Heirs, Heiresses and Inheriting a Company

America is not kind to the heir. He is a stereotypical figure in our literature, and not an appealing one at that. He tends to be depicted as weak, pampered, flawed, a diluted strain of the hardy founding stock. America celebrates the self-made. Unless an heir veers sharply from his father’s path, he is not taken seriously. Even in middle age he seems costumed, a pretender draped in oversize clothes, a boy who has raided his father’s closet. The depiction may be unfair, but it is what it is.

But Arthur wasn’t just born to his position—the story is more complicated. He may have been the firstborn son in the line of succession, but he also staked his claim to the crown deliberately and dramatically, when he was only 14 years old. His mother, Barbara Grant, and Punch Sulzberger divorced when Arthur was just five. He lived throughout his early childhood on the Upper East Side with his mother and her new husband, David Christy, a warm and supportive stepfather. Punch is nominally Jewish, although not at all religious, while his son was raised Episcopalian. Arthur senior and Arthur junior were not close: Punch was generally aloof, even when Arthur was around. Yet, understanding what his famous name meant, and who his distant father actually was in the world, he packed up his things and moved himself the half-mile to his father’s home on Fifth Avenue, to live with Punch and his stepmother and their daughters. He was not pulled by any strong emotional connection. It seemed more like a career move. His biological father and his stepmother were wealthy, socially connected, and powerful; his biological mother and his stepfather were not. Arthur opted for privilege and opportunity. That his stepmother, Carol Sulzberger, despised Arthur—she would stick out her tongue at pictures of him—did not seem to matter. He was Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., and showing up on his father’s doorstep was a way of asserting, consciously or not, that when Punch changed wives he had not washed his hands of an obligation to his son. While the inheritance was his by birth, it was also very much Arthur’s choice.

From Mark Bowden’s 2009 Vanity Fair profile of fourth-generation New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.

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