Wednesday, May 21, 2008

retirement fund

The A&P was synonymous for "grocery store" when I was growing up even though my mother also shopped at Finast, Waldbaum's and Grand Union. In fact, she would usually compare the sales flyers in advance and then go to two or three supermarkets in one trip to get the best deals from each.

The heir to the A&P fortune didn't care too much about getting the best deals. Huntington Hartford's obituaries are the most interesting things I've read all day. According to the reports, he squandered $80 million of his $90 million inheritance. I don't know about you, but I could certainly get by on the leftover $10 million.

Let me share some of the best parts with you. From The New York Times:
Huntington went to Harvard, studying English literature and graduating in 1934. He went to work for his uncles at the company’s headquarters, then housed in the Graybar Building next to Grand Central Terminal, where his job was to keep track of sales of bread and pound cake. But he was often absent. In 1934 he defiantly took a day off to attend the Harvard-Yale football game. That ended his career in the family business. Yale won, 14-0.

In 1940, Mr. Hartford tried being a reporter for the New York newspaper PM, after putting up $100,000 to help get the paper started. If nothing else, the experience produced one of the all-time great excuses for missing deadline: he once sailed his yacht to cover an assignment on Long Island, and upon returning to the city could find no place to tie up and come ashore with the story.

With the start of World War II, he donated the yacht to the Coast Guard. In return he was given the command of a modest supply ship in the Pacific. He ran it aground twice — once, he said later, because his navigational charts were out of date, the other time because "I mistook feet for fathoms."
From The Washington Post:
His excesses cost him financially and personally. He had unexpectedly ascetic habits in some pockets of his life, such as a disinclination to drink alcohol. But his fourth marriage, in the 1970s, marked a turning point. According to a 2004 Vanity Fair magazine report, that last wife, a Fort Lauderdale hairdresser a decade his junior, introduced Mr. Hartford to cocaine, amphetamines and quaaludes.

He was hospitalized at least once for an overdose, and his fourth wife remained a destructive presence in his life for years. His apartment at One Beekman Place in New York became the site of violent encounters involving transient visitors. He was once left for hours writhing in pain after falling and breaking a hip.

When he made the news, it was usually for something unsavory, such as the fourth wife's assault on his secretary.
It looks like Hartford had one good idea that could have increased his wealth if he had been able to get a gambling license for Paradise Island. From the Times again:
Costlier still was Mr. Hartford’s makeover of Hog Island, in the Bahamas. After buying four-fifths of the place in 1959 and having it renamed Paradise Island, he set about developing a resort with the construction of the Ocean Club and other amenities. Advisers persuaded him to stop short of exotic attractions like chariot races, but, overextended and unable to get a gambling license, he wound up losing an estimated $25 million to $30 million.
Missed it by that much.

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