Mommy Dearest

The fight between socialite Judi Wolf and her brother has turned into the mother of all family feuds.

In March 1987, Jules Milstein died after nearly 49 years of marriage to Letty. In all those years, he had done his best to live up to his promise: to protect her from the world and give her a comfortable life.

According to John, Jules had lost a lot of money in the stock market a few years before his death, but he still left Letty with significant assets. There was the house on Fourth Avenue, now worth about $250,000, as well as its collection of antiques and art, and half-interest in the condominium occupied by John. And there was nearly $400,000 in money-market funds and bank accounts that, combined with Social Security, should have been enough to see Letty through her remaining years in the manner to which she was accustomed.

But Jules didn't figure on a family feud that would spill over into the courts. Mix Judi, John and Letty, says one observer, and "you have a dysfunctional family with a capital 'D.'"

A number of people--from friends to psychologists hired by the court--have remarked on the mother and son's co-dependency. "He's in his forties," says a friend of John's, "never married, and never far from his mother--except when he went away to school. And she's been dependent on him for years, especially after her husband died, for help with the groceries, her finances and for companionship."

In probate-court records, Judi notes derisively that her brother has not worked since he graduated from law school. But then, Judi was only too eager to put her working days behind her, too; John sneers that his sister is a "trophy wife." In one fawning newspaper profile, Judi said she'd made a deal with the "kitchen witch" years ago that she wouldn't invade the airspace occupied by stoves, dishwashers or microwaves. "I would much rather it be a closet," the "titan-tressed" Judi cooed.

By now, Judi was appearing in the papers often. She and Marvin were big patrons of the performing arts and went to all the parties. They threw fundraisers at their new "palace" in Cherry Hills, where the wealthy could eat canapes on behalf of the less fortunate. Cameras caught Judi in the company of actors such as Robert Goulet, opera singers and political luminaries like Governor Roy Romer. And if Judi sometimes stood out amid the more subdued old-money members of society, it was by design.

She became famous for appearing at galas and opening nights in dresses that looked more like theater costumes--low-cut assemblages of bright colors, rhinestones and ostrich feathers. The dark hair was now red, the soft brown eyes shaded blue by contacts. Her nose was thinner, perkier, and her face looked "stretched," John says. "It was like it wasn't even Judi's anymore."

In 1992 the Wolfs donated a reception salon at the Buell Theatre, which was named the "Marvin and Judi Wolf Room." But the publicity did not always work to their benefit. That same year the couple arrived home from dinner one night and were met by the so-called Society Bandits, Marty and Joey Bueno.

The Buenos held Marvin and Judi at gunpoint, bound them and then stole jewelry, cash and other items valued at about $300,000--none of which were ever recovered. At his sentencing two years later, one of the brothers told the judge that poor people get robbed every day, "but because a person is rich and lives in a wealthy neighborhood, people make a big deal of it."

Judi took the robbery in stride and kept up her high-profile appearances. In 1993 the News named her one of that year's "Women of Distinction." She nominated her sister-in-law, Elaine Wolf, for the award the following year; Elaine and her husband, Melvin, have donated large sums of money to Rose Medical Center.

On Valentine's Day 1994, Judi offered a reporter this version of her first kiss from Marvin: "It was everything that I had hoped for...4th of July...Full symphony orchestra... Butterflies...It was last night, because every kiss I get from my husband Marvin is like the first."

In late spring of that year, "the tangerine-clad temptress sashayed across the stage of the Boettcher Concert Hall and presented a spirited narration of the Thrill of the Orchestra as part of a donor-appreciation concert hosted by the Colorado Symphony Association," wrote News columnist Dawn Denzer. "After the performance, several hundred of the Wolfs' closest pals joined them in the luxurious Marvin and Judi Wolf Room for every type of cholesterol-making, complexion-ruining dessert available."

Letty Milstein attended a few of these society tributes. "There were no extravagant gifts," says one insider, "and Marvin certainly wasn't the sort to support Judi's mom, but neither was she completely ignored or mistreated."

But it was John who spent the most time with "Mommy," as he still calls her. Whenever he mentions Letty, John's brown eyes tear up.

"Actually, he is very devoted to her," says Chuck Watts, who moved in next to Letty in early 1994. "He was there all the time, driving her on errands, taking her grocery shopping and to the hairdresser.

"They were very loving, although not always harmonious," Watts says of John and Letty. "They each had their way of doing things and were certain that their way was right and the other's was wrong. But it never blew up into anything."

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