Meet Huguette Clark's 'little people' in excerpt of 'Empty Mansions'

Courtesy NBC News

This is the first of three excerpts adapted from the new book "Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune," by NBC News investigative reporter Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.

The house of Christian Dior held fashion shows at the palatial French consulate in New York, just up Fifth Avenue from Huguette's apartment, with models showing the latest Parisian fashions. On the afternoon of one of these shows in the late 1950s, a familiar name showed up on the guest list. 

"Mrs. Huguette Clark!" exclaimed the consul general, Baron Jacques Baeyens, who had married Huguette's niece. "Look, she's not going to come. She's my aunt, and she never goes out."

The representative from Christian Dior replied, "Oh, yes, she will. She wants to see the dresses to dress her dolls."

And she did. Huguette, then just past 50, walked the three blocks up Fifth Avenue to the consulate to view the latest fashions from Paris.

Huguette Clark, who grew up in the biggest house in New York, was, like her father, a meticulous designer of extravagant houses, only on a smaller scale. These were dollhouses, but more than dollhouses. There were her German tabletop story houses, actually little theaters with scenes and characters painted on the walls. There were her Japanese models of castles and tea houses, designed by Huguette and made for her by an elderly artist in Japan.

Focused on every detail, Huguette tried to get the artisans, some of them 4,000 miles away, to be more careful with their measurements. The houses had to be in proportion to the dolls that went with them. The following cable is typical, sent when Huguette was 58 years old to an artist who made small, posable dolls based on fairy-tale characters and sold them door-to-door in a Bavarian town.

Cable of October 6, 1964, to Mrs. Edith von Arps, Burgkunstadt, West Germany:

"Rumpelstiltskin house just arrived. It is beautifully painted but unfortunately is not same size of last porridge house received. Instead of front of house being 19¾ of an inch wide it is only 15½ inch wide. Please make sure religious house has front of house 19¾ of an inch wide. Would also like shutters on all the windows. Would like another Rumpelstiltskin house with same scenes with scene where hay is turned to gold added as well as scene before hay is turned but with wider front and also wooden shutters on every window. With many thanks for all your troubles and kindest regards. Huguette Clark, 907 Fifth Ave NYC."

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