Bari Weiss of The Wall Street Journal reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in The Book Reader.
Imagine if Bernie Madoff had gone to Harvard and not Hofstra. Imagine if, before being exposed as a criminal, he had appeared on the cover of Time Magazine as "the defender of Wall Street." Imagine if he had risen to become the head of the New York Stock Exchange.
Meet Richard Whitney, a WASP to the manor-born and one of the most infamous financial criminals of the 1930s.
Whitney is the subject of a short book by Malcolm MacKay called "Impeccable Connections" that chronicles how Whitney went from being a king of Wall Street to a prisoner at Sing Sing.
Whitney's pedigree really was pristine. He went to the Groton School, where he played baseball and football. At Harvard, he was a member of the exclusive Porcellian club. By 23, he was a member of the New York Stock Exchange, and soon enough, he became the primary bond dealer for JPMorgan, where his uncle and brother were partners.
During the panic of October 1929, Whitney was hailed as the savior of Wall Street for trying to restore market confidence by buying blue-chip stocks that were tumbling, including 10,000 shares of U.S. Steel at 205, well above the actual price of the stock. The headlines the next day gave him credit for halting the panic.
Yet less than 10 years later, in March 1938, he was exposed as an embezzler, having stolen from many, including his father-in-law and the New York Yacht club, where he was an active member.
The amazing thing is that no one saw it coming. Upon hearing the news that Whitney was a criminal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "Not Dick Whitney. Not Dick Whitney."
Nancy Randolph, the society columnist for the Daily News, wrote: "Not in our time, nor in our father's time nor in our grandfather's time, has there been such a social debacle…he had no need to overreach himself for power, for money, or for social position. He has them all."
Indeed, he did. So why did Whitney do it? The author, who was a friend of Whitney’s grandson at Harvard and knew Richard Whitney, wonders the same. To hear his take, and read this scandalous story, check out "Impeccable Connections."