This week we go into why my Dad is famous, at least in the patent profession. The next three posts are about his greatest number one hit in the charts. And it’s big!
As you know by now, dear reader, Dad was married five times to five different women. But in a certain way, Dad was really only married once. It was not to a lady wearing a dress and lipstick (though there were more than a few of those around) but to a business soon to be called “Olcott International & Co.” It was his life, and his masterpiece, just as the Mona Lisa was to Leonardo da Vinci. (He greatly admired Leonardo and thought of himself easily as da Vinci’s equal). He could share this one true wife with no one and he guarded her with a jealous Latin-blooded fury. (As I and others would haplessly come to learn).
Dad started the 1960s as an engineer, having received his diploma from the storied Cooper Union and licensed to practice in New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. While married to my Mom (wife no. 2), Dad took the next step in his educational journey and enrolled at New York Law School, night division. In fact, night school became an old shtick for him as he was forever saying that whenever a cop pulled him over for running a stop sign, he would say, “I’m sorry Officer, I went to night school. I can’t read in the daytime.” (Drum roll). (Cymbal bash).
So after graduation and passing his bar exam, Dad became a patent attorney. His first office that I saw was in 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The lobby was breathless in 1962 – sleek and dark (and still is). I still remember the office with the name “Bernard Olcott, Esq.” painted on the frosted glass door. In 1964, he moved from there into the newly completed Pan Am Building (today called the Met Life Building). These were both supremely prestigious addresses to be sure and my Mom takes full credit. “I insisted on that Rockefeller Center address,” she would tell me later.
My Mom left my Dad right around the date of his Law Office moving notice above. Dad remarried again in 1963 but was done with that marriage by the end of 1965. But his courtship of his masterpiece in the area of “Foreign Patter Matters” was in full swing.
The Pan Am Building was a monument of high modernity to me as a small boy. Even more so that 40 Rock. It was completely space-age, with its sleek hexagonal footprint at the crossroads of Park Avenue, 42nd Street, and Grand Central Station. While waiting for the elevator on the upper floors, you could hear them roaring up and down as they went by at high speed. The elevator call button and floor buttons were the electric sensor type; you didn’t actually push anything, it simply flashed on when touched by sensing the heat from your finger. (Those buttons would soon to be discovered to be a fire hazard since elevators would be “called” to fire-blazing floors.) The rest room faucets operated by push-button and sent a gentle spray over your hands. And the view from my Dad’s office looking south past the Lincoln Building was sublime. I could look down at the Park Avenue viaduct and watch a cab enter the tunnel, and then exit a few moments later.
True to the travel nature of the corporate owner, the roof was a heliport; Pan Am helicopters would land and take off from there as a first class amenity for passengers flying Pan Am from JFK. (My flights to and from Florida unfortunately were not eligible). In the lobby, there were restaurants like Charlie Brown’s, Zum Zum, and Chock Full ‘O Nuts and even an Aeroflot Soviet Airlines Ticket Office, displaying the hammer and sickle logo (which curiously, it still does). I would stop to marvel at the large Ilyushin II-62M model aircraft displayed prominently in the window with it’s distinctive configuration of 4 jet engines in the rear, under the tail. I would ask the Russian staff for timetables and thumb through them with fantasies of landing one day in Moscow and Leningrad.
Like Pan Am, Aeroflot also did not offer service to and from Orlando so it was likewise very much out of my reach. Suddenly National and Eastern Airlines didn’t seem so glamorous in comparison.
Taking the escalator down from the lobby, you entered the huge concourse of Grand Central Station, maybe the most elegant train station in the world. The hall was dominated by an oversized advertisement for Kodak film featuring a ginormous beautiful color photograph that would change every month. I looked for it with great anticipation on the first day of July, August, and maybe September.
I would come with my Dad to his office on the 33rd floor every weekday during summer vacations. I would “work” either under his desk or in a corner, reading my comic books or looking at Standard 8 home movies, which was the video format of the time. He had a large box of these tapes, most of them of him, my Mom, and of me as a baby at summer rentals in Southampton, Long Island. His non-electric viewer was completely manual — you would thread the film past a white square (providing illumination) onto an empty spool and then turn the little plastic crank with the right hand to watch the film through one eye. I remember going to the stores on 42nd Street with my Dad to buy various cartoons or short films of the Three Stooges in this format. One time, I found a strange tape featuring a topless woman doing something with a naked man. I showed this movie right away to my Dad. He took a look and then smiled. Later on, when I went to go look for that tape again in the box, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I must’ve gone though that box half a dozen times, top to bottom. I wonder if my Dad saw me scratching my head, wondering where that tape had gone to?
In any event, Dad’s work as a patent attorney soon came to bore him. His normal day as such would be to meet with inventors, eccentric people to be sure, and file patent applications on their behalf. This would involve drafting schematic diagrams, researching appropriate citations, and responding to Patent Office objections. As it turned out, Dad had a better idea to earn a living. A much bigger idea.
Next Week: The Bigger Idea.
Copyright © 2015 by James B. Olcott