There have been many examinations made of the 'American malady', but few as incisive and frightening as Bill Donovan's Inheritance Donovan started this project in 1978, initially planning to make a film about the graduates of a particular college class, which included Linda McCartney (nee Eastman) and one Michael Hernstadt. Soon Hemstadt began to dominate the project, so Donovan (wisely) decided to focus solely on this obnoxious loud mouth from Scarsdale, New York. The resulting film is a rivetting profile of a man born to great wealth, but whose real inheritance left much to be desired.
As a child Michael Hernstadt lived in a mansion and was raised hy servants His parents, especially his millionaire father, were rarely present. An incident that occurred in his late teens made national headlines, in an eerie precursor of events that were to follow Hernstadt through his adult life Involved with the Studio 54 jet set in the late 60's/early 70's, married twice by his mid 30's, Hernstadt stood as an independent candidate for the Colorado Assembly in 1978, losing after an incident involving his assault of a woman in a bar destroyed his credibility.
All the while, Bill Donovan was filming Hernstadt in a variety of circumstances, ranging from the campaign trail to a curious segment when Hernstadt, clad only in underpants, rants and raves about killing the poor and nuking the Russians first With the film virtually finished for 4 months, Donovan is presented with the perfect coda... Hernstadt's lonely life of wealth, drugs and violence is brutally terminated after an argument with an acquaintance at a party
Bill Donovan has (very accurately) described the film as "examining the waste and destructiveness that so often prevail beneath the affluence of American life a psychological portrait of a man's frustration, anger and struggle to find love and identity through position, power and political office...”