Thursday, July 06, 2017

July 6, 2017--Gorgeous Donald

My Uncle Harry was the owner of numerous failed businesses. But it never stopped him from dreaming of one day striking it rich.

At one time he was a partner with my father in a bar and grill in Brooklyn. My mother felt this was not an appropriate business for Jewish people (who she contended "didn't drink"--but if they did [and they did] they should not do so in public) and so, after speaking in opposition to their buying and running the 7-11 Club (it was at 711 Snyder Avenue), she never mentioned it again.

Restraining herself from talking about things about which she disapproved (quite a few things it turned out) was not in this case going to be difficult since the 7-11 ginmill failed quickly, not so much because business was slow but for two reasons--

First, because Harry and my father disagreed about everything, including how many bulbs to buy when one burned out (my father would buy one, Harry a gross--"They'll last us a lifetime," he claimed).

And, two, it turned out that the notorious bookmaker, Harry Gross, who was married to a policewoman who he stashed in the suburbs so he could cavort in public with a sequence of blonde bombshells on his arm, Harry Gross used the back table of the Club as one of his "offices."

When in 1951 he was convicted of heading a $20 million dollar a year gambling ring that was protected  by hundreds of policemen on his payroll, many from the 67th Precinct right down the block from the bar, things went from bad to disaster at the 7-11.

Harry Gross
My Cousin Chuck and I were excited about the news--for us having family members even peripherally associated with gangsters gave us quite a lot of cred at PS 244, where my cousin soon thereafter tried his own hand at schoolyard bookmaking (with me serving as his "runner"--but that's a story for another time.)

But to the 7-11 regulars having this news exposed (many came to the Club it was subsequently discovered not for the booze but for Harry Gross' action, and thus with Gross in jail there was no longer any reason for anyone to hang out with my father and Uncle Harry.

Unless there was interest in watching the two brothers-in-law fight.

As it turned out, not much interest. Who wanted to sip Seagram's 7&7 while listening to two crazy people argue about light bulbs?

So soon the Club went bankrupt and they finally went their separate ways. My father, with another uncle with criminal associations as a partner, into the parking garage business, whereas my uncle remained in bar and grills.

His last such business in New York, on 42nd Street in Manhattan, was the bar and restaurant in the Holland Hotel. It too ultimately failed in the 1950s, with Harry sneaking off to Miami under the cover of darkness since he owed loan sharks thousands, and they were wanting to break his knee caps.

Years later, when the hotel was finally closed down by the city, the NY Post referred to it as a "once notorious den of prostitution and drugs."

I'll say this for Uncle Harry--he sure knew how to pick 'em.

I loved hanging out there. First, because it was in the CITY. I was eager to spend as much time there and as little as possible in pre-cool Brooklyn. And, then, this story is about to take a turn, the rooms and lunch counter at the Holland were favorites with professional wrestlers when they were in town to "perform" at the old Madison Square Garden, which was relatively close by on Eighth Avenue and 50th Street.

The likes of Tony Rocca, Dick the Bruiser, and André the Giant could be found there. And, my favorite, Gorgeous George. Since he was reputed to live a clean, alcohol-free life he sat at the counter of the coffee shop drinking tea and coffee while most of the wrestlers and their handlers and girlfriends would inhabit the bar.

And so, since Uncle Harry told me to stay away from the bar, Gorgeous George noticed me and at times chatted me up, asking about my school and life in Brooklyn.

In the ring he was famous for his posing, of course, but also for handing out "gold" hairpins, which he used to keep his signature blonde tresses in place. Since I was still too young to see him in action (except on TV), from time to time he would give me a handful of his hairpins which the next day I would share with my neighborhood pals.

In reading about him yesterday, in Wiki, I learned that he was one of the original "gimmick characters." Before his time pro wrestlers were quasi-athletes. Though the matches were staged with the winners and losers predetermined, to watch them was not so different from watching wrestling in, say, the Olympics.

From Wiki--
Gorgeous George's impact on wrestling has been interpreted in many ways, demonstrating how fast television changed the product from athletics to performance. His legacy was the enormous change in wrestling personas he inspired. Before him, wrestlers imitated "ethnic terrors" (Nazi, Arabs, etc.), but his success birthed a more individualistic and narcissistic form of character.
Gorgeous George
I had been thinking about wrestling since last weekend when Donald Trump posted a video of himself body slamming and pretending to punch out WWE honcho, Vince McMahon, with the CNN logo photoshopped on Vince's face.

Then it struck me--one of Donald Trumps personas is Gorgeous George!

Like so many, he wanted out of the boroughs (he is from Queens) and wrestling must have been one of the things, also in the 1950s, that lured him to the big city. Very much the Gorgeous George version of wrestler who "birthed a more individualistic and narcissistic form of character."

So we not only have a Tweeter-In-Chief, but a Wrestler-In-Chief. However, in Trump's case the outcome is not preordained. Gorgeous George always won; Trump? not so much.

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