'Eccentric Billionaire' spotlights John D. MacArthur's dark side

It was in Florida that the MacArthur Foundation was established: In 1970, 73-year-old John realized his will "was a disaster from a tax and estate planning perspective. … The federal government would take most of it in taxes."

John took the advice of attorney Bill Kirby and formed a charitable foundation to preserve his fortune. According to Kirby, John said, "I'm going to do what I do best; I'm going to make (money). You guys will have to figure out after I am dead what to do with it."

It's disheartening to learn a foundation that awards $260 million a year (and has more than $6 billion in assets) was established to avoid estate taxes. What's more, the book reveals a man who in many ways embodies the American Dream but whose eccentricities sometimes morphed into cruelty.

MacArthur's life is a story worth telling, and there's plenty of family detail, from his seven siblings to sister-in-law and actress Helen Hayes, to son Rod, who founded the Bradford Exchange, the direct-marketing leader of collectibles. The book delves into MacArthur's business practices but may not dig deep enough for those curious about the nitty-gritty of how he negotiated company sales or brokered specific real estate deals.

The Eccentric Billionaire tells the tale of a contradictory and mysterious man who amassed great wealth over several decades but is far from well-known, who founded an influential and generous foundation about which he cared not a bit. Perhaps it's fitting, then, that his biography can get only so specific: Those who knew him likely didn't completely understand him, either.

Linda Castellitto is a freelance writer based in Raleigh, N.C.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...