The Legendary Mizners
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Alva Johnston's joint biography of Addison and Wilson Mizner is a delightful portrait of two of the early twentieth century's most clever and infamous rascals. Born in the 1870s in California, the brothers quickly rose to prominence during the various booms of the 1920s.
Addison, the elder, was a self-made architect and real-estate dealer who designed many of the fantastic homes of the fantastically rich in Palm Beach. He could "age" a house and its furnishings to any period his client desired--and would pay for. Wilson's adventures were even more daring and varied, and his quick wit was legendary. In addition to getting rich on the Alaskan gold rush, he had careers as a singer, playwright, prizefight promoter, con man, real-estate salesman, and shady hotel owner. Perhaps his most famous quip was one he delivered on being told that President Coolidge had died: "How do they know?"
Fort Lauderdale. Florida had violently broken out of its old April-to-November lethargy. A glance at any street corner proved that. The evidence that it had suddenly become an inferno of industry was less convincing, but it was good enough, and the miracle of industrialization was not much harder to swallow than other Florida miracles. Skeptics were discredited. Childlike faith paid off. Millions rolled into the pockets of those who couldn’t grasp the distinction between big talk and big
over one another to get to Palm Beach when they learned they could pay as much as a hundred dollars a day for a double room at the Royal Poinciana. He opened still another immense wooden hotel for the aristocracy—the Palm Beach Inn, later the Breakers—in 1895. Some solid justification was built into the phrase “the American Riviera” when Colonel E. R. Bradley started the Beach Club, the most celebrated gambling hell in the New World, near the Royal Poinciana. Flagler, a typical Standard Oil
shows were sprouting everywhere in town. Wilson became a faro dealer, and a professional singer again, and for a while was a cashier, or “weigher.” A weigher was a rather distinguished creature who presided over large, shining brass scales into which gold dust was poured to pay for drinks, dance-hall tickets, poker chips, and other items. Mizner weighed at the famous Monte Carlo, which was operated by Swiftwater Bill Gates and Jack Smith. “I weighed a million and a half dollars’ worth of gold
lacked science, but he was game and a slugger. Later in his career, he fought a twenty-round draw with Jeffries and knocked out Jack Johnson. The Choynski faction rained insults on the Professor. Corbett’s father had forbidden his son to turn professional, but he eventually became incensed and ordered him to beat Choynski for the honor of the family. Nat Fleischer, biographer of Corbett, states that a purse of twenty thousand dollars was raised by the sports of San Francisco, gate receipts being
the subdivisions, Boca Raton—Beaucoup Rotten, as rival real-estate men called it. Boca Raton was the Bride of the Gulf Stream, the Anteroom of Heaven, the Miznerized Venice. It had a built-in ocean to carry electrically driven gondolas, steam yachts, and Cleopatra’s barges to your doorstep. It had Palm Beach, a few miles north, for servants’ quarters. Boca Raton became a blaze of tropical splendor as Addison dipped his maps and sketches in the colors of paradise. The parks and gardens of the