On November 25 1990, Armand Hammer readied
himself for the black-tie dinner celebrating the opening
of an institution that he had erected in marble-- the Armand
Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center. He knew from the
grim prognosis he had recently received from his doctors
that this might be his last public appearance. He was 92
years old and suffered from chronic anemia, bronchitis,
prostate enlargement, kidney ailments and an irregular heartbeat
and cancer that was rapidly spreading throughout his body.
He also ever more frequently lost contact with reality and
hallucinated. His night nurse, who twice earlier that fall
had used artificial respiration to revive him, had now been
instructed not to intervene again. But even in a weakened
condition, he was determined to attend this event.
He had had a massive blood transfusion,
which made his mind more acute. He also had a large dosage
of analgesics, which relieved the pain in his body. He had
his hair trimmed and was fitted with a new tuxedo designed
to conceal his recent weight-loss. He was then strapped
into his wheel-chair and, barely conscious when he was carried
down the steps of his home in the Westwood section of Los
Angeles to the waiting limousine.
Up until 1987, he had planned to leave
his art to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. But when
he revised his terms for the gift that year and demanded
that it create a virtual museum within a museum for his
collection-- one which would be run by a curator that was
appointed in perpetuity by him or his designated agent,
the Armand Hammer Foundation, its Board of Trustees refused
to acquiesce to that extraordinary arraignment. He then
revoked his pledge gift and proceeded to build a museum
that he could control posthumerously through his foundation.
Although it would cost over eighty million
dollars, he relied on Occidental Petroleum Corporation to
provide the financing. He had built this company from a
near-bankrupt corporate shell in 1955 to the fourteenth
largest industrial company in the U.S. Though he owned less
than one percent of its stock, he was chairman and could
count on it to do his bidding. He had often used its corporate
treasury to fund his art acquisition as, for example, when
he had it secretly donate the $6 million to his foundation
in 1980 that he used to buy the celebrated Leonardo da Vinci
notebook, which he then renamed the Hammer Codex and exhibited
around the world. He now wanted a special hall in the new
museum dedicated to the Hammer Codex. He also wanted the
museum erected adjacent to Occidental's headquarters on
Wilshire Boulevard, with its outer walls build of white
marble imported from the same quarry in Italy that Da Vinci
had used five centuries earlier and his name carved in letters
three feet high on two sides of the museum.
Occidental accommodated him by donating
to the museum the real estate its corporate headquarters
stood on (and then leasing back its office building) and
constructing and the edifice according to Hammer's approved
design. It also provided it with a $36 million endowment
that would be used to subsidize its operating expenses.
Even though some Occidental shareholders had sued the company
over the expenditures it had made on this enterprise, which
Newsweek described it disparagingly as "more like a mausoleum
than a museum," Hammer was not deterred. He was determined
to open it on schedule.
He had assembled that night at the Armand
Hammer Museum the leading lights of Los Angeles society.)
He now enjoyed the status not just of a captain of industry
but of a world celebrity. He could claim to have been received
by no fewer than eight American Presidents in the White
House and by almost as many Soviet Presidents, as well as
Lenin himself, in the Kremlin His international awards included
the Soviet Union's Order of Friendship, America's National
Medal of the Arts, France's Legion of Honor, Italy's Grand
Order of Merit, Sweden's Royal Order of the Polar Star,
Austria's Knight Commander's Cross, Pakistan's Hall-I-Quad.-Adam
Peace Award, Israel's Leadership Award, Venezuela's Order
of Andres Bello, Mexico's National Recognition Award, Bulgaria's
Jubilee Medal and Belgium's Commander of the Order of the
Crown. He even had a school, the Armand Hammer World College,
named in his honor. Though still woozy from drugs and blood
transfusions, he greeted the long parade of acquaintances--
the executives at Occidental, who were waiting to take over
from him, the art curators, who had authenticated his paintings
for decades, the politicians, whom he had helped finance,
the doctors, who could do little further for him, the lawyers,
ready to litigate his estate and his surviving family--
his only son, Julian, 61 years ago, and his grandson, Michael,
the executor of his estate, and granddaughter, Casey.
After cutting the ceremonial ribbon,
he took his seat at the table of honor. On his right, was
Danielle Mitterand, the wife of the President of France.
She had agreed to come to the opening after he had pledged
a $300,000 donation to President Mitterand's private foundation
in France. Across from him was Tom Bradley, the Mayor of
Los Angeles, whose re-election campaign he had generously
supported and Rabbi Harvey Fields, who was helping him organize
an extraordinary bar mitvhah ceremony that was scheduled
to take place in two weeks. Although Hammer had never had
the traditional bar mitvah at the age of 13, and denied
his Jewish heritage most of his life, he now wanted at his
advance age to undergo this rite of passage. On his left
was Hilary Gibson, a white-haired women with striking features.
She had played an instrumental role in creating the museum.
Grasping her hand under the table, he said "We did it."
It was the culmination of a 17 year long relationship in
which she was, as she would put it, his "confidante, friend,
business associate, co-habitant, consultant, nurse, mistress
and lover." He had been her King Pygmalian, transformimg
her over these years into a totally new identity.
When she had met Hammer in August 1974,
her name was not Hilary Gibson; it was Martha Wade Kaufman.
She was then an exceedingly comely 38 years old woman with
flaming red hair. She was married to a USC professor and
the mother of two young daughters. She had come to California
from Ohio as an airline stewardess but then earned a degree
in fine art at California State University. She had decided
to try her hand at art journalism and Hammer was her first
assignment. East-West Publications, which publishes magazines
for airlines, had commissioned her to write about Hammer's
art collection and Occidental's public relations department
had arranged for her to meet Hammer at 9 a.m. in his office
that day. But, when she arrived that morning, he was not
there. She elected to wait-- sitting in a cubicle outside
his door most of the day. When he finally arrived at five
in the afternoon, he profusely apologized for the eight-hour
delay and ordered his secretary to bring them both ice teas.
He was heavier than she expected (he weighed almost 206
pounds) but walked with a robust spring in his step. She
noticed that he was dressed in an immaculately tailored
gray suit, a white shirt and an elegant tie. He also had
a deep tan that set off his lucid eyes. He looked remarkably
vigorous for a man she knew was in his late seventies.
She watched him assess her carefully.
(He later would tell her "You didn't stand a chance." )
She began the interview trying to be as professional as
possible. She asked him his motive for collecting art and
whether he considered it another business investment or
a profound passion.
Instead of answering her questions,
he abruptly changed the subject to a painting in his collection.
He showed it to her in the catalogue of his private collection.
"It could be you," he said looking at her with a fixed gaze.
He then explained that the artist's mistress was the model
for that painting and told her that her colors perfectly
matched the flesh tones in the painting. He then looked
at his watch and told her he had an appointment with his
barber, and asked her if she minded continuing the interview
while he was getting his hair cut.
She had little choice if she wanted
to complete the interview. At the barber shop, instead of
the discussion about art she expected, he interviewed her
about her marital status. She told him that her marriage
was rocky and that she wanted more out of life than being
someone's wife and that she was in the process of separating
from her husband.
When his hair cut was complete--which
took only a few minutes-- he had another surprise for her.
He pulled her towards his waiting limousine and told they
would have to complete the interview en route to the airport
where his private plane was waiting to fly him to Moscow.
Again, rather than discussing his collection, he preferred
telling him about his unique standing in Moscow. He told
her he had met Lenin and almost every other important Soviet
leader. She was impressed. As they neared the airport, he
guardedly scribbled a question to her on a piece of paper--
as if he was afraid his spoken words might be monitored.
What was her home telephone? She answered it and, passing
the paper back to him, was amazed to see him erase his orinal
question. She was intrigued by the layer of conspiracy he
had imposed on a simple request.
Hammer called her a few weeks later.
In a very business-like way, he told her he was back in
Los Angeles and he had thought about her questions and now
wanted to complete the interview. He suggested that she
meet him that afternoon at a private suite at the Beverly
Hills Hilton Hotel which he used when he did not want to
be disturbed by routine office business.
He opened the door for her when she
arrived at the suite and seated her on a sofa across a table
from him. When she took out her pad to take notes, he told
her that what he was saying was not for publication but
he wanted her to hear him out. She was slightly mystified
by the request but put down her pad.
Speaking with almost brutal frankness,
he told her about his interest in building a serious collection.
He explained that art for him was neither a business nor
an aesthetic passion; it was a means to achieve an end--
immortalizing his name. He wanted to leave behind such an
unrivalled collection that future generations would associate
the Hammer name with greatness. To do this, he intended
to spare no expense in buying renowned masterpieces. To
give it prominence during his lifetime, he would exhibit
the collection in the great museums of the world. After
his death, it would be housed in a separate building in
the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where it would stand,
forever, as a monument to him. He told her he had already
made the preliminary arrangements with the Los Angeles County
Museum but he still had to improve the collection and create
a global reputation for it. He then told her the real purpose
behind this meeting: He wanted her to leave journalism and
work closely with him in realizing this prodigious ambition.
She would act as his personal art consultant, curator and
liaison with museums around the world. She would have her
own office at Occidental and travel with him on his private
jet. She would help him make the arrangements for exhibiting
the Armand Hammer collection around the world. He then leaned
close to her, suggesting this would be more than a professional
relationship, and told her he was offering her a new life.
If she accepted, she would, as he put it, "never have to
worry about money again."