Perelmans at War

Most families squabble, but few do it quite like Philadelphia’s Perelmans. In a legal clash that includes allegations of stealing and duplicity, son Jeffrey is pitted against his tycoon father Raymond and his starlet-marrying, headline-grabbing brother Ron. One thing’s for sure: Thanksgiving at the Perelman house will never be the same

WHEN YOU’RE THE matriarch of one of the most prominent and wealthy families in Philadelphia, when your penthouse on Rittenhouse Square boasts an art collection that features Picasso and Renoir, when your name is on buildings at the Kimmel Center, the Art Museum and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania — in other words, when you are Ruth Perelman — people tend to listen to your ideas.

And so it was that Ruth brought her idea to august Schnader Harrison attorney Arlin Adams, a longtime family friend and a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Her son Jeffrey, Ruth explained, had suddenly resigned from employment at her husband Raymond’s companies and moved across the country. Worse, the split had hardly been amicable. Jeffrey and Raymond were no longer speaking.

Raymond Perelman wasn’t a man of ideas, but a man of action, one who had amassed a fortune into the hundreds of millions in manufacturing, mining and finance through a potent combination of killer instinct and unstoppable will. Over the course of five decades, Raymond had become one of the city’s most distinguished — and feared — tycoons.

But this combination, potent in the Darwinian world of business, had proven a mixed bag when it came to raising his two sons, Ronald and Jeffrey. Each had learned at his knee; each had been inculcated with Raymond’s take no prisoners ethos; each had eventually grown restless. Ron became an international business celebrity, his own ruthlessness a nuclear version of his father’s as he clomped around Manhattan like a financial Godzilla, became a staple of the gossip columns that chronicled its glittering nightlife, and litigated over seemingly anything and everything, including tabloid headline generating divorces from wives three and four and a sensational battle over the estate of ex wife number two.

Jeffrey was different. He was a businessman like his father and brother, for sure, but seemingly not cut from the same coarse cloth. He had married once, to a beautiful Canton, Ohio, brunette named Marsha Reines, had one daughter on whom he doted, and became a steady if sedate fixture on the Main Line charity circuit. Circumspect and professorial, with a snowy white beard that made him resemble a leaner, tanner Santa Claus, Jeffrey appeared almost inscrutable. Like his brother, he had waited for his father to retire, to hand over the reins of his businesses. Finally fed up with fighting with Raymond personally and professionally, in 1989 he’d angrily pulled up stakes — and moved to Colorado.

That’s where Ruth’s idea came in. A staple of the tony social whirls of Philadelphia and Palm Beach, where she’s known as much for her statement jewelry as her courtly demeanor, Ruth was, at her core, a Jewish mother. And like all Jewish mothers, she wanted her husband and her sons and her grandchildren together for happy days and holy days, wanted family harmony, wanted everyone to just get along. She was 68; Raymond was 72. This fissure between Raymond and Jeffrey couldn’t be allowed to deepen. Time wasn’t on their side.