no opium in the elevators

Wilson Mizner (1876-1933) was a well rounded scoundrel.

“In 1897, Wilson and his brothers Addison, William and Edgar, travelled north to the Klondike Gold Rush, where they bilked miners rather than looked for gold. Wilson operated badger games, managed fighters and robbed a restaurant to get chocolate for his girlfriend “Nellie the Pig” (saying “Your chocolates or your life!”)

NOT this Nellie the Pig

In 1905, Wilson showed up at a horse show where his brother 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. He spent the night with Mrs. Yerkes, reportedly borrowing $10,000 the next morning.

Mary’s first husband, Charles Yerkes would NOT have been happy

Within a short time the 29-year-old, penniless Wilson and the 47-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, one of the city’s most notorious canvasaries. “Guests must carry out their own dead” and “No opium smoking in the elevators” exhorted signs prominently posted by Wilson.

Japanese robot found here

After his career as a hotel manager ended, the snappily dressed, witty Runyonesque Wilson managed boxers, working in cahoots with New York underworld to fix the outcome of prize fights. He managed the 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.”

image of Ketchel found here

Perhaps Wilson’s greatest achievements in New York were the co-writing of his Broadway plays including The Deep Purple which opened in 1910 and was lauded by a Chicago critic as ‘the greatest melodrama since Sweeney Todd’. But his career as a playwright was doomed by laziness and an increasingly severe addiction to opium.

Backed by movie mogul Jack Warner and actress Gloria Swanson, Wilson opened the Brown Derby restaurant, a hangout for moviedom’s most glamorous names. Wilson regularly held court from one of the Brown Derby’s booths, where his coterie included writer Anita Loos, who described Wilson as “America’s most fascinating outlaw“.

image found here (Wilson second from right)

Whilst writing a screenplay in early 1933, Wilson learned that the destitute Addison was gravely ill. “STOP DYING,” Wilson cabled. “AM TRYING TO WRITE A COMEDY.” Shortly after Addison died, Wilson had a heart attack at the Warner studio. Asked if he wanted a priest, Wilson delivered another of his memorable lines. “I want a priest, a rabbi, and Protestant clergyman. I want to hedge my bets.” As an oxygen tent was placed over Wilson’s bed, he said “It looks like the main event.” A priest reminded Mizner that death could come at any moment. Wilson’s classic response: “What? No two weeks’ notice?

cartoon found here

Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 7:39 am  Comments (40)  
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40 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Somebody has to make a movie about this guy. Is there a book about his life? Enthralling stuff Nursemyra!

    • There’s a couple of books and a Sondheim musical too

  2. The Mizner Brothers, Wilson in partic, seem like the kind of characters who would turn up in the town of Deadwood. SO much inspiration in this one post, but I do feel oddly moved and intrigued by the Japanese robot.

    • The robot is like a big minty green Lego man isn’t he? I want to be carried around by one too

  3. Laziness and opium will get you every time.

    How do you start with your stories? Do you find someone who interests you and delve into them, or start with a play (like in this post) that you enjoy and get into the playwright? It’s always fascinating!

    • I get a lot of ideas from the books I read. Mostly I start with a person or an incident and go from there

      • Love it. I don’t know what I would do without books. I could spend my life in Barnes & Noble here. Such interesting characters introduced by real events, inspired by real events or by the workings of one’s unrealized desires. Much to learn about the human experience from them…

  4. “doomed by laziness” ……. oh dear, that sounds very familiar …… *tries to look busy*

  5. A priest, a rabbi and a HOOKER?? walk into a bar. I don’t know that one.

    • Do you like that cartoonist bearman?

  6. His career was doomed by laziness and opium smoking?
    What if he just quit the opium?

    • Oh, but he wouldn’t enjoy his laziness half so much then.

      • 🙂
        Too true.

  7. Wow even a decadence must have rules, even if means waiting for opium until after you get out of the lift.. Wonderful!

  8. I hope when my time comes, I manage to retain my sense of humour.
    Leave ‘em laughing!

  9. But what ever happened to Nellie? I love her chin.

  10. i do love a well rounded scoundrel.

  11. I think I quite like this guy. There’s something about the audacity of certain opportunists like this guy and the blinding stupidity of their marks that you can only admire their chutzpah.

    Sounds like he had a sense of humour as well.

    • I have a sneaking admiration for him too

  12. What a hilarious guy. Fascinating, Nursey.

    • oh kitty, I just read you are going to Japan. I have serious Japan envy!

  13. Yet another brilliant scoundrel to pattern my life after.

  14. Disappointment
    Is taking death seriously
    After all that I’ve said

    Gunther Taker

  15. this man was many things, but first and foremost? he was a good time… my kinda scoundrel!


    • Hey, Malach, I reckon that ‘Smoke on the Water’ has a ripped off riff from The Stooges’ ‘Loose’.

  17. What great one-liners! What a character. But I hope he wasn’t the one who gave his girlfriend her nom de plume.

    • Your majesty! You’re back!

      • Quick – do a curtsey

      • Hey, I’m prostrate in front of her waiting for permission to get up!

  18. “Guests must carry out their own dead”

    That definitely has to go on the castle dinner invitations.

  19. Carry-bot needs a different expression on his face. It looks like he doesn’t know what to do with the human he’s carrying. Put a smile on that robot. Let him show the world he’s happy to haul around the elderly. And then when the robots rise up against us, it will be funny when we have to shoot him in his smiling genocidal face.

  20. I agree with Scott – I’d see that movie.

  21. Witty till the end. I like…

  22. HA!!

    I agree with Scott, this guy needs a movie. But I think you should be the one producing and directing it, NM.

    Nobody puts together a life story quite like you do.

  23. I like this guys wit!! Must learn from the master!!!

  24. Mizner definitely deserves a movie but it’s difficult to see who’d play him (or most of his contemporaries) these days. Thanks for joining some of the dots for me: his is one of those names whose quotations float by every so often.

  25. Man, I hate it when I have to carry out my own dead. I’m all like, dude, just give me a luggage cart or something.

    • haha… rassles, you really crack me up

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