Grand Delusions – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Grand Delusions, The Cosmic Career of John DeLorean” by Hillel Levin, published in 1983. This volume described the adventures of a car company engineer and entrepreneur, not to mention swindler.

The book’s first chapter was a summary of his entire career, suspense be damned. The section on his makeover and marriages was disorganized and redundant. One more criticism– the author interviewed only the book’s subject twice, and listed no notes, references or bibliography.

Anyhow, born in January 1925 in Detroit, DeLorean was the oldest of five sons. His father was an alcoholic Romanian; his mother, an Austrian. He kept busy while attending Lawrence Tech in Michigan. He wrote for the school newspaper and was on the student council. He joined a fraternity, danced in night clubs and drove a fast car.

DeLorean held a series of jobs including salesman, trainee in a special program at Chrysler, engineer at Packard, head engineer and then general manager of General Motors’ Pontiac division, and by the late 1960’s, general manager of its Chevrolet division.

After departing from his full-time job under murky circumstances, DeLorean and his sidekick Roy Nesseth posed as entrepreneurs who executed crooked business deals. Victims included an auto-parts patent holder, a farmer/rancher, and a financially struggling Cadillac dealership, among others. By the mid-1970’s, the pair had a bunch of business failures and lawsuits against them.

Journalists were suckered into writing about DeLorean’s past glory as a brilliant engineer. He “… must have learned that if he didn’t say too much, the reporter wouldn’t bother to check any further… They were still looking for dirt on General Motors, and the ex-executive was more than willing to give it to them… The maverick auto engineer was too compelling a character to be deflated with investigative journalism.” DeLorean fooled people just like Bernie Madoff did, although not on as grand a scale.

When he started his own car company, DeLorean let his attorney create a complicated network of sister companies to deliberately obfuscate financial and legal matters. It took the entire second half of the Seventies.

A boatload of fundraising was required to pay lavish executives’ salaries, design their offices, choose a manufacturing site, build the factory, sign up the car dealers, etc. The author erroneously used the term “comptroller” instead of “controller” when discussing the pesky bean-counter who complained about the arrogant, greedy DeLorean’s huge monetary outlays on all things for himself. “As Dewey [DeLorean’s first controller] predicted, the improprieties grew exponentially with the influx of money from the British government.”

DeLorean was the type of man who fancied himself as having some of the traits of James Bond. A man such as this, with a big ego, marries a model or actress at least a decade younger than himself. Like DeLorean, other James-Bond wannabes have assumed prominent leadership roles, and become international celebrities. The list includes but is far from limited to: Charlie Chaplin, Cornelius Vanderbilt IV, John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Elon Musk and of course, Ian Fleming.

Read the book to learn the details of the combination of honest ineptitude and premeditated, nervy criminality in which DeLorean and his accomplices engaged in the context of how not to become an automaker.

RFK

The Book of the Week is “RFK, A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy” by C. David Heymann, published in 1998. The author threw in as well, plenty of the Kennedy family’s history  (some might say tabloid gossip) only indirectly related to Robert.

Born in 1925, Robert F. Kennedy (Bobby) was one of nine children of the wealthy and powerful Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy. Taken as a whole, his life was a study in contradictions. Regardless, he exhibited the stereotyped Kennedy family traits, such as the arrogance of a spoiled rich kid, recklessness and idealism.

He spent his childhood in the Boston area, New York City, London and other places, frequently switching schools. Nonetheless, he alternately attended Harvard and underwent training in the Navy beginning in the mid-1940’s. But the war ended, so he moved to Boston to help his older brother John run for Congress.

Sadly, Bobby’s poor academic performance got him rejected from Harvard Law school, his hegemonic daddy’s appeal to do the Kennedy family’s will notwithstanding. He ended up graduating from the law school of the University of Virginia.

Bobby wed Ethel in 1950. Two years later, he began to develop his “joined at the hip” relationship with John when John ran for the U.S. Senate and they lived in Massachusetts. Female campaign workers distributed 900,000 leaflets in buses, taxicabs, mailboxes and door-to-door, in that race. They also called all voters twice. Later that same year, Bobby hired on with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s committee that practiced Communist witch-hunts, even though he hated Roy Cohn. The summer of 1953 saw him resign, but a couple of years later, return to investigate unethical behavior committed by business and government officials borne of conflicts  of interest.

Ironically, Bobby tagged along with narcotics cops on the beat in New York City when they engaged in numerous, brutal, illegal search-and-seizure raids on African Americans and people of Spanish-speaking origin, and allegedly participated in a few raids himself. He furthered his political education with his presence on presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson’s whistle-stop rail tour in 1956. But he soon became disgusted with the candidate’s vacillating and poor skills set. Bobby worked long hours; he spent the little leisure time he had with his children and their pets-a veritable zoo– at their chaotic mansion in McLean, VA.

The author described in detail, John’s run for president and Bobby’s actions as John’s attorney general. J. Edgar Hoover, FBI chief, led his own little fiefdom that had been zealously chasing after Communists (tracked via spying and dossiers galore). Hoover and Bobby (the new sheriff in town), disliked each other.

Unlike Hoover, Bobby fostered unusual collective effort among the FBI, IRS and the narcotics bureau to catch offenders in the Mob. Unsurprisingly, the Kennedys’ connections with the Mob and their rampant philandering with female celebrities and prostitutes (wherever they traveled in the world –– a well-kept secret by the Secret Service) invited extortion of John and Bobby by Hoover. Another thorny issue Bobby had to deal with was civil rights. He dealt with it hypocritically.

Bobby investigated corruption in the Teamsters for years, putting the screws on the union’s leader, Jimmy Hoffa. He told his underlings to use illegal surveillance techniques– conduct that was unbecoming of an attorney general:  tapping of Hoffa’s rotary-dial phones, chamfering of Hoffa’s mail, ransacking Hoffa’s home and office without a warrant, and ordering the IRS to audit Hoffa’s tax returns.

Unfortunately, Bobby couldn’t do the same against another enemy– Fidel Castro. “The Kennedy administration’s campaign to overthrow the premier of Cuba– a policy founded on grandiose delusions and foolish rage– was an abject failure.”

In 1964, Bobby was elected a U.S. Senator from New York State via carpetbagging. Since he had his eye on the presidency, he examined global issues. He visited many poor areas in various nations to study their governments’ policies on poverty.

In June 1968, as is well known, while running for president, Bobby was shot. Strangely, no details were provided as to how Bobby’s assassin knew that Bobby was pro-Israel. The reader is left wondering what Bobby’s views were on Middle Eastern policy. There were, however, numerous details on Bobby’s competitors’ activities, primary results of various states, and several of his countless sexual dalliances (of which his wife was painfully aware).

Read the book to learn much more about Bobby’s life, times, and large family– especially the salacious details.

Endnote: Incidentally (and sadly), the culture of both major political parties in America has changed little in terms of surveillance and adolescent-boy spy games since the McCarthy era and RFK’s  “Spy Vs. Spy” Mad Magazine-type (but in real life!) vengeful political nonsense. Not to mention the fact that the Democrats have yet to catch up to the Republicans in witch-hunt expertise.

Not Pretty Enough

The Book of the Week is “Not Pretty Enough, The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown” by Gerri Hirshey, published in 2016.

Born in Arkansas in February 1922, Helen Gurley was ten years old when her father, a government worker and lawyer, passed away unexpectedly in a bizarre elevator accident. Perhaps as a result, she became quite close with her mother and sister throughout their lives, communicating via letters and phone calls when she was no longer living with them.

As was typical for women of her generation, Gurley was conditioned to become a secretary. However, she was sexually sophisticated. The  1960’s office culture could be described thusly: Married male executives exuded sociopathic tendencies and arrogance (not unlike those of today), and harbored the belief that it is morally wrong to allow suckers to keep their money. In that era, engaging in sexual conquests with female subordinates was a way for males to prove their manhood. It is still is, but times are a-changin’. Gurley encouraged her female contemporaries to enjoy themselves.

Gurley played the game with the men to the hilt. She claimed she enjoyed sex and wrote about it extensively in articles and books. In 1959, she married David Brown, a high-level writer and editor.

Thereafter, like the men, she had affairs. She saw nothing wrong with marital infidelity. Besides, she claimed she had a great marriage. The problem is, infidelity smacks of dissatisfaction with marital sex– a spouse is dishonestly seeking satisfaction elsewhere; moreover, it is unclear if the wayward spouse is untrustworthy in other matters. Unless both spouses consent to an “open” marriage– either side can have other sexual partners– marriage is supposed to represent total lifelong commitment.

Anyway, Gurley’s passion and work ethic led her to achieve the positions of advertising copywriter in the 1950’s, and editor in chief of the then-financially struggling Cosmopolitan magazine in the 1960’s. At that time, the Hearst publication’s target readers were single women, between twenty and thirty-four years old.

Notwithstanding the kind of fabulous career that few women achieved in those days, two points must be made: 1) Gurley advanced her career through illicit sex and marrying a powerful man in her field of work; and 2) she was still a slave to the societal pressures of her generation– she had excessive cosmetic surgery and an eating disorder in order to satisfy public expectations of female beauty.

Read the book to learn of the additional factors affecting Gurley’s successes, and of how she influenced a whole generation of women.

The Undiscovered Paul Robeson

The Book of the Week is “The Undiscovered Paul Robeson”  by Paul Robeson, Jr., published in 2001.

This is a biographical account of Paul Robeson from his birth until the start of WWII, written by his son. At times, it is like a soap opera. This ebook is mostly commentary on the diary entries, letters and notes of Robeson and his wife, Essie, and covers the following topics:

  • Robeson’s runaway success as a scholar and athlete in the nineteen-teens in the United States
  • how Robeson came to choose his ultimate career of professional actor and singer, starting in the mid-1920’s
  • how Essie’s identity was dependent on Robeson’s because she gave up her own career to manage his career
  • anti-black discrimination the couple encountered
  • his extramarital affairs
  • the intimate details of their relationship
  • Essie’s health problems
  • Robeson’s on-and-off presence during his son’s early childhood years
  • Robeson’s philosophy on life and international political activities

Robeson took up the cause of fighting for civil rights for African Americans, but his son writes, “He lived a pampered, aristocratic life, far from the radical humiliations endured daily by even the highest-ranking blacks in the United States.” In the 1930’s, the Robeson family was living in the Soviet Union because the country showed no racism, colonialism or fascism; thus, Robeson was able to overlook the atrocities committed by Stalin at a time when the behavior displayed by other nations was ugly.

Also in the 1930’s, Robeson decided he did not want to act in theatrical or movie roles that portrayed negative black stereotypes. His mythic status, which eventually brought him great wealth, afforded him flexibility in deciding the course of his career.

Read the book to learn all you ever wanted to know about Paul Robeson up until WWII.