Millionaire Malcolm Forbes (1919-1990) was the publisher of Forbes magazine from 1957 to 1990.
The entire world knew how old Malcolm Forbes was when he died in 1990; extensive press coverage of his lavish 70th (and last) birthday party thrown in Morocco in September of 1989 insured that everyone who had not been invited would know what they had missed. Characterized as a man who loved the spotlight, who shamelessly enjoyed the privileges his money afforded him, and who was always in pursuit of adventure, Forbes was a balloonist, a motorcyclist, and a sailor who took many trips on his huge yacht, the "Highlander." He collected anything precious and beautiful, most famously, Faberge eggs. His son Robert was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as emphasizing Forbes's playful nature in a eulogy: "He was so many things to so many of us. Boss, bon vivant, raconteur, balloonist, columnist, happiest millionaire, leader of the pack … source, mentor, friend, super this, mega that, father, grandfather, father-in-law, uncle, cousin and sparkling, naughty boy." Also ex-husband, as his wife of 39 years, Roberta Remsen Laidlaw, had divorced him in 1985. As Malcolm, Jr., explained in Forbes, his parents still loved each other but could no longer live together. Forbes was often seen in the company of movie star Elizabeth Taylor, and the two answered speculation about an impending marriage by saying that they were merely good friends.
A savvy businessman by all accounts, Forbes inherited his wealth from his father, B.C.(Bertie) Forbes, who established him at the Fairfield Times newspaper as owner and publisher only days after his graduation from Princeton. As he was fond of saying, he was loaded with "sheer ability, spelled i-n-h-e-r-i-t-a-n-c-e," as quoted in Forbes. He went on to publish the Lancaster Tribune in 1942, and four years later, after a stint in the Army on the European front of World War II, he joined the staff at Forbes magazine. He was first an associate publisher, then publisher, editor, editor-in-chief, vice-president, and, finally, president. As a politician, Forbes was less than successful; he said that he was "nosed out by a landslide" in a New Jersey race for governor in 1957.
Forbes was loath to put a real figure to his income and holdings, though he published practically everybody else's value. Early in 1990, the New York Post estimated Forbes's holdings by toting up his collections, houses, and publications, but as Time magazine reported it, the estimates were generous; "Malcolm is a billionaire, but only if you swallow an estimate of $65 million for his flagship magazine's annual profits." People magazine lists eight houses, a palace in Tangier, Morocco, a chateau in Normandy and the island of Lauthala in Fiji as his dwellings. His famous birthday party was held in Tangier, and aroused the disgust of many outsiders who found the display gratuitously expensive. Forbes added some fuel to the flames by suggesting that the party be tax-deductible, as it was for business purposes. His company, Forbes Inc., actually did pay for the party, just as it would pay for any publicity campaign. Forbes's flamboyant consumerism served the firm well, and his enthusiastic spending habits earned him the nickname "the happiest millionaire." Although not as obviously a philanthropist, Forbes gave millions of dollars each year to charities, and had been at a charity bridge tournament the day he died. "Malcolm Forbes was a giant of American business," said then President George Bush, as quoted in Forbes. "His success in publishing reflected the tremendous vitality of our nation and served to inform and inspire a generation of successful business leaders. He was greatly admired and will be greatly missed." Former president Ronald Reagan offered a similar tribute: "Malcolm was truly a dear friend and we will miss him sorely. We hold our memories of him close to our hearts and are thankful to have known him." □