Jean Stein was one of two daughters of the all-powerful Jules Stein, whose Music Corporation of America was the biggest corporate structure that ever ruled Hollywood, and his wife Doris Babette Oppenheimer.
Growing up without much parental help, she struggled but later developed into a writer and editor. She is most famous for developing a biographical style called oral history. Her most popular and well-acclaimed book is Edie: American Girl (Amazon).
She is the mother of two girls: Katrina and Wendy vanden Heuvel, who both have grown into semi-popular figures. Katrina is known for her political appearances in the media while Wendy is popular in the theater world.
There is a wise saying that the only way to ruin a child more than raising it in a very poor family is raising it in a very rich family, and it definitely applies to the Steins.
Jules (Jean's father) was a control freak and that quality benefited him greatly in the business world, but was doing the opposite in his private life. To complicate things further, he was also a perfectionist and a workaholic, so he had very little time to spend with his children when they were young and needed it the most.
To add more deadly weight, their mother Doris wasn't interested in rising them either and was more concerned with rising her personal status among the Hollywood elite.
As a result, Jean and her sister Susan were raised stressless, but alone and that took its toll on both girls.
Probably as means to find her own place in this world when parental role models to make that job easier weren't around, Jean started traveling early. First school she went to was local Katharine Branson School (now simply named Branson School) in Los Angeles, but after finishing she relocated to Switzerland.
There, she continued education at Brillantmont International School, an expensive institution where semester of boarding school costs a small fortune (not that it was a particularly heavy financial burden to her father). After that, she went to New York to attend Hewitt School.
The next step in schooling was liberal arts college Wellesley College, but she quit it half-way. In Switzerland, she had learned French (French classes were mandatory at Brillantmont) and that enabled her to move to Paris. She stayed in her uncle David's classy apartment.
During one Christmas Eve in St. Moritz, Switzerland (a popular holiday destination for the rich and famous), she had met a very well-regarded Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner. She was impressed by him and Faulkner found her very attractive.
A relationship between the two started. Faulkner was known for his romantic endeavors and nobody close to him was especially surprised when finding out about yet another one.
At first, it was top secret and nobody knew about it. The contact between lovers wasn't too frequent, but both of them went out of their ways to keep it alive for some time, despite Jean relocating to France and Faulkner's busy international schedule.
What was mainly surprising was the age difference. Faulkner was one year younger than her father! What's more, she idolized him greatly just like young child idolizes its parent.
As out of place as this sort of relationship is by our civilization's modern standards, it seems very logical in Jean's context. This might be her desperate attempt to compensate for the absent father figure, find herself someone else to follow so she can grow.
Another thing that must have risen some eyebrows was the extent of this adventure. Faulkner's affairs (and this was one too, the writer married his childhood love and, despite turbulent episodes, remained married until his death) were problematic. To everyone's surprise, his relationship with Jean was largely positive and even ended gracefully.
This one is so uninhibited that she frightens me a little. She is charming, delightful, completely transparent, completely trustful. I will not hurt her for any price. She doesn't want anything of me - only to love me, be in love.William Faulkner
talking about Jean
She probably got even more than he did from it. Enter Jules Stein's blood! William was probably the main reason why she wanted to become a writer herself. At some point, she realized that personally knowing one of the greatest writers of our times can be used as an asset. Hard work on crafting possibly the greatest Faulkner interview that ever was followed, and some people have an opinion that she indeed succeeded.
The next step was taking that interview to Paris Review with a proposition: they can have it, but only if they hire her as an editor! Her father must have had quite a grin on his face when he found out about Jean's little bargain.
As Faulkner got older, the passion between the two lovers started to fade and her preferences altered too. In her early twenties, she fell in love with a man who was... 33 years younger than William and 3 years younger than her.
His name was William vanden Heuvel, a successful politician and attorney, most famous for working with Robert F. Kennedy in both his campaigns (a connection she would later take advantage of to write his biography).
In December 1958, Stein married the younger of two Williams. The ceremony took place in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. This settling down was ironic considering her earlier escapade, but also because of her previously rebellious attitude towards her family.
Vanden Heuvel was introduced to the girl by her parents and he was stable, well-mannered, responsible and forward-thinking.
Guy Lombardo (first discovered by her uncle Bill and signed to her father's firm) brought his orchestra to pay his dues and performed at the wedding party which was organized at the St. Regis hotel.
Together with vanden Heuvel, Jean had two children: Katrina and Wendy.
Getting married naturally ended the romance between her and Faulkner, but some time later they met again and remained cordial.
Later in her life, Stein and William vanden Heuvel got divorced and in 1995 Jean married a Nobel Prize winner neurophysiologist Torsten Wiesel. Their marriage came to an end too, it lasted 12 years.
Even though her father's enormous success was almost impossible to match, Jean became a decent writer and had nothing to be ashamed of.
The first book that she wrote is American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy (Amazon). She wrote it together with George Plimpton, whom she had met and befriended at Paris Review.
The book got a very good reception and is certainly one of the more interesting materials about Kennedy. Its most prominent feature is that Stein and Plimpton approached it in a completely novel way. They got out of the way narration-wise and instead only made the interviewed subject speak for himself.
Adding narration creates an extra layer which can distort facts, so removing it and simply getting down to business is certainly an interesting idea. Of course, that doesn't necessary mean less work, as the interviewer needs to find proper people to interview, make sure that the questions are spot on and that the conversation goes to special places.
That idea has started an interesting branch of biographies and was branded "oral history". Looking at it, it's hard not to spot a similarity to her first big interview. Stein obviously understood that carefully composing the topics and shaping the flow of conversations can give a powerful result on its own and has decided to explore the idea further, in this attempt to great result.
Her second book was published 12 years later and is called Edie: American Girl (Amazon). Again together with Plimpton and again using oral history as the story's vehicle, it is a biography of Edie Sedgwick. It got an enormously positive reception and is praised to this day as one of the most interesting biographical books.
Stein's third and final book was West of Eden: An American Place (Amazon). Continuing with the same methodology, she chose a more abstract subject: the fates of five filthy-rich people from Los Angeles: Edward Doheny, Jack Warner, Jane Garland, Jennifer Jones and her own father Jules Stein (here, she again took advantage of the cards she had at her disposal).
Unfortunately, this one didn't sit well with the people. The idea behind it is not articulated enough, subjects perhaps sometimes are too dissonant with each other. It is arguably digestible to a limited audience as well. For people familiar with the interviewed, it can be entertaining at times, but it doesn't have enough charm to pull in and fascinate those not familiar with the classic Hollywood elite.
Beyond biographical work and The Paris Review, Jean also worked as the editor for Grand Street magazine.
Work for Elia Kazan
When Jean came back from France to live in New York, she got engaged with the world neighboring her father's - theater. There, in 1955 she assisted the great Elia Kazan with production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. (three years later, Richard Brooks directed a wonderful big screen adaptation with the same title)
Her cooperation with the director was loose and spanned for more than just that title (and in both theater and cinema), but since it consisted of minor chores, its extent is unclear and she never got officially credited with anything. Kazan's main biographical works don't even mention Jean once.
Because of her troublesome childhood, Joan was shut down and felt very awkward among people. With time, she opened up and completely different qualities started to show through.
What remained was her child-like sincerity and directness, but she developed a strong character, solid moral spine and a courage to go a long way when she believes in something.
Her support of Faulkner's struggles for easing the attitude towards African-Americans in the predominantly white and racist American South is a great testament to that.
Some of Jean's mother also got into her. Doris Stein was mostly known for socializing and throwing lavish parties for the elite. On a smaller scale, Jean replicated that tendency.
Having her uncle's beautiful apartment at her disposal (and later her own one at 2 Sutton Place), she was able to gather important people on occasion, although of course never as important as her mother. The guest list was quite different too - Doris was fixated on power while her daughter preferred artists of all sorts.
Children: Katrina and Wendy
Jean had two children, both coming from her first marriage.
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Following in her mother's footsteps, Katrina became the editor. The Nation was where she started early and it's also where she spent majority of her editorial career. She is also a columnist for Washington Post.
Just like her mother, she wrote books, and 12 of them. She didn't delve into biographies though, instead focusing entirely on politics.
Her works are mostly one-dimensional political bashings centered around the idea that Republicans are the source of all evil (while all politicians clearly are!) with the emotional narrative taking the main stage.
Besides writing, her eagerness to contribute politically coupled with her influential heritage made her a popular TV personality, mostly being hosted in news channels to campaign for numerous political forces.
In Obama's days she was full of praise for the president and for the 2016 elections she endorsed Bernie Sanders for the president (just as The Nation did).
Katrina's words usually amount to what could be read in a political brochure or seen in a political party's TV advert rather than any sort of journalism, or personal commentary. In that regard, she exists in public space because of being very useful, armed with a poker face and above average eloquence and charisma.
On the other hand, Katrina certainly waters down her grandfather's legacy. While Jules created an empire and made everyone play his game or go down, his granddaughter is merely a faceless messenger loyal without asking any questions to the big fish in the political sea.
Interestingly, one of her books is clearly inspired by her mother's idea - Voices of Glasnost: Interviews with Gorbachev's Reformers (Amazon) is a long compilation of interviews.
Wendy vanden Heuvel
A completely different pair of shoes than her sister, Wendy is no politics and all arts. Much mellower and more sensitive, she followed a career in theater as producer, actress and academic teacher helping youth to acquire skills necessary to become successful actors.
Her first ventures into the world of theater were thanks to her mother and together with Jean they even helped to produce one play - Euripides' classic Medea brought to the modern stage by Deborah Warner.
As a cinema actress, she wasn't very successful. At the moment of writing this article she only has three movies to her credit. All of them are uninspiring, her performances are decent but unmemorable. All are supporting roles.
In theater she did well, working extensively for Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (official) and Rising Phoenix Repertory (official). She could be seen performing in A Movie Star has to Star in Black and White, Resurrection Blues and Beckett Shorts.
No information can be found about the relationship between the two sisters and it's a shame because with such completely different characters and life priorities, it would be interesting to see what happens when these two find themselves in the same room.
On April 30, 2017, Jean Stein decided to end her life by jumping from the penthouse 15th floor of an apartment building in New York (on the right).
Nothing about Stein's potential depression, mental illness, suicide thoughts etc. was out in the open, but everyone that knew her intimately was aware that for years she was struggling with severe deppression.
Shortly after Jean's death, her lifelong friend Robert Scheer said:
I saw her last month or so. Every time I went to New York, I saw her. And she would come here. She was pretty depressed. We were all worried.
Stein jumped from the same apartment from which Gloria Vanderbilt's son Carter committed suicide in the exact same way in 1988.