Jamie Johnson

HOLLYWOOD — It isn't easy being born to a life of wealth and privilege. Just ask Ivanka Trump.

"The fact that I have been brought up and I have had a privileged life, people assume certain things, and there are so many prejudices about who I am and what I am," said the daughter of Donald and Ivana Trump. "People look at me sometimes in a different way and expect me or, sadly, sometimes want me to fail in certain ways. So it's hard to branch out and do something completely different."

Ah, well. At least there's her father's billions to fall back on.

Dealing with the legacy of family fortune is the focus "Born Rich" (11 p.m., HBO), a first-time film by 21-year-old Jamie Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. The 70-minute project, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, looks at what it's like to grow up enormously rich.

Johnson started the project as a student at NYU, including his own story as well as those of Trump, Josiah Hornblower (an heir to the Vanderbilt and Whitney fortunes), S.I. Newhouse IV (of the Conde Nast Newhouses), Georgianna Bloomberg (daughter of New York mayor/billionaire Michael Bloomberg), Italian baron Cody Franchetti (Milliken textiles), Juliet Hartford (A&P) and Carlo von Zeitschel (the great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II).

Not all of these people seem as shallow as Trump comes off. Many of them seem genuinely concerned about avoiding the errors that seem to so often afflict the young and affluent. And Johnson said that was one of the main reasons he spent three years working on the project as he approached his 21st birthday and was about to come into his inheritance.

"One of the huge motivations to make this film (was) I knew I needed to figure out a lot before that happened," Johnson said. "There were so many stories, even in my own family, of people who had been in the same situation. They were young, they were healthy, they seemed to have everything going for them. And yet they seemed to have lives that were unfortunate. Often seriously unhappy, maybe even tragic. Definitely, in some cases, tragic.

"I really want to avoid that. . . . It seems like such a shame. So many people work hard to be in this position to create this situation for their people. And I want to avoid it and I want to figure out why it happens to people."

Johnson went ahead with the project despite the fact that not everyone was enthusiastic or would even agree to participate.

"I can tell you that a Rockefeller heir said no," he said. "I can tell you that an heir to the Campbell's Soup fortune said no. Some of my relatives said no. And that's a nice way of saying it. The 'No' wasn't 'No,' it was, like, 'No. Get the (heck) out of here and I never want to talk to you again.' "

And his father had "serious reservations" about the project.

"He didn't want to be in it. He didn't want me to make it. He was very, very nervous about it," Johnson said. "He always told me from a very early age, 'Don't talk about money. Deny being wealthy if people ask you.' So he was seriously against it and really discouraged me from doing it."

He believes his father's "fears about talking about money come from the fact that we're supposed to live in a meritocracy . . . where you earn what you have. And I think this film seriously challenges that understanding of society. We were all born rich. We were extremely privileged to be in that situation, but it has nothing to do with our actions."

While the interviews often do make it seem that the rich really are different, not everyone involved agrees.

"I think all families have problems — rich ones, poor ones," said Josiah Hornblower. "And maybe just people who are born rich, their problems are thrown more in the spotlight. Other people criticize them more because they had everything to begin with and they lost it all."


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