I really thought long and hard about today's Tuesday Timeline entry for today. When I was looking over the events and happenings of August 20, there was one subject that I really wanted to talk about. In fact, I guess you could say that the subject immediately stood out as one that I really wanted to speak about.
However, I was initially very conflicted about the subject matter.
As you well know by some of my previous posts in this blog, I am a huge advocate of stopping bullying. As a person who went through it, I am not one who has any sympathy for anyone who belittles, degrades, or humiliates people just because they see it as a fun distraction for their own lives. I've even started up a Facebook group devoted to stopping bullying in schools and workplaces entitled the “Gallery of Healing”. I know what it was like and it was not a fun experience.
Well, I'm going to offer you a bit of a warning. Today's Tuesday Timeline happens to feature a person who many would consider to be a bully. She was a right nasty piece of work who allegedly terrorized her own employees and went for the jugular of anyone who ever dared cross her path.
Now, you might be wondering why I would choose to spotlight someone like that when I have such a strong dislike of all bullies. Well, I'll be completely honest with all of you as I type this. I always have been a huge believer in karma. I believe that if you do good things, you will be bestowed positive karma that will serve you well in life. And if you do things that are very, very bad – well, you better put up your dukes, because bad karma will surely come your way.
In today's Tuesday Timeline, we're going to explore the life of this person as well as some of the things that helped make them famous – or infamous – as someone who was intensely mean towards those who were “beneath them”. But what is interesting is that for all of their bravado towards the world – they also experienced quite a bit of heartbreak along the way. And one might wonder if maybe that heartbreak contributed to the hardening of their personality and heart.
But we'll get to that a little later. For now, we have other business to attend to.
If you were born today, you are quite lucky, as you share a birthday with the following famous faces. Happy birthday to you and Don King, Ron Paul, Connie Chung, Robert Plant, Patrick Kilpatrick, Al Roker, Joan Allen, James Marsters, Sophie Aldred, KRS-One, David Rees Snell, Colin Cunningham, Billy Gardell, Fred Durst, Amy Adams, Misha Collins, Andrew Garfield, Brant Daugherty, Daniele Donato, and Demi Lovato.
And, here are the events throughout history on this, the twentieth day of August.
14 A.D. - Agrippa Postumus, adoptive son of late Roman Emperor Augustus, is executed by his guards while in exile under peculiar circumstances
1775 – The Spanish establish the Presidio San Augustin de Tucson in the area that would eventually come to become the city of Tucson, Arizona
1858 – Charles Darwin first publishes his theory of evolution through natural selection
1866 – American President Andrew Johnson declares the American Civil War is over
1914 – German forces occupy Brussels, Belgium as the first World War proceeds
1920 – Detroit, Michigan becomes home to the very first commercial radio station entitled 8MK (now WWJ Radio)
1923 – Country singer Jim Reeves is born in Galloway, Texas
1938 – Baseball player Lou Gehrig hits his record breaking 23rd Grand Slam
1940 – On the same day that Winston Churchill makes the fourth of his famous wartime speeches, Leon Trotsky is attacked by an axe-wielding man in Mexico City, succumbing to his injuries the following day
1942 – Singer, songwriter, and actor Isaac Hayes is born in Covington, Tennessee
1960 – Senegal declares its independence from the Mali Federation
1988 – The Yellowstone National Park fires blaze on; August 20, 1988 is declared “Black Saturday”, with over 150,000 acres of trees being consumed by the flames
1989 – Following a collision, pleasure boat Marchioness sinks into the River Thames, killing fifty-one people
1991 – More than 100,000 people rally outside the Soviet Union's parliament building in protest of the coup aiming to depose Mikhail Gorbachev
1998 – The U.S.A. launches a missile attack against alleged al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and a chemical plant in Sudan following the bombing of two American embassies nearly two weeks earlier
2002 – A group of Iraqis who are opposed to Saddam Hussein's regime stage a takeover of the Iraqi embassy in Berlin for a little over five hours
2012 – Actress and comedienne Phyllis Diller passes away at the age of 95
So, you can see that August 20 was a fairly busy day in a historical sense.
So, which date am I going to feature in today's blog entry? Well, it's actually a date that is fairly recent.
August 20, 2007.
I don't think that I've featured the year 2007 in this blog before. Partly because the year 2007 wasn't exactly a great year for me on a personal standpoint. I've certainly had worse years than 2007, but it wasn't really one of my best years either.
Of course, for our blog subject for this week, 2007 was not a great year for her either. It was the year she died!
Yes, on August 20, 2007, our blog subject breathed her final breath at the age of 87. The cause of death? Congestive heart failure. Some might call that incredibly ironic, given that she allegedly spent her entire life treating other people miserably and was frequently named in the press as “The Queen of Mean”.
This is the story of Leona Helmsley, who passed away exactly six years ago today.
Now, some of you might not know the name, so for those of you who don't, here's a brief biographical sketch of her.
She was born as Lena Mindy Rosenthal on July 4, 1920 in the small town of Marbletown, New York to Polish-Jewish immigrants. And as a child, she had a rather interesting upbringing, moving at least six times to various neighbourhoods before settling in Manhattan, New York City by the time she was a young woman.
Lena Rosenthal dropped out of high school before graduating, as she felt that it was necessary for her to achieve fame and fortune.
PSA: Stay in school, kids! Get that degree.
Something else changed when Lena Rosenthal dropped out of school. Her name. She eventually settled on the name Leona Roberts after trying out the names "Lee Roberts", "Mindy Roberts", and "Lani Roberts".
And Leona Roberts had a bit of a struggle finding love as well. Her first marriage to Leo Panzirer ended in divorce (though the union did produce Leona's only child, Jay, born in 1940). Her second marriage to Joseph Lubin also ended in divorce, and after the breakdown of her second marriage, Leona worked at a sewing factory before joining the staff of a real estate firm in New York. The one thing that I will say about Leona is that she worked exceptionally hard to make her way up within the company, and that work ethic helped her secure the vice-presidency of the very company she worked for.
In 1968, Leona became acquainted with a man named Harry Helmsley while Leona was working as a condominium broker, and joined his own firm two years later in 1970. Soon after, Leona became involved in the first of many scandals that seemed to pop up in her life. In late 1971, several people sued Leona for forcing the tenants of one of the apartment buildings she managed to purchase condominiums in an effort to increase her own personal net worth. Leona ended up losing the case, and as part of her sentence, she had to compensate and give the tenants involved in the lawsuit a three-year-lease, and her real estate license was suspended. In the end, it meant little to Leona. She married Harry Helmsley in the spring of 1972 (which made her Leona Helmsley), and focused her energies on helping to grow her husband's booming hotel empire.
Over the next seventeen years, the Helmsleys built a billion dollar empire, with some prime real estate under their control. Amongst some of their real estate success stories were the Helmsley Palace on Madison Avenue, the Park Lane Hotel, the New York Helmsley Hotel, the Helmsley Palace Hotel, and believe it or not at one time their real estate portfolio included the Empire State Building! By 1989, it was estimated that Leona Helmsley directly controlled almost two dozen hotels!
But while the Helmsley's personal fortune and net worth continued to grow, Leona Helmsley began showing her true colours...and they weren't pretty.
It's hard to say when Leona turned into the "Queen of Mean", but I would hazard a guess that it may have been triggered by the death of her son Jay in March 1982. Jay's wife, Mimi, was left a widow with four children to raise. And how did Leona support her? She served her an EVICTION NOTICE! Yes, Mimi happened to live in a building that Leona owned, and just days after Jay's funeral, Mimi was thrown out! To add insult to injury, Leona sued her son's estate for money and property that she claimed he borrowed from her before his death, and was awarded almost $150,000! The end result left Mimi nearly penniless, and without answers as to why Leona would do such a thing, especially since she and her husband had a net worth estimated to be one billion dollars at the time.
Now you understand why she was called the "Queen of Mean"?
There are other horror stories as well detailing Leona's treatment of other people within her hotel chains. It had become common knowledge that Leona was a tough cookie whom you did not want to cross, but few really knew exactly how mean she was. Here are a few alleged examples of what I mean.
- When Leona Helmsley went to breakfast with lawyer Alan Dershowitz, Dershowitz claimed that Helmsley humiliated a poor waiter who worked at one of the hotels she owned. He served a cup of tea with a little bit of water spilled on the saucer, and this infuriated Helmsley so much that she grabbed the cup, smashed it on the floor and demanded the waiter get down on his knees and beg for his job!
- Leona had commissioned somebody to install a barbecue pit for her home, but flipped out when she saw that the final bill was over thirteen thousand dollars. She refused to pay the bill claiming that the work was subpar. What was worse, the contractor had a family of six to support, which gained him no sympathy from Helmsley, who thought that he should have "kept his pants on" if he wanted money so badly!
- And perhaps one of the most shocking comments that was allegedly uttered by Helmsley was in 1983 when Elizabeth Baum - a former housekeeper at the Helmsley home - made the remark that the Helmsleys must pay a lot of taxes. To which Leona quipped the following.
"We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."
Funny thing is that it is this statement that caused Leona Helmsley to swallow a dose of nasty, bitter tasting karmic retribution.
The floor came crashing down in 1983, when the Helmsleys purchased Dunnellen Hall to use as a weekend retreat. The cost of the property was a steal at eleven million dollars, but the Helmsleys wanted to make the property value soar by remodelling the 21-room mansion. They put Jeremiah McCarthy in charge of the operation, and initially things started off well. But then McCarthy claimed that Leona repeatedly demanded that he sign illegal invoices designed to illegally bill purchases to the estate. When McCarthy refused to do this, it ticked Leona off big time.
By the time the renovations were completed, the Helmsleys were disgusted to realize that the total bill came to eight million dollars, and initially refused to pay. The Helmsleys did pay off most of the money after the contractors went to court, and the contractors made the claim that Leona Helmsley and her husband were billing their work as business expenses for the Helmsley hotel empire. These expenses included a mahogany card table, a clock crafted with silver, and a dance floor that reportedly cost a million dollars!
The contractors were understandably furious with Helmsley, and they sent out documentation to the New York Post, supporting their claims, which prompted United States Attorney Rudolph Giuliani to indict the Helmsleys on extortion charges in 1988.
The trial commenced in 1989 after a few months passed, due to the fact that Harry Helmsley had suffered a stroke during this time and was declared unfit to stand trial. Therefore, "The Queen of Mean" had to face her accusers alone.
And at the trial, all of the "Queen of Mean"'s dirty knickers were exposed for all to see.
Several former staffers testified that she had a tyrannical personality and she used it to her advantage. She often belittled her staff, and she fired people for disagreeing with her and the way she ran things. Many of the staffers talked about how much they feared her and the horror stories that unfolded while working for her. Mind you, Leona Helmsley did herself no favours by alienating the jury, who were appalled by her hostile personality and arrogance.
On August 30, 1989, Helmsley was found guilty of several charges, which included...
- One count of conspiracy to defraud the United States
- Three counts of tax evasion
- Three counts of filing false personal tax returns
- Ten counts of mail fraud
- Sixteen counts of assisting in the filing of false corporate and partnership tax returns
Leona Helmsley met karma that day...and my oh my what a bitch karma was to her.
Luckily for Helmsley, karma's bitch-slap wasn't as powerful as she feared. She was acquitted of the major charge of extortion, which could have seen her thrown in jail without any chance of getting out. But the sentence she was given was severe. If she had served out her full sentence, she would have been in jail until the year 2005. Instead, she appealed the sentence, and it was greatly reduced.
Ironically enough, Leona Helmsley was ordered to report to prison on April 15, 1992 - the American tax day. She remained in custody at a federal prison for the next eighteen months. By 1994, she was by all accounts a free woman.
But was she really free?
Since Leona Helmsley's release from prison, she spent the remainder of her life in complete isolation. Her beloved husband died in 1997, making her a widow, and although she was left her husband's entire fortune which was worth five billion dollars, she ended up losing an entire fortune herself. Because she was a convicted felon, she was forced to give up the majority of her hotel empire because it was illegal for felons to obtain a liquor license (most of Helmsley's hotels had bars within them).
She died on August 20, 2007 without anybody but her beloved dog, Trouble, beside her.
Of course, some might say that she got exactly what she deserved. Even in the months after her death, many people still felt that she was demonstrating her "Queen of Mean" persona from beyond the grave. Her will reading in particular was especially shocking - especially the part about her awarding a twelve million dollar trust fund to her dog, Trouble, but completely snubbing two of her four grandchildren, leaving them with absolutely nothing.
I mean, really...who leaves two grandchildren money and ignores the other two? Come on. And even the other two grandchildren who did receive a five million dollar trust fund found that it was conditional. They had to visit their father's grave at least once a year, and sign a registration book proving that they did! Unbelievable. Is it any wonder why the Hemlsley grandchildren were reportedly estranged from Leona?
Although, it was later determined that when Leona made her will, she was mentally unfit to make such huge decisions given everything that had happened, and in 2008, a court reversed Leona's will, making the divvying up of her assets a little fairer.
But still, to see someone go from being a bully to her staffers making everyone's life miserable to becoming a woman so broken and empty that she died alone...that's gotta make one think, doesn't it?
And I should also state that in her later years, it appeared that Leona Helmsley was trying her best to rebuild the tattered reputation she ended up with. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, she reportedly donated five million dollars of her own fortune to the families of firefighters that were killed in the World Trade Center collapse, and she even contributed twenty five million dollars to the New York Presbyterian Hospital to aid in medical research.
Perhaps there is a lesson to learn in Leona Helmsley's life and death. There is no glamour in being a bully. And being a bully in this life might take you so far. But as Leona Helmsley learned the hard way...sometimes when you take the unscrupulous climb to the top...it only makes the impact after the fall so much more painful when your grip inevitably loosens.
And that's what happened on August 20, 2007.