The Secret Life of Alfred Taubman

Would you die of shame if your Palm Pilot were projected on a multiplex-size screen in open court? It didn’t seem to bother Sotheby’s former head A. Alfred Taubman, who sat impassively listening through a stethoscope-like device when the Justice Department’s Patricia Jannaco combed through his diaries at trial. Though she showed that he had met clandestinely with his counterpart at Christie’s nearly a dozen times, it was hardly the main attraction. Instead, details of Taubman’s private life – five homes, a Gulfstream jet, and a staff of up to seven personal assistants – made the trial seem like an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and (Now) Infamous.

Using jazzy computer graphics to highlight the supersize documents, Jannaco worked her way through one of the shopping-mall magnate’s days. She made sure to ask Nancy Straetmans, Taubman’s former scheduler, what the notation “nancy is working on a movie for tonight” meant. “Mr. Taubman has a private screening room in his home,” she replied, giving away the gist of the prosecution’s strategy. Occasionally wielding a laser pointer, Jannaco drew the jury’s sometimes wavering attention to Taubman’s preference for early-morning haircuts and massages at home. Astute observers in the courtroom noticed little intercontinental get-togethers with press barons like Conrad Black and Lord Blakenham; the art-dealing Duke of Marlborough; and socialites such as Dixon Boardman, Nicky Haslam, and Mercedes heir Mick Flick.

And on September 7, 1993, Taubman’s itinerary has this item: “3:45 p.m., meet at Sir Angus Ogilvy’s flat for drive to Buckingham Palace.”

Not that Taubman was all play and no work. On cross-examination, in what may have been a calculated move, the defense revealed that on April 28, 1999, Taubman met with Lazard’s Michel David-Weill and LVMH’s Bernard Arnault to discuss the sale of his shares in Sotheby’s. (The diary has them as David Weill and Michel Arnauld.)

“It’s just a parade of dukes and duchesses, all with their hands out,” said one former Sotheby’s employee of the life revealed in Taubman’s calendars. It’s unclear that the T-shirt-clad jury will be moved by an arcane violation of anti-trust law, but the prosecution is banking they’ll have their doubts about a man who gets a manicure and pedicure in his office.

None of this bothers screenwriter Michael Thomas, who’s rumored to be working on an HBO script (Sigourney Weaver reportedly wants to play disgraced Sotheby’s exec Dede Brooks) and was obviously getting lots of material: “I’m just here to watch them squirm.”

The Secret Life of Alfred Taubman