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Feud will be nasty - and public

Her 74 years have been filled with privilege and power, with tribulation and, some say, titillation.

Now, while America's ambassador to France, she has become embroiled in a decidedly undiplomatic mess: a court brawl over her late husband's millions.

The life of Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman is seldom humdrum.

Mrs. Harriman _ coincidentally or, detractors say, calculatingly _ achieved a lifetime of inarguably lucrative love interests in an era when a woman's success often depended on a man. Then, last year, she stepped from behind the scenes, soaring solo with a high-profile career as the head of a major embassy.

Publicity about her family's blue-blooded backbiting could bring her crashing to Earth.

Her late husband's children and grandchildren _ described as cringing at the prospect of airing their soiled, old-money laundry _ are doing just that in Manhattan federal court.

Mrs. Harriman and other "faithless fiduciaries," they charge, "betrayed a trust and squandered a family's inheritance" to the tune of about $30-million. Mrs. Harriman denies responsibility for the soured investments.

"She gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the children and grandchildren," both as advances and gifts, said her lawyer, Roy Reardon.

The latest installment: A lawsuit filed in Virginia by those heirs, who want repayment of millions they say she borrowed from trusts there.

British-born Pamela D.C.H. Harriman was an agile climber in a world of thousand-dollar cocktail dresses and living room Picassos. She has been toasted by President Clinton, sipped tea with Raisa Gorbachev and palled around with a host of Kennedys, from JFK on down.

So how did she get all those names? She divorced, then was widowed twice. From last to first, her husbands were:

HARRIMAN, Averell: U.S. statesman and polo-playing son of a railroad magnate who aroused her involvement in _ and, eventually, her sway over _ the uppermost echelons of the Democratic Party.

HAYWARD, Leland: Broadway and movie producer (South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Gypsy) and talent agent (Fred Astaire, Clark Gable, Judy Garland.)

CHURCHILL, Randolph: politician son of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

She was born Pamela Digby, the daughter of a British baron and product of a French finishing school. By age 19, she was partying at the family castle of a friend, where Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. flocked to ride, shoot, golf and swim in a pool of filtered moat water.

A series of marriages to rich and powerful men followed; the last was her 1972 marriage to Averell Harriman that continued until his death in 1986.

When Harriman became President Carter's intermediary with Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, his wife gave herself a cram course in foreign policy, hired a political adviser and formed a political action committee.

In 12 years, she raised $12-million for the Democrats. She was renowned as a matchmaker of future movers and shakers.

On June 30, 1993, she became President Clinton's ambassador to France, bringing along reminders of home: artwork for the embassy's walls.

The lawyer for Harriman's children and grandchildren said the art included a $60-million Van Gogh painting, White Roses, and contended that shipping the painting abroad indicated Mrs. Harriman wanted to get valuables out of the offsprings' reach.

But a judge refused last month to freeze her assets, saying that taking the art for public display at the embassy suggested "no impropriety justifying attachment."