Lowe: Palm Beach, as exposed by your book,
sounds like one big social club from which we mere
mortals are excluded. Is it really true that the police
stop gawkers at the bridge? Why are the super rich
so enamored with the place?
Kessler: They are their own social club.
Why should they mix with gawkers and tourists? They
prefer to be with their own kind. People who think,
talk, and act the way they do. Palm Beach has the
greatest concentration of rich people in the world.
With vigilant police who can sense outsiders, Palm
Beach offers the perfect setting for the rich to enjoy
themselves. To give themselves a sense of achievement,
they exclude outsiders and impose a caste system on
the 3.75 square mile island paradise. Almost like
laboratory rats fed growth hormones, the 9800 residents
of Palm Beach exhibit the most outlandish and exaggerated
forms of human behavior.
Did you find their odd behavior and rituals were competitive
in nature, meaning they don’t use balance sheets
as a yardstick as much as we think they do?
The super rich compete with balloon decorations
and yacht lengths. Their net worths are always mysteries,
either much higher or lower than what one is led to
Can you give an example of someone lying
One man, a former chairman of the International
Red Cross Ball, told me he graduated from Harvard
and won the Silver Cross, the Bronze Star, and the
Purple Heart while serving in the Marines. He wears
the medals when he attends the black-tie event, the
pinnacle of the social season. It turned out he obtained
his college degree through a correspondence school,
and while he served in the Marines won no medals of
What most surprised you about Palm Beach
I wasn’t prepared for the blatant anti-Semitism
in the Old Guard. Then there was Gianna Lahainer,
who told me her husband died during the middle of
the season. Since she didn’t want to take the
time to hold a funeral for him, she had him embalmed
and stored for forty days so she could hold a funeral
for him after the season ended. “I wanted to
go to the parties,” Gianna said. “My new
life was going on, why should I wait? I would miss
Any anecdotes about someone excluded from
a posh party who thought he or she might be “in?”
Many people essentially lobby to get invited
to key parties by pressuring friends to speak on their
behalf. But the greatest pressure is brought to bear
on bank trust officers, who control much of the wealth.
Trust fund babies, who live on inherited wealth, wake
up late, go to their clubs, have a few drinks, and
try to outsmart trust fund officers so they’ll
give them more money. Their walk in closets may be
half the size of most people’s homes, and their
diamond rings may be worth millions, but they want
more. One heir to an industrial fortune has homes
in Palm Beach, New York, France, and Italy. He had
a yellow Rolls Royce Corniche convertible but wanted
a Ferrari as well. The trust department of his bank
kept turning him down, so he bought the Ferrari with
his American Express platinum card.
Any Trump stories to relate?
A Palm Beach caterer told me what happened when
she mentioned to an heir that Ivana Trump, who lived
in a $4.4 million home, needed a butler. “Ivana
needs a butler? How about me?” the man said.
The caterer said, “My God, you don’t know
how to be a butler.” To which the man said,
“What do you mean, I’ve had one all my
life.” The trust fund baby applied for the job
and was hired. He donned a white jacket and white
gloves for a party. Amongst the guests was his mother.
He didn’t stay long.
Any churches in Palm Beach? If so, wouldn’t
it be nice to have a microphone in the confessional?
There are churches, but no funeral parlors or
cemeteries. No one wants to be reminded of his own
mortality. Everyone is living a fantasy. As for confessions,
I have to say that what amazes many readers of “The
Season” is that it is based on recorded interviews.
What one finds out is that the very rich are indeed
very different from you and me.
What did you think of George Plimpton’s
recording of your book?
After hearing his rendition of “The Season,”
I feel I’m missing a lot of good audiobooks.
His WASPish delivery was hysterical, and gave it another