Friday, March 30, 2007

(Sean) Wilsey vs. (Dede) Wilsey, Round Two

San Francisco is being treated to another round of the Sean Wilsey vs. Dede Wilsey celebrity fest, but this time with less bite.

Sean Wilsey’s bestselling memoir, Oh The Glory of It All, really stuck it to his stepmother, whom he characterized as a husband-stealing, stepson hating, monstrosity. Dede supposedly hired a lawyer to stop Sean from writing about his unnatural lust for her and her vicious ways. The controversy was great media fodder, and Sean’s book became a bestseller.

But that was before the world knew that Dede Wilsey raised $200 million for the new De Young museum and pledged to raise another $500 million for a new hospital for children, women, and cancer in UC’s Mission Bay Development. A woman with that kind of fundraising prowess is to be feared, indeed.

Julian Guthrie, a Chronicle reporter, wrote a profile of Dede for this month’s San Francisco Magazine. The article draws a more complex portrait of Dede than the one sketched out in Sean’s memoir. She comes across as a dedicated woman, one driven to be the city’s uber-fundraiser The photos accompanying the story show Dede in her sumptuous bedroom where her monogrammed duvet cover and pillowcases look like they are made of 700-ply Egyptian cotton. There are also lots of pictures of Dede’s dogs, who are like family to her.

At the end of the article, the reader has to ask: “How bad can this woman be when she raises so much money for charity?” According to Sean Wilsey, this portrait is a complete calculation, a triumph of PR marketing.

Guthrie writes: “But even as she embarks on her biggest campaign yet, Wilsey’s persona of tough-minded saint remains colored by a deeply personal attack. A year before, she had endured the assault of stepson Sean Wilsey’s scathing memoir, Oh the Glory of It All. Wilsey was depicted as the clich├ęd evil stepmother, a Cruella De Vil with a pack of Maltese. The book received enviable reviews and publicity, with juicy excerpts in publications from coast to coast, from the New Yorker to the San Francisco Chronicle. Though Wilsey dismissed the voyeuristic page-turner as a pack of lies, and friends and family circled protectively around her, the media coverage turned her into a bauble-hungry caricature.

Then, this past January, the barbs were out again when W magazine published a story on San Francisco’s social scene that portrayed Wilsey as self-absorbed and flighty. She was photographed for the article at home, flanked by a servant and clad in an emerald green dress and jaw-dropping jewels. “My mother read it and told me not to,” says Wilsey of Kevin West’s piece, which included a painful scene in which Wilsey gives a toast to her son Trevor and his new wife Alexis at their wedding ball, but talks mostly about herself. “If your mother says not to read it, you know it must be bad.”

What’s interesting about Wilsey, though, is that neither the censure nor the acclaim seems to have much effect on her at this point. Her friends and foes alike remark how single-minded she is, and in interviews she comes across as funny and chatty but also ferociously determined and blunt—definitely not a lady who lunches—someone with zero self-doubt and no problem talking about herself or saying things an image consultant would have tried to halt midsentence.”

Now Sean is coming to town with his mother Pat Montandon, who has written her own memoir, Oh the Hell of it All: A Memoir. The pair will talk at an event on April 18 at 826 Valencia, the non-profit writing organization set up by Dave Eggers. It features other memorists Peggy Orenstein, Lisa Gray Garcia and Chronicle book editor Oscar Villalon. At $100 a seat, it’s an expensive ticket. Of course, 826 does such great things that attendees have to regard the money as a donation.

Meanwhile, Sean is still pointing out that Dede is a calculating woman. Slate is sponsoring memoir week, and Sean (and others) wrote about what it is like to write about family members:

“My stepmother, Dede, whom I did not consult, was so enraged by what I wrote about her that she hired a lawyer and threatened to sue me. Then, she hired a publicist. She's been making regular appearances in glossy magazines ever since.”

More than a year after Sean’s book came out, he and Dede are still slugging it out in public. We’ve seen Round One. Round Two is approaching. Will there be a Round Three?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

obviouly there is always two sides to every story, and it's hard for any non family members to know exactly what went on in their relationships, though i have i read the biography itself, i thought it was well written, but mostly likely exagratted in parts, that said, there are still questions unasnwered, i mean, if Dede has been a model stepmother, why would her own stepson write such a thing about her, and also it seems highly unusual for Dede's ex husband Al Wilsey to come to the decision on his own, that he was going to left out EVERY SINGLE one of his children out of his will and left the entire fortune to Mrs Wilsey, eventhough Sean Wilsey seems to wrote affectionately of his father, and based on the book, they did seem to have a complex but ultimately loving relationship, it just doesnt make sense a loving father would do that to his own children without undue influences.