New York Tale: Loyal Butler Scores $8.4M Estate


There’s a classic New York tale in the Wall Street Journal‘s new Greater New York section, and it’s one that’s got to set teeth on edge over at the rival Times for a couple of reasons.

The story’s about how a loyal immigrant butler — one Indra Tamang who was raised in a “mud house in a farming village in Nepal” — has just scored an $8.4 million estate, including two apartments in the fabulous and historic Dakota on Central Park West and a large surrealist art collection. The butler was left this magnificent bounty thanks to the last will and testament of his late employer, a former actress of film and stage named Ruth Ford, who died last year at 98.

Adding more grist to this pauper-to-prince story is that the late actress “specifically disinherited her daughter, Shelly Scott, and her two grandchildren in favor of her Nepalese employee.”

That’s a sentence you can go an entire career in journalism without being lucky enough to type, but the reporter here is well-deserving of his good fortune: Josh Barbanel put in some 30 years laboring in the Times‘ salt mines before being cast off last December. He was recruited by the Journal for the new section and we can only hope that his story this morning is making a few Times editors lose their appetite over their Grape Nuts.

The layers of the lucky butler story are many: He was originally hired by Ford’s brother, the great, though insufficiently celebrated, surrealist poet and artist Charles Henri Ford, who was then living in Katmandu. (He also taught the butler how to use a camera.) When Ford died in 2002, Tamang went to work for the sister, the widow of the late Hollywood leading man, Zachary Scott, whose most famous role saw him fatally plugged by Joan Crawford’s teenage daughter in Mildred Pierce. Ruth Ford held many soirees at her fashionable pad, hosting the likes of Edward Albee, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams.

There’s one more great New York angle: It’s unclear, as Barbanel puts it, whether the Dakota’s snooty co-op board will “let a former staffer live in the building.” Dakota managers at Prudential Douglas Elliman declined to comment for the story.
Butler Tamang, who owns his own small bungalow in Woodside, isn’t worried. “I am satisfied living where I am,” he says. Meanwhile, one of the apartments, a large corner unit, is on the market for $4.5 million. One of the paintings, a portrait of Ruth Ford, painted by her brother’s partner, the Russian surrealist Pavel Tchelitchew, sold at Sotheby’s last month for $986,000.