UNITED STATES—After Delaney’s second tenure, the company gradually but steadily slid in till the year Richard Nixon ran for president, the new Nixon (thank you Bernard Lukasey, the public relations wiz manipulator extraordinaire, who said there were indeed some people he would not work for, including Hitler, whose people had sought to contract him, but Nixon he didn’t turn away). Two words, the New Nixon, metamorphosized all the perceived ill of the man, neutralized it, and thanks to Nixon’s handlers, he used crest toothpaste and the whiter than white chipmunk smile to great advantage that turbulent political year of fear and hoping.
On September 1, 1973, Newsweek did a story on Allied Brands, it wasn’t the cover story, but it was in the business section. Dean Stafford, the new PR wiz for Allied Fruit who succeeded Bernard Lukasey, luckily met the reporter a few months before as luck would have it. The reporter became a friend.
The article about Allied fruit went through a number of Newsweek rewriters and editors and the result was very positive, but Dean had mixed feelings about the highly favorable article. Dean was proud of as a public relations coup, but he was dimly grasping that his sense of good PR was being slowly contaminated by Max White.
After the piece came out, Max phoned:
“Well, finally we have one that’s not so unfavorable.”
“What do you mean?” Dean Stafford asked, masking the anger that gushered up. Before Max could respond, Dean cited favorable stories that had appeared in Business Week, Forbes, the Times and Chicago Tribune.
“OK,” he said, “What I intended to say it was that it could have been worse.”
“Yeah, Max,” Dean replied. “It could’ve been much worse. Let’s give it a closer look.
Newsweek says you’re the man who transformed the company culture. It says you brought peace, harmony and profits.’ It hails you as an empire builder.”
Newsweek, Business Weak – all the same Time, Life, Fortune Fickle salad…
“Now, Elihu (that’s what I called Max sorta what the Ruskies would call diminutive). Let’s look at the article a tad closer. On the face of it, the things that leave this piece of journalism remarkable are the things it manages to leave out.”
Max said nada.
“Take for example, it leaves out any mention of profit levels prior to your takeover. It doesn’t state anywhere that Allied Fruit made beaucoup dinero before you showed up than they have since that time.”
More nada, more silence. His pale face reflected a slight congestion brewing.
“No reference whatsoever to the stock price which is now about 80 percent below what it was before your takeover. Nothing about AFCO dipping down to second banana (not a crack, not a fissure of a grin on the part of the former rabbi). If they were snide as they the people at Time, Life, Fortune muckamucks are prone, you might’ve gotten a headline like ‘Top Banana at Second Banana Capsizes Former Banana Trade Goliath,’ but no, they didn’t stoop to that.”
Not a whisper of the lettuce problem and César Chávez. Not a whisper of our little invasion of Guatemala. As a matter of fact, Elihu, this is the first G-ddamn national story about the Company in the past twenty years that doesn’t dredge up Guatemala.”
Max maintained silence, the nada he prolonged till he was sure I was finished. Dean Stafford expected to get canned at the end of all this.
“Dean, old boy, Dean,” he said. “We agree, you and I both agree. It could have been a whole heck of a lot worse.”
Well there broke Newsweek’s sterling reputation for thorough business reporting. Sam Delaney always said the beauty of business reporting was you didn’t really have to shellac it, you couldn’t take the numbers away without blurred the picture. Newsweek gave us a made-to-order blur which might even dupe a naïve investor. By gosh, Allied did have a flurry of stock activity the week that issue came out. It rose 30 percent on a day of high trading.
There is a kind of man who needs impossibly large heroes to pattern their lives after. It is not so outlandish a notion, for there are times, more than a few, where nature itself feeling a void in originality grant’s the protégé’s wish with uncanny fulness. For Max Elihu White, the hero for the avowed empire builder and king of vertical integration, the hero was Sam Delaney, the banana king. Early on with the banana label company acquired in Flatbush, the former rabbi had the dream of going all the way and one day owning Allied Fruit, he even knew that it would be christened Allied Brands.
All these things Max Elihu White knew.
The emulation of Sam Delaney, whom he never met but of whose legend he heard plenty in Boston and New Orleans, served to murder his own best instincts. For example, the reading of the Bhagavad Gita served as justification of dark forces in this orthodox man who, given his devout heritage, was naturally inclined to the supreme, aspired to embody.
On the other hand, reading the following could incite him to dangerous transgressions: Who is equipped in honor and dishonor, hot and cold, happiness and distress, fame and infamy, who is always free from contaminating association, always silent and satisfied with everything, who doesn’t care for any residence, who is fixed in knowledge and in devotional service—such a person is very dear to me. (Texts 18-19)
To be continued…
Grady is the Wizard of Fiction.