Bal­loons, boats and Fabergé eggs. Plus: A Forbes fam­ily af­fair, p. 78.

Forbes - - CON­TENTS -

When cer­tain things turn you on,” Mal­colm Forbes wrote in his 1989 book More Than I Dreamed, “and you ac­cu­mu­late enough of them, voila! It’s a col­lec­tion and you’re a col­lec­tor.” And col­lect he did.

Chair­man Mal­colm loved ships and once lamented that “boat lovers suf­fer a dis­ease: big­ger­boat­i­tis.” He had a par­tic­u­larly bad case of it. From 1955 to 1985, Forbes ac­quired five suc­ces­sively larg- er yachts—all named The High­lander— cul­mi­nat­ing in a 151-foot craft that came with a he­li­pad and top-deck so­lar­ium. Its pas­sen­gers over the years in­cluded pres­i­dents (Her­bert Hoover, Ron­ald Rea­gan, Ge­orge H.W. Bush), roy­als (Prince Charles of Eng­land, King Hus­sein of Jor­dan), celebri­ties (Brooke Shields and Har­ri­son Ford) and of course CEOS (Ru­pert Mur­doch, Lee Ia­cocca, Don­ald Trump). When wel­com­ing cor­po­rate chiefs, Forbes of­ten as­signed each of his four sons a set of hands to shake—“to hit up for ad­ver­tis­ing,” re­calls his el­dest son, Steve, be­fore the sun­set games of gin rummy. And some­times it served a higher pur­pose, as in the early 1980s when Sec­re­tary of State Ge­orge Shultz hosted se­cret Arab-is­raeli ne­go­ti­a­tions on board.

Hot-air bal­loons were another pas­sion. He owned dozens of bal­loons in his life, and he pi­loted them across Amer­ica—in a 34-day, 2,911-mile jour­ney in 1973—and around the world. Start­ing in the early 1980s, he em­barked on his Friend­ship Tours of coun­tries such as Rus­sia, China and Tur­key (of­ten rid­ing his many mo­tor­cy­cles dur­ing these ex­pe­di­tions too). Dur­ing those so­journs, he was part Phileas Fogg, part Henry Kissinger—a good­will am­bas­sador float­ing on air. Mean­while, he host-

ed an an­nual in­ter­na­tional meet-up of bal­loon­ists at Balleroy, his French es­tate, and there he would un­veil the lat­est ad­di­tion to his col­lec­tion of bal­loons. That in­cluded a replica of Balleroy it­self: “See­ing the two of them to­gether”—the man­sion and the bal­loon—“pro­vides a real kick.”

Along the way, Forbes ex­pe­ri­enced the in­evitable un­ex­pected de­scents, power-line en­tan­gle­ments and a failed bid to cross the At­lantic Ocean. “Sure, bal­loon­ing can be dan­ger­ous,” he ad­mit­ted later in life. But then again, “al­ways keep in mind that the high­est ac­ci­dent rate is in the home, es­pe­cially get­ting in and out of the bath­tub.”

Above all, as his son Christo­pher puts it, “He did love a party.” Forbes knew how to throw a lav­ish af­fair— and in 1989 he put to­gether a party for the ages for his 70th birth­day. To get them to his palace in Morocco, Forbes flew 800 of his clos­est friends in a 747, a DC-10 and the Con­corde, serv­ing a Le Cirque-catered in-flight lunch that fea­tured dev­iled eggs re­sem­bling hot air bal­loons. Among the guest list for this Forbes 800: Wal­ter Cronkite, Calvin Klein, Gor­don Getty, Regis Philbin, Henry Kravis, Diane von Fursten­berg, Ron­ald Perel­man—and most fa­mously, El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, who went as the birth­day boy’s date.

He feted his guests at his 10-acre Palais Men­doub with a pasha’s feast served by hun­dreds of cos­tumed lo­cals: bar­be­cued lamb, chicken and sum­mer fruit, fol­lowed by Krug cham­pagne and a four-layer birth­day cake shaped like the Bedouin tents in which they sat. A lengthy fire­works dis­play con­cluded the evening’s fes­tiv­i­ties. (“The only glitch was that Ravel’s Bolero kept play­ing,” says Christo­pher Forbes, rather than the full range of mu­sic planned for the light show.) Be­fore re­turn­ing to Amer­ica, the rev­el­ers ac­cepted a fi­nal Sun­day lunch in­vi­ta­tion from Morocco’s king to dine at the Tang­ier Coun­try Club while the monarch’s bal­letic horse­men per­formed.

Months be­fore the party, the Forbes chil­dren had sent out the in­vi­ta­tions, in­scrib­ing on each: “Our Father is not in Heaven yet and, as he also still signs our pay­checks, we are anx­ious to make his 70th birth­day a mem­o­rable one.” Thank­fully it was. Six months af­ter the cel­e­bra­tion in Morocco, Mal­colm Forbes suf­fered a fa­tal heart at­tack. And at his memo­rial ser­vice, his son Robert eu­lo­gized his father with a fit­ting sen­ti­ment: “It’s been a hell of a party, Pop.”

High Life: Forbes with his Sphinx bal­loon in Egypt. Be­low, with Liz Tay­lor at his 70th birth­day in Morocco.

Power boat: Forbes’ High­lander yachts have hosted three pres­i­dents—as well as a pre-white House Don­ald Trump.

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