The world doesn’t work, and Ethics is always struggling to avoid losing ground. I collect stories that show why this is. Here is one from the obituary page, the saga of the departed Annemarie Huste, who was Jacqueline Kennedy’s private chef.
In 1966, the former First Lady moved to New York from Washington, D.C., and in need of a private chef—rich person, you know— hired Huste, a young German immigrant whose previous employer, theater impresario Billy Rose (of “Jumbo” fame!), who had just died, rendering her skills superfluous. Huste did the job to Mrs. Kennedy’s satisfaction, feeding the occasional hoards of family members who came to visit, accompanying the Jackie, Caroline and John-John to the Kennedy compound Hyannis Port, in the summers and playing with the children of JFK.
Then, in 1968, Weight Watchers Magazine approached her about cooperating in a feature called “Jackie Kennedy’s Gourmet Chef Presents Her Weight Watchers Recipes.” Huste dished about Jackie’s diets and dress sizes in the article, never asking for her famous employer’s permission or consent. Jackie Kennedy was horrified, and even tried to stop publication, something the Kennedy family was and is very good at. This time, it didn’t work.
A few weeks later, Huste gave an interview to Maxine Cheshire, then the “beautiful people” gossip columnist for The Washington Post and syndicated nationally. In return for inside-the-Kennedy-home details, Cheshire made Huste sound like the coming star of gourmet cookery, hinting that a television show, a cookbook, wealth and fame were just around the corner. What was really around the corner was unemployment: Jackie fired Annemarie Huste, who deserved it.
In an ethical world, where betrayal is treated as the major ethics breach that it is, Huste would have ended up working as an anonymous restaurant employee, or in another field entirely. What she did was to betray the trust of Mrs. Kennedy, who had given her a wonderful opportunity and a comfortable life. Huste was dishonest and disloyal; her motives were ambition and greed. Her fall should have been a cautionary tale about the consequences of unethical conduct in the workplace.
Instead, it taught the opposite lesson. Capitalizing on the Cheshire puff piece, Huste wrote “Annemarie’s Personal Cookbook” which reached bookstores just as Jackie Kennedy returned to New York after becoming the queen of the celebrity columns by marrying Aristotle Onassis. Enhanced by the interest in all things Jackie, even turncoats like Annemarie, the cookbook became a best seller, and she was famous.
Huste wrote several more cookbooks, became the executive chef for The Saturday Evening Post and Gourmet magazine, and opened a cooking school. She started the Great Take-Out, a gourmet catering shop, while turning the dining room of her house into “Annemarie’s Dining Room,” a pricey and prestigious private-party space for wealthy Wall Street clients. Never once did she express any regret for how she treated Jackie Kennedy.
Her betrayal worked, you see. “All of this publicity may help me!” she told Newsweek when she was sacked, and she was right.
This is one of the reasons the world doesn’t work. Machiavellians like Annemarie Huste ought to be shunned; the fact that society allows them to turn infamy and misconduct into self-promotion and wealth grantees that more betrayal will follow. Too many cynical, greedy and ethics-free people are willing to employ those who have deliberately harmed others for their own advancement, sending the message that done properly and carefully by someone with something valuable to sell, betrayal pays, and handsomely.
Meanwhile, upon Huste’s death, the New York Times honored her today with a light-hearted, uncritical 900 word obituary, which would never be lavished on a loyal, ethical employee who cared about and respected her employer’s privacy.
Ethics are for chumps, I guess.