This “WASP” tome could sting the posh set.
A new book out this week dishes on the debauched lives of the upper crust by profiling 15 prominent families.
As one example, “Flight of the WASP: The Rise, Fall, and Future of America’s Original Ruling Class” details how a blue-blood heir to the Vanderbilt and Whitney fortunes dove into degenerate drug use in the lap of luxury.
Whitney Tower Jr. tried cocaine at 17 at boarding school before hanging with “brand-name heirs to the Merck pharmaceutical and General Foods fortunes” in college, Michael Gross’ new book reports. “We were the little rascals of the jet set,” Whitney recalls.
By the late ’70s, he was part of New York’s late-night scene, along with John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol, and doing harder drugs as he also became a Studio 54 regular.
He even once shot up at a family funeral at the home of Gloria Vanderbilt, where he says he asked First Lady Nancy Reagan what inspired her “Just Say No” campaign. “I thought I was gonna die,” he recalls of his addiction in the book.
He married a Texas oil heir, Pamela Franzheim, and the couple spent their honeymoon in Thailand smoking heroin together. (“We never left the hotel. It was a bad beginning,” she told Gross.) The marriage ended in the ’90s when she cleaned up and got a Ph.D.
But Whitney — the great-grandson of Whitney Museum founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and a direct descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt — continued using, estimating he went to rehab 10 times and blew through $1.5 million. He stole family heirlooms for cash, and was cut off from his trust fund.
He survived a heart attack at 51, remarried, got sober and became a drug counselor. But at 66, he ended up in an assisted living community in Florida after breaking his back in a car wreck.
“Raised to be superior, he had a long way to fall — and did with a fierce, thoughtless enthusiasm,” the book says of Whitney.
From a wheelchair in his mid-70s, he has a sense of humor about it all. A relative, Payne Whitney, has a psychiatric clinic named after him on the Upper East Side. “I can’t believe we don’t have family reunions there,” he said.