Front Desk

She Certainly Was the Queen

It's easy to write about the controversies, the legal problems and the Queen of Mean moniker. The high road in discussing today's death of Leona Helmsley would be to point out her accomplishments, her effective ad campaigns and even the fact that she supposedly made her husband, Harry, happy and comfortable in his last years. (He died in 1997.)

I can't do that, because in the half-dozen or so encounters I had with Leona over the past 30 years, I can't find one good thing to say about her. No, I take that back; the one good thing about Leona was Jay Panzirer, her son from a previous marriage. Jay, who died in 1982 at an early age, operated a hotel ff&e business in Orlando and was as nice as she was mean.

One anecdote that shaped my thinking about her: In the early '80s, soon after the Helmsley Palace opened in New York City, I interviewed her in the hotel's opulent lobby/tea room. While we talked (actually while she talked at me, not to me), she constantly called over various waiters, captains, managers and other factoti to berate them over some perceived problem she discovered. Once it was the wrong flowers (they looked good to me); another time the tea was cold (it wasn't); and once the legs on her chair weren't even (they were). Obviously, it was all done for the benefit of the reporter and as another way to cultivate her self-image as the champion of her guests' needs.

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