The known facts of Mrs. Clark’s life are few but tantalizing. She rarely saw Montana and spent much of her early life in Paris and New York; she spoke English with a French accent; and, in her teens, she took dancing lessons from Isadora Duncan. During the flapper era of the 1920s, she was a society-page fixture as one of the country’s most eligible young women.
Two years after she was married in 1928, Mrs. Clark went to Reno, Nev., to obtain a divorce. The last photograph taken of her was made the day her divorce became final. She reclaimed her maiden name and preferred to be addressed as “Mrs. Clark” thereafter. She never married again and had no children.
Instead, she retreated into a world of opulent isolation and enduring mystery. She lived in the largest apartment on New York’s Fifth Avenue, which she shared for decades with her mother and a prized collection of French dolls. She owned multimillion-dollar estates in Connecticut and California that she hadn’t seen in decades. She liked to watch cartoons on television.
For reasons unknown, Mrs. Clark spent the final 23 years of her life sequestered in New York hospitals, despite being in relatively good health. She was shielded from the public eye by a series of assumed names and by a small group of loyal retainers who would come under legal scrutiny.
At the time she died, she was worth an estimated $500 million. She gave money to museums and other charities but was not known as a major philanthropist or for endowing any widely known foundations.
Anyone who wanted to see her, including distant relatives, was turned away. Even her longtime lawyer said he knew her only as a shadow and a voice from behind a closed door.
Late in 2009, Mrs. Clark’s bizarre life became an Internet sensation when investigative reporter Bill Dedman of msnbc.com learned that her tree-shrouded estate in New Canaan, Conn., was for sale at $24 million.
Dedman discovered that Mrs. Clark had never spent a night at the country retreat, which she had bought in 1952. She last visited her seaside mansion in Santa Barbara, Calif., in the 1950s.
One of Mrs. Clark’s cousins told Dedman, “She was just a quirky person who couldn’t contend with the outside world.”
Huguette Marcelle Clark was born in Paris on June 9, 1906. Her father, then 67, was a sitting U.S. senator, one of Montana’s three “copper kings” and the very definition of a rapacious, self-made mogul.
William Andrews Clark was born in a log cabin in Pennsylvania in 1839 and moved west in his teens. He amassed a fortune by purchasing defaulted loans in Montana’s copper mining country and by starting related businesses.