Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Remembering One Lucky Guy

Richard Feldman on a special morning ride in Central Park.
Tuesday, April 17, 2018. In this ever-changing world with ever-changing temperatures (which is what it seems like these days), we started yesterday (in the wee hours) with light rain, then heavy at dawn and temps in the chilly 40s, with even chillier winds. In late afternoon when the Sun came out, dried everything off, and the temp went up to the low 60s. Only to fall back into the low 40s by early evening. But it is Spring again ... and the pears are suddenly almost in full bloom – almost overnight too.
Our friend Richard Feldman died last month shortly after his 83rd birthday (Aquarius). I met Richard and his wife Diana about twenty years ago when we were guests of Charlotte and Anne Ford on the yacht The Big Eagle in the Mediterranean. In early morning I liked getting up to look at the sea and the land yonder. Richard would already be on deck taking in this extraordinary experience. So we would talk.

It so happened we both were inclined to story-telling. Richard had a kindly, yet at times stern tone, in his stories about his experiences in life. Everything was some kind of lesson to these ears, and told with certainty as well as irony and curiosity. One of his greatest pleasures was riding his horse in Central Park every morning.
Charlotte Ford, Diana Feldman, Anne Ford, Tina Sloan, and Alina Pedroso with DPC, Richard Feldman, and Steve McPherson on board The Big Eagle.
He’d get up at 4 a.m., shower/shave, take his dog out of the morning constitutional, and then go over to the stable in the West 80s to get his horse, and ride an hour or so in Central Park. Then he’d return home, change into his suit and walk down Park Avenue to his office at Lehman Brothers.

The last months of his life must have been difficult because his health anchored him to a bed and a chair, and Richard was by nature a very energetic guy. Yet after Diana held a memorial reception for him at their apartment, I learned that in those last many months, Richard “wrote a book.”  He did this with the assistance of a writer Paul Lonardo. Reading it, I could hear this voice throughout the stories, because Richard was a natural born storyteller, always in awe of wonder, and always curious.

Diana and Richard Feldman.
What he achieved in this book (89 pages) is his own brilliant epitaph presented for your (the reader’s) entertainment. And entertaining and interesting, and sometimes hilarious it is.

Here are two chapters excerpted from One Lucky Guy” the memoirs of Richard Feldman.

First, an excerpt from his introduction: Ever since I was a young boy, the only thing I wanted to be was a cowboy. I wanted to own and work on a real ranch, with cattle and horses. Especially horses.

While I never became a cowboy, considering everything I have done in my life, and the many incredible and wonderful experiences I have had, I can say with complete sincerity that I have lived a charmed life. From getting a job on Wall Street with Lehman Brothers despite having absolutely no knowledge of the stock market, to riding in the Queen's day coach through the streets of London, to attending the Academy Awards and meeting my idol and the greatest entertainer the world has ever known – Mr. Francis Albert Sinatra – I am one lucky guy.

Chapter 13:  Frank Sinatra.


The very first time I am in Mickey Tarnapol’s office, I take notice of a framed check on the wall besides his desk. It is a cancelled check made out to Lehman Brothers in the amount of $1 million and signed by Frank Sinatra.

Now, to say that I am a fan of Frank Sinatra does not even begin to describe it. I love Frank Sinatra more than anything, even more than any woman, man or anyone else alive. My parents know this, and when I am around eleven or twelve years old, they would take me to Paul “Skinny” D’Amato’s 500 Club, a renowned racketeering nightclub in Atlantic City where Sinatra would often perform. I would go there and sit way in the back and listen to him singing.  I cannot get any close to the bar because I am so young, but I do get to meet Ol’ Blue Eyes briefly a couple of times. He would always say, “Hi, kid.” And I think it is the greatest thing in the world.
One day, Mickey says to me, “You know, you’ve been staring at the check for about three or four months now. Why?’

I say, “See the name of the man who signed that check? I know more about that man than that man knows about himself.”

“What?” he responds with a little laugh, thinking I am joking with him.

“You heard me.”

He looks at me a moment and says, “you want to talk to him?” He thinks he is calling my bluff.

“Sure,” I say.

Click to order "One Lucky Guy."
Sinatra is a client of his, so he immediately picks up the phone and dials. “Hello, Frank. Mickey.”  They talk business for a few minutes and then Mickey says: “Listen, Frank, I have a young man sitting in front of me who thinks he knows everything about you. I want to put him on the phone to talk with you. And be nice to him, Frank.”

Then he hands me the phone.

“Hello, how are you, kid?”

It is Frank Sinatra. I can’t believe it, but it is really him.

“So, you know a lot about me,” he says.

“Yes, sir.”

“Really?”  It is quiet on the other end of the line for a moment. “Who makes my shirts?”

“Peck and Company,” I respond instantly.

Silence.

“Who makes my shoes?”

“Melle.”

Silence.

“Who makes my ties?”

“Sabona.” 

Silence.

“Who makes my underwear special order?”

“Saks Fifth Avenue.”

Silence.

He asks me several other questions and I get all of them right. What The Chairman of the Board doesn’t know is that when I was growing up, I would read everything I could about him. I was insatiable. I couldn’t find enough information.

“Holy mackerel son,” Sinatra exclaims. And then we get into a discussion about his Academy Award for From Here to Eternity, and some other topics, and I am in 7th heaven.
“One day we’ll run into each other Richard Feldman,” Sinatra tells me. “Make sure you say hello to me and tell me who you are, because I’d really like to see what you look like and meet you in person.”

“Wonderful,” I say, and give the phone back to Mickey.

My father, who knows Skinny D’Amato personally, also has an acquaintance with Ermenegildo “Jilly” Rizzo, Mr. Sinatra’s longtime friend and chief aide, who owned Jilly’s Saloon, a popular hangout in the 1960s where Sinatra also played quite often. So it is through my father that I am able to learn so much intimate information about my idol; things that I could never have read about.

Frank Sinatra and Jilly Rizzo, photographed by John Dominis, 1965.
Jilly Rizzo, in particular, was someone who filled me in on a lot about Sinatra who went to a manicurist at a barber shop on 37th Street: Victor’s Barbershop.  It had 28 barber chairs, 14 on each side. All the movie stars would go there. I mean everybody.

My father, if he had one peculiarity, it is that he would leave his office every day at exactly five minutes to ten in the morning. He would go downstairs and walk a half block to Victor’s Barbershop where he would get a shave and a shine. Every single day.  And so my father became one of the boys. He knew absolutely everybody.  I would meet people that others only read about. If you’re familiar with the book, “Murder, Incorporated,” the individuals who are mentioned on the its pages, I met every one of them.

To follow up on my brief phone conversation I had with Frank Sinatra, many years later, in 1982, there is a big opening for The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, an American military and maritime history museum with a collection of museum ships located at Pier 86 at 46th Street in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on the West Side of Manhattan.  The museum showcases the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, as well as the submarine USS Growler, a Concorde SST, a Lockheed A-23 supersonic reconnaissance plane, and the Space Shuttle Enterprise. As part of the ceremonies, there is a black tie dinner and I attend. As it turns out, Frank Sinatra and I are seated at the same table, so we got to pick up our conversation where it left off when I was just starting out at Lehman Brothers. I go from 7th heaven to 11th heaven that night. Sharing an evening alongside Frank Sinatra is definitely one of the highlights of my life.
Chapter 21. The Royal Treatment.

From the time I was a little boy, when my father would ride his horse in Central Park, it has always been a special place to me. I have ridden there myself often, and have had many unforgettable experiences there, including during the eight years that I served with the Auxiliary Mounted Police in Central Park, which I started along with Jay Entwistle. We would go out on patrol, on horseback, as an extra set of eyes for the NYPD. We have uniforms, and pretty much everything that a regular police officer has except a gun. Beyond being a visual deterrent for various lawbreakers, we issue tickets to people for various minor violations, such as littering and not picking up the mess their dogs leave behind. Because we are not sworn officers, and do not have the powers of arrest beyond those of any other citizen, we report any crimes we see or hear about to the police. Most of the time if we see somebody doing something such as littering, we will ask them politely to pick up their garbage, and they comply. With only a few exceptions, it is usually all very nice and friendly.

One memorable incident occurred when I was out on patrol one day with another auxiliary officer, a young woman who had joined the growing ranks of volunteers on horseback in the park.  We encounter a massive Great Dane and man whom I instantly recognize a short distance from behind the animal. While I do not know the man’s name at first, he is very familiar to me, and as I ponder how I might know this man, his dog proceeds to take an enormous dump on the grass, which the man makes no attempt whatsoever to pick up. I don’t even think he looks down at it. He just walks away. So I ride up beside him and stop.

He looks at me and I say, “Sir, your dog has just taken a dump.”

“So what?” he snaps back at me.

“So everyone has to pick up after their dogs in this park.”

He steps up to me, puts a hand on my knee and says, “Let me tell you something Sonny Boy, I don’t pick up after my dog for anybody.”

Now I recognize where I know him from and I say, “you don’t?  Well, let me ask you a question. Is your building still that big black building over on 6th Avenue?”

“Yes, that’s the CBS Building.”

“Well, I think you should be down there at about noon tomorrow,” I say. “I’m going to have myself and two other officers in the courtyard with a sign that says: ED BRADLEY DOESN’T PICK UP HIS OWN SHIT. How would you like that?”

“Oh my God.” His mouth drops open as he envisions the scene play out in his mind, while perhaps simultaneously what his employers at 60 Minutes will think, as well as their sponsors. Not to mention the public.

“Yes, and if you want to test me,” I say, “JUST YOU TEST ME.”

“I have a feeling I won’t do that,” he says, suddenly contrite. “I apologize.”

“Here’s a bag,” I say, and I hand it to him. “Pick up from now on.”
Richard on horseback.
I spend a lot of time riding in Central on my own, as well, not as part of auxiliary  police. One day, the woman who runs the Park Avenue Armory approaches me and introduces me to a gentleman and asks if I would take him on a riding tour through Central Park, which he had never seen before. Turns out, he is from London and is a solider in the Queen’s army. His name is Christopher Robinson, and I take him out a number of times, and we just hit it off. I like him and he likes me. He seems to like the way I speak. He likes that I know what he does as a cavalryman, and that I appreciate that they still have soldiers who defend the country and the Queen on horseback. This is a man who looks like he has come directly out of a Broadway show, or out of Central Casting. He is just the best-looking man in a uniform I think I ever saw.

We become good friends and he invites me and my wife Diana, to London.  I ride at Hyde Park, the largest Royal Park in London, and it is unbelievable. It’s about half the size of Central, but so beautiful and historic, going all the way back to the 16th century.

One day, while in London, Christopher calls and says, “Tomorrow morning, I want you to appear in your riding clothes. Is your wife up at that hour?”

I ask, “what hour?”

“7 a.m.”

“I’ll be sure she is.”

“How about Mrs. Ford?” he asks.

My wife’s dear friend Charlotte Ford, the daughter of Henry Ford II, had accompanied us on the trip to England.

“Yes, Mrs. Ford as well,” I say.

“Well, then the three of you be downstairs tomorrow morning at 7 a.m.”
The Queen's day coach.
When we go down in the morning, outside waiting for us is the Queen’s day coach. It is absolutely breathtaking. It is ornate and sparkling, with so much luminous gold and inlaid with precious jewels adorned with crystal glass lamps.  It is like something out of a fairytale. We step up inside, where there are two footmen, and we proceed to be taken around the city to see the sights of London in the Queen’s carriage drawn by six magnificent horses.

People are looking at us, and waving. We wave back in the odd, animatronic way you see the Royal family wave, which the Queen Mother once described as similar to opening a jam jar. It is regarded as a graceful and distinctive way of acknowledging the people who turn out to see them or show them support.

Now, there I am, with my wife and Charlotte Ford, in the Queen’s carriage, waving to people around London. Who would even dare dream of such a thing?

Then, in 1987, my family’s horse, Bet Twice, won the Belmont Stakes.

My brother-in-law Bobby Levy is in the horse business, and I used to go with him to the sales. In 1986, he takes me to the sales and he buys a horse (it is not Bet Twice) for $1 million. As we’re leaving the pavilion, Will Farish III, who owns a giant horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky, comes over to us and says to my brother-in-law “Bobby, I have this other horse I want to run through the sales, but I honestly don’t have the time to do it tonight. I think he’s worth about $50,000.”
Richard's family’s horse, Bet Twice.
My brother-in-law says, “Throw him on the truck.”  He didn’t say another word.  This is Bet Twice, who was trained and went on to win the Belmont Stakes the following year, earning more than $3 million.

It takes my breath away to think about all the things I have done and experienced in my life. Sometimes I sit back and say to myself, how the hell did I do all this?

If I could, I would do it all again the exact same way, though I expect that what I have experienced could not be duplicated. There are some things that happen once in a lifetime, and some lifetimes that happen only once because they are too good to be true. Not perfect, because nothing is perfect. But I’ve said it before, and I have to say it again; I am one lucky guy.
 

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