Betsy Bloomingdale is accustomed to finding herself in the society columns but not on page 3. But there her friends were stunned to read a report that "Good Queen Bets," as a columnist calls her, had pleaded guilty in Los Angeles federal court to a felony—deceiving customs officers. She was accused of altering an invoice for two Christian Dior dresses she had imported from France 16 months ago. The chiffon gowns cost $3,880, but the invoice Betsy presented at Los Angeles Airport put their worth at $518.65. At best she could have saved about $600 in import duty. Customs officers uncovered the deception when they noticed the package was insured for much more than its declared value. Now Betsy faces a possible two-year prison stretch and a $5,000 fine when she returns to court Sept. 28.
Born Betty Newling in Beverly Hills, where her father was a doctor, she attended the Marlborough School for Girls in Los Angeles and Bennett Junior College in Millbrook, N.Y. After a brief and forgettable career as a movie starlet, she married Bloomingdale in 1946. (His grandfather founded the department store in New York.) They have three children: Jeffry, 26, who lives on a ranch in Santa Barbara; Lisa, 25, a Los Angeles housewife who soon will make the Bloomingdales grandparents; and Robert, 22, an aspiring photographer.
The blond, 5'8", size-8 Betsy is a fashion trend-setter who favors designers Givenchy, Galanos and Dior. She usually shops for clothes in Europe twice a year. For more than a decade her name has turned up on the national list of best-dressed women. Last year she emceed a local TV show in her home (which has hand-painted wallpaper), interviewing designers, decorators and society florists.
Betsy herself remains discreetly mum, but friends view her plight as more bad luck than transgression. Snaps jet setter Jerry Zipkin, "She's much too proper a lady to be involved in this." Society columnist George Christy agrees. "When I think of what a great citizen she is, I just hate that she's been singled out," he laments. "It's a great brouhaha over something that goes on every day."
Betsy Bloomingdale, 52, is one of those beautiful persons who in multiple are known as the Beautiful People. She lives in a sprawling two-story, six-bedroom mansion in California's swank Holmby Hills, handy for borrowing a cup of Chivas Regal from neighbors Bar-bra Streisand and Eva Gabor. She drives a Mercedes Benz, takes daily dips in her pool and is fussed over by an Oriental maid and a butler. Like many wealthy women, Betsy is active in charity work—hers is the Colleagues, an organization for child care, for which Betsy has labored and lunched for more than 20 years. Betsy's husband since 1946 has been Alfred Bloomingdale, 60, a multimillionaire who founded Diners Club.