Brokedown Palace

By Dana, Rebecca | Newsweek, February 6, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Brokedown Palace


Dana, Rebecca, Newsweek


Byline: Rebecca Dana

David Siegel wanted a Versailles. Now he wants revenge.

What angers David Siegel about Queen of Versailles, the riotous documentary about his efforts to build the largest home in America, are not the film's many unflattering depictions of his family. "They want to call my wife a gold-digger because she's 30 years younger than me?" he says. "That doesn't bother me."

What angers the 76-year-old mogul is that the film, which was the toast of this year's Sundance Festival, impugns his business. His specific complaint: the film's promotional materials suggested his 90,000-square-foot Orlando dream house went into foreclosure after his luxury-rental company, Westgate Resorts, "collapsed" in 2009. "It's just one more effort to ridicule and humiliate the 1 percent," says Siegel, who insists his business is booming. He is suing Sundance and the filmmakers for defamation.

Siegel may hate being the butt of a joke, but treating the wealthy with scorn is a treasured American pastime. Newt Gingrich's ridicule forced Mitt Romney to release his tax returns last week. An appetite for humiliation drove sales for Stephanie Madoff Mack's tell-all book last year and made Raj Rajaratnam's insider-trading trial a news sensation. As a weapon in class warfare, derision easily beats occupation.

Which helps explain why Siegel is out for revenge. He tried to stop Sundance from screening the film, "but they cited their First Amendment rights, or whatever," he says. So while fur-coated Hollywood liberals were chuckling at his life, Florida's time-share king was busy litigating. His suit seeks at least $75,000 in damages, though he hopes for millions. The Siegels' unfinished palace, modeled in homage to Louis XIV, is on the market for $75 million.

Beyond the damages, there is a prin-ciple at stake.

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