Wednesday, October 23, 2013

G. William Miller - Investment Advice from the Treasury Secretary

Legal Tender for All Debts
My favorite mentor is Mike Cardozo, a super gentleman, successful and principled by anyone's standards, who took an interest in me when I was a fun-loving and apparently undisciplined youth in the early 1980's.  We were colleagues for a while at CTM, Mike's stopover between serving as White House counsel on telecommunications to Jimmy Carter, and a long career as a merchant banker.

Cardozo: Prime Mover.  Porter: Disciple.
In the mid 1980's, Mike associated with his Carter administration buddy, 65th Treasury Secretary G. William Miller, and David Rubinstein's wife Alice Rogoff, in the formation of GWM & Associates.  When I was sorely in need of professional advice, I'd pop over to GWM and Mike would take me to the Palm, to impart brutal wisdom (such as "What you need is Officer's Candidate School, Porter!  A little discipline would do you good!").

Gee - The Real William Miller
I got to meet the Secretary several times and, when he was out, used his office on a few occasions to make calls while Mike wound up his pre-lunch meetings.  Miller was debonair, and kind enough to make small talk with me and toss funny ideas around such as those pitched by entrepreneurs who had ideas on re-fitting an extrusion facility in Cleveland, or wanted GWM to bankroll the growing of hydroponic Belgian endive in the US, or the character who was going to teach the Chinese to eat cheese.

The punchline to this story is that, although I toiled in the TV and new media vineyards for several years, I eventually found myself handling finance and investment clients, including a series of engagements for the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (during the James Wolfensohn era).  On one of these projects in 2004, my client called me and my team in for a presentation to the CEO.  My two associates on the project (a major real estate developer and a marketer) were both named "Bill Miller" - but neither one was the Bill Miller of Carter heyday.  Bizarre....  There were chortles and bon mots around the executive table, which I relayed to Mike, and he to GWM.

Secretary Miller passed away in 2006.  Some say he had the strong hand as Fed Chairman in the onset of '70's stagflation in the US economy.  More successful was his subsequent Treasury role in the Chrysler bailout.  No matter - In our paths-crossings, he was solicitous beyond anything that was called for, and had real class.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Consciousness-Raising with Ted Turner

Ted Turner believes that men should be barred from holding elected position for the next one hundred years.  I guess he now feels that women are suited to positions of true professional and public leadership.  Nice to see Ted's thinking on the matter has "evolved."

Sail On, Sailor
In February of 1985, I helped my boss, President of the Washington DC chapter of Women in Cable, organize a luncheon speech that Ted headlined, where he proceeded to lecture the assembled 95%+ female crowd:

"Can't believe these girls down at CNN who go out an' have a baby and then want to come back to work after two weeks, put that little baby with a nanny?!?  It's crazy!  Now it's a fact, a proven FACT, that a baby needs its mother's love - not its father's love, not "a Parent's" love - its Mother's love!  Mama's gotta stay home with that baby!"  One of the professional ladies present politely cleared her throat and said, "Excuse me, Mr. Turner, but I would hope that - at least after they have borne a child - you would refer to these female employees of yours as 'women,' not 'girls.' "

"Naaaah, now, listen, Honey...  lemme explain..."  (Collective gasp and disintegration of crowd).  I admired his confident, self-destructive impulse.

But we'd met before.  In 1982 I was writing business plans at CTM for pay-TV sports networks, and we were trying to package a roll-up of all the regionals into SSN, the Super Sports Network.  Ted was then at war with acting Commissioner of MLB Bud Selig because of the rogue move of pulling his games out of the MLB network TV deal to feed his own channel.  We thought, correctly, that he was likely to opt out of SSN (as would the Cubs and Mets, building similar superstation deals with WGN and WOR respectively); nevertheless, Turner and our CEO Bob Schmidt were old jock buddies and Ted came by our offices in McLean, VA to learn more about the SSN plans.

Ted strolled into Bob's corner office, and I wandered by.  "Porter, get in here!" yelled Bob.  "Got someone I want you to meet!"  He introduced me to Captain Outrageous, telling him I was an up and coming second baseman or some such nonsense.  We yukked it up a bit and then Bob said to Ted, "I had your friend Bud in here last week," and pointed at the desk, where a new Rawlings baseball sat on a display stand.  Ted stared at it, scowled, picked it up an tossed it a few times in the air.

Commish Strikethrough
"Gotta pen?"  Bob pulled the Mont Blanc from his shirt pocket.  Ted grabbed it, boldly slashed a line through Bud Selig's autograph, signed his own, and handed the ball back to Bob.

In a later life, Ted launched our National Geographic EXPLORER series on TBS where it anchored the Sunday evening prime-time block, and he supported it generously for many years, always taking a personal interest, joining (and commandeering) the quarterly planning meetings, and treating us to CNN studio tours he personally led, and to Braves and Hawks tickets whenever we came to town.  He loved National Geographic like a young Indiana Jones.

Only women in elected office?  Maybe ol' Jane Fonda got through to him.
Glamour and Boldness - A Pairing That No One Could Have Predicted

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Big Apple Dreamin' - On Tour with Alice Cooper

I've just finished reading Louder Than Hell, and it's a great book - as the cover blurb attests:

The authors employ first-person accounts to trace the evolutionary history of Metal from progenitors Blue Cheer, Mountain and Black Sabbath through the later strands of heavy-, NWOBH-, glam-, thrash-, industrial-, nu-, speed-, death-, dark-, black-, and dork-metal (plus hardcore and metalcore).
"I looked around and I noticed that everyone I was trying to be like was dead.  I went, 'I get it. Alice has got to be one thing. And I've got to be another.  I can't co-exist with Alice; Alice has to be a character I play onstage.'  When the curtain comes down, he doesn't really want to live my life, and I don't want to live his. He lives two hours a night on stage.  He doesn't play golf, he doesn't want to be married, he doesn't want children.  He doesn't like anything except what he does onstage, and you leave him up there.  To this day, we have a great relationship."
Vincent Furnier/Alice Cooper,
!t Books, (C) 2013
In LTH, Alice Cooper earns Founding Father status for his early incorporation of dark on-stage symbology and theatrical make-up, both so widely and persistently imitated as to have become iconic.
Motif # 1
In early July, 1997 I was on business in NYC and staying at the Righa Royal Hotel on West 54th.  Waiting in the lobby for a colleague before heading out in suit & tie to the first meeting of the day, I was seated with Wall Street Journal in hand as Alice emerged from the elevator and walked briskly across the diagonal to the front door.

We shared the lobby for all of 5 seconds.  I instinctively dropped the Journal and rose from my chair.

Maybe I Scared Him . . .
Now, in the late 70's my college band got a lot of mileage out of playing School's Out every spring, blasting away on the quad following the last day of classes.  Naturally, I tried to yell out "School's Out!" but - in the excitement - could only produce a very loud and unintelligible grunt: "HHhnhguuhyaugghhnnt!"  If you've ever heard the Derek and Clive routine wherein Peter Cook describes the sound made by a rival fan whom he claims to have kicked "square in the bollocks!" at an Arsenal-Spurs game, that's the sound I made .  Maybe not unlike what Alice is used to hearing from the louts and punters 20-deep at the front in a general admission show.

He looked up, smiled and raised an eyebrow at me as he reached for the revolving door and exited into the New York City summer sunshine.

I like to think that he's wondered from time to time who that obstreporous clod in the suit was.
"Skyscrapers and subways and stations
Staring up at the United Nations

New York is waiting for you and me, baby
Waiting to swallow us down
New York, we're coming to see what you're made of ... "
Alice Cooper, 1972
Big Apple Dreamin

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jonathan Bennett - Teen Heartthrob Sighting on Nantucket

Smooth Operator Bennett w/Juice Guys Smoothie in Hand
Last evening on Main Street, we stumbled upon a swarm of giggling, swooning young girls and then emerged from the scrum Jonathan Bennett - better (best?) known as Aaron Samuels, Lindsay Lohan's love interest in Mean Girls (2004).

You remember the "pencil" scene, don't you?

A "Teen Choice Award" nominee, co-star of Amanda Bynes as well as Ms. Lohan and - by virtue of his turn in Mean Girls - a permanent stimulus to young girls everywhere, Johnathan was followed up and down the cobblestones by a pack of groupies.
the Rocky Road to Stardom

And OMG my intrepid twelve year old - like a moth to the flame - led the pack (though she worried she might be 'stalking').

... like father, like daughter!!  :-)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Brother, Mr. Mouth-to-Mouth - Scot Samis

If you are preparing for summer beach action and looking for a good kick in the rear, check out or "NetFlix" (verb) the film "Summer Rental," a low-budget early-'80's Rob Reiner gem.  John Candy stars, Rip Torn chews the scenery, and Richard Crenna is riveting as the jackass One-Pecenter whose greed and venality might scuttle Air Traffic Controller Candy's family vacation.

The film was shot in the Tampa/St. Pete basin and needed local talent for extras, so my college buddy Scot Samis, then earning a law degree at Stetson, answered the call of duty.  He so impressed Reiner and crew that they gave him a name ("Russ" rather than Lifeguard #1, #2, ...), wrote him a few lines and bumped him to talking head of the otherwise interchangeable and mute tribe of spear-carrier lifeguards who inhabit the group house next to Candy ("Jack Chester")'s rental.
Mr. Mouth-to-Mouth, Scot Samis, Esq. as "Russ"

Scot's moment in the summer sun comes when he and the gang of roommates charge out of their rental, underneath a jockstrap-festooned clothesline, and he stays behind to meet underage neighbor daughter Jennifer Chester.  The exchange mesmerizes daughter (and provides bedevilment for old dad Jack) when - carrying an inflatable doll - Russ explains that the lifeguards refer to him as "Mr. Mouth to Mouth."

Scot is now a respected lawyer in St. Petersburg, FL.  Well, I still respect him; while presenting a paper recently on "preserving error in the trial court for review on appeal," his wag colleagues unspooled a few choice scenes from Summer Rental on the screen behind him, to prank our unwitting barrister.

His recollections today nearly as crisp as the events were during that "busy" time, Scot shared this with me:

As for an anecdote ... the one that sticks with me is when John Candy, knowing I was a local, told me that he was going on the Pritikin Diet and wanted to go out for one last night of indulgence.  I suggested "Watership Down," a local bar that had a popular reggae band.   He was a classic, big-man raver in the Steel (RIP) tradition - - bellowing at the top of his lungs, buying drinks and even getting up on stage and singing a tune with the band.  I know this is a pretty mundane story, but it was nice to see that he was a good guy.
A Stroll Up-Hill

I'd never refer to him this way today, but I'm proud to recall Scot as my "Little Brother," as he was during the pledging and initiation period of early 1978. Now that he's a big shot, we grateful, aging New Englanders occasionally get to head south for a weekend of nightspot-hopping, and a full battery of Red Sox/Rays games courtesy of the law firm's excellent box seats.

And if I ever find myself in the Pinellas County clink, I have a friend to call....

Goodtime Academic Community Nonsense!
In our little college town, the Candy-colored clowns at the local bakery/coffeshop put on a Candy Symposium during inter-semester break a year ago, and I urged them to include Summer Rental.  We argued over the counter about whether Uncle Buck really topped Summer Rental, and although I think I knew better, the baker held the programmer's lever and proceeded as he wished.

Maybe next semester!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

In Love? with Sharyl Attkisson

Sharyl Attkisson Kozaki
She came to visit us at Discovery Channel when we were nobodies, and she was in her first (CNN) correspondent job, before then making her way with the big networks.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Now, Sharyl Attkisson's longtime employer CBS News is "irked" by her aggressive coverage on Benghazi, of which the White House and the HRC 2016 Election Committee are understandably wary.

Although we did not undertake any journalistic projects with Sharyl at the time, nor later, then (1991), she certainly made an impression.  Friends Steve Cheskin, Danny Salerno and Mark Kozaki in particular behaved as though they were smitten with Sharyl, almost to point of incapacitation.  Intrepid Mark petitioned her later at her CNN offices for pictures, and we all received them by mail with gracious thank you notes.

For all I know....

Thursday, May 2, 2013

George Schultz: Marking History with the Secretary of State

In May, 1993 (Bush 41 administration) as my wife and I waited with hundreds of others in line to enter the brand-newly opened Holocaust Museum, we had our line cut by statesman and former Reagan-era Secretary of State George Schultz.  Schultz had done a solid job as Secretary of State, supporting a president with an ambitious agenda for world change, at an important time, and was now between assignments.

We'd arrived early to be admitted when the doors opened.  It was about 20 minutes to opening time when up to the curb pulled a big black town car.  Out popped a couple of muscle-men, one springing to the door handle to release Schultz who strode purposefully right past us and into the museum.  What I recall was the brilliant shine of his black power-shoes.  He stomped right by and into the museum, getting a twenty minute head start on We, The Rabble.

. . . ?
The museum was then - and is now - a breathtaking monument to human strength, faith, soul, and perseverance.  I recommend it to anyone unafraid to confront the worst, and eager to be uplifted by the best, in human nature.

One of the memorable exhibits is a railroad transport car, through which one passes to enter a huge space that is overfilled with the confiscated shoes salvaged by the Nazis from the victims they murdered.  The room in which this huge trove of shoes was piled smelled of leather and death; it was overpowering.  Never Again.

We have come a long way in this country and the world, with Holocaust scholarship.

I feel privileged to live now in a town with a university that supports the endeavor of Holocaust study with the resources and collection of the recently opened the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies.

I never got to speak with Mr. Secretary - he blew right by us.  But twenty years later, I still recall the impression that his shoes left.
George Schultz

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Swing Time in the NBC Commissary with Betty Furness

Dapper Fred, Glamorous Betty
She danced with Fred "Lucky Garnet" Astaire (Swing Time, 1936), and had a good run in the 30's as an RKO contract player. 

But by the time I came along, Betty Furness had served as a consumer protection advocate in the Johnson administration, and had become well-known for consumer affairs reporting on NBC, alongside of - and sometimes substituting for - Barbara Walters.

In the late 1970's, Betty's reporting for NBC was appearing regularly on both the nightly news and the Today Show.

Once at that time, during the college spring break holiday, with brothers and cousin I was visiting my uncle whose office at NBC sat high above the skating rink at Rockefeller Center.

NBC Reports: Furness on Chemicals in Food, Sept. 8, 1976
We marveled at Uncle Tony's executive suite complete with shower, snagged tickets to sit in the audience for Saturday Night Live (host: Christopher Lee, musical guest: Meatloaf), and then headed to the cafeteria for lunch.

Now, the NBC Commissary has been the setting, or itself the butt, of many, many jokes dating back to The Tonight Show and Laugh-In, and the tradition had been perpetuated on SNL.  So we felt excited just to be allowed in there!
A Thermometer for French Fries?
We had just settled in with our lunch-room trays, when Tony pointed out the elegant and proper looking woman at the next table as Betty Furness.  She was eating a healthy, responsible meal of cottage cheese and fruit and she eyed us and our plates of fries with a bit of disdain.

We didn't think much about it at the time, and she thought even less about us I suppose.  But how many women can say they've danced with Fred Astaire?  If I'd only known it at the time, I'd have shaken her hand....