This article was originally published in Maclean’s magazine on May 8, 2006. Partner content is not updated.
On March 10, 2006, Benjamin James Ludwick Thomson, the future Lord Thomson of Fleet and heir to the country's greatest fortune, was born in Toronto. Not a mention of it was made in mainstream Canadian media, not even a birth notice. Also unreported was the fact that little Benjamin's father, David Thomson, chairman of Thomson Corp., signed an application for divorce from his son's mother, Laurie Ludwick, that very day. A server arrived at the new mother's door with the papers three hours after she returned home from hospital.
In itself, the tale appears little more than a sad example of marital fragility. That, and rich fodder for dinner-party chatter at well-heeled Toronto addresses. But we've had previous glimpses of David Thomson's eccentricities: a historical Rosedale mansion purchased for $2.6 million in 1988 that was left to fall into squalor when the city scuttled his renovation plans; his dramatic pronouncements on the state of his soul - "I am absolutely compelled to follow my feelings, or I forfeit the right to live." So the story, fraught with dark Gothic symmetry, invites curiosity.
It also comes on the heels of a more public revelation involving Taylor Thomson, David's younger sister. That surfaced with the unsealing in February of a U.S. federal indictment charging Anthony Pellicano, the notorious Los Angeles private detective, and seven others, with 112 counts of racketeering, conspiracy and other charges. The case has been dubbed Hollywood's Watergate, given the industry insiders and celebrities dragged into its web - Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman and Sylvester Stallone among them. The indictment added to that list lesser figures: Michael Kolesa, the father of Taylor Thomson's child, and Pamela Miller, her former nanny, as targets in an alleged espionage operation by Pellicano, whose expertise Thomson had relied upon in at least one past court dealing. Taylor has denied authorizing any illegal surveillance.
The revelations suggest that the Thomsons, with assets estimated at $23.8 billion, are more troubled than we knew. That they should find themselves in tabloid-worthy exploits is ironic. As newspaper proprietors, they have avoided ownership of tabloids as deliberately as they've ducked media scrutiny. Sensational disclosures also clash with the Thomson-family mythology as modest penny-pinchers, prudent deal-makers and benign barons of culture whose good works include the current expansion of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
The Thomson dynasty, now in its third generation, is as much a part of Canada's iconography as the Hudson's Bay Co., which the family once owned. Roy, Ken and now David Thomson have shaped our view of how Canadian money behaves. There's a certain comfort in seeing Ken, the country's richest man and father to David and Taylor, as kindly, unassuming, a collector of folksy Cornelius Krieghoff winterscapes who walks his own dog and compares prices at Loblaws.
Closer inspection of the Thomsons, the ninth richest family in the world according to Forbes, reveals a more complicated portrait of wealth. Their business holdings are a Chinese puzzle, with companies folded into companies. Most visible is the public Thomson Corp., a $28.7-billion global digital media empire administered from Stamford, Conn., with electronic databases in law, health care, science, accounting and education. Then there's Woodbridge Co. Ltd., the family's private holding company chaired by Ken Thomson, with assets that, pending regulatory approval, will include 40 per cent of Bell Globemedia, owner of the Globe and Mail, CTV Inc., 15 specialty channels and 15 per cent of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. The family upped its BGM ownership stake in December, bringing them into partnership with Torstar Corp., the owner of the Toronto Star, BCE Inc., and the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan.
Though the Thomsons are said not to meddle in the editorial content of their media holdings, ownership - and the allies that accrue - has its privileges. Both the Globe and the Star have followed the Pellicano scandal. Yet neither mentioned its connection to Taylor Thomson, one deemed newsworthy by both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The National Post, meanwhile, splashed the story on its front page. Editors in the Globe's newsroom debated whether or not to cover David Thomson's marital woes. That they didn't run a story isn't surprising - few media outlets, including Maclean's, would report on their proprietors' private lives.
That so little is known of the Thomsons can also be attributed to the privacy scrim that surrounds them. Accounts of their lives, available in print, are missing from newspaper databases. The Globe's photo department refuses to sell photographs of the family, referring calls to Woodbridge. The Globe, which has covered the business and personal travails of the Aspers and Blacks, has done little on the Thomsons beyond running a front-page image of one of Ken Thomson's Krieghoffs every Christmas.
An army of lawyers and accountants stands guard, many from the Toronto establishment law firm Torys LLP. John A. Tory, son of the firm's founder, has served as Ken Thomson's financial adviser and éminence grise for over 30 years. Torys alumnus Geoff Beattie, president of Woodbridge and deputy chairman of Thomson Corp., plays that role for David Thomson. In preparing this story, Maclean's made a formal request to interview Thomson family members. "Not gonna happen," said Beattie. Few will speak of the family, on or off the record. Those who did - even on the condition of anonymity - reported back to Woodbridge, boasts Beattie. Like a Victorian novel, the servants know all, but refuse to speak - unless in court-filed affidavits. "Toronto clams up when anybody has that amount of money," says a Toronto forensic accountant.
Theirs is a world where trust is illusive, motives are suspect and opportunists abound. Relationships are mediated by lawyers, litigation chisels away at personal relationships, private lives are defined as "exclusive property" in confidentiality agreements. Art is purchased to sit in vaults and paintings are held hostage in marital disputes. Homes are collected in clusters as if in a Monopoly game. Lawyers shred diaries. Nannies follow dress codes, down to what colours are permitted in which seasons. A father sits in a room among divorce lawyers refusing to look at his newborn just feet away.
In a culture obsessed with money, the Thomsons illustrate that wealth is not reflexively synonymous with power and happiness; it also can summon a sense of "helplessness," to quote David Thomson. "Gothic doesn't even begin to describe it," says a man close to the family. "You have no idea."
The first Lord Thomson of Fleet arrived at his Mississauga, Ont., home in January 1964 triumphant but unsated. Days earlier, Queen Elizabeth II had announced his hereditary peerage. Now, surrounded by his adoring family, Roy Thomson held court for the press in his living room.
The son of a Toronto barber who built a $750-million empire from a string of tiny northern Ontario radio stations and dailies, Thomson relished the attention. He was comfortable with his wealth, though he also established the family's parsimonious reputation. Asked how he would be addressed henceforth, he joked, "I'll get 'Lord' or 'Sir' or 'hey you.'" He boasted of his desire to own 200 newspapers, one of them in Toronto. So great were his ambitions that they would ensnare his offspring for generations. As he wrote in his 1975 memoir After I Was Sixty, published a year before his death: "David, my grandson, will have to take his part in the running of the Organisation, and David's son, too. For the business is all tied up in trusts for those future Thomsons, so that death duties will not tear it apart .... These Thomson boys that come after Ken are not going to be able, even if they want to, to shrug off those responsibilities. The conditions of the trusts ensure that control of the business will remain in Thomson hands for 80 years."
That day in 1964, the next generations of Thomson men were distracted. Thomson's only son, Ken, ran to the phone for updates on the puppies being born to his Airedale, Jackie. David Thomson, then six, was also off in his own world, sliding down a banister. When the family gathered for a photograph, young David asked, "Are we going to be in the newspapers?" Replied his father: "No, nobody's going to put you in the newspaper - except your own."
Such insularity, and the resulting friction between their public and private worlds, would become a motif in the lives of the Thomson children - David, born in 1957, Lynne, who would later rename herself Taylor, born two years later, and Peter, born in 1965. In the monied Rosedale area, where they lived in a Georgian mansion, there was a sense that they were other. "It was a different world," says a former neighbour of their retinue of servants, chefs and gardeners. Rosedale was more socially variegated then than it is now, home to high school teachers as well as old money. Ken and Marilyn Thomson's fear that wealth made their children targets for kidnapping was imprinted on the children. David was never seen playing on the street.
As their father had before them, David and Peter attended Upper Canada College, delivered by a driver. Lynne went to nearby Branksome Hall. David was a shy, sensitive boy, suspicious of others' motives, a tendency said to have been ingrained by his mother. "There is always something that people want, and I have not figured out why," he told James FitzGerald in Old Boys: The Powerful Legacy of Upper Canada College. "There is an expectation that is part of one's psychic inheritance which says, 'You have made a pledge. You now are a secret member of a secret order.'" Their upbringing left them without the tools for intimate relationships, one observer notes. "It's a really lonely, solitary existence they all have."
In 1979, at age 22, David began the apprenticeship ordained by his grandfather. Just as Ken Thomson toiled as a reporter in the late 1940s at the Timmins Daily Press, David managed a Bay store before his ascent.
Lynne's first foray beyond the family enclave was, inexplicably, to an equally cloistered environment - Utah's Brigham Young University, which holds students to a strict Mormon code, including bans on alcohol and coffee. She did not finish. Instead, she returned to Toronto, passed the Ontario securities course, and took a job with brokerage McLeod Young Weir Ltd. Within a few years, however, she had turned to acting.
Of the Thomson children, Peter appears to have carved out a semblance of normalcy. Low grades forced him from UCC and he finished his schooling at Royal St. George's College. When he expressed an interest in photography, Ken Thomson paved the way for unpaid positions at the Brampton Times and at the Globe and Mail. Colleagues recall that Peter's equipment was far better than that of the staff photographers. Though he holds a position at Woodbridge as deputy chairman and sits on the Thomson Corp. board of directors, he is better known on the rally-racing circuit and was 2005 Canadian Rally Champion. His wife, Diana, whom he met at Woodbridge when she was his secretary, supports him as part of his racing crew. The couple regularly dines at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Toronto's Chinatown.
Today, the three Thomson children live close by their parents in Rosedale. Once owned by Woodbridge, Ken and Marilyn's house, at 8 Castle Frank Rd., is now held by 8 Castle Frank Road Limited. David Thomson's first wife, Mary Lou, lives next door, at 10 Castle Frank, a property purchased by Taylor Thomson but now owned by an anonymous numbered company.
In 1980, Ken Thomson expressed concern with the effect of inherited wealth on his children, noting he had seen hardship as well as prosperity with his business-hustling father. "It makes me wonder about my own children," he said in a Saturday Night profile. "They have only known affluence." That constant, a family associate notes, has been the Thomson children's curse: "The worst thing you can do is to take away a kid's ambition. That's what can happen with money."
David Thomson is a tall, lean, blond-haired man of angular intensity; his eyes are a shade of Arctic blue he could no doubt reference to a J.M.W. Turner seascape. He wears knee-length cargo shorts year-long, even to his Toronto office in the Thomson building. His rare public musings are of a Heathcliff-storming-the-moors cast. "Probably I was driven too hard," he said in Old Boys. "You accepted the challenges and you won the game, but you lost so much in the process. The process itself was gone. There was no enchantment."
Psychoanalyzing the reclusive 48-year-old scion is something of a sport in Toronto society, habituated to more bland, unconflicted Canadian establishment progeny. The same adjectives surface repeatedly - "intelligent," "troubled," "sensitive," "complex," "serious." "David struggles with his demons, that's for sure," says a man who has known him more than a decade. "He has real problems with trust."
David is routinely contrasted with his father, with whom he is close. "Ken is a flower, David is a gun," says a man who knows them. Unlike his father, David makes little effort to mask irritation. At his investiture as Thomson chairman in 2002, he appeared absent. "He sat, his pale eyes looking far away, his long, thin face as still as stone," a National Post reporter wrote. His answers to media inquiries then were opaque. "There will be no deviation from the way my father chaired the business," he said, signalling that, like his father, he would surrender day-to-day operations to professional managers. When asked about his accomplishments, he was vague. "I feel my journey has yet to begin," he said. Describing himself, he used business jargon: "I'm a very competitive individual and I play a part in a very large picture and hopefully add value to people's lives."
"It's like he's not always in the room," says someone who has socialized with him. "There is an obliqueness about all of the Thomson men." Says another: "A narrative sit-down conversation doesn't happen easily." Where Thomson comes alive is in expounding on art, a subject on which he is erudite. Both Ken and David Thomson have sought personal definition - and emotional sustenance - through art and its acquisition. "When Ken is showing his art his love [for it] is palpable," says a family friend. "He gets great pleasure touching it," he says of Thomson's collection of ivories.
Here too, a corporate veil shields. The family buys much of its art through Thomson Works of Art Ltd., a private holding company incorporated in Ontario, then moved, via Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, to Alberta, likely for tax reasons. The corporate directors include Ken Thomson and his children. Where the father's taste runs to the traditional, David's is more modernist. He began acquiring what would become the world's premier private collection of John Constable, the 19th-century British landscape painter, as a teenager. In 1984, he emerged as a serious international player, spending $12.8 million on Turner's Seascape, Folkestone, a painting valued five years later at $38.8 million. A man who knows the family speaks of collecting as a refuge for the rich. "It's a realm they can totally control," he says. "David thinks he's brilliant at auction but it's really just about outbidding another guy."
David Thomson's collection has been eclectic, spanning medieval artifacts, letters, coins, animation cels from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Edvard Munch, Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko, Patrick Heron, war conflict photography, Joseph Beuys and Pablo Picasso, whose granddaughter he is said to have dated. Thomson is also said to have been behind hiring world-class photojournalists to shoot Thomson Corp.'s annual report.
The collection is unusual in its lack of a unifying theme. "If there is a theme, he puts himself in the eye of the artists," says a family friend, who notes Thomson enjoys sketching nature. Another man who knows him sees his immersion in the creative impulse as a coping mechanism. "The only way he feels anything is to imagine being an artist - a tortured creative spirit," he says. Thomson himself has said he often pictures himself on the battlefield. "I become excited at the thought of measuring myself in varied situations, alongside Wellington in India . ... It's an interesting way to test yourself because you set your own limits."
The remark is revealing. People who know Thomson speak of his tendency to push boundaries and self-inflict drama. Caustic, patronizing outbursts are not uncommon. "He will go after you with the intention of hurting you," says one man, who views the behaviour as a bid to force people to stand up to him. "It's like he's constantly testing people to see if they'll defend themselves but people never do. Wealthy people aren't allowed to burn bridges. David burns a bridge every two weeks and it's always reconstructed. Money does it. Everybody has a price."
Thomson admits his actions can be antagonistic. "I lived for so many years feeling a sense of helplessness," he is quoted as saying in Old Boys. "Now I'm extremely self-sufficient and rather overly aggressive. I'm not mean but I do not hide anymore from anyone. In fact, I seek out places where I can go straight on in situations with people. I love it. In fact, it is almost sick, to the point where it has driven a lot of my learning."
Thomson's desire to make his own mark is evident in his personal business forays. Some 15 years ago, he formed Osmington Inc., a private real estate company named after a Dorset town much painted by Constable, cashing in $95 million of Thomson Corp. stock to make the purchase. It owns and manages some $1.5 billion in property, including One Yonge Street, the Toronto Star's headquarters, held by a numbered company headed by David Thomson. When named chairman of Thomson Corp., he expressed the desire to become more involved in its business. That didn't happen. Today, much of his attention is focused on real estate and currency trading.
Some speak of Thomson having "a destructive side." "But to give David credit, he doesn't put himself in harm's way," says one man, referring to higher profile heirs known for their public antics. "David is never a jackass in public because he never goes into public. This may be extreme, but part of the reason David doesn't live in the public is because he doesn't want the private to become public. Not many people can live like that."
The most public glimpse of David Thomson is accessible in that arena of conflicting narratives - the family law courts. Patterns emerge. On Oct. 15, 1988, he was married in Rosedale United Church to Mary Lou La Prairie, a woman he met when she was working as a womenswear buyer at the now-defunct department store Simpsons. It is a meeting that echoes Ken Thomson's first glimpse of future wife Marilyn, a former Miss Cheerleader of Toronto, while she was modelling for Eaton's in the early 1950s.
The love that David once described as "instantaneous" and a "fairy-tale romance" didn't last. The couple separated on Oct. 15, 1996, their eighth wedding anniversary; they divorced in 1997. In her petition for divorce, Mary Lou said the split had been "difficult and contentious." Her settlement included $6.3 million. David kept the art. Shared custody of their two young daughters was hammered out by mediators, a finicky schedule that saw the girls ferried between parents in visits timed to the half hour.
The post-divorce relationship between Mary Lou, now a yoga instructor, and her ex-husband is said to be harmonious. David is known to be a doting father, obsessively photographing his daughters at school performances. He regularly picks them up from their private school, travelling with them to London and Greece during summers. The relationship hit a turbulent patch in 2003, however, when Thomson filed a motion for greater custody that was ultimately withdrawn. "I have almost totally acquiesced to David's wishes, plans, ultimatums and bullying since the date of separation," Mary Lou responded in her affidavit.
By that time David was married to Laurie Ludwick, a slim, blond woman whom he first encountered in an elevator at Toronto's Fitness Institute, an upscale gym, in the late 1990s. Ludwick was born in Calgary in 1961 to parents Rose and Floyd, a schoolteacher who went on to work at Shell Canada. She had toiled as a reporter, covering the oil patch for the Financial Post in the mid 1990s before moving to Toronto and public relations at TrizecHahn, a real estate developer. While dating Thomson she set up her own PR firm with a partner in the financial district.
Like Thomson, Ludwick had been married before. Eric Stevenson, her first husband, was a member of the Molson family whom she met in Alberta in the early 1980s. Married some seven years, they lived for a time in London, where he worked in banking. Little is known about her second husband.
Former colleagues remember her as "utterly charming, fun to be around," with a knack for intimacy. "She became your best friend," says one reporter. A former boss had a different take, calling her "inconsistent" and "highly emotional." Still others say she's "fragile" and "waif-like," words also used to describe Mary Lou. Neither wife shared Thomson's passion for art. In cloistered Rosedale, the verdict is more snide. "Laurie is like a cat," says a neighbour. "She's feline." A man who worked with Ludwick believes she cared deeply for Thomson, recalling she fretted about what to buy him for Christmas.
The couple married in a private ceremony in Thomson's minimalist 10,000-sq.-foot house on May 4, 2000, one day after signing a pre-nuptial agreement, 14 days before Ken announced David would be named Thomson Corp. chairman. The relationship was on and off from the beginning. "Doomed," is how one associate put it. With timing reminiscent of his separation from his first wife, David filed a petition for divorce on May 4, 2001, their first-year anniversary. Ludwick's "behaviour and conduct has become intolerable, not to say irrational and bizarre," he claimed in court papers. But the couple reconciled and even travelled to New York seeking fertility treatment. Approaching 40, Ludwick was eager to have a child, despite the fact she'd been told she had less than a five per cent chance of becoming pregnant.
The couple separated again. Then, two months before David became Thomson Corp. chairman, they reunited after making a March 12, 2002, amendment to their pre-nup that gave Laurie more money in the event of divorce. She continued to release all claim to the matrimonial home and its possessions, and agreed to leave the house 60 days after a separation.
They stayed away from Toronto's social circuit, which some say Laurie, a film-festival and hockey fan, regretted. They did socialize occasionally, throwing a Halloween party at their house for adults and children, organized by Laurie. It was an elaborate event featuring a fortune teller, a balloon artist and a caricaturist for the adults. Laurie wore a sari, David a toga and sandals. Ken Thomson attended dressed up as a newspaperman, a press card tucked into his jacket pocket.
The few who did socialize with them say Laurie was studiously low-key. "She was always very careful of what she said and did around him," says one. "I always saw her as the pale, nervous type." Laurie told friends David wanted her to stop working. In the late spring of 2005, just months after her father's death, Laurie became pregnant at age 44. A few months later, Thomson moved out, alerting Ludwick through a lawyer's letter that he would seek a divorce. Their official separation date is Oct. 14. Again, father and son have been contrasted. A source describes Ken as the sort of guy who would never leave his wife if she was about to give birth. "Ken wouldn't move out if his dog was having puppies."
Laurie meanwhile busied herself fundraising for a local AIDS charity with such zeal friends were concerned for her health. In Rosedale and Bay Street, the gossip fallout was epic - and the source of ongoing revelry at Frank magazine - abetted by Laurie's willingness to talk. She had become religious during the marriage, says one former colleague, to the point she said her pregnancy was "God's plan."
The application from Thomson asking Ludwick to vacate the home as per the terms of the pre-nup is dated the same day as his son's birth - in keeping with his tendency to use anniversaries as severance dates. Thomson's lawyer, Stephen Grant, says it's a "complete coincidence, nothing deliberate." Yet a letter from Ludwick's lawyer, Patrick Schmidt, dated Feb. 2 and filed last week with court documents, anticipates the gambit: "As the baby is due March 10, 2006, I am certain your client will wish to serve as close to that date as possible to achieve maximum effect."
Ludwick's response, dated April 26, sets out her terms: child and spousal support and to remain in the home, at least temporarily. There is also the demand to be named the beneficiary of an insurance policy on Thomson's life valued at no less than $5 million and to be the beneficiary in trust for a similar policy benefiting the child for as long as Thomson is obliged to pay spousal and child support.
Her filing, roiling with accusations, is the opening salvo in what could be Canada's most sensational divorce. The allegations - to which Thomson has yet to respond and which remain untested in court - say Thomson's behaviour led to "increased levels of anxiety and depression which have required her to be hospitalized and to obtain psychiatric care and medication." Since their separation, Ludwick contends, she has been "subjected to an extreme level of cruel, harassing and intimidating actions at the hands of or the directions of" Thomson.
While shopping at the "family butcher," she charges, Ludwick learned - to her "extreme embarrassment" - that Thomson had cancelled her account. She alleges Thomson "and/or his agents/servants surreptitiously and repeatedly entered the matrimonial home" and removed his paintings as well as her "jewelry, including a Rolex watch" and Christmas decorations. (In a letter, Thomson's lawyer said Thomson would "return a share of the Christmas ornaments.") Ludwick further charges that a James Wilson Morrice oil given her by Thomson is missing and asks for its return. Through his lawyer, Thomson charges Ludwick with threatening a Paul Klee and harming a Constable, a letter in court filings reveals - accusations Schmidt rejects.
Thomson "stripped" the house of his possessions, Ludwick charges, while she was visiting her family in Calgary at Christmas, an incident she says contributed to her decision to change the locks on Jan. 9. Court documents note Ludwick is "concerned and upset as to how [Thomson] knew she was out of the Province in advance of his entry and removal of chattels from the matrimonial home." She charges she is under surveillance, that Thomson and his "agents and servants" have "engaged in watching and besetting" her and the "matrimonial home." She alleges that someone changed her voice mail password. Ludwick's lawyer sent a cease and desist letter on Jan. 12.
On Feb. 22, Ludwick charges, she was driving on the Glen Road bridge in Rosedale in her 2006 Porsche Carrera when she was "almost rammed" from behind by Thomson, who was reportedly driving a black SUV. Ludwick has requested that the courts issue an "order restraining the applicant and his servants and agents from harassing the respondent including an order prohibiting such persons from having the Respondent watched or followed." She is seeking damages of $10 million for "the intentional infliction of nervous shock including but not limited to the intentional infliction of mental distress and harm."
Thomson, according to court documents, is unmoved. He challenges Ludwick's claims of a "high-risk" pregnancy, citing her decision to fly to Calgary at Christmas. "I am not a doctor," he says in court filings, "but I understand that women with high-risk pregnancies should not fly - especially in the third trimester." Ludwick's pregnancy should not have prevented her from vacating his property, he argues: "She could have easily arranged for movers to do all of the work." He concludes that Ludwick was "using her pregnancy as a ruse to justify her refusal to move out of my home." Ludwick, for her part, contends that Thomson's behaviour "demonstrates a callous and high handed disregard of the health and welfare" of her and the child, noting that neither Thomson nor his children "wanted anything to do with the child [she] was carrying." Thomson and his lawyer have yet to respond to some of the more sensational claims, including the allegation he almost rammed her car, and they too have not been tested in court.
Legal observers expect the case to set a precedent for "extraordinary" child care expenses in Canada. "This case, in part, will test the limits of child support guidelines," says Schmidt. Already the court filings provide a snapshot into a life with Thomson that Ludwick describes as "opulent and unconstrained." Her monthly expenses, she reports, in the year ending Oct. 15, 2005, totalled $65,983.25, including $12,000 for clothing, $600 for counselling, $650 for dermatology - mainly Botox and Restylane - $550 worth of massages, spa treatments totalling $1,200, jewellery purchases of $7,000, $12,000 for vacation and $2,200.58 in charitable donations.
Her prenatal expenses of $18,839.45, which she asks Thomson to cover, include $900 for four prenatal massages, $120 for prenatal yoga sessions, $3,997.86 in Jacadi baby paraphernalia - "Moses basket," Bugaboo stroller, Peg Perego baby carrier, stroller parasol and such - and a $199.75 La Perla maternity bra.
Her proposed monthly child care budget includes $840 in nanny car-lease payments, a nanny salary of $3,400 (with a nanny bonus of $141.67), four months of night nursing at $1,866.67, baby furniture and decor totalling $1,000, $800 in clothing and $900 in toys, books, CDs and DVDs.
The couple's divorce proceedings could put a lens for the first time on the Byzantine financials of the Thomson scion. Court papers filed in March revealed Thomson makes a salary of $109,078.91 a month, $62,715.33 after tax, $752,583.96 a year. His trust income is reported at $2,761.58 per month, $33,138.96 per annum. (That isn't a huge increase from his 1995 income of over $600,000 - "after deductions for business losses" - revealed in his 1997 divorce.) In an amended financial disclosure filed last week, Thomson updated his assets to include properties valued at $874,590,420.01. A breakdown of his monthly expenses, which includes $500 for clothing and $12,500 in child support paid to Ludwick on March 14, shows a monthly budget deficit of $1,063.69.
Ludwick's lawyer remains dissatisfied with the disclosures of Thomson's finances, which her court papers describe as "complex and enveloped in an intricate corporate structure." She maintains Thomson's net worth is in excess of "One Billion Dollars" (versus hers of $8.24 million), and that their child, as a male Thomson heir, "is a beneficiary under one or more trusts which [Thomson] has failed to disclose." Schmidt, her lawyer, promises forensic accountants will be summoned if need be.
Surprisingly, no one has asked to seal the court documents, which also reveal Ludwick's settlement of $5.4 million as per the terms of the pre-nup. Contacted by Maclean's, Ludwick refused to speak. "I'm exiting the story," she says. As mother to the future Thomson lord and heir, however, she won't take leave for decades. Given the Thomsons' distaste for publicity, the prospect of a high-profile divorce, with its attendant disclosures, gives her considerable leverage.
David is said to have distanced himself and is now involved with a woman who works in New York City whom he dated briefy before marrying Ludwick. Court papers say Ken and Marilyn Thomson have visited the newborn. David has not. Sources say he even refused to look at the child at a legal meeting with Ludwick in April. Someone who knows him puts it thus: "His position is, 'I've got lots of time to exercise my option on the kid.' "
As a woman, Taylor Thomson escaped the strictures of Roy Thomson's plan. Yet that freedom left her adrift. "Taylor has scrupulously tried to find her own way," says a man who knows her. "I don't know if she has succeeded." Her move to acting, while already in her mid-20s, signalled the first instalment in what would become an abiding friction in her life between her need for privacy and a desire for public recognition.
There is no question that Taylor, then still known as Lynne, had the presence for a stage and screen career. She started with walk-on roles in American TV miniseries, then studied at the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University, which she left before finishing. She was 30 years old in the summer of 1989 when she embarked on an apprenticeship with Shakespeare & Company, in Lenox, Mass., appearing as a fairy in The Tempest alongside Keanu Reeves. That she came from money was clear to her colleagues: she drove a pink late-'50s Pontiac Star Chief convertible and rented a cottage rather than bunk with peers. "She was very beautiful and also wildly insecure and incredibly arrogant," one actor recalls. "It was an amazing combination." Smart, spirited and with a tart tongue, she was popular with colleagues.
The exposure led nowhere. Even her father couldn't help. Known to have met on her behalf with film executives in New York City, he also called upon a well-connected friend in Los Angeles in 1991 to inquire about parts with a local Shakespeare troupe. Despite a lacklustre audition, she was offered an understudy position.
Thomson was still acting as late as 1994, appearing in an episode of Forever Knight, a Canadian series following the adventures of a centuries-old vampire turned Toronto police detective. Gradually, the roles petered out. "It didn't seem like she had the stick-to-itiveness for a life in the theatre," says Daniel Osman, an actor who knew her in Lenox, noting that in acting, "nothing's handed to you."
A year later, with a US$1.12-million investment in a Birmingham, England-based film company, Lynne's interests broadened into production. "I try and keep my career as an actress separate from my business life," she told the Birmingham Post. Soon, with plans to establish her own production company, Thomson was employing an assistant at the Woodbridge offices to read scripts. The films she helped fund either flopped or are forgotten. It is not clear whether she realized her plans to build a film company. "She just dabbled for too long for my taste," says someone who once advised her on the industry.
Shopping is Thomson's one constant. "She's a world shopper - there's no boundaries," says a woman who once worked with her. When buying Thai furniture, she does so in Thailand. An assistant at Woodbridge ships the purchases from around the globe, handling import taxes and customs. A wine collector, she entertains at her homes, mingling in London with the likes of Mark Bolland, one-time aide to Prince Charles, and in Toronto with fellow Burgundy aficionados, including criminal lawyer Clayton Ruby.
She's known to leaf through Christie's and Sotheby's catalogues with the same glee others feel thumbing through catalogues from Pottery Barn or Holt Renfew. Her first major acquisition, in 1994, was a pair of porphyry and gilt-bronze urns for $4.4 million - three times their pre-sale estimate. A Christie's representative assigned to advise the novice buyer is said to have encouraged her to make "just one more" bid to beat her competitor, Ann Getty, of the U.S. oil dynasty.
Thomson was naive, seasoned collectors later said. The urns, which Christie's described as Louis XV vases designed circa 1760, were the subject of a lengthy court dispute in London once she became convinced they were fake. "When I asked Christie's for my money back, they said, 'get a lawyer,' so I did," she told a British newspaper. "They may have thought I was not a force to be reckoned with."
Her dispute with Christie's is estimated to have cost more than she paid for the urns. The heiress bled money like a martyr: "I'm a very private person but I've done this on principle, done it for thousands of people who may not be as well placed as I am to take on a legal battle," she said. Though she initially won the case, an appeal found that Christie's had not acted improperly and overturned the decision.
As the 1990s wore on, Thomson divided her time more and more between Toronto, London and southern California. Society columnists spotted her in Toronto occasionally, at film festivals dining with the likes of Ivan Fecan, now president and CEO of Bell Globemedia. Sometime in the mid-1990s she began calling herself Taylor. "She found Taylor more marquee," says one man. Yet the move coincided with an almost total withdrawal from public life.
She was living in Venice Beach, Calif., in the spring of 1997 when, at a Buddhist retreat in upstate New York, she met Michael Kolesa. An engineer from Utica, N.Y., Kolesa was bright, unassuming and of relatively modest means. Tall and slim, he was "the kind of guy you might see on a yoga mat," one woman recalls. The Thomsons, reportedly, thought him subpar and dull. He and Thomson enjoyed wine and travel, journeying together to Buddhist retreats in the U.S. and Thailand. He soon moved into her Rosedale house. Then close to 40, Thomson became pregnant. "Michael figured pretty big in that biological clock," says a woman who knew her. In mid-1999, she gave birth to a daughter.
A year later, the couple separated. The pair's values, always different, had begun to clash. Some say Thomson sought pre-emptively to secure the child's custody in the event of separation; others that she had little use for Kolesa once she became pregnant. "She didn't have a lot of people that were close to her she could trust," says one acquaintance. "I always thought that, at least with Michael, she could. Maybe he was just there for the money, too."
The little girl remained with Thomson. Kolesa, according to a relative, was devastated. Though he received a sizeable settlement - he no longer works and refers to himself as "retired" or "self-employed" in online posts - court documents reveal a messy custody dispute. Thomson, meanwhile, continued moving between L.A., Toronto and London. To be near his daughter, Kolesa followed her to southern California, where Thomson settled, attending film school on a student visa.
In September 2001, Thomson hired Pamela Miller, an experienced nanny, through an L.A. agency. The job, which paid US$70,000, was contingent upon Miller's signing a confidentiality agreement, now filed among Los Angeles court documents, which forbade taking photographs of Taylor or her child without "prior written consent," or making "any disparaging remarks" about Thomson, her daughter or her family. A breach of the agreement would cause "irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law."
Miller also had to follow instructions laid out by Thomson in a seven-page job description, also now among court documents. The nanny's days began at 7 a.m. and ended with bedtime at 8:30 p.m., when she was to sing a lullaby and "clean all toys the dog has had that day." Miller was to remain on call "at all times," always answer her phone and remain within cell range. She was to squeeze two drops of "essential oil" into the child's bathwater and, every other day, one of "sweet almond oil." Each evening, when required, Miller was to hand-wash the child's cashmere clothing. A dress code, meanwhile, stipulated that Miller should wear "black, grey and navy trousers" during the winter, "cream, white, stone colours" in summer while in Toronto - "Same for New York, LA and UK." "Running shoes" were forbidden. Miller nannied for Taylor in her L.A., Toronto and London homes for over six months. At Christmas, she was brought along to a Rothschild party in London.
All the while, Thomson's custody dispute with Kolesa unfolded in Toronto, weighing upon Miller, she says in court documents, in the form of "extreme pressure" to testify in support of Thomson. Though she demanded that her employees sign confidentiality agreements, Thomson saw no conflict in asking staff for affidavits attesting to her good relationship with her daughter (Kolesa noted in one proceeding that Thomson's cook, personal assistant and two of her nannies had provided such reports). Miller refused.
It was shortly after an incident in February when her daughter complained of earache and Thomson "ordered that olive oil be cooked with onions and poured into the child's ear," Miller claims in court documents, that the nanny resolved to throw her support behind Kolesa. Prior to the incident, Miller claims, she had been pressured into not co-operating with Kolesa so as to "curtail the child's exposure to 'Michael's boring middle-class lifestyle.' " Miller says she was instructed to make Kolesa wait at the gate when collecting his daughter. In the spring of 2002, Miller agreed to travel to Toronto and swear an affidavit supporting his bid for more time with the girl. Arriving in a Toronto courthouse on April 4, however, the nanny was confronted by Thomson's lawyer, who informed her she'd been fired.
Following the dismissal, Miller became the target of legal action herself when lawyers, citing the terms of the confidentiality agreement, sought possession of a diary chronicling her time with Thomson. The struggle ended when Miller agreed to have the diary shredded later that year. One Toronto lawyer familiar with the case describes its destruction as "a group effort."
Thomson's lawyers, including Stephen Grant - now representing her brother David in his divorce - have successfully shielded much of her legal manoeuvring, particularly in Canada. Her dispute with Miller is sealed. Details of her custody battle with Kolesa were also sealed in early 2003 by the Ontario Court of Appeal. The move, which Kolesa opposed, was highly unusual. A judge ruled the move was in the little girl's best interest, but noted he did not seal the file "because the child belongs to a wealthy family." The decision remains available. In an earlier affidavit, Thomson says it is her "billionaire" status that puts her daughter at risk. "I am a private person," she said, noting a National Post story detailing her Christie's lawsuit, then ongoing. "I am not responsible for the coverage. I am doing what I can to contain it."
Her quest for secrecy makes Thomson vulnerable to the very people she demands sign confidentiality agreements. Miller filed suit against her in Los Angeles County Superior Court not long after the diary-shredding in late 2002 - charging wrongful dismissal and emotional distress. The complaint, which included alleged details of Thomson's personal life, charged also that Thomson "and her agents" had tried to keep her from further employment. Federal investigators, she claims, later told her she had been wiretapped. She amended her complaint to accuse "investigators" of intercepting her calls.
Thomson counter-sued in March 2003, claiming malicious prosecution and breach of contract. Miller later dropped her own claims. Then, in the spring of 2005, another judge ruled in favour of Thomson's malicious prosecution claim, ordering the nanny to pay US$113,946.82. Miller is appealing the decision.
In the spring of 2003, a grand jury called upon Miller's testimony in a probe of Anthony Pellicano's alleged spying activities. It was not the first time the L.A. private detective's name had surfaced in relation to Thomson's legal disputes. Pellicano was brought into the Thomson family orbit during the ramp-up to a July 2002 Ontario Superior Court decision that gave Thomson custody of her daughter. In February of that year, the private detective, describing himself as experienced in "high profile" cases involving "families, separating couples and their children," provided an affidavit in Ontario court proceedings aimed at sealing Thomson's custody dispute with Kolesa. In the affidavit, Pellicano insists information in a public court file would put the child at serious risk of "abduction, kidnapping or extortion." The presiding judge noted Pellicano did not personally know members of the Thomson family.
Soon, however, Pellicano's name and number are said to have been included under the heading "lawyers" in a contact list Thomson kept in L.A., though he is anything but. The son of Sicilian immigrants, Pellicano grew up outside Chicago, coming to prominence in 1977 when he miraculously recovered the stolen remains of Mike Todd, Elizabeth Taylor's third husband, whose Illinois gravesite robbers had pilfered in search of a diamond ring. Before television cameras, Pellicano thrust his hands beneath a blanket of dead leaves and extracted a plastic bag containing Todd's body, which police hadn't been able to find. Impressed, Elizabeth Taylor is said to have given him an entree to Hollywood. He presented himself as a man of judicious physicality. "If you can't sit down with a person and reason with them," he once said, "there is only one thing left and that is fear."
If Pellicano first provided aid to Taylor Thomson in early 2002, this year's indictment suggests he continued working on her case over the ensuing months. But his involvement may never have surfaced without a bizarre incident later that year. On the morning of June 20, 2002, Anita Busch, then a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, walked out her door to find a dead fish with a rose in its mouth lying on the smashed windshield of her car, a note reading "stop" taped alongside. Busch had been investigating the relationship between action-film star Steven Seagal and producer Julius Nasso, said to be a Gambino family associate. FBI agents allegedly traced the warning to Pellicano.
Executing a search warrant on the private detective's Sunset Boulevard offices in late 2002, agents uncovered a cache of illegal explosives. Pellicano later pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 30 months in jail. But what investigators also unearthed in the detective's offices - transcripts of recorded conversations, tapes and computer files featuring B-list film industry types as well as Hollywood luminaries - led to an intense investigation. Pellicano now faces charges connected to a vast espionage operation - whose targets may have included Thomson's legal adversaries.
Specifically, the recently unsealed federal indictment alleges that a Pellicano associate working in the L.A. police force used an FBI database to conduct an illegal background check on Miller just one day prior to her confrontation with Thomson's lawyer in Toronto (Pellicano's associate is also charged). In the weeks following, the indictment also alleges, similar illegal checks were conducted on Miller's elderly parents, her brother and on Kolesa.
If Pellicano did target the Millers and Kolesa, it would be in keeping with an MO described in the indictment. The detective and some of his clients are said to have used illegally gathered information to secure "a tactical advantage in litigation by learning their opponents' plans, strategies, perceived strengths and weaknesses, settlement positions, and other confidential information." A common denominator linking Pellicano with Thomson is her L.A.-based attorney and the detective's main client: Bert Fields, whose other clients have included Michael Jackson, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Tom Cruise. Fields, not named in the Pellicano indictment, has admitted to being questioned in connection to the probe.
Pellicano's trial, originally slated for April 18, has been postponed to October. Last month, two men who hired Pellicano - John McTiernan, the director of Die Hard, and former music industry mogul Robert Pfeifer - pleaded guilty to charges filed in connection to the wiretapping probe.
By that time Thomson had returned to Toronto, where she will send her daughter to a local private school and pursue her interest in film production. Kolesa has also moved to Toronto, where he lives in a modest house.
The heiress, meanwhile, has just purchased her fourth $5-million house on a secluded Rosedale cul-de-sac. The houses, each owned through a different numbered company, are adjacent to one another and have remained largely unused. Her intent, sources speculate, is to buy the dozen or so houses on the strip. Thomson appears to be living in one of the properties. In the rear of another is a coach house where David Thomson stayed after leaving Ludwick. Such hospitality between a sister and brother who have gone through periods of estrangement signals Thomson solidarity. "It's the one stable relationship they all have in life," says a man who knows the family.
Where the Thomsons' public and private lives intersect is in their involvement in the arts scene. This too can be other than what it appears. Roy Thomson's legacy on Toronto's cultural landscape - in the curvilinear shape of Roy Thomson Hall - is at odds with his preference for more lowbrow offerings: vaudeville, detective novels and Doris Day movies. "The most beautiful music to me is a spot commercial at $10 a whack," he once said. Even so, Thomson's name was placed on the new home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1982, sparking controversy. Ken Thomson donated only $4.5 million of the total $45-million cost, with much of the rest from taxpayers. It was the first time a Toronto concert hall was named for a contributor who had not paid for more than half.
The Thomson name will next be affixed to an addition being built at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Ken Thomson has promised the gallery some 2,000 pieces of art. He is providing $50 million in capital funding for the expansion, led by architect Frank Gehry, plus $20 million in endowment funding. The addition is slated to open in mid-2008.
The gift - "unparalleled in the Canadian context," according to AGO director Matthew Teitelbaum - has triggered controversy of its own. Thomson struck the deal on the understanding that his art would never be commingled with the gallery's permanent collection. "We're not using the word 'integrated,' " says Teitelbaum. "We're using 'adjacencies.' " There has been sniping about the conditions within the AGO and the Toronto arts community, though, again, people are unwilling to speak on the record. "You don't privatize a collection in the art world," says a highly placed observer. "Ken Thomson doesn't regard his contribution to the AGO as philanthropy. He's giving his collection a permanent home. He's doing it for himself." It is said there has been grumbling within the AGO about the Thomsons' control over the expansion. Art-world insiders note there was public outcry after New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art did the same thing with its Robert Lehman Wing. Teitelbaum defends the decision to segregate the Thomson gift. "Generally speaking a collector's vision is important to maintain." As for dissent, "I can only say categorically not among the people working with [Ken Thomson]," he says.
What sealed the deal with the AGO was the addition of a blockbuster attraction - The Massacre of the Innocents, by the 17th-century Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, purchased in July 2002 at Sotheby's in London. It is a violent painting, depicting Roman soldiers knee-deep in butchered babies, carrying out King Herod's edict to slaughter all young boys and eliminate the future Messiah. Those who know Ken Thomson were surprised by the choice. Teitelbaum contends the painting and Thomson's collection share an interest in anatomical representation. "But to buy big masterworks - such pictures of exuberance - is not something Ken has done," he says.
In typical Thomson manner, the purchase was mediated. Samuel Fogg, a London manuscripts dealer long associated with the family, did the bidding in London. Sitting in a small boardroom at Woodbridge's Toronto offices and driving the bidding by telephone were the Thomson men - Ken, David and Peter - and Woodbridge president Geoff Beattie. In the space of five minutes, the Rubens, anticipated to fetch no more than £6 million, had hit £49.5 million, or $116.5 million, a record high for an Old Master and the third-highest price ever paid at auction. Whether the Thomson men, jubilant with victory, considered the irony of the purchase in light of Roy Thomson's edict we will never know.
Maclean's May 8, 2006