8.20.2007

the queen of mean

After posting the obits of four great New Yorkers, I'll post one of a not-so-great. Leona Helmsely is dead at age 87.

Helmsely, the self-described queen of her hotel empire, was dubbed The Queen of Mean by the New York tabloids, and for a time was the New Yorker we most loved to hate. She was the perfect target: rich, arrogant, corrupt and female. Although I was no fan of Leona Helmsely's, I have no doubt that the special venom she drew was at least partially fueled by sexism.

Her most celebrated moment, which I'm sure you'll read about everywhere, came during her 1989 tabloid-rich trial for tax fraud: a former employee testified that Helmsely said, "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."

Much like the "Ford to City: Drop Dead," it may never have been said (Helmsely always denied it), but it came to define the would-be speaker.

Boy does her death bring back memories. New York in the 80s, a crazy city in a crazy time.

New York Times obit here.

4 comments:

M. Yass said...

Although I was no fan of Leona Helmsely's, I have no doubt that the special venom she drew was at least partially fueled by sexism.

I remember seeing a story about her on 60 Minutes. It spoke of how she required everyone to address her as "queen" and made her employees stand at attention at meetings.

Whether that is true or not is another matter. What I do know? If it had been Lee Helmsley instead of Leona, he would have been described as a "tough-as-nails businessman" and a "fierce, take-no-prisoners competitor" who "demands absolute loyalty, respect and allegiance from his staff, requiring them to address him as 'sir'" and who certainly "takes no shit from those goddamn IRS bureaucrats." Leona, on the other hand, was "the queen of mean" and a "bitch."

I too am no fan of Leona Helmsley. I remember getting some real schadenfreude from the NYT headline, "Jail to the Queen." Still, I think you do have a point here about sexism.

L-girl said...

Thanks for fleshing that out, M Yass. Well said.

James said...

If it had been Lee Helmsley instead of Leona, he would have been described as a "tough-as-nails businessman" and a "fierce, take-no-prisoners competitor" who "demands absolute loyalty, respect and allegiance from his staff, requiring them to address him as 'sir'" and who certainly "takes no shit from those goddamn IRS bureaucrats."

On the other hand, if he'd made people address him as "king", that might have put him over the top...

L-girl said...

On the other hand, if he'd made people address him as "king", that might have put him over the top...


I think anyone who is quoted saying "only the little people pay taxes" is going to be slammed, man or woman.

But OTOH people find arrogance much more acceptable in a man than in a woman, or so it seems to me.