The Legendary Mizners
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Alva Johnston's joint biography of Addison and Wilson Mizner is a delightful portrait of two of the early twentieth century's most clever and infamous rascals. Born in the 1870s in California, the brothers quickly rose to prominence during the various booms of the 1920s.
Addison, the elder, was a self-made architect and real-estate dealer who designed many of the fantastic homes of the fantastically rich in Palm Beach. He could "age" a house and its furnishings to any period his client desired--and would pay for. Wilson's adventures were even more daring and varied, and his quick wit was legendary. In addition to getting rich on the Alaskan gold rush, he had careers as a singer, playwright, prizefight promoter, con man, real-estate salesman, and shady hotel owner. Perhaps his most famous quip was one he delivered on being told that President Coolidge had died: "How do they know?"
disintegrated, Addison suffered another misfortune. The neo-Spanish architecture that was his specialty went into a decline. For years, all smart people had insisted on red-tiled roofs, the contrast of the red with the vivid green of the palms being one of the enchantments of the Florida scene. Spain and Latin America had been plundered for antique tile for homes in the American subtropics. The Cathedral of Trujillo, in Honduras, sported a tin roof because its ancient terra cotta had been shipped
People remarked that he was putting on weight, but in reality he was padded with rolls of bills. Refusing to deposit a cent in any Florida financial institution, he kept all his wealth concealed about his person. When he finally left Florida, he was bulging with $30,000 in currency. Hecht worked for Charles Ort, the man who started with a city dump. Ort was worth $30,000,000 at the peak of Florida prosperity. When this had shrunk to $800,000, Hecht counselled him to take the cash and skip. “I
his habit of giving a Bible reading on a street corner so that he could take up a collection and get back into a poker game. The Hit-It-and-Take-It Kid got his handle from phrases he used in the game of twenty-one. D. E. Griffith, a sourdough historian, related that Waterfront Brown was a bill collector who used to frequent the docks on watch for debtors about to decamp, that Sparerib Jimmy was thin, that Jerkline Sam drove a ten-horse team, that Deep-Hole Johnson was the first to sink a
legislature, which had appropriated millions to keep out phylloxera, had not made equally large appropriations to keep out Iowans. After being welcomed to Woodlawn Inn by Mizner, Friedlander laid his samples on a table. Ketchel came in accompanied by four beautiful chorus girls who were helping him train. The girls, all of them collectors’ items, broke into cries of delight at the sight of the gorgeous silks. Every piece of goods looked like a small fortune, and the stuff was, in fact, almost
stranger, walking away rapidly, then coming back a few minutes later and peering anxiously at the carpet. Venerable authorities say that Charles M. Schwab once returned the missing dice with a hearty laugh and wound up losing seventy thousand dollars to Frankie in a crap game. Mizner was infatuated with the “lost-dice” gambit, and used it extensively. In his almost blameless later years, he practiced it for sport, hooking strangers merely to convince himself that he hadn’t lost his genius. In his