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Les Miz Brothers
by Jerry Floyd

  Palm Beach Historical Society
Wilson and Addison Mizner


Brothers Addison and Wilson Mizner were born in Benecia (northwest of San Francisco), Addison in 1872, and Wilson in 1876. The Mizners were the black sheep in an otherwise respectable family, whose forebears included the English landscape painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds.

The Mizner brothers were a picaresque pair. Wilson's remark, "You sparkle with larceny," catalogued in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, is an apt way of describing the two sometimes famous - and almost always notorious - brothers.

The two were still in their teens when their father was named to an ambassadorial post in Guatemala. Addison bragged that he and Wilson robbed Guatemalan churches. In 1897, the brothers were lured northward by news of the Alaska Gold Rush where the youths spent most of their time bilking unwary miners. When the Alaskan venture ended, Addison returned to Guatemala, buying relics and colonial-era furnishings at a pittance. Addison shipped the merchandise to New York where he resold the loot at fantastic markups, from a 5th Avenue shop.

Though Addison lacked formal training in architecture, he is still remembered for his architecture, most notably for his pseudo-Spanish colonial designs for structures built during the 1920s Florida land boom. Working in cahoots with Wilson, Addison swindled some of America's wealthiest until the brothers were exposed in 1926 by the angry General T. Coleman DuPont. A few months later the boom collapsed.

Earlier, during the first two decades of this century, Wilson gained fame as a New York dilettante, quipster and Broadway playwright. Wilson also managed several boxers, rigging their fights so that Wilson and his cronies cleaned up on bets. Following his 1919 arrest for running a gambling joint on Long Island, Wilson joined Addison in Palm Beach just before the 1920s land boom got underway. After the land boom burst, Wilson left Mizner in Florida and went back to California. Settling in Hollywood, Wilson managed and co-owned the Brown Derby Restaurant. He also wrote screenplays for several early talkies.

Curtain down for both brothers came in 1933. The 62-year-old Addison died in February. Three months later Wilson - only 57 and unrepentant - also died, a quipster even at the very end.

North to Alaska

In 1897, Addison and Wilson Mizner hied northward to Alaska gold fields. Two other non-larcenous Mizner brothers, William and Edgar, also went to Alaska in 1897 while, Lansing, the fifth brother, remained behind.

Wilson Mizner's scams included working as a gold weigher in a dance hall. While balancing the scales, Wilson would spill gold dust onto a carpet. At the end of the week Wilson burned the carpet then extracted the gold from the ashes. In a 1905 interview, Wilson claimed that this trick resulted in a weekly yield of a couple of thousand dollars.

In Dreamers, Schemers and Scalawags, author Stuart B. McIver relates one quasi-comic episode in the Yukon: "In the gold rush days in Nome, Alaska, [Wilson Mizner] put on a black mask, armed himself with a revolver and entered a candy store, shouting, 'Your chocolates or your life!' Though the local sheriff knew Wilson was the culprit, there was no arrest. Later he was named as a deputy sheriff! Such episodes undoubtedly contributed to the Mizner brothers' irresponsibility."

Addison spent much of his time working for his other brothers in the gold fields. Actually, Addison's larcenous instincts flowered in tropical climates. During his 1904 journey to Guatemala, Addison bilked valuable antiques and furnishings from the country's churches. Still later, during the Florida land boom, Addison practiced his schemes on a much grander scale. Wilson's duplicitous doings in Alaska more made up for Addison's comparative good behavior and by the start of the 20th century, both brothers bailed out of Alaska.

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