The Central Park Zoo in the mid-to-late 1960s barely resembles today’s facility.  The centerpiece, the Sea Lion Pool, which remains pretty much as it was (with the addition of plexiglass walls, so you can see the seals swimming underwater). But the rest of it, which resembled a prison for animals, has been dramatically remodeled to be the more “naturalistic” habitat seen today.

CP Zoo2

For one thing, back then you could tell when you were close to the Zoo by the strong smell of excrement. Today, the smell is gone, with one exception: the Penguin room which has a fairly strong scent of guano. Well, they do have a lot of water birds paddling around in the simulated Antarctic environment; the main attraction is their own indoor  large plexiglass pool where the aquatic acrobats can be admired while “flying” through the water.  According to the penguin keeper, they love it when the keepers “turn the rain on.”

Zoo Pengies.jpg

Back in the mid-1960s, I remember a row of cells behind the Sea Lion pool, where incarcerated animals could be seen behind two rows of bars. There was a gorilla, a leopard, and several other inmates. They either sat at the bars looking out sullenly, or paced back and forth endlessly.



From the hall of ersatz messages, we walked around the corner to the authentic original temple of modern dining, the Automat.

Long before McDonald’s and Burger King moved from strip mall paradises out on Highway 50 in Orlando to urban centers near Grand Central, Horn & Hardart had reigned supreme as America’s original fast food restaurant. Like the post office, the walls were covered with tiny glass windows displaying Salisbury steak, sandwiches, macaroni & cheese, pudding, or slices of cherry pie, all fed by kitchen staff behind the wall. After inserting either coin or token into the slot and turning the handle, you could raise the window and take out the delicacy.

There was also a cafeteria line if you had more time to wait.


Around 5 PM on an early summer’s day in the mid-1960s, Dad finished up his workday in his small suite in the Pan Am Building, towering above 42nd Street in mid-town Manhattan.  I stared at him. It was the end of the day, and Lenny, Dad’s Pall Mall chain-smoking secretary, was long out the door.

I was hungry and ready for my supper. But, typically, Dad had just one more thing to do before Miller time (for him, not me). It was always a letter that had to be mailed, a thick fat one. Stuffed full of papers, the envelope sat on Lenny’s desk, already addressed to a foreign patent office. The zip code was an indecipherable jumble of numbers and letters. Festooned with large denomination stamps, the likes of which I had never seen before, this package of computer print-outs and a foreign currency bank draft was destined for the post office. And then some foreign patent office out in the big, wide world beyond!


Everyone has a shining moment. My Dad’s bears repeating. He really slayed it!

So Dad got the idea for a fantastic business related to patent filings and infringements, kind of an amalgam between legal and IT but not a legal practice, strictly speaking. As I am able to remember it, he had become friendly with Ed Greer, who was head patent counsel for the Union Carbide Corporation. Union Carbide was one of the biggest chemical corporations of the day and was headquartered in their own magnificent skyscraper two blocks up Park Avenue from the Pan Am Building.

It was a probably a simple matter for Dad to put it together that large corporate patent owners could benefit from some form of computer calendaring.
Keep in mind that a large company like Union Carbide owned a large portfolio of patents. They would initially file patent applications in the home country, USA for Union Carbide. And as they were a large multinational corporation selling their wares everywhere, once the patent applications were accepted here at home, they would then engage in an international filing program elsewhere, typically the largest 15 countries in Western Europe and then Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and maybe Brazil and South Africa to boot.


One winter’s night in the late 1960s my Dad, Bernard Olcott, walked home from his office in the Pan Am Building. He stopped at the Gristede’s on the North East corner of Park Avenue South and 41st Street (long since gone). It was a hard place to pass up as the odor of rotisserie chickens graced the corner, even in the cold. Dad hunted down a cooked bird, dripping wet in roasted fat. He hauled his kill back to the Peter Cooper Hotel on 38th and Lexington, wolfed it down, and then passed out in his richly appointed studio.

That night he had a dream. He saw himself reading through a 6 page letter from one of his clients. The first page was a dry cover letter instructing him to add 150 new patents to his payment system. There were 5 other pages attached, with a dizzying array of patent data. The last page was different than the rest; it was a one line item, a patent with some kind of inconsistency. Dad detached the last page from the others and laid it on the mountainous pile on his desk. The others he gave to his secretary so she could complete data entry sheets to be used by keypunchers at the PSI Computing Center. In this way, all items were to be entered into the Bernard Olcott & Associates patent renewal payment system – the forerunner of today’s Olcott International.

That is, all items, except for the one that got away on the last page.


Life is not easy. We all have problems-even tragedies-to deal with, and luck has nothing to do with it. Bad luck is only the superstitious excuse for those who don’t have the wit to deal with the problems of life. ”
Joan Lowery Nixon, In The Face of Danger

Problems?  Yeah, I had a few.  But let’s be real.  My weird situations are nothing compared to many suffered by others.

Consider Denne Bart Petitclerc, journalist, author, producer.  When he was 5 years old in 1934, his father took him to downtown Seattle to admire the holiday decorations.  Stopping in front of the giant Christmas tree, his dad told him to “watch the angel (on top of the tree), I’ll be right back.”  He didn’t return.  He left his child there, abandoning him to be an orphan in the December night.

At least I had a Father to love, to admire, to tell me funny stories, to join in the family business, and then to, maddeningly, watch as he withered away.  There were many good years, regardless.

I think we’ve all had pivotal moments like that, when everything changes.  Today’s story, a repeat, is about my night when the sky was darkest, and most unfamiliar.  Merry Christmas and don’t forget to count your blessings (and not boobies)!  

In the spring of 1962, I turned 4 years old. Mom and Dad were living at 1050 Fifth Avenue and Central Park was my playground. In the evening, I would play in my room and when I heard the door open and Dad enter the apartment, I would thrust myself down the stairs, yelling “Daddy, Daddy!” One time I came down the stairs so fast, I tripped and fell. I arrived at the bottom in a tumbled mess.

My Dad would have a seat on the couch, maybe after turning on the hi-fi or plopping the Four Lads on the phonograph. Mom would serve him a Rheingold. “What’s that?” I asked. “Beer,” he said. “Can I try some?” “Sure.” I did, it was not to my taste.

I was oblivious to the fact that the marriage of my Mom and Dad was finished.


This week, another repeat.  This is the second most popular post on my site (after “WHAT’S IN A BORDER“) and I have to say it’s really gratifying. 

Because this one is all about my Dad in his prime, at the top of his game.  When he could do no wrong.  It’s me in kvell-mode.  Well, all right, three failed marriages by this time already.  Nobody’s perfect, even critics.

But in a certain sense, he was really only married once.

I’ll have a new, fresh story from this time period shortly.  And I’ll be back to those wretched investments in the mid-1990s before too long.

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.)