I’m just looking, and the woman behind says, ’Oh, Mrs. Reves, Wendy, I’m so glad you carne. ” Wherever I go, it’s just that people show me their love. I’m crazy about Dallas. ” It’s as if the one thing Wendy Reves needs, indeed craves, is love-love from the museum board of directors, love from Dallas, love from her friends.

It’s almost 7 p. m. We’ve talked almost three hours. I feel we’ve just gotten started, but Wendy Reves has decided the tour is over. She’d revealed enough. “I like you, ” she says in that smalt, high voice. “I like you, too, ” I tell her. I realize that I do like this grande dame. While Wendy Reves may be a museum curator’s worst nightmare-a donor who executes her will while still alive-she’s also lived an amazing life, the ultimate rags-to-riches tale, where revenge is not only living well, it’s preserving that life in perpetuity. Her story would be inconceivable in this era, when famous models achieve stardom on the runway, then marry rock stars and learn acting. Instead, she married a short, swarthy intellectual and became a great collector.

“Now, you’ve got enough to write a book, ” Wendy says, smiling. “So you have to go home. “

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