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The Liar's Ball: The Extraordinary Saga of How One Building Broke the World's Toughest Tycoons

ISBN: 978-1-118-29531-1
256 pages
October 2014
The Liar


Inside the world of the real Great Gatsby of New York real estate

Harry Macklowe is one of the most notorious wheelers and dealers of the real estate world, and Liar's Ball is the story of the gamblers and thieves who populate his world. Watch as Harry makes the gutsy bid for midtown Manhattan's famous GM building and put almost no money down, landing the billion-dollar transaction that made him the poster child for New York's real estate royalty. Listen in on the secret conversations, back-door deals, and blackmail that put Macklowe and his cronies on top—and set them up for an enormous fall.

Vanity Fair contributing editor Vicky Ward skillfully paints the often scandalous picture of the giants who owned the New York skyline until their empires came crumbling down in the 2008 financial crisis. Based on more than 200 interviews with real estate moguls like Donald Trump, William Zeckendorf, Mort Zuckerman, and David Simon, Liar's Ball is the never-before-told story of the egomaniacal elites of New York City. Read about:

  • The epic rise and fall of one of the richest American real estate barons
  • Outlandish greed and cravings for power, attention, and love
  • Relationships built and destroyed by vanity and gossip
  • The bursting of the real estate bubble and its aftermath

This is no fiction—this is a real life tale of extravagance, ambition, and power. Harry Macklowe ruthlessly clawed his way to the top with the help of his loyal followers, each grubbing for a piece of the real estate pie. Liar's Ball reveals their secrets and tells the tale of business as usual for this group—lying, backstabbing, and moving in for the kill when things look patchy. From the bestselling author of The Devil's Casino comes an expos??? on the real estate elite that you'll hardly believe.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Cast of Characters xi

Introduction xv

Chapter 1 Stealing the Spotlight 1

Chapter 2 Alpha Males 11

Chapter 3 The Rigged Bid 21

Chapter 4 Harry’s Hero 37

Chapter 5 The Odd Couple: The English Lord and the Housewife Tycoon 49

Chapter 6 The Age of the Wolf 65

Chapter 7 Donald Trump’s Bag Man 79

Chapter 8 The Money Hunters and the Salesman from Indianapolis 91

Chapter 9 Donald’s “Force Majeure” 103

Chapter 10 Paradise, Briefl y 109

Chapter 11 Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride 117

Chapter 12 Tick Tock—A Year on the Clock 129

Chapter 13 The Fall That Wasn’t 145

Chapter 14 Aftermath 153

Note about the Sources 157

Acknowledgments 159

Notes 161

Bibliography 231

About the Author 233

Index 235

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Author Information

VICKY WARD is the New York-based, British-born author of the New York Times bestseller The Devil's Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High-Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers (Wiley, 2010). A former contributing editor to Vanity Fair for 11 years, she is the former executive editor of Talk magazine and the former news features editor of the New York Post. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Financial Times, The Times (London), and the Daily Telegraph. She holds a master's in English literature from Cambridge University.

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Press Release

October 20, 2014
Vicky Ward's The Liar's Ball Tells The Extraordinary Saga of How One Building Broke the World’s Toughest Tycoons

Just below Central Park on New York’s exclusive Fifth Avenue stands the iconic General Motors Building, a gleaming 50-story white marble tower and the most expensive office building in the United States.

One of the few structures in New York to occupy an entire block, it’s perhaps best known as home to Apple’s equally iconic flagship store.  In the fifty years since it was designed, the GM Building has brought out the best and the worst in New York’s real estate royalty, and led more than a few of them to ruin.

And as bestselling author and former Vanity Fair contributing editor Vicky Ward relates, the story of the GM Building is about much more than simple real estate.  Her new book, The Liar’s Ball, is the shocking exposé of how brilliant and audacious real estate tycoons lie, cheat, bluff, and bully their way into some of the world’s biggest deals.  In over 200 interviews, Ward got a rare look into the world of these vain and powerful men chasing their profits and schemes and dreams.  They are inspired, but they are also careless, unregulated, and dangerous.

The Liar’s Ball is full of extraordinary stories of extraordinary people: Cecilia Benattar, the “housewife tycoon,” a “petite pit bull” of an executive who didn’t know where, precisely, Times Square was but out-negotiated everyone; property developer Lord Max Rayne; broker Rita Jenrette, who once posed naked for Playboy and who now resides in a castello outside Rome as the Principessa Boncompagni Ludovisi; the surprisingly charming hustler who grabbed the prized building and then let it slip through his fingers in a family drama that makes Shakespeare’s King Lear look like Father of the Year, and others, including:    

  • Edward “Eddie” Garofolo, owner of the construction company that in dark of night demolished buildings to make way for the Hotel Macklowe, without permits and with the gas left on (it was a miracle no one died);
  • Harry Macklowe, whose “magic trick” at two in the morning, improving a Steve Jobs’ design, created the most famous retail store in the world, making Apple $1 million a day its first year in the building;
  • One GM building owner, Disque D. Deane, who smashed a bottle of wine over the head of a member of Merrill Lynch’s founding family;
  • Boss Tweed—the first of the site’s developers—who stole an estimated $200 million ($4 billion today) from New York City taxpayers.

The book features some of the world’s most reckless–and arguably ruthless–businessmen, not least Donald Trump, one-time owner for five years of the GM Building.  His surname adorned the building in four-foot letters until they disappeared overnight when Harry Macklowe bought it for $1.4 billion, a record that stood until recently.

The Liar’s Ball: the Extraordinary Saga of How One Building Broke the World’s Toughest Tycoonsis a story of naked, unregulated capitalism. It’s a tale of brilliant and enormously ambitious billionaires fighting bare-knuckled to get what they want.   It’s a story of deals worth billions done on the golf course rather than the board room or worked out on the back of a napkin, of rigged bids and offloaded debts, of personal fortunes made and lost, and of marriages destroyed.

With property prices soaring on both sides of the Atlantic, the emerging “poor door” debate for luxury high-rises paired with affordable housing, and Manhattan condos serving foreigners like new Swiss bank accounts—“stash pads” where they can hide their money, The Liar’s Ball is truly a parable for our times.

Following the success of Ward’s New York Times bestseller, The Devil’s Casino, about the collapse of the Lehman Brothers, The Liar’s Ball is another astonishing and utterly compelling real-life tale of just how far these people would go to get the money, power, and attention they so desperately craved.

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