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'Born Rich' Are Indeed Different, Heir Finds

10/19/2003 8:00 PM Eastern

What would you do if you never had to do anything the rest of your life? That's the question posed in Born Rich, the latest installment in Home Box Office's "America Undercover" series.

The filmmaker posing the question — Jamie Johnson, 23, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune — has a vested interest in the answer.

To find out, he talks to friends and acquaintances among New York's well-heeled and well-connected — from old money (Josiah Hornblower, heir to the Vanderbilt and Whitney fortunes) to famous money (Ivanka Trump, daughter of Ivana and the Donald) to new money (Christina Floyd, daughter of pro golfer Raymond Floyd).

Though it often comes across like an undergraduate's school project, the film does offer some tantalizing glimpses into the way the rich think.

Perhaps most interesting is the interplay between Jamie and his father, who isn't so sure that making a film about how much money one has is a good idea. (We come to learn that much of Jamie's dad's opinion is informed by his own father's messy, probate-related scandals).

Dad is right, to an extent — one of the most prominent subjects, gaming heir Luke Weil, decides he doesn't like the idea after all and tries to sue.

We also learn quite a bit about the mentality of these privileged families, especially the more established ones. For the American rich, at least, being idle is not an option.

"You can do whatever you want, as long as you do something," explains S.I. Newhouse IV, who seems like a regular guy, though he's worth somewhere around $20 billion.

It's a different attitude in Europe, as attested to by Cody Franchetti, heir to the Millken textile fortune (and a model/asthete, according to the press kit) who derides Americans for identifying themselves according to what they do.

Showing off a turn-of-the-century copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica in his New York apartment, he notes that it's the last edition that wasn't written for the mass market — "and now the Encyclopedia Britannica is s—t."

For the most part, the rich kids tell the story in their own words. Some come off as charming, like Trump, others as overbearing and snobby and some seem not to belong at all. (Floyd's family is so new to money that you wonder why she's there, until you see her flirting with Johnson at his 21st birthday party).

Born Rich bows Oct. 27 at 10 p.m. on HBO.

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