The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, June 12, 2002  

What Will Become of the Social Register?

The Social Register, the 115-year-old black and orange telephone book for what remains of this country’s blue-blood aristocracy, is facing an uncertain future in the early years of the 21st century.

Since the late 1970s the Register has been published by the Forbes family firm, Forbes Inc., which has upset some of the wealthiest Americans living in grand style on Park Avenue along with more paupers than the book cares to admit whose only connection to the Register stems from family lines running back to Plymouth Rock.

According to an article by Frank DiGiacomo in the June 12 edition of the New York Observer -- “The Forbes Family is Scaling Back Social Register” -- Tom Jones, who managed the Register as director of special projects at Forbes, recently left the company. Jones’s position was an important one -- at least for those whom such things matter. It was he who, together with an advisory committee, decided which families and individuals would be listed in the book and which would not.

Denying he had been dismissed by Forbes, Jones, who is 57 years old, told the Observer that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, together with his having reached “an advanced age and wanting a quieter life,” led him, and not the Forbes company, to decide to “tone down my responsibilities.”

With media companies enduring one of the worst slumps in decades, some industry leaders have questioned whether the Social Register, “which is aimed at a narrow, waning niche,” will remain viable given the Forbes company’s desire to enhance profitability.

Also working against the Register is the book’s longstanding exclusion of Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, Greek-Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Jews, and albeit to a lesser extent in recent years, Catholics of any ethnicity, including Irish- and German-Americans. There was a time not so long ago when a Protestant whose family was listed in the Register for many years could be abruptly dropped from the book simply for marrying a Catholic.

We have not yet heard whether the Forbes company has named a replacement for Jones, but the Observer reports there has been talk that the job was opened for either Sabina or Moira Forbes, daughters of Forbes chairman, Forbes magazine publisher, political dilettante, and flat-tax fanatic Malcolm S. “Steve” Forbes Jr., both of whom already in the employ of the family business.

When asked whether the Forbes filles were under consideration for the position, Christopher “Kip” Forbes, vice chairman of the family firm and younger brother of Forbes publisher and political dilettante Steve Forbes, responded: “Absolutely. As my father [Ed.: Malcolm S. Forbes Sr.] used to say, ‘At Forbes, we don’t preach nepotism, we practice it.’” Yes, indeed. Among much else we hear.

“Kip” Forbes maintains that the Register remains relevant even today: “Defining society and remembering what it was -- there has always been a demand for it. Its obituary has been written many times, and somehow it keeps rearing its head.”

Not altogether a surprising assessment given that “Kip” and the rest of his family are firmly entrenched in the book.

The most recent edition of the Social Register that we could find in TRR’s library is a bit dated, having been published in 1989. (There was a 1999 edition floating around here not too long ago.) Nonetheless, in that volume, we find quite a few members of the Forbes family, including “Kip” Forbes, his father, and his three brothers.

For those without ready access to the Register, we can at least offer the entries of select members of the Forbes family for our readers’ perusal. We’ll let the readers decide for themselves how relevant the volume is in 2002.

Forbes Mr. Malcolm S. [Now deceased.]
[Translation: Mr. Forbes at the time was a member of the following clubs and associations: New York Yacht, Links, Rittenhouse (Cincinnati), Essex Hunt, American Society of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, and The Pilgrims. Mr. Forbes was a 1941 graduate of Princeton University.]

Forbes Mr. & Mrs. Malcolm S. Jr. (Sabina C. Beekman)
[Translation: Mr. Forbes is a member of the following clubs and associations: Grolier and The Pilgrims. Mr. Forbes is a 1970 graduate of Princeton University.]
Juniors [i.e., children]: Miss Roberta A. and Miss Sabina A.
Residence: “Southdown,” Burnt Mills Rd., Bedminster, N.J. 07921
Telephone: (201) 234-2175

Forbes Mr. & Mrs. Timothy C. (Anne S. Harrison) Br’76
Residence: 366 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10013
Telephone: (212) 962-7623
[Translation: This is a scant listing. From it we surmise, but do not confirm, that Mrs. Timothy (Anne Harrison) Forbes is a 1976 graduate of Brown University; that Mr. Forbes did not graduate from college; that they have no children; and that they belong to no prominent clubs.]

Forbes Mr. & Mrs. Christopher (Baroness Astrid M. von Heyl) Forbes.
[Translation: Mr. Forbes is a member of the following clubs and associations: The Knickerbocker, The Century Association, The Brook, Essex Hunt, Grolier, American Society of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, and The Pilgrims. Mr. Forbes is a 1972 graduate of Princeton University.]
Juniors [i.e., children]: Miss Charlotte A. M.
Residence: “Timberfield,” Far Hills, N.J. 07931
Telephone: (201) 234-1058

Forbes Mr. & Mrs. Robert L. (Raurell-Soto – Lydia S. Appel)
[Translation: Mr. Forbes is a 1971 graduate of the University of North Carolina. He is a member of the Essex Hunt Club.]
Juniors [i.e. Children]: Mr. Alberto M. Raurell-Soto
Residence: 211 Central Park West, New York, N.Y. 10024
Telephone: (212) 874-9213
Residence: “Timberfield,” Far Hills, N.J. 07931
Telephone: (210) 781-1893

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