THE TROPHY WIFE IS BACK--WITH BRAINS NO LONGER JUST A WALKING TESTAMENT TO HER HUSBAND'S VIRILITY, TODAY'S TROPHY MUST BE AN INTELLECTUAL COMPANION AS WELL.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – The word is Schadenfreude, and it describes better than any English expression how folks in the 1990s feel about the apparent demise of the trophy wife. In short: She got what was coming to her. Says John Fairchild, who publishes the trophy bibles Women's Wear Daily and W: "The trophy wife doesn't exist anymore. Now a wife has to be more than beautiful. She's got to have brains."
It was less than six years ago that this magazine coined the term "trophy wife" to describe the second spouse of the celebrity CEO. He was often famous for the fortune he had made from management buyouts or real estate ventures. She was one of the more visible symbols of the greed decade. Although the trophy wife was always accomplished--how else was she going to land her man?--the term became synonymous with bimbo because she was also a walking testament to her husband's virility.
Now some of the trophies are tarnished by divorce, as out of fashion as the first wives they replaced. Their husbands, who never shed the mentality of the trading room, have swapped them for newer models. And so the definition of trophy wife has undergone yet another transformation, more in keeping with the muted, value-oriented 1990s: These women have brains. "There's glamour attached to them," reports Jill Spalding, an editor at Vogue. "Men find brain chic very appealing." She notes that the social scene has changed to favor more intellectual pursuits. "Now people say, 'What are you re-reading?' " You'd better be pretty self-confident if the answer is Robert Waller.
Symbolic of the new breed is Marie Josae Kravis, 45, Henry's third, and the holder of a master's degree in economics from the University of Montreal. The former wife of Charles Dutoit (her second husband), the conductor of the Montreal Symphony, she is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where she will be leading a group on emerging economies, and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. She chairs a task force on trade policy for the Canadian government, writes a column for Toronto's Financial Post, and sits on six boards. About the only thing she doesn't do is design her own clothes. As Marie Josae Kravis sees it, however: "I'm devoting less time to my career than I did five years ago. My prior research caused me to spend time in Europe; now I'm trying to focus my research to be with my husband."A tall, slender brunette who resembles her predecessor, Carolyne Roehm, Marie Josae "looks very refined, elegant," says a hostess on the edges of the Kravis crowd. Goodbye, bombshell. Hello, bluestocking. Make that sexy bluestocking. Ronald Perelman's new third wife, Patricia Duff, 40, is a heavy-duty fundraiser for the Democratic Party in California. But she is also a gorgeous blonde who got around to marrying Perelman, 51--it was her third wedding as well--several weeks after their daughter was born last December.
There's an exception that proves every rule, of course. How else could you explain Marla Maples, 30, Ivana's successor as Mrs. Donald Trump? Shrewd Ivana was the one who ran the Plaza Hotel for a salary of one dollar a year and "all the dresses she could buy," as her ex-husband, the hotel's owner, put it. Marla was a showgirl in The Will Rogers Follies on Broadway until pregnancy interfered. The subsequent stress over whether the Donald, 48, would make her an honest woman took its toll. As quoted in Elle magazine, she said, "I went from a 38D to a 36C." Fortunately, the man did what a man's gotta do in 1993, before she completely withered away.
In reality, it's not the wife who has changed so much as the times. When Michael Milken went to jail, the testosterone went out of the 1980s. Says Janet Clarke, 42, a senior vice president at R.R. Donnelley and the second wife of a man 16 years her senior: "The whole trophy thing is so passa. It was a term for a time of instant Wall Street millionaires. Life has changed a lot since then."
Yes--and no. There is plenty of money around; those who made it in the 1980s still have it. But, says novelist and columnist Michael Thomas, "there's no exuberance anymore. Trophy suggests flaunting, and flaunting is not the gestalt of the 1990s." Spending is internal, and therefore hidden, on homes and private entertaining. A top Manhattan decorator reports that her clients are willing to spring for $250,000 to redo their living rooms with Aubusson carpets and glazed walls. "No one balks at these prices," she says, "especially if they've done it before." And Philip Baloun, who designs many of the fashionable parties, reckons that a wedding, a birthday, or an an- niversary celebration for 200 guests will run the host and hostess about $300,000. "It can be done for less," he concedes.
Two birthday parties, given by trophy wives for their spouses, illustrate the different zeitgeists of the two decades. In August 1989 financier Saul Steinberg turned 50, and his third wife, Gayfryd, now 44, spent a reported $1 million of his money on what was later called the party of the decade. Because Steinberg collects paintings by the Old Masters, the theme was the 17th century. There were mounds of beluga caviar for the 250 guests, an enormous air-conditioned tent covering a tennis court--this was midsummer in humid Quogue, New York--dancers in 17th-century dress, table centerpieces of treasure chests with pearls spilling out of them, and on and on and on. But the most talked about aspect of the party were tableaux of Old Masters oils using live models, one of whom posed naked for Rembrandt's Dana‘, which depicts Zeus' visit to the beautiful mortal. Drunken guests occasionally tried to climb into the frame and paw Dana‘. "Honey," the delighted birthday boy told his wife, "if this moment were a stock, I'd short it."
Now flash forward to February 1995, and Alfred Taubman's 70th birthday party. It was given by the Detroit developer's glamorous second wife, Judith, 50ish, a former Miss Israel, at their oceanfront Palm Beach house. The gathering for 350 had a tropical theme, and all the men wore white dinner jackets.
As described by Aileen Mehle, who writes a twice-weekly gossip column under the byline Suzy for Women's Wear Daily: "Philip Baloun had fashioned a tent to evoke a clearing in a magical, tropical forest. The ceiling was one immense midnight-blue curtain studded with tiny, glittering stars. The walls of the tent were covered with hand-painted murals of palm trees, tropical foliage, and bright yellow and pink hibiscus blossoms." There was champagne, of course, and "lashings" of caviar on baked potatoes, and an orchestra flown in from Paris. But no naked models. No dancing girls.
"If the glitz is still out there, it's less so," says best-selling author and longtime social scene observer Nancy Friday. "We're not seeing parties like Saul Steinberg's anymore. People would gasp if that were done today." (Friday happens to be the third wife of Norman Pearlstine, editor-in-chief of Time Warner, which owns Time Inc., Fortune's parent.)
This environment of pragmatism and inconspicuous consumption is not one in which the traditional trophy wife, who five years ago elicited a "Wow!" in the boardroom, flourishes today. But even harder hit is the shapely second who has stumbled into divorce court or whose husband has stumbled into disgrace.
It is generally agreed that the problems leading to William Agee's ouster as CEO of Morrison Knudsen in February were of his own making. But Mary Cunningham Agee, 43, has come in for her share of the blame because Agee, 57, had allowed his personal life to become part of his public persona. The missis was featured in a company brochure as the unpaid executive director of Morrison Knudsen's charitable foundation-a job she never would have had were she not Agee's wife--and she posed with her husband for a $7,000 portrait that hung on the wall of a Morrison Knudsen building in Boise.
Susan Gutfreund, 47, had nothing to do with her husband's ouster from Salomon Brothers in 1991; John, 65, failed to alert regulators when he discovered one of his employees was submitting false customer bids in an effort to corner the Treasury market. Susan was friendly and engaging, albeit high maintenance, and her husband grinned like a schoolboy while she whipped through his capital. Her life was a parody of the pleasure-seeking socialite's, but once she and John were no longer backed by one of Wall Street's most powerful trading houses, a tactical retreat was in order. In recent months Susan has been charming her way back into society's good graces, chairing the benefits she used to turn down because she was too busy decorating her houses. Moreover, this Miranda gets points for standing by a Caliban who has so far lost every attempt to recover money he believes Salomon owes him and to avoid the liability of a $300 million shareholder suit filed against him and two other Salomon executives.
Life can get more slippery still for an ex-trophy wife, particularly if she is the one who got dumped. Carolyne Roehm, 43, has a beautiful apartment on Manhattan's Sutton Place hung with a huge Winterhalter portrait, and a vast country place in Connecticut with its own indoor riding ring. But she was said to feel life had become very difficult in New York since her divorce in 1993. Earlier this year she temporarily decamped to Paris to study cooking. She's no longer in the dress business, and an attempt to sell her designs by catalogue also failed. "There are people who, because I am single, are no longer interested in me," she laments. A friend is blunter: "She's no longer Mrs. Kravis, and being beautiful isn't enough in the New York social scene." That's for sure. Many of her friends attended her successor's wedding reception.
A similar fate might have overtaken Claudia Cohen, 44, Perelman's second wife, whom the owner of Revlon pensioned off with a reported $80 million. But Cohen, who does celebrity interviews twice a week for ABC's Live With Regis & Kathie Lee talk show, proved she was made of stronger stuff. Just as her ex traded up from gossip columnist to political fundraiser, Cohen caught the eye of Senator Alfonse D'Amato, 57, the powerful New York Republican whose self-promotional antics appall the voters even as they reelect him.
The pair held a press conference in February to declare their love but were constrained from announcing their engagement by the fact that D'Amato is still legally married to the mother of his four children. It's difficult to tell who is the catch here. Cohen's $80 million is a nice war chest for an ambitious politician-particularly one who until recently stayed in the basement of the house he still owns with his wife when visiting his home state, because he couldn't afford separate quarters. On the other hand, given the climate in Washington, a Republican Senator beats a Democratic fundraiser hands down.
There's nothing new in older, powerful men seeking younger wives. Douglas T. Kenrick, professor of psychology at Arizona State University, points to Henry VIII, the much-married 16th-century monarch, who, he says, "provided a single-case design with a relatively large number of data points on marriage ages." Henry was 19 when he married Catherine of Aragon, who was in her early 20s. When he married No. 2, Anne Boleyn, he was 40 and she was 24. By the time he got to his sixth and last wife, Catherine Parr, he was 52 and she was 31. The wives got older, but not as fast as he did.
It's conceivable, however, that as the times become more oriented to quality, so do the men. Perhaps they are looking for better company, women they can talk to as well as stare at. Or perhaps they are becoming uneasy with the prurient symbolism of the traditional trophy wife. Lawrence Hoyle, 56, named by Philadelphia magazine as one of the city's 13 "superlawyers," recalls that after he was divorced several years ago, friends decided to fix him up. "The woman was a year younger than my daughter, and I thought they were playing a practical joke," he says, the embarrassment still in his voice. "It turned out they weren't. So I took the kid out to dinner and never saw her again." Eighteen months ago he married his present wife, Molly, 49, who handles marketing and public relations for Price Waterhouse in Philadelphia.
Women look for trophies too, in that they are drawn to men with power and status. The atavistic reason for this is the woman's need to be sure a man has the resources to provide for any children she might have with him. Well, life has gotten a bit complicated since Henry VIII's day, and women can provide for their children themselves. Even so, says Suzy the gossip columnist, "a woman can become president, but it doesn't have the same cachet as bagging a billionaire. That's the ultimate." So just who is the trophy, anyway?