Perhaps because he is in the news lately, I have received numerous emails asking me about him and his life in Boston. There are several articles in publications around the country that shed some interesting light on the topic, most of which were written between 2009 and 2010. I wanted to give a slightly different version of the subject for the record, and while it is not salacious or sensational, it is the truth.
Of the misconceptions surrounding Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter and his time in Beacon Hill, I’ll address the most common:
Rockefeller/Gerhartsreiter “infiltrated Boston high society.”
This was a particular favorite sound-bite because it kindled inherent social resentment and the media were quick to gloat. I have yet to identify the “high society” referred to in the stories, mostly because it does not exist in any of the ways that people like to think it does. R/G was socially active not by calculating “infiltration”, but because he bought tickets to charity events just like everyone else did and he went to museum and gallery functions just like others did. Often. If you donate as little as $25 to certain causes, you get invited to their “galas”, which are often pretentious crap-cuddles (that deserve harsh dissection in a future post). R/G went to parties and was involved in volunteer committees around the city. He showed up at a few of my parties as well.
The Rockefeller alias got him access to a world he wanted to be a part of.
This one is subtle, so stay with me. R/G was not appointed to boards and committees because of his alias. Like any city, there are plenty of famous lastnames in Boston (and nobody cares), and the reason he was invited to participate in the programming at several institutions is because he had free time and he had an interest and enthusiasm to do it. If someone can show up for a mid-day meeting to evaluate art submissions to a local gallery, he is likely to have a spot. He generally dressed pretty well, and he was an indefatigably doting father who attended the local church. That being said, he was an unlikable goof-ball who forced his (invented) education, family gravitas, and self-anointed cultural authority every chance he got. He was generally disliked socially, but I know several people who say that while he was a laughably pretentious twit, he would work nicely to put together events and parties for people.
Here is the important part: Very few people cared about his supposed lastname. He would introduce himself as “Clark ROCKefeller”, over-articulating the lastname to drive the point home. 99% percent of women who met him left feeling creeped out more than anything. I, like my friends, had no reason to doubt his claim, and felt that he was just another trust-fund man-child who was clearly coasting on his family reputation, having done nothing on his own of measurable worth. There are PLENTY of those types around already. Nobody likes a snotty prick, but new batches of them surface every few years, burn through their good-natured neighbors, occasionally break some hearts or bank accounts, and ultimately move away in disgrace. Between his staggeringly ludicrous lies at parties, most had him pegged as a liar pretty quickly in terms of his claimed achievements, but most had (as I did) no reason to doubt the name he used. It is important to realize that even in the perceived "high society" circles, there are still droves of young losers and cads, drifting aimlessly and squandering family money, soiling the coattails of their hard-working ancestors who provided the largess.
His claims were beyond dubious. He regularly told people that besides consulting for NASA on cutting-edged propulsion technology, he was a counter-espionage consultant to the CIA, all while "assembling one of the country's greatest art collections" in his spare time. He also, never disclosed his class year at one of the several schools he claimed to have attended, so most people thought that he had been a drop-out. He was also snobbish the way a movie caricature would be, with the comically lilting swish in his speech, half-closing his eyes as he uttered something dismissive from his up-turned nose about wine or about Dutch portraitists. At a party I hosted (NOT in my home, thank God), he trotted around the function telling women that he was “a widower”, though his estranged wife was still clearly alive.
His wife had been hoodwinked by him
Many in Boston have their doubts about this one. His wife was an MBA workaholic with an impressive paycheck from a behemoth consulting firm. Several websites interestingly accused her of being a bigger con-artist than he, as she had apparently advised in her professional capacity that the world financial markets were stable and worthy of further investments… in 2006 and 2007! I assume that she is horribly embarrassed by the entire ordeal, but she had to have ignored hundreds of red-flags along the way to get where she had with him. As for the accuracy of her world financial forecasts, history has already dealt her credibility a cruel check.
His role as a father
Of all the fakery he constructed, and all of the pompous non-sense he spouted, one thing that was real was (and likely still is) his love for his child. He was a fixture around Charles St., tweed jacket or blazer, hand-in-hand with his daughter going in and out of markets and stores. He dressed her well and he was envied by many other fathers who would have also liked to spend their days with their children instead of working at offices. The unsanctioned flight to Baltimore with his daughter likely had little to do with his alias and his general jack-assery, and probably had mostly to do with his desperation and love for his daughter combined with his lack of sound judgment.
R/G was liked and accepted
In a few cases he had friends, but most people who met him distanced themselves from him when he turned on the stupid snob-act. “Oh God… here comes Clark Rockefeller” was a common saying accompanied by two or more people rolling their eyes at parties, pubs, restaurants, and events as he approached. To most he was an eccentric braggart who was tolerated more than liked, but who was also often avoided.
One normal friend of mine was invited to his house for “some food and to examine the art collection he was considering donating”. As an artist, she hesitantly accepted. His spacious Beacon St. house was empty of furniture, save several cardboard boxes and crates, and he treated her to a dinner of white rice (from a rice cooker) and a few slices of deli meats on a paper plate… no utensils.
Not a single person reading this blog would have been fooled by the claims of achievement R/G made regularly had you had the odd experience of meeting him. You would have found him immediately to be a boob with few redeeming qualities.
While his story has entered into the Hollywood-caliber pages of history, it is not unique. I can think of at least a dozen people I dread seeing at parties because of their gas-bag personas, their relentless name dropping, and their toxic social climbing. Yes… I get it… you went to [Ivy-league institution]… you’ve mentioned it six times during this conversation. Nobody cares. Yes… we’ve heard about your family estate in on the coast… nobody cares, and you’re also a terrible neighbor… go back to hitting on the twenty-somethings. While R/G certainly had a more interesting back-story, he was hardly the first puffed-up self-aggrandizing buffoon to hang around at museum and library foundation parties telling people about his privilege… and he will certainly not be the last.