This column is an ode to summer reading season, though I acknowledge in this day and age there may no longer be a summer reading season because no one seems to have any time.
The memoir I just finished reading, entitled “Being Dead is Bad For Business,” was written by a man I’d never heard of previously: Stanley A. Weiss.
Turns out Weiss is one hell of an inventive, ballsy, self-effacing character.
Born in 1927, Weiss grew up in Philadelphia during the Depression, joined the military, but never served in WWII thanks to Truman ending the war abruptly by dropping the two atomic bombs on Japan.
Inspired by John Huston’s film classic “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” Weiss literally decides to try to strike it rich as a gold miner and moves down to Mexico.
And despite many a close scrape, including talking a group of banditos out of murdering he and a partner when their car gets stuck in a river crossing in the middle of nowhere (being dead indeed is bad for business), Weiss builds a mining empire—not in mining gold, but in mining manganese.
In his fifties, he founded a political party (The Citizens Party) that ran a candidate in the 1980 presidential election. He also founded BENS (Business Executives for National Security), which still exists today. It is a non-partisan organization, tapping the talents of business executives to tackle national security challenges.
What really stood out about the memoir, to me, was just how small the circles ran in the post-WWII world.
His story about spending a night drinking with the actor Richard Burton is indicative.
“I thought it would be fun to meet Richard Burton. I had never met him, but I found him in Puerto Vallarta without much trouble in December, 1963. Everyone who could read a newspaper knew he was shooting “The Night of the Iguana” with John Huston on the west coast of Mexico … I flew to Puerto Vallarta and found Burton in a small bar one night. He was cooling off from one of his legendary brawls with his lover [Elizabeth Taylor]. Burton and I spent a great evening there, just the two of us, matching one another drink for drink.”
Doesn’t seem like that would happen today—not only tracking down some person of public renown you wanted to meet, but then actually meeting that person in a meaningful way without being surrounded by handlers and paparazzi.
Weiss also had enduring friendships with San Francisco newspaper columnist Herb Caen, renowned diplomat John Kenneth Galbraith, actor Roger Moore (who starred in seven Bond films) and countless others.
He notes that Moore, despite the epic ski scene in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” couldn’t ski worth a damn.
What I loved about the book most of all: Nothing seems impossible. Weiss has real knack for manifesting opportunities. For a young person setting out in the world, I think this book would be particularly inspiring.