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The Billionaire's Wife : Patricia Kluge Raises Her Social Profile With a Big L.A. 'Debut'

November 16, 1987|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

Patricia Kluge can't understand what all the fuss is about.

"After all, I'm not a businessman. I'm not a politician. I'm not a movie star," says the 39-year-old socialite, giving her first sit-down interview. "I'm just a little housewife in Virginia, minding my own business, doing my bit for the world."

She pauses to reconsider.

"Well, maybe not such a little housewife."

Second-Richest Man

Certainly not in stature, because she is a statuesque 5-feet-10. And certainly not in status. Not when she's married to the second-richest man in America, Metromedia chairman John Kluge, 73, who according to Forbes magazine is worth something in the neighborhood of $3 billion.

Not when she wines and dines American presidents, European royalty, titans of industry and world-class celebrities. Not when she's the mistress of an eye-popping 6,000-acre, English-style estate in the Virginia countryside, complete with 45-room mansion, private chapel, Arnold Palmer-designed golf course and helicopter landing pad. Not when she herself has led a most unusual life that resembles both a fairy tale and a nightmare.

Still, Kluge can't understand why the news media, both here and abroad, constantly pester her with requests for interviews. In her mind, she's still just a wife and mother and overseer of the family farm, worried more about their prize herds of Simmental cattle than about whether she should pose for the cover of Vanity Fair.

She must be kidding. With her husband's money comes responsibility and power, and people are intensely curious to see how the third Mrs. Kluge plans to use it, socially and philanthropically. Already, the groundwork has been laid for her to become one of the most influential women on the arts and charity circuit.

"I think she wants to do something meaningful with her money," says Beverly Sills, New York City Opera's general director and one of Kluge's best friends. "But she'll give very careful thought to what she wants to do with it all. I don't think she'll ever turn into a luncheon lady. She's not a frivolous woman."

For the first time, she is taking on the kind of high-profile causes that thrust her into the spotlight--raising money for AIDS research, the NAACP and Virginia's fledgling arts community.

Choosing Los Angeles for her unofficial debut, she threw a star-studded party last Thursday at the Bistro Garden to announce a weeklong film festival in Virginia next October. On Tuesday, she'll play high-powered hostess again--this time a mix of Reagan "kitchen cabinet," Southern California society and just plain VIPs--at an invitation-only gala at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, celebrating "The Lagoon Cycle," a photographic exhibition funded by her husband.

A 'Curious' Position

Kluge acknowledges that her position is "really rather curious. You can't imagine how hard everybody else makes it for you, because everybody expects so much. Sometimes, someone asks: 'What does it feel like to be married to the second-richest man in America?' And I say: 'I haven't the faintest idea. I'll have to rush back and tell John, "By the way, you're the second-richest man in America." And we'll both laugh.' "

You expect her to put on airs, to litter every sentence with names of the famous or at least to flash her 20.5-carat diamond engagement ring. And when she doesn't, you can't help but be slightly disappointed. But perhaps that comes from having led what she describes as a riches-to-rags-to-riches life.

Born and raised in Iraq, the former Patricia Rose is quite proud of what she describes as an exotic heritage as the daughter of a British businessman and a Scottish-Iraqi mother. Though educated in a French convent and then in American schools, her sentences even today are scattered with unusual adjectives and phrasings that hint at her background in a non-English-speaking nation.

"My childhood was extraordinary," she recalls somewhat wistfully. "When you lead a colonial life, you really live in a land of Shangri-La. An ideal world of uniforms and tea garden parties and balls and men who looked so gorgeous."

And a world that ended abruptly when revolution swept through Iraq, forcing her family to flee Baghdad for London. "We had a lot of land and property but suddenly it didn't belong to us anymore," she says. "And because no one had thought to put anything away, we lost all our money. When we came to England, there was only a minuscule amount left."

Her parents divorced, and she and her younger brother went to live with their mother. Their new life was "very difficult," she says. "It really was. We were living in a tiny London flat as opposed to a grand house with gardens and staff." The worst shock for her was the effect on her mother. "Here was a woman who was raised to paint and to look beautiful and to be social and to play the piano. And suddenly she has to go out and work. Can you imagine? It was appalling, absolutely appalling."

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