The 11-room apartment across Fifth Avenue from the Metropolitan Museum of Art could now best be described as Early Empty. A light bulb dangles from the foyer ceiling. A maid’s quarters walnut dresser is the living room’s main attraction. The walls are pristine bare.
Tenant Ethel Scull, 52, one-time doyenne of the Pop Art world, credits her taxi mogul-husband, Robert, 60, with the decor. “He did it all,” she snaps, surveying the empty living room, once the most talked-about Pop Art show-place in town (PEOPLE, May 20, 1974).
Ten months ago Scull walked out of the apartment and their 31-year marriage. “He took everything,” she wails. “He even took my presents. To Ethel from Bill [de Kooning]. My presents!” All that Scull inadvertently missed was Andy Warhol’s Ethel Scull 36 Times: on loan to the Metropolitan, it was later returned to the apartment.
At the time of the split, the $3.5 million art collection the couple acquired together was in storage. It was removed from the apartment because Scull had been seized with a yen to redecorate. A year before that, he had auctioned off one-fifth of the collection for $2.2 million. Ethel discovered later that only his name appeared in the catalogue. She had been preoccupied at the time with a broken back, suffered while shell-hunting in Barbados. “I should have said something then,” she admits, “but I was too well bred.”
The art collection is of course the major issue in the divorce. Ethel claims half-ownership and won an injunction to stop Scull from selling more than a third of the paintings. She retains a maroon-colored limousine, in which she lies on a board in the back seat, for visits to her physical therapist and psychiatrist. And in July, she was granted $850-a-week temporary alimony. “It’s like a Neil Simon movie,” she says. “I go around in a chauffeured limousine without any money in my pocket. What Bob decided to give me wasn’t enough for a sea urchin to live on.” Bob’s response? “I don’t want my divorce adjudicated in the press.”
Ethel has just found a new—and smaller—apartment. She vows she will date, but never remarry. “The only things I miss,” she says, “are the paintings. The walls ache and I ache.”