December 09, 1985 12:00 PM

As befits one of the world’s richest men, Armand Hammer has tried to stay above the fray, perhaps at 35,000 feet, where he cruises the world for months on end in his lavish Boeing 727. After all, Hammer, 87, chairman of Occidental Petroleum, is one of the century’s legendary businessmen. He controls a fortune of at least $150 million, has personally known most world leaders of the past 60 years and has given away millions of dollars to charitable institutions and a large part of his art collection to museums, including works by Rembrandt and Daumier. He remains one of the few private citizens in the world allowed to fly his personal jet into the U.S.S.R. Now, a squabble over a small family inheritance threatens to bring Hammer joltingly back to earth.

The trouble began when Hammer’s younger brother Victor died at 83 last July. He left behind an estate valued at about $1.5 million. Hammer claims that his brother owed him $666,714.74 plus interest, money that Hammer had spent for the care of Victor and his seriously ill wife, Ireene, who has been confined to a Florida nursing home since 1982. When Armand filed a claim against Victor’s estate, Victor’s adopted daughter, Nancy Hammer Eilan, 59, protested. She says that if Hammer is paid the money, it will all but bankrupt the estate. That will cost Nancy the possession she values most, her home in Connecticut, which had belonged to Victor. “It’s absolutely incredible that a person of such enormous wealth as Armand Hammer would seek to destroy his brother’s family,” Nancy said. “I cannot believe that Victor would knowingly have indebted himself to the extent of all his assets.”

Eilan claims that shortly after her father’s death, Armand Hammer’s lawyer informed Nancy that there was a claim against the estate. When she wrote to Hammer asking him to withdraw the claim, she says she was summoned to a meeting at Occidental’s New York headquarters. There, she says, Hammer leaned over to his lawyer and said, “Nancy is not my adopted daughter. She means absolutely nothing to me. I have no interest in her.”

For his part, Hammer has remained mum, but not his lawyer, Arthur Groman. He says Hammer offered a “very, very generous” settlement of the debt but was refused. “When I talked to [Nancy’s lawyer, Donald Goldsmith] he said, ‘If you ask for anything other than $10,000, we’re going to embarrass Dr. Hammer,’ ” says Groman. “They wanted him to give up $600,000. Here’s a man who for years has given away more than 90 percent of his income and whose entire estate, practically, is going to charity, but this tactic [of Mrs. Eilan’s] is outrageous.” Goldsmith counters by calling the charge “a complete fabrication.”

“With all her protestations of solicitude for her mother,” Groman continues, “[Mrs. Eilan] has never made any effort to take care of her mother or take her into her home. She’s been perfectly content to let Victor Hammer provide for her in a very, very expensive rest home. And Victor borrowed all this money from Dr. Hammer.”

Groman also hints at more than a little bad blood between Hammer and his brother’s daughter. The attorney mentions that Nancy Eilan was legally adopted by Victor Hammer in 1974, when she was 48, though it’s “very, very unusual” for an adult to be adopted. “Why should Dr. Hammer make a gift of $600,000 to Victor’s adopted child?” says Groman. “That’s what this case is all about.” Retorts Nancy: “I was the one who was with Victor when he died. Armand wasn’t around. He called and was in touch with the doctor. But he assumed other people would do the common workaday stuff.”

Hammer’s friends are indignant at such charges. Says Rosemary Tomich, a longtime friend of the Hammers and a director of Occidental Petroleum: “From what Victor told me, Nancy would never show up when they needed her.” As for Nancy’s accusation that Hammer didn’t visit his dying brother, Tomich says, “Dr. Hammer was hospitalized himself at the time, but he was in immediate and constant touch by phone. He disregarded medical advice and went to the funeral. There’s not a shadow of a doubt about the love and devotion these two brothers had for each other.” About Nancy’s keeping the $600,000, Tomich adds, “Victor insisted that the money be repaid. Love and respect should be earned. There was no devoted or caring relationship toward either Victor or Ireene from their daughter Nancy. The caring and devotion came only from Dr. Hammer.”

Nancy and her friends are equally indignant at the accusation that she didn’t care for her mother, the main beneficiary of the estate, or her father, Victor, who for most of his life ran the Hammer Galleries in New York. Nancy says that her family was very close and that she saw her parents every other weekend while they were in New York. She adds that she did much of her father’s business entertaining for many years at the Connecticut house and always kept a suite of rooms there for her parents. Her friends support her. Says Connecticut neighbor Carlotta Prahl, a translator: “God knows, when Victor was sick she was there for him. She would see he got round-the-clock nursing care. I feel Nancy has bent over backward as far as being dutiful and concerned.”

The dispute probably will get further public airing in the months to come. Eilan has filed an objection to Hammer’s claim on the $667,000, and that means that Hammer, if he wishes to pursue the matter, will have to go through the courts. There seems little doubt that he will. Attorney Groman recounts Hammer’s reaction to the fracas: “I told him that [Nancy and her lawyer] were going to engage in a campaign of character assassination. He said, ‘Well, I’ve never let anybody intimidate me in my whole life, and I don’t propose to begin now.’ ”

Who says the TV show Dynasty is improbable and unbelievable?

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