News & Politics

The 76 Richest Americans

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November 20, 1957, Vol. III, No. 4 (new motto on page 1: “A Greenwich Village Weekly”)

The Lively Arts

By Gilbert Seldes

There was a bit of front-page excitement recently over the list of the 76 richest millionaires in America as compiled by Fortune. I ran through the $700-million-to-$1-billion class, checking off those I knew, and sent polite letters of sympathy to James Abercrombie, Houston, and Vincent Astor, of a hole in the ground on Park Avenue, who appeared lower down. The list had one * for inherited money and two ** for money out of oil. I marked those who had both, like this: ***, for future reference. Soft touches.

But I didn’t get a real bang out of the whole thing until I read an interview with the top man of them all, Jean Paul Getty, who said there was not much honor in being known as a “money-bags.” Modestly he said: “I’d rather be considered an active businessman.”

The touch of modesty isn’t apparent until you read the rest of Mr. Getty’s statement in the New York Times:

“I think the fundamental strength of the United States is in its business men. They have built up the industrial potential of the United States, and if American industrial potential is to be kept ahead of the Russians it is to the American business man we have to trust it. Without the business man what have you got left in the United States?

I know the answer to that one: Sputnik.

I know a couple of other answers, too, and they aren’t Aaron Copland and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., although they would serve. There are a couple of people of no business acumen, so far as I can see, who keep knocking themselves out so that some Negro children will have a decent chance in life, and there are a few more who are trying to rescue the ordinary education of every child in America from disintegrating or dying of dry rot. There are several dozen physicists who get out a Bulletin of Atomic Science.

There’s Jimmy Durante.

Take these and several hundred others away from America and what have you got left?

The business man.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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