Eyes on the Prize
THE 15-FOOT WINDOWS IN THE LIVING room of the elegant Fifth Avenue apartment, swathed voluptuously in mauve-and-green-striped chintz, are letting in a large expanse of rainy-day gloom. No matter. The lady of the house—hair and nails a blaze of red, dress a burst of green with while polka dots—provides a more than ample helping of color.
“You gotta see this,” says Georgette Mosbacher, walking to a piano outfitted with a little black box about the size of a compact disc player. The former CEO of the chic cosmetics firm La Prairie fumbles with a few buttons. Suddenly the keys on the Baldwin begin to dance, and the room is alive with the sound of Rhapsody in Blue. “Isn’t this a scream?” squeals Georgette. “A player baby grand!”
Don’t bother telling Mosbacher, 46, that the ’80s are over, that the Republicans are out, that Dynasty has long since given way to Roseanne, and that—especially with a reporter in the room—she might want to tone down her extravagant act just a bit. On her player piano and in her life, Mosbacher calls the tunes exactly as she pleases. “I wasn’t ashamed of being poor,” she says. “Why should I be ashamed of being rich?”
Unwilling to apologize for what she is, Mosbacher says she also has had it with being slammed for what she is not. When her oil-rich third husband, Robert, served as Secretary of Commerce during the Bush Administration, some Washington gossips maligned her as a glamorous gold digger who poured herself into low-cut gowns and pushed her way into haute D.C. society. Her just-published autobiography-cum-self-help guide, Feminine Force: Release the Power Within to Create the Life You Deserve (Simon and Schuster), is in part a response to the sort of people who nicknamed her Jawsette.
“I used to reel from the bad press,” says Mosbacher. “So much of it is pure fiction.”
Okay, so here’s the real story, according to Georgette: She wasn’t born with money, she wasn’t born with connections, and she wasn’t born with red hair. “But I was born to be a redhead,” she says. Mosbacher was also, she believes, born to be a success. In 1988 she bought La Prairie for a reported $30 million (rounding up investors herself, she insists, and using not one penny of her husband’s estimated $200 million fortune). Two years ago she sold the company for a reported $15 million profit, then turned around and launched Exclusives by Georgette Mosbacher, a modestly priced line of beauty and skin-care products that are already selling on QVC and will debut in Sears stores next month. “The fact is I’ve created companies and jobs and profit,” declares Mosbacher of her entrepreneurial efforts. “People who said La Prairie was just an ego thing have had to eat those words.”
The force seems always to have been with Mosbacher. The eldest of four children, she was just 7 years old when her father, George Paulsin, a pipe fitter in Highland, Ind., was killed in an automobile accident. While her mother, Dorothy, and grandmother Mary worked to put bread on the table, Georgette helped raise her siblings and ironed shirts to help pay her way through Indiana University. “I admire my mother so much,” says Mosbacher. “She taught us a work ethic that said it didn’t mailer what you did. It had dignity.”
After graduating in 1969 with a degree in communications, Mosbacher worked for a year at a Detroit ad agency before heading for Los Angeles, where her brother had relocated. Within two weeks, concocting a story that she was a journalist wanting to do an interview, the Titian-haired 23-year-old met husband No. 1 Robert Muir, a real estate developer 20 years her senior. But after four years she started to find the marriage stilling, and the two parted amicably. Even before the divorce was final, she had begun seeing Fabergé chairman George Barrie. They married in 1980, and Barrie taught his bride all about the cosmetics business—plus, says Mosbacher, a few lessons in what not to look for in a husband, including heavy drinking and emotionally abusive behavior. “It was hell,” says Mosbacher. “My self-esteem was nonexistent. I got out from desperation.”
After leaving Barrie in 1981 (she claims she signed prenuptial agreements and received no settlement money from either divorce), Mosbacher readily reentered the dating game. “I called everyone I knew and said, ‘Do you know anyone you can fix me up with?’ ” They did—for better or, often, worse. “Oh, sure, I had bad dates!” says Georgette. “But you gotta sit through the jerks and the bores and the creeps.” Then, in August 1982, on yet another blind dale, Georgette laid adoring eyes on Robert Mosbacher, multimillionaire head of the privately held Houston-based Mosbacher Energy Company.
“Do you like to be called Robert?” she asked with a bat of her perfectly done lashes, “or Bob?”
“Bob,” he told her.
“Ooooh,” she purred, “I just looove the name Robert.”
Robert it was. The twice-married oil tycoon, who has four children from his first marriage, made it clear early on that he wasn’t interested in another walk down the aisle. But (silly Robert) Georgette was determined to have her way about this as well. “I worked my little heart out to get him,” she says. “It was a project, let me tell you.” (Dating someone else for a while did the trick.) Says her friend Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, “I definitely claim Georgette as a Cosmo girl. She’s used whatever assets she has to get what she wants in life.”
Today, because of the demands of her Manhattan-based Exclusives company and Robert’s Houston business interests, the Mosbachers generally spend only weekends together. “As cornball as it sounds,” says Robert, 66, “the lime we spend together is real quality time.” Georgette, who always carries in her briefcase a folder marked R.M. filled with notes about things she wants to tell her husband, concurs. “You get really excited about seeing each other,” she says.
With private time at a premium, the two rarely attend galas or even make dinner dates with friends. Instead—weather permitting—they indulge Robert’s passion for sailing or head for the local cineplex. Now and then, of course, they do still do the high-powered social thing. Every couple of months, Georgette invites friends like Barry Diller, Rush Limbaugh and, of course, her old pal Ivana Trump to dinner. After the main course, she formally introduces a topic of conversation: the collapse of the Iron Curtain, abortion. (“That one got heated,” jokes Georgette, “but it was my duty as hostess to see that it didn’t come to blows.”) And recently, a lighter subject: the ideal way to spend the next six months. One guest wanted to study literature at Oxford. Another yearned to roam the range in Wyoming. The hostess’ response: “Exactly what I’m doing now—I’d take the six months to push my business even harder.” With time off, of course, to push those buttons on her player baby grand.
LISA RUSSELL in New York City and ANNE MAIER in Houston