Andrea Reynolds Plunket, the Mitteleuropa manipulator whose talent for self-invention propelled her to the upper echelons of international society and whose propensity for self-destructiveness eventually alienated all who loved her, died last week in penury and obscurity. She was 81.
The whip-smart enchantress, whose lover Claus von Bulow once described as “a Hungarian Hussar”, came into the Danish aristocrat’s life just after he was convicted in 1982 of attempting to murder his wealthy wife. Andrea organized the judicial appeal that got his conviction reversed, then helped strategize the second trial that got him acquitted. (During all these maneuvers, Claus and Andrea kept on living in the sumptuous Fifth Avenue apartment of his comatose wife, Sunny Crawford von Bulow, where they entertained such swells as Reinaldo and Carolina Herrera, Kenneth Jay Lane, John Richardson, Taki and Alexandra Theodoracopulos, Mercedes Kellogg Bass, and Alice Mason.)
In 1990, a movie based on the von Bulow case was a resounding success, winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for the performance of Jeremy Irons as an insufferable snob. Glenn Close played a sympathetic Sunny, and Christine Baranski was prickly as Andrea. There is a scene where Claus and Andrea are discussing whether or not to hire Alan Dershowitz to shepherd the appeal. After seeing the movie, Mrs. Reynolds complained to the press that the screenwriter had invented out of whole cloth a line attributed to her character: “Get the Jew!”
After a time Andrea and Claus drifted apart and he moved to London. She took as her fourth husband Shaun Plunket, the unpropertied second son of a noble English family related to The Queen. They opened a Bed & Breakfast in a rustic compound in the Catskills she had obtained in a divorce, and they ran it until Plunket’s death in 2012.
From that point on, things went downhill. “Andrea couldn’t help herself, she was confrontational and crusty with everyone. She would say anything to shock people and get a reaction,” said Guy Clark, a decorator and neighbor upstate. “She smoked like a chimney and drank wine from morning till night. She once told me she stayed ‘permanently pickled’ to get through her life of drudgery. But Andrea was glamorous and curvaceous until the end.”
Clark said Andrea never became an American citizen and refused to apply for government benefits for fear she would be deported. Her daughter in London, who had married well (according to a riveting Vanity Fair article written in 1985 by Dominick Dunne), had constantly implored her to relocate to England, to no avail. As her funds vanished and the patronage of her society friends gradually dissipated, she had no money for heating oil, so she slept on the kitchen floor in front of a gas oven with her dogs. She ate little, husbanding her meager finances for wine, cigarettes and dog food. “Fortunately, it was a mild winter, or she wouldn’t have made it through,” says Clark.
According to Clark, her home and inn had recently been auctioned in a foreclosure sale, and in early April, when the new owners came by to politely inquire how soon she might be vacating the premises, she told them, “You don’t have to worry about getting me out, I’ll be dead by the end of the month.” And indeed she was.
Mrs. Plunket died last Friday night in a local hospital. “All her organs were failing—heart, lungs, kidneys, liver”, Erin Scarnato, a nursing home attendant in New Jersey who had befriended Andrea in recent years, told Orbmagazine. “She died of a broken heart,” said Clark.
Andrea stirred up a lot of dust in recent years by claiming she owned the rights to the Sherlock Holmes characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Most of the copyrights had passed into the public domain years ago, but she trademarked some of the names and managed for a time to convince film producers to pay her a fee in order to avoid litigation. According to the New York Times, her allegations of ownership of rights were repeatedly rebuked by the courts, but she persisted in her challenges to the Conan Doyle estate. Andrea’s third husband, the American television producer Sheldon Reynolds, had in fact owned some tangential rights to a Sherlock Holmes TV series he had produced in the 1950s, but those rights and subsequent attempts to purchase more copyrights fell through. She maintained the fiction that she owned the trademarks to the Sherlock Holmes characters, but when Clark asked her for details, he says “she was cagey about it.”
So much about Andrea’s life was cinematic, it is a shame she never managed to cash in on it. A few years ago, she put together an autobiography that was circulated to publishers by the agent David Kuhn, but it wasn’t sold. Andrea speculated that was because she didn’t suggest that von Bulow might have been complicit in inducing his wife’s coma (which endured for 28 years, in a luxurious and secure room at Columbia Presbyterian hospital, until she succumbed in 2008).
According to Clark, her society acquaintances cited above and possibly also including Daisy Soros and Monique Van Vooren, had been “generous to her to a fault. They stayed loyal to her because she was a stubborn fabulous lady who had her own mind and never backed down. But she expected her friends to keep her going forever and people got tired of it.” Andrea told Clark that two years ago, she saw von Bulow in London, but even he and his extremely rich daughter Cosima had turned off the spigot.
Clark laughed, “When people lose their money, you don’t expect them to be difficult anymore, but to become gracious, but Andrea never changed. She used up all her good will.”
A few years ago, when the main building in the upstate compound, a wooden Victorian house, had suddenly burned to the ground, the old pals had raised $100,000 to buy a new steel bridge so that the Plunkets could have access to a stone cottage across the Willowemoc River which divided their property. Another source tells Orb that as recently as two years ago, Alexandra Theodoracopulos, who was born a Schoenberg princess in Austria, was sending letters in her rarefied circle soliciting donations to help Andrea hold onto the bed & breakfast inn. Such efforts staved the wolf from the door, but only temporarily.
Clark said that Andrea kept up her “glamorous spirit” to the end, although she never stopped provoking and needling people, just to get a reaction. When he inquired if she intended to again ask her friends for money, she was fatalistic, saying, “You can go to the well only so many times before the water runs out.”
And Andrea had in her lifetime seen wealth come and seen it go. As Dunne wrote in Vanity Fair, “Her first husband was a French-Italian named Ellis Giorgini. They had, according to Mrs. Reynolds, ‘a beautiful wedding in Paris.’ But the marriage was short-lived: ‘He drank a bit too much.’ Her second husband, Pierre Frottier-Duche, a Frenchman, is the father of her only child, Caroline. They lived in a house in Paris that had once belonged to Anatole France, and had a villa in Saint-Tropez. At one time very rich, Frottier suffered severe financial reverses. When he later went bankrupt, Mrs. Reynolds gave him back all the jewels he had given her. ‘I’m a gentleman,’ she said. Asked to comment on the story that Frottier had been forced to become a taxi driver after he went broke, she replied, ‘No, no, no, a limousine driver, and he would pick up people like Henry Ford, whom he knew from before, and Henry would sit up in the front seat with him when he realized it was Pierre.’
What a life, what an adventure. Rest in peace, Andrea. You did it your way.