Chapter 4 My Cousin Oliver Page II of II
For some reason when Oliver would get loaded, he always wanted to fight. And he was not very particular who it was or how big he was. One night we were at the Blue Moon, Tucson's favorite dance hall. This particular night, we ran into Harold Tovrea. We had used up all our booze and Tov's supply didn't last long. Luckily, Tov ran into a friend who said he had a bottle in his car. We went out with him to his automobile where he produced a pint bottle which was about half empty. I drank very little in those days and never would touch that rot-gut bootleg whiskey straight.
Tov's friend passed the bottle to him. He took a lusty drink and handed Oliver the bottle who drained it dry. When the bottle was handed back to its owner, he raised it to drink and found it empty. Oliver asked him in a derisive manner if that was all the booze he had. When he assured him it was, Oliver proceeded to berate Tov for having such a cheap friend who asks a guy to have a drink and doesn't have more than one bottle.
Later that evening Oliver started picking on a young fellow, for no reason at all. I tried to keep him away from this kid, but he kept abusing him. While we were standing there arguing about the matter, Bill Codd, another friend of ours, came along and helped me calm Oliver down. But not enough. Bill finally said, "Oliver, you better leave this kid alone. He's got a big brother out here who is tough as hell."
With that, Oliver grabbed this kid again and asked him, "Say, do you have a big brother here tonight?" When he was assured by the kid that he did, Oliver said, "Go get the son of a bitch!" which the young man did.
When he showed up with his big brother (and he was pretty darned big, certainly bigger than either of us) Oliver said, "I understand you are this guy's brother and you are pretty tough." When the big brother said that Oliver was correct on both scores, Oliver layed one on his chops and decked him. With that, Bill and I stepped in and took Oliver to his car to avoid any further hostilities.
When Oliver was sober, he was as docile and nice a man as could be, but when he had a few drinks, look out! And I was always the one who had to be the peace maker or his guardian. One evening at the Pioneer Roof Garden, Oliver got loaded and I was called by the bartender to come up and take him in charge or take him home. The place was crowded with a lot of nice people drinking and dancing. I got there just as Oliver got into a bum argument with a friend who was sitting at the adjoining table. Oliver was completely out of line, and one thing added to another until this guy threw a glass of water at Oliver, who saw it coming and ducked. It went all over a nice lady who was sitting in a wheelchair at the next table. That upset everybody at that table, and he was in the middle of a real mess.
Jack Proctor had just come to Tucson and had taken over the management of the Pioneer Hotel. When he saw the ruckus, he called the police. They sent Captain Ben West and another officer to answer the call. When they arrived and found that it was Oliver who was causing all the trouble, they told Procter they would take care of Oliver and calm him down.
That didn't satisfy Procter, who insisted that he be arrested on the spot. Ben West refused to arrest Oliver and that made Procter mad as hell. He got into quite an argument with West, saying he couldn't understand why he wouldn't arrest this drunk who was causing so much trouble. Neither Oliver nor I knew Procter very well and we stood aside. I was holding Oliver's arm firmly.
While this was going on, Bob Jones, the Governor of Arizona and a close friend of Procter's, came upstairs to the roof garden and spotted the police talking with his friend. He came over to see what the problem was and when Procter told him about Oliver, he said he'd speak to Oliver and ask him to leave. We both knew Bob Jones very well and thought the world of him. I started to take Oliver towards the stairway when Bob Jones got there about the same time. Oliver paid no attention to my pleas to calm down and leave the place quietly. Bob tried to talk to Oliver, but, without seeing who it was, Oliver pushed him aside nearly knocking him down the stairs. I apologized to Bob, ran after Oliver and got him out of the place without further damage.
The next morning I had to get up early to go to work. I walked over to Oliver's house and found him sound asleep. I left a note to call me when he got up. He called about 10:30 and I went out to see him. I told him that I had just about had it with him and his drinking. I said, "You and I have to see some people this morning to whom you owe apologies."
He felt very contrite and knew he had done some things that night before that he should not have done. We called on Governor Jones at his drugstore, and he laughed and told us to forget about the fact that Oliver had nearly knocked the state's chief executive down a flight of stairs.
We then called on Jack Procter to mend our fences there. We sent flowers to the crippled lady who received the ice water bath the night before and wrote her a nice note. Then we went to lunch at the Cavern Cafe which was a very excellent restaurant on East Congress Street. I told Oliver that I was no longer going to be bodyguard and wet nurse. He agreed that he should change his ways and said he would quit drinking. After finishing lunch, I left for the theatre, relieved that Oliver was going to straighten up and fly right.
But about 4:30 the bartender at the Cavern called and said for me to come right up, the police were there and couldn't do anything with Oliver. I was disgusted. I went there to get him, took him home and told him that I was absolutely through with him. I told him his word was no good, that he broke his promise to stop drinking.
I slammed the door and left. I must have made an impression on him because, by golly, he did stop drinking. I think that was the last time he ever got drunk. He, I and Tucson are better off for that!
He straightened up, was elected to the board of the Tucson School District 1 and served as its chairman for years. During his term, and largely at his urging, the Tucson schools were completely desegregated. The old Dunbar School, which was the only one that permitted blacks to attend, became an integrated school and blacks, from that time on, could attend any school in the community.
During the time he lived in a very small house a couple of blocks away from Palm Road, I spent a summer night with him. This little house had a wooden floor underneath of which was an air space about fifteen inches above the ground. Oliver had a little mongrel dog that was in heat and when we got home rather late, there were about ten dogs hanging around the little bitch. We ran them off, but their sex drive exceeded their fear of us and they returned.
We went to bed. But in the middle of the night this little female got under the house and all the males followed her. Because of the lack of head room in the tight quarters under the house the males were completely frustrated (as I think about it she might have felt just as frustrated). They were howling and growling and kept us awake. Oliver picked up his shoe and banged on the wooden floor. The dogs would be quiet for a couple of minutes and then would start their wailing again.
Finally Oliver went out to the ice box to find some hamburger to use to get the female out from under the house. The males came running for the fresh meat and comsumed about a pound of hamburger before the bitch was intrigued from under the house. We brought her inside and finally got to sleep.
During the depths of the depression, when Roosevelt started his first term, the stock market was a disaster for nearly every stock. It was recognized that liquor would be legalized and, as a result, one or two of the companies that produced alcohol saw their stock move up in a wild buying wave.
A nice Greek man known to all of us as Minerva Mike and his brother, Bill, had bought some shares of a company called U.S. Industrial Alcohol, which was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. They would tell us every day when we saw them how much money they had made that day. Oliver had nothing much to do at that time and usually spent the afternoon in my theatre either visiting with me or seeing the show.
Fred Blanc, with whom we had grown up, also spent a lot of time in my office. In fact, a lot of guys used to do that, especially on the day an outstanding movie was to open its engagement. Oliver and Fred got to talking about the money the Greeks were making and wished they had some dough to get in on this good thing. And the Greeks were encouraging all their friends to dive in, now was the time!
But Oliver had no dough, Fred was in the same boat and had no job at the time. They went to the Morris Plan, a small loan office across from the Fox theatre and learned that they could borrow some money if they could get me to go on the note, since I had a job with a regular income.
They came to me with this grand plan. We would all sign the note for the maximum amount the Morris Plan would lend. It turned out to be $900. We would then buy as many shares of U.S. Industrial Alcohol as we could, on the thinnest margin possible.
I finally agreed to their grand scheme. We signed the note, and bought the stock one afternoon after the market had closed. The stock closed at about 57, I well remember. We were assured that our purchase would be one of the very first the next morning. We were buying 900 shares with 15 percent down. Oliver and Fred had it all figured out that by pyramiding we would each make a healthy profit as the stock moved up.
Early the next morning I had a calf from Mr. Chappel at the Hutton office telling me that they were "calling for money on my account." I thought surely it was Oliver or Fred trying to kid me. I soon found out otherwise. I told the man I'd call him as soon as I got downtown.
When I reached my office there was a note on my desk asking me to call Hutton's. Before I could do so, this friendly man called again to ask for money on my account. I told him to sell us out, we had no money. And he did just that.
About 10 o'clock, Oliver and Fred came in to see me. "How are we doing?" Oliver asked. I replied, "We're doing just fine. I stopped the flow of blood. We are in and out! Our stock has been sold because we could not put up the money they were calling for." They would not believe me. They went over to Hutton's, but didn't stay very long. They found that U.S. Industrial Alcohol had reached 57 1/4, the price we had paid, and then had taken a nose dive. It was down about 10 points. Then they believed the bad news I had given them.
We started paying off the note at $30 a month a piece, finally cleaning up our debt. I guess we tied a world's record for speed in getting in and out of the stock market. We've laughed about it many times. The only good fortune we had was that our combined credit was as bad as it was. If we could have borrowed more, we would have lost more.
When the war came along, I was drafted, as were a lot of my friends. Three of us, Henry Dahlberg, Leon Levy and I, were members of the El Rio Country Club and were leaving within a few days of each other. It was decided to have a party for us with golf in the afternoon, drinks, dinner and B.S. in the evening.
Someone lowered the flag to halfmast out of respect for the three heroes who were going to bear their breasts for their country.
Among the speakers was Oliver who told of how proud he was to have his cousin, Roy, go to war. He concluded by stating that he would buy no more war bonds and would contribute no more to the Red Cross, because he was making enough of a sacrifice in having me leave to fight for our country.
During the early part of the war, Oliver conceived the idea of having his laundry act as the clearing house for letters to and from the Tucson men and women in the armed forces. He invited people to give the laundry the names and addresses of members of the family who were serving. He would send them a letter each month telling them what was going on in Tucson, who was serving where, etc. The letters started flowing back from service personnel and Oliver had to set up a special department for handling the mail. I was the author of the letters that Oliver would print and send out each month, until I went in the service. After that, he had someone else write them for him.
Then he got the idea of taking pictures of the wife or mother in Tucson and sending them to the servicemen. This went over big in the community and built a great deal of good will for Oliver's laundry. In fact, Mrs. Roosevelt wrote Oliver a letter of commendation for his work in behalf of the country in raising the morale of, not only the service personnel, but the civilians also. It got to be a tremendous project with thousands of letters sent each month from Tucson, many accompanied with photographs. He continued the service for nearly a year after the war ended and made many friends for his efforts.
When I returned from the service, Oliver and I sold an old hotel, the Willard on South Sixth Avenue and made a profit; in fact, it was a big one. I had borrowed $5,000 from a friend to go into the deal just before I left to become a buck private in the infantry.
We ended up with $30,000 cash between us. That was the most money I had ever had. We decided to reinvest it in real estate around Tucson.
I made the prediction that Tucson would grow easterly and towards the north. We decided to buy corner properties wherever we could between Broadway on the south and Campbell Avenue on the west. We hit the market just at the right time and made a handsome profit on everything we purchased. Later we reinvested some of it in a lot on East Pennington in the downtown area, built a building on it and developed some income for ourselves.
Oliver was a great partner; never once have we ever had the slightest disagreement over business or personal matters.
A few years ago Oliver and a group of men from Tucson and Phoenix chartered a railroad car to go to the Kentucky Derby. They were gone about ten days and had a great time playing poker and bridge on the train, chewing the rag and doing a little drinking.
The day after they left, I got a call from Travis Jones, who at that time was general freight and passenger agent for the Tucson district of the Southern Pacific Railroad. He asked me if Oliver had any connection with any of the railroad unions as an agent or an officer. I said that I was sure he had nothing to do with any union, and when I asked why the inquiry, Travis said that a man by the name of Drachman had given instructions to some laborers at the El Paso station regarding their methods of handling their jobs.
I couldn't figure out what happened until Oliver returned and I asked him about Travis' call. He started to laugh and said that while the train was in the El Paso station, he watched a group of Mexican and Negro laborers making trips back and forth carrying brake shoes. They would each carry one in each hand, which Oliver thought was ridiculous. He went up to a couple of them and told them he was an officer from their union and from now on they were to carry only one brake shoe, instead of two. He told them to pass the word along, which they did.
When the straw boss jumped on them about not carrying two, they told him they had been instructed by one of their labor union bosses to carry only one, and that was what they were going to do, like it or not.
The railroad people checked around and learned that the man who gave such instructions was on the train carrying the Arizonans eastward. They eventually learned from those in the chartered car that Drachman was the only one who could have done such a thing because the others stayed on the train while it was in El Paso. Quite a troublemaker, that Oliver!
One summer night while we were at a stag party, Oliver called us from Agua Caliente, Mexico, just across the line from San Diego to tell us he was sorry he was going to miss the party. He said he had been shooting crap and playing blackjack at the gambling casino in the famous resort and was having a picnic. "These Mexican dealers don't know a damned thing about gambling. I've won over $2,400 and it's only ten o'clock. Some of you guys ought to fly over and get in on this easy money. Charter a plane and I'll pay for it!" he added. Everyone at the party got on the phone and listened to Oliver rave about how easy it was to win at the tables at the Agua Caliente casino.
Later Oliver told us that the next morning, he went to the hotel desk clerk to ask him where a fellow could get breakfast for 500. He had blown the whole bundle and was broke. He had to leave his watch with the service station in Yuma in exchange for enough gas to get to Tucson.
He loves to gamble. One time when a bunch of us went to Las Vegas for the New Year's holiday, Oliver went directly to the tables while the rest of us went to our room to unpack and relax a bit.
Later, when some of us came down to the casino to see what was going on, Oliver was shooting craps and was winner of a large stack of chips, worth five or ten bucks each. He was having a ball, cheering for all the players to roll their number as he was betting against the house.
One red-headed gal down at the other end of the table had a hot roll and Oliver was cheering her on. "Come on, Red! Roll that six!" and "You can do it, Red!" Everyone was getting a big kick out of him. The dealers were getting a lot of laughs also with Oliver providing the comedy.
We were sitting at a cocktail table nearby having a drink and watching the action. Oliver got the dice again and kept them for a long spell, winning quite a few more chips. He played the dumb yokel role and asked the dealers how long the place had been open, and how come he hadn't heard about the easy money that could be won.
He asked, "Can I play as long as I want to? What time do you close up? Can I come back tomorrow and win some more of this easy money?" of course, everyone was enjoying his brand of comedy. He continued, "Look at dumb Roy sitting over there instead of getting in on this easy money."
He ended up winner for the day and evening with over a thousand dollars in his pocket, but when he left Las Vegas a few days later, he left with none of their money, and actually lost a few hundred, which he said was little enough for all the fun he had. On the way up he told me that he had brought a couple of gunny sacks to use to bring the money home-they weren't needed, needless to say.
Oliver has always been a nut about growing flowers. He got the green thumb from his mother who had the most beautiful rose garden in Tucson for years. He has a very large front yard which he plants with a combination of winter lawn, thousands of stock, pansies and other beautiful flowers. His olive trees are trimmed like the Japanese trim many of their trees and hedges. It is truly a showplace. He won a national award recently from one of the home and garden magazines. He works in the yard himself on weekends and often gets requests from passersby who ask if he is available to do their garden work. In his work clothes he looks like any other gardener.
As a gesture of friendship, he has planted gardens for several of his neighbors, and the entire area has benefitted.
He sold his laundry, went into the linen supply business and eventually sold that also. While in the linen supply business, he went into the business of renting industrial uniforms for hospitals, restaurants, plants, etc. Someone suggested he go into the business of renting formal clothes. So he did, on a small scale at first, but soon learned it had a great potential.
With his son, Jim, he opened a small store which handled nothing but formal wear on a rental basis. Business grew by leaps and bounds. Jim is especially good at promotion, and between them they had an operation that was both profitable and stimulating.
They went to the Montgomery Ward manager in Tucson and got him to put in a formal wear department on a trial basis. He and they were amazed at the volume of business generated inside the Ward store by this tiny department. The Ward company wanted them to open in other stores and soon they had formal wear operations in seven stores in Denver, five in Houston and also in stores in Phoenix.
I had a connection with the Sears Roebuck Company and suggested they attempt to get into the Sears stores as they are just about the best chain department store operators in America. They followed up on the contact. It took twenty months to sell Sears, but they started on a trial basis and, like Wards, have been surprised at the results. Sears has now contracted with the Drachman Formal Wear for all of their larger stores. They are now operating in about forty Sears stores across the country with more scheduled to open in the near future. And the best part is that the business is very profitable. So, you see, my cousin, Oliver, isn't so dumb after all!
At a party once he ended up in a corner sitting across a small table from a lady about his age. They began talking. He couldn't understand a word she was saying because he is slightly deaf although he won't admit it, but he smiled a lot, and every once in a while laughed. He carried on a conversation, or he thought he had, for about ten minutes, when the old gal said, in a very loud voice as she leaned over towards Oliver, "You know, I never heard one word you said." Oliver laughed and said, "I'll tell you something, I never heard a word you said either." They both had a good laugh and resolved to avoid each other in the future.
Oliver is a worry wart and has always been one. When he sold his laundry while he was in his early forties, he was at a complete loss as to what he should do with himself. He didn't have to work, but, being a workaholic, he was very unhappy with the life of getting up in the morning with nothing to do.
And the nights were even worse. He confided in me that he would wake up in the middle of the night and think about his situation. He had nothing to worry about, and that in itself worried him. He said he knew that it was not normal for a person to have nothing to worry about, and that worried the hell out of him!
CONTINUE with Hollywood Folks