Park La Brea is the last place you'd expect to find a baron. But that's where Baron Frederick von Soosten has his Los Angeles home, inside one of those gray structures that overlooks similar gray structures.
A few days ago, Von Soosten was having a spur-of-the-moment cocktail party for his titled friends--countesses and barons and baronesses and a prince and a marquis. When someone suggested that Von Soosten went to a lot of trouble to set up the party, he stared with incredulity and said, "But darling, this is what I do!"
Such is the life of some nobility who live in Los Angeles, one party flowing into another, a polo match here and there. This may be the life style most associated with aristocracy, but it is hardly typical.
Not everyone who is titled lives life in the fast lane. Some come here to live quietly off of family wealth, seldom making known their blue-blood heritage. For others, dwindling (or nonexistent) family fortunes have forced them into the job market, where they often drop their title and become ordinary citizens.
Some say having "baron" or "count" in front of your name can create false images of untapped wealth--a winter cottage in Gstaad, drawers crammed with jewels and a nose that is permanently upturned.
Those who live here and use their titles do so knowing that in many countries without reigning monarchies (Germany, Austria and Italy, for instance) titles were legally abolished years ago.
Renate Friedemann, German consul, said titles were outlawed in Germany during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), but came back into acceptance after 1945. Those who insist on using a title do so, she said, because it has been in the family so long they simply consider it a part of their name and heritage.
So just who are the nobility among us? Besides Von Soosten, the inveterate party-giver, there is a Sicilian-born prince who works in the film industry, a baroness who is a graduate student, a baron who is co-owner of a nightclub, an Italian count who is a marketing and public relations executive and another baron who is an art director.
While there is no way to determine the number of titled people living here, some are listed with their titles in the the Los Angeles Blue Book, the society register of Southern California. Others keep in contact with the foreign consuls, and still others can be found only through the privileged company they keep.
Von Soosten is one baron who still likes to be known as such. When asked why, he produced a letter from a friend that said, essentially, if you've been called by your title all your life, just because there is no longer a king doesn't mean you have to give it up.
Claims Never to Have Worked
The baron, whose white hair matches his white short-sleeve shirt and pants, claims never to have worked a day in his life. Instead, he plays tennis and travels. There is a house in Germany and one in La Jolla, and he also stays with friends here and abroad.
His aunt, the late Baroness Margaret von Soosten, adopted him when he was a boy after his parents died. She was married to Edward Schweitzer, whose father was the head of the Bayer aspirin company. Frederick said when his aunt died she left most of her fortune to the church.
"My income is drastically reduced now. I have about $60,000 a year to live on, which is enough for a single guy, but when you have $40 million, that's a helluva lot of difference. But I don't have to worry. I have a Rolls-Royce and a yacht and I travel and do whatever I want to do. It's not the money I used to have, darling. Times have changed."
Has he found it hard to adjust? "Not at all. I just go out the same! We have parties every night. Every night there's someone here or I'm at someone's house."
Through these parties a coterie of nobility has developed. Some work, some don't have to, some are wealthy, some poor.
"How do we know each other?" Von Soosten said, thinking. "God, we do. I know everyone in town. All the barons, all the counts, all the princes, we all know each other."
He decided the network grew mostly through travel and through parties, like the one given that day. Joining him in the back room of the apartment, where tropical fish swam lazily in a tank, were English actress Hermione Baddeley, an Egyptian prince and Countess Cis Zoltowska, who had blue-black hair and shocking pink nails to match her shocking pink belt. After her came the Marquis de Yzbek, who has a goatee and long graying hair. On his jacket are six or seven jeweled pins, and his fingers, with the nails grown long and painted a faint gold, are covered with very large rings. He is 70 but looks years younger.