Hyatt Bass has been thinking a lot about family lately. First there’s the one she was born into, as one of two daughters of Anne Bass, a prominent New York social figure and philanthropist, and her ex-husband Sid Bass, a billionaire investor. Then there’s the one she’s creating with her husband Josh Klausner, a screenwriter, and their two sons, Jasper and Hayden. And finally, there’s the clan at the center of her first novel, “The Embers,” in bookstores now.
The story revolves around the Aschers, a well-off Manhattan family still grappling with the death of their son. Daughter Emily is struggling with an engagement she’s unsure of and a rocky relationship with her adulterous playwright father. Bass intended to write the tale as a screenplay, but “when I started fleshing it out, the man’s family started rolling up around him. I was, of course, really focused on the idea of family because I was having my family at the time,” says Bass, who gave birth to both sons in the seven years it took to complete the book and who is now curled up on a couch in her mother’s posh Fifth Avenue apartment.
This story first appeared in the July 2, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In appearances, Bass and her mother are very different. Where Anne is perfectly coiffed and put together, Hyatt’s hair hangs naturally and her all-black ensemble is relaxed. Where Anne is reserved, Hyatt is unrestrained. Posing for a portrait, Hyatt jokes to her mom, “Remember how much hell I used to give you for being in magazines? Now I’m begging you to do this stuff.”
These days, it seems, the women have come to a new understanding.
That’s especially true now that Hyatt is a parent. She tells her mother, “I feel so much more connected to you.”
It helps that Anne can relate to the growing pains that come with motherhood. “There are no guidelines to parenting,” Anne says. “You just do the best job you can. And yet it’s never good enough, in a way. You know you’re falling short. You just can never be that person you’d like to be for your children.”
As a grandmother, her experience has been very different. “I’m finally the good person,” she says, smiling.
But from what it sounds like, Hyatt has few complaints about her upbringing. Her parents’ vast interest in the arts (Anne is an active fund raiser for several ballet companies) influenced her career choices. “I wanted to be an artist at one point, but I wasn’t very good,” Hyatt says. “I was also really hard-core about ballet. My parents were so cool, they were just like, ‘Go join a ballet company. If you don’t want to do college now, maybe enroll in a school in New York where you can do some courses so that you’re doing something.’ But they let me do whatever I wanted to do.”
As Anne tells it, she wasn’t as cool as she pretended. “I remember agonizing over it,” she tells Hyatt, “because you were really accomplished as a dancer but you were also a fantastic student, so it was really hard to do both things.” What a problem to have.
Eventually, Hyatt enrolled in Princeton, from which she graduated with a degree in English literature. From there she went to Los Angeles, where she wrote and directed the small film, “75 Degrees in July,” and the short “Just Desert.”
Outside of her career, Hyatt has continued to try to make her own way, even choosing to support charities much different from her mother’s. For several years, she’s been involved with the New York Women’s Foundation, an organization which provides funds to companies that help women find economic security. “It’s a real roll-up-your-sleeves kind of foundation,” says Hyatt, who will donate a portion of her novel’s profit to the NYWF. “Writing this book sometimes feels very self-indulgent, very solitary. This work really balances it out.”
And true to theme, boosting the book’s sales has become a family affair. Husband Klausner parades every day around the set of his new film, “Date Night,” starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey, wearing a homemade “The Embers” T-shirt; son Jasper drags his babysitters to see the displays at Barnes & Noble, and Anne recently took her sisters on an undercover shopping spree in Louisville, Ky., where they live, buying nearly every book in the county.
“I said to my sister, ‘Maybe we should use your credit card,’” Anne says, laughing. “I’m too embarrassed.”