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Russian Roulette


Carolyn LeRoy, opening the door to her father's enormous apartment, is wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and brilliant red suede clogs. Jenny may have Oz for a middle name, but that doesn't mean Carolyn can't do the Dorothy routine, and today she has offered to show me that there is no place like home.

Oh, my God, the excess. There's the mauve screening room, the custom-made oversize furniture, the antique silver and pricey china that could feed 75 for dinner. Even the bathrooms are outrageous, with a throne like toilet and a bathtub with lavish fixtures and views of the World Trade Center. Warner's closets are mind-boggling: There are three of them, nearly the size of bedrooms, with row after row of jackets organized by style and color; custom-made costume jackets of gold sequins or blue velvet or a red Sgt. Pepper look. There are walls of shoes, of shirts, of ties and belts, a lifetime of conspicuous consumption in many sizes, reflecting the ups and downs of the renowned LeRoy waistline.

Two museum-quality Tiffany lamps stand on living-room side tables; Saul Steinberg drawings hang in the screening room; two enormous antique Chinese dogs guard the entryway. A wall-size Jim Dine painting that seems to symbolize the tortured LeRoy marriage (a real ax, a sharp-toothed saw, and tree branches frame six colorful hearts) is going to Kay as part of the divorce settlement. "We're hoping to keep some of the art, but it depends on the sale of the apartment," Carolyn says.

Warner moved to this new building from the Dakota in 1995, after one of many reconciliations with Kay had failed. As a teenager, Jenny split her weeks between her parents, but after high school she moved in with her father, living in an upstairs suite until she found her own place two years ago. Newlywed Carolyn and husband Stephen Moise, a former Tavern chef now cooking for Tommy Hilfiger, still have a separate living area, although once the apartment is sold, they'll be moving.

Despite the lurid stories during the divorce trial about LeRoy's three alleged mistresses, his daughters are very protective of his memory, insisting their father was not the wild man-about-town of his public image. "None of those women ever slept over," insists Carolyn. "He was afraid to be alone. That's all these women were. They'd watch TV and go out to dinner. My dad loved my mother until the end of the earth."

Kay, who has a longtime companion, lawyer Ken Newman, nonetheless insists that "Warner was the great love of my life." Warner's intimates say he was still desperate to reconcile but feared his future with Kay wasn't promising. Jenny needs to believe everything was okay. "My parents couldn't live together, but they loved each other," she says. "All that matters is that the family was together at the end."

Jenny is sitting ather desk one afternoon, going over a pile of paperwork and letters with her assistant (rolling her eyes over a complaint from a customer that the Russian Tea Room doesn't play Russian music), when Kay bursts in. "I have to show you what I found in the warehouse,"says Kay, wearing dust-covered jeans and a striped boat shirt. Back in a corner office, Kay shows off a glass Baccarat wall sculpture of a woman, now lying in pieces on the floor, that used to hang at Maxwell's Plum, the wildly extravagant swinging-singles barand luxe restaurant that Warner opened in 1966. She also shows us posters featuring photos of the restaurant. "That's a historical table," Kay says, pointing to a seat by the window. "That's where I was sitting the night your father came over and introduced himself, saying, 'Hi, I'm Warner LeRoy, and I'm going to marry you.' " As Jenny smiles, Kay delivers the punch line: "Now it's a Duane Reade."

In stark contrast to Warner, Kay grew up in a small British village, scarcely knew her father (who was imprisoned for embezzlement), and was 16 when her mother committed suicide. To escape, she became a TWA stewardess. Over lunch at the Russian Tea Room, she reveals that her sister's daughter recently committed suicide. "There are frailties in our family," says Kay, who worries about her own children. "We all have to be aware of them and take care of ourselves."

"My mother is the most important person in my life," Jenny says, adamantly. At her urging, Kay has moved from the Upper East Side to a loftlike space several floors above her daughter's new home in a converted department store in the Village. Part of their intense relationship is rooted in the fact that Jenny, the youngest, was enmeshed in her parents' divorce. "Jenny suffered the most," says Kay, regretfully. "She was the kid who loved the mommy-and-daddy thing, saying, 'You're never going to get divorced, are you?' " But this mother-daughter bond also reflects a shift in attitude by Kay and Warner over how best to bring up their children. As Carolyn LeRoy, who is quick to affirm her own love for her mother, explains, "Max and I were raised by full-time governesses. That's how Dad was brought up. His mother never changed a diaper. When Jenny came along, my mother insisted she wanted to raise a child herself."

In this household where the two parents had such different life experiences, the LeRoy children fondly recall, Kay taught them inexpensive pleasures like making homemade greeting cards and folding origami animals, while Warner made sure to turn every family event into an extravaganza. Ask Kay now about Warner's spending, and she says, "You've heard the phrase 'good provider.' Warner was an over-provider. He gave them everything. It worried me."

To better explain her childhood, Jenny arranges for me to see a video of her bat mitzvah party at the family's Amagansett estate. It more than lives up to its billing: Airplanes dive in formation above the house; characters in Wizard of Oz costumes welcome guests; stilt-walkers and magicians work the crowd. Jenny hugs her unofficial "other brother," Sean Lennon, while family friends Peter Jennings, Beverly Sills, and Jann Wenner beam approvingly.

Watching this scene, one imagines the LeRoy children lived charmed lives. Well, they did, and they didn't. Bridget euphemistically describes herself as now leading a sober life. Carolyn was born with a hereditary bone disorder that afflicted Warner's mother (one side of her jaw grows faster than the other) and has had two excruciating rounds of surgery to rebuild her lovely face. Jenny is dyslexic, and she was also in a serious riding accident as a teenager in the Hamptons Classic, dislocating her tailbone. (Her father forbade her to ride after that; his death has freed her to resume the hobby.)

There were other problems as well. As Jenny, Max, and I ride in their father's infamous pinkish-beige customized Cartier limo to Tavern on the Green for a lunch tasting, I ask whether they were typical New York kids, sneaking out at night and getting into trouble.

"We used to say that our parents didn't discipline us, so we had to discipline ourselves," she says. He adds, "Andwe did such a good job of it."

I can't resist probing: "Anybody spend time in rehab?" They look at each other and burst into laughter. "Jenny went to a disciplinary school," Max says, and she throws in, "Max went to Hazelden."

Their parents tried to break the news of the divorce gently: Jenny, 14, was on a class trip, and when she returned, her mother picked her up and explained that she and Warner had decided to be apart for a while. "It was really funny," Jenny recalls, "because ten minutes later, my dad pulled up, and we all got into the limo and went out to the Hamptons for the weekend."

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