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Heir Loss

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In Chicago, it’s hard to escape the Pritzker name—there’s the Pritzker Children’s Zoo, the Pritzker School of Medicine and the Pritzker galleries of the Art Institute. So to keep her identity as one of the heirs to a $15 billion fortune that includes the Hyatt hotel chain as private as possible, Liesel Pritzker took the stage name Liesel Matthews—which is how she appears in the credits for 1997’s Air Force One (she played Harrison Ford’s daughter). “There was nothing in her work ethic or manner,” says Robert Falls, who directed the actress in a 2001 Goodman Theatre production of two plays, House and Garden, “to present that she was a Pritzker.”

But there’s no hiding it now: On Nov. 26 Pritzker, 18, filed suit in Chicago’s Cook County circuit court alleging that her father—along with more than a dozen others, including seven cousins and the family lawyer—drained $1 billion from her trust fund over the last eight years, diverting the money to relatives and the Pritzker Foundation. In court papers Pritzker (who declined comment for this story) calls her family’s conduct “obnoxious and offensive” and asks for the return of the money—plus $5 billion in punitive damages.

In a statement, Pritzker’s father, businessman Robert, 76, called the situation “sad” and said the family is “united in the hope for a fair resolution.” Until then, the lawsuit has turned the media spotlight on a clan that, in the words of a local socialite, “prides itself on moving very quietly.”

The second of two children born to Robert and his second wife, Irene, 52, Pritzker began acting in local theater shortly before her parents’ 1991 divorce. Four years later, after being spotted by a talent scout, she starred in the film A Little Princess.

Now a freshman at New York City’s Columbia University, Pritzker continues to act; earlier this year, she appeared on the London stage. At the moment, however, she finds herself standing in a different kind of spotlight. “This,” says Chicago socialite Sugar Rautbord, “is like Dynasty, but with real dollars.”