A federal lawsuit filed in Dallas on Friday has all the makings of a Vanity Fair feature story, down to the famous names who make cameo appearances -- among them, President Franklin Roosevelt, Coco Chanel and Winston Churchill. But far more notable is what's at stake: a signature collection of art (consisting of more than 1,400 works, including some by Monet, Rodin, van Gogh and Cézanne) at the Dallas Museum of Art and a fortune donated to UT Southwestern.
The suit was filed on Friday by Arnold Leon Schroeder Jr. -- the only son of Marshall, Texas's Wyn-Nelle Russell, who would achieve international renown as Wendy Russell Reves. As in: The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection at the Dallas Museum of Art. Her death in March 2007 was notable enough to merit mentions from The New York Times to this estimable account in the U.K. Telegraph.
Schroeder -- who is suing the DMA and several of its board members, former UT Southwestern president Kern Wildenthal and Wendy's attorney Edward Copley -- is Reves's son from her first marriage to Al Schroeder, a West Point grad she met when he was stationed in San Antonio in the early 1930s. Their marriage wouldn't last: Reves began her career as a world-famous magazine model in'39, married a second time (to musician Paul Baron) in 1940, then took up with writer, publisher and Emery Reves in 1948.
The two were married 16 years later in Switzerland, and they would eventually move into Coco Chanel's old villa in France -- La Pausa, whole rooms of which were recreated in the DMA in the mid-1980s to make room for the Reves Collection. But Schroeder -- through his attorney, former WFAA-Channel 8 reporter Valeri Williams -- alleges that "during his lifetime, with the assistance of prominent attorneys, Emery set up an elaborate web of corporate entities to hold his various assets, primarily to avoid substantial taxation under applicable French law." Among those assets, claims Reves's sole heir: the art collection and her fortune.
In the suit, which follows below and spells out an alphabet soup's worth of foundations and alleged tax-dodging fronts, Schroeder alleges that after Emery's death in 1981, three DMA board members went to France and asked Wendy to donate their collection, said to be worth more than $400 million.
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Wendy, by now a lonely widow and chronic alcoholic, was persuaded by their Texas charm and flattery to disregard Emery's intentions for the Collection and donated it instead to the DMA. ... Emery had wished for Villa La Pausa to be converted to a museum to display the Collection publicly in France within its natural surroundings. Instead, the DMA Members convinced Wendy that Emery's spirit would be as appeased if the DMA built a replica of several of the rooms of Villa La Pausa within the museum in which the Collection would be displayed, which is in fact what the DMA ultimately did. The DMA Members also promised to find a way around France's reserved heirship rule and the restrictions set forth in BAF's By-Laws in order to facilitate the surreptitious transfer of the Collection.
The suit also alleges that Dr. Kern Wildenthal, during his tenure as president of UT Southwestern Medical Center, pressed Wendy to leave "several millions of dollars" to the hospital:
After an afternoon of plying Wendy (an alcoholic) with abundant champagne and other drinks, Wildenthal abrubtly confronted Wendy and presented a Will that had been drafted by, or at, Copley's direction. This Will appointed Wildenthal as sole Exectuor of Wendy's Estate and purported to direct that the majority of her Estate devolve to a foundation, the Wendy and Emery Reves Charitable Foundation ("WERCF"). However, WERCF would not be created until Wendy died, and it would be totally controlled by Wildenthal and Copley and their circle.
Schroeder wants the DMA and UT Southwestern "disgorged of their ill-gotten gains," among other things. No doubt the parties have yet to be served. But expect a follow-up, should any or all want to comment on the Schroeder's suit.ARNOLD LEON SCHROEDER, JR. Suit