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Les Miz Brothers
by Jerry Floyd

  Palm Beach Historical Society
Wilson and Addison Mizner


Perhaps Wilson's greatest achievement in New York was the co-writing of his Broadway plays including The Deep Purple which opened in 1910 and which was lauded by a Chicago critic as "the greatest melodrama since Sweeney Todd' (much later of course, Sondheim adapted the Sweeney story for the musical stage.) The New York critics weren't nearly as enthusiastic as their Chicago counterpart about Wilson's depiction of the seamier aspects of life, as depicted in The Deep Purple, The Greyhound and other plays.

Withal, Wilson's career as a playwright was doomed by his laziness and by an increasingly severe addiction to opium. After being beaten up and left for dead in a New York alley, Wilson was given morphine to ease the pain in his broken jaw. Wilson soon became addicted to this strong drug.

Meantime, depressed by his lack of success in New York and by health problems, Addison fled to Palm Beach, where the Florida land boom was about to erupt. Alarmed by news of Wilson's addiction to morphine, Addison brought Wilson to Palm Beach where Wilson managed to kick his habit. Wilson became Addison's partner, raking in millions during the Florida land boom. When the boom crashed, however, Wilson abandoned Addison. The callous Wilson sped away to Hollywood, leaving behind the ailing, impoverished Addison. The most cynical con job perpetrated by Wilson was to be on his helpful brother.

Florida Land Boom (1920s)

Notoriety far outlived Addison Mizner in Florida. A house Addison designed for the Wanamakers (owners of a famed Philadelphia department store) was later acquired by the Kennedys and used as the Palm Beach White House during the John Kennedy's presidency. Thirty years after JFK's assassination (and 60 years after Addison's death), the house again became nationally known, this time for William Kennedy Smith's alleged after-hours rendezvous.

During the Florida land boom, Addison hobnobbed with, and often designed houses for the rich and famous, including sewing machine heir Paris Singer, who bought Joe's Alligator Farm in Palm Beach and arranged for Addison to start turning the site into tony Worth Avenue. Addison's kitschy Spanish colonial type designs soon became known as the "Palm Beach Style". El Solano, a house that Addison designed and built for himself, was instead sold to a Vanderbilt. More recently, Yoko Ono bought and restored the house.

Addison's preference for Spanish architecture was influenced by his youthful trips to Guatemala, by his brief stay as a student at the University of Salamanca, and by repeated trips to Spain as an adult. Time, hurricanes, and razing caused the destruction of some of Addison's structures. Numerous structures still stand, including 29 houses in Boca Raton's Old Floresta section. Though some of bungalows have been modified, the Spanish colonial style is easily recognizable.

The Mizner circle in southeast Florida included chums from their New York sojourn. Composer Irving Berlin (who at various times attempted to write a musical about Wilson Mizner) sometimes hung out with the brothers, as did actress Marie Dressler, Dubbed "duchess of Palm Beach", Ms Dressler also helped the brothers sell real estate. The brothers established the Mizner Development Corporation, flagrantly using the names of their wealthy clients to sell property, to win commissions for Mizner's ornate designs, and to publicize their latest ventures.

As the land boom spiraled upward... ››



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