Help Support
« Back

Les Miz Brothers
by Jerry Floyd

  Palm Beach Historical Society
Wilson and Addison Mizner


New York was the world's vaudeville capital. Both Sondheim and Wise Guys librettist John Weidman say (in various interviews published in "The Sondheim Review") that they plan to use elements of vaudeville to convey the terseness, speed, and recklessness of the Mizner brothers' lives. And for most of the 20th century's first two decades, the Mizners lived in hectic, rambuctious New York, whose social-climbing denizens were flush with money and sometimes were suckers for clever con artists.

Addison got to New York first, selling swag from his Guatemala trip from a shop on Fifth Avenue. In 1905, Wilson showed up at a horse show where the gay Addison was ensconced in a pricey box with wealthy widow Mary Adelaide Yerkes. Addison pretended not to see Wilson, but the younger brother charmed his way into the box. Thereafter, Wilson worked speedily. He spent the night with Mrs. Yerkes, reportedly borrowing $10,000 the next morning.

Within a short time the 29-year-old, penniless Wilson and the 80-year-old Mrs. Yerkes were fodder for New York's tabloids, the two having quickly married and just as hastily divorced. Wilson's rakish lifestyle, however, soon made him a New York celebrity. He managed the Rand Hotel. "Guests must carry out their own dead" exhorted a sign prominently posted by Wilson. After designing the Rand's elaborate bar, Addison receded into the background, his lack of a formal education in architecture hindering his aspirations to design buildings for New York's wealthy.

Wilson's career as a hotel manager soon ended and the snappily dressed, witty Runyonesque Wilson managed boxers, working in cahoots with New York underworld's to fix the outcome of prize fights. (Wilson's love of boxing stemmed from his youthful days in Benicia, California, where the Mizner family home was a hangout for San Francisco sportsmen. Before arriving in New York, Wilson managed fighters in Nome and Dawson and on tours of Western towns.) In New York Wilson managed, then famous, Stanley Ketchel, whose violent death occasioned one of Wilson's more memorable quips: "Tell 'em to start counting ten over him, and he'll get up."

Wilson's chums in New York included actress Marie Dressler (who later helped the Mizners sell real estate in Florida and who won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1931). Another of Wilson's New York contemporaries: Ben Hecht, who also helped the Mizners promote Florida real estate and who became a famous Hollywood screenplay writer.

Irving Berlin was an even better-known New York pal. At various times in his long career Berlin tried to write a musical based on Wilson's life. "Unsung Irving Berlin", a recently released CD, includes several songs composed by Berlin for his musical, known at various times as "Wise Guy", "Sentimental Guy", and "The Mizner Story".

One of these songs, "You're a Sucker For a Dame", takes dead aim at Wilson's con artistry which such lyrics as:

"You know the percentage on roulette"
"I've seen you playing poker with three aces, a hand of which you're very fond" and
"You're selling real-estate that's underwater".

But as the song constantly reminds us, when a gorgeous woman was involved, the sucker was usually the macho Wilson.

Perhaps Wilson's greatest achievement in New York was... ››



Recently Overheard...
Assassins is about how society interprets the American Dream, marginalizes outsiders and rewrites and sanitizes its collective history. "Something Just Broke" is a major distraction and plays like an afterthought, shoe horned simply to appease. The song breaks the dramatic fluidity and obstructs the overall pacing and climactic arc which derails the very intent and momentum that makes this work so compelling...”
- Mark Bakalor

Follow the thread...

“I found [the Sondheim Celebration's Company] to be completely delightful. Almost all of the numbers excited and energized me, and most of the scenes were about as pitch-perfect as you can get. I just sat there with a big smile on my face the whole show.

Which is not to say that it is perfect...”
- popcornonmyknees

Follow the thread...

Explore the rest of the Finishing the Chat Community Forum

Music, Books & More
Elaine Stritch
With three hand-held cameras, one major theatrical milestone and nearly nineteen hours of footage, this rare and intimate look with Original Cast Album - Company is a must for any Sondheim fan.

DVD: $26.96
VHS: $24.95

One of Sondheim's most beloved works is sure to be Sunday in the Park with George, available on DVD, video tape, and CD.

CD: $13.99
DVD: $25.49
VHS: $19.98

Nathan Lane
All Sondheim completists are sure to now own the first complete recording of The Frogs coupled with Evening Primrose. Do you?

CD: $18.97

Browse additional merchandise...


© 1994-2004 hijinks design. All Rights Reserved. | Site design and hosting by hijinks design.