THE PROVENANCE OF DILIGENCE

The scenes featuring Gloria in “The Lost Weekend” are said to be shot in PJ Clarke’s bar, still at the corner of Third and 55th, but no longer under the shadow of the El.

It was not “New York’s New Yorkiest” joint, however, as declared by Walter Winchell, the leading radio personality of the 1940s and 1950s. That honor fell squarely on The Stork Club.

Unlike PJ Clarke’s unfortunately, nothing is left today of The Stork. Owner Sherman Billingsley was arguably one of New York’s greatest celebrities from the 1940s and 1950s. Where he once fought union pickets and sabotage, while throwing customers out (who dared to patronize the rival Harwyn club), a peaceful pocket park marks the former location of the famous glitzy eatery and bar.

There aren’t that many relics of old New York left. Probably one of the best “New Yorkiest” venues still in existence is the storied Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. It’s a puzzling institution in that many New Yorkers don’t seem to know about it. When I asked my Dad where he went to college, he told me proudly “Cooper Union” and when he noticed my quizzical look, proceeded to tell me about it.

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THE LOST WEEKEND

The Bernard Olcott Story starts off 2016 with a rewrite of my post “THE LOST WEEKEND” (the original of which I have just removed from this site).  When I wrote “THE LOST WEEKEND” last June, I reminisced about a picture of my Dad hamming it up with several friends in a photo booth heavy laden with cultural significance – see above picture.  All of which was lost to me since I did not grow up in the 1940s.  I shrugged off that photo booth picture, effectively asking if anyone recognized anything about it.  Nobody did.

That photo, it turns out, is a window into the New York City of yesteryear. This essay, and the next three will use the above image as a departure point into a black and white world.  I’ll take you back to New York City of the 1940s, my Father’s formative years as a newly minted Cooper Union graduate, and you’ll:

  • Read about the biggest movie of 1945,
  • Ride the El,
  • Hear old style New Yorkers interact,
  • Learn a valuable lesson at Cooper Union (a venerable institution dating back to the Lincoln Administration),
  • Review a mysterious death in 1943 with what little facts are available, and
  • Come back to a colorfilled present with a shared activity across time.

Why should you care?  Well, somehow you found this blog.  Perhaps in riding the El with my Dad, you may see some of yours in him.  Maybe you like nostalgic stories about Gotham City which was, in some ways, a completely different city from today’s Big Apple.

It could be that you are intrigued with the backstory of the founding of a business or how the tremendous loss of a parent could leave so little trace behind.  I still haven’t been able to figure out what happened to my paternal Grandmother, who passed away during this era.

Welcome back!

WORKING BIRDS AND THE MASTER FISHERMAN

For your Thanksgiving feast today, let me regale you with a story about working birds, not the ones you eat, but the ones that bring you food.  My Dad liked it when people were working.  This apparently applied to birds, too.

He often described to me his visits to Japan and the marvels that he was privileged to witness there.  Obviously, these trips reached him on some deep level.  Looking back, I can piece together several of these sojourns to the land of the rising sun, based on memory and souvenirs.  In my post last week HE WAS RICHLY STUNNED, I recounted how the currency exchange clerk followed him back to his hotel to refund him 50¢ in overcharges.  Dad was not the only one who was touched by his experiences in Japan – Gloria was too, and I will circle back to her at the end of this post.

The Japanese have a custom where they give each other small presents or keepsakes on the occasion of significant meet-ups.  It denotes respect and dignity for the relationship in a culture that is not outwardly expressive of such emotions.  Once, for example, while I was working at Mitsubishi International, my boss’ boss took a personal vacation to Mexico.  On his return, he presented every member of the entire department staff – including me – with a small bottle of Mexican hot sauce.  In fact, the verb in the Japanese language “to give” is hardwired to imply that one gives upwards to the receiver (ie., the giver is small).  Likewise, when you receive a gift, it is understood that you are receiving down (ie., the opposite, the receiver is small).  Harmony and grace are the operative assumptions of a culture where the population is crowded together in large cities and personal space is minimal.

THE NEW BUSINESS OF PATENT ANNUITIES

Above: Lincoln’s Inn as seen from Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.

Up for today is my Harvard Business School (“the charm school on the Charles”) case study about the industry my Dad created — international patent renewals!

As the 1960s progressed, Dad’s new business quickly subsumed his “normal” patent practice. He did keep working for some select inventors who intrigued him but spent most of his time promoting his new renewal business as a modern, computerized clerical operation.

Corporate patent owners were delighted and sought him out.  On the other hand, foreign patent law firms worldwide were scandalized! The renewal work for them was heretofore easy money; it was a simple annual reminder operation that brought in huge fees for little work. They accused Dad of skimming the cream off their businesses. Many fought back, in some cases by petitioning their local patent offices NOT to accept such payment schedules sent in from foreign offices in New York. However, some savvy patent law offices quietly became clients, preferring to take advantage of the lower fees and passing them along to their clients to curry favor.

THE BIGGER IDEA (AND ME AS WINGBOY)

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.

DAD’S REAL WIFE

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).