Showing posts with label gambling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gambling. Show all posts

Friday, July 26, 2013

Walt Windsor World

Hi Walter. I’ve read a good bit of your autobiography, and I agree with your assessment that you have lived a very unusual life. I thought we’d take a moment to explore your childhood in your own words. It seems to me that your son, William Windsor, is simply following in the footsteps of you and your father.

Let's get started -  Your father, he was actually the very first of the Windsor name. Since it wasn’t immaculate conception, can you please tell our readers how the Windsor name came to be.

My father was born Walter Winkopp. In his early days in vaudeville, his act was due to play a theatre in The Bronx, New York, and the fellow putting up the “billing” complained that Winkopp was not a suitable name and should be changed.  My father looked up at the marquee and saw the name of the emporium was Windsor Theatre.   Then and there he became Walter Windsor, and subsequently so did I.  I was named after a theatre!

Wow, too weird. I recently heard something on the news about a fellow who named himself “Clark Rockefeller.” It seems he's pretty famous now too! 

So, your mother died when you were quite small. That must have been hard.

At the age of one, I was placed in the care of my paternal grandmother, who, along with assorted aunts and uncles, harbored me for several years.

Harbored? Isn’t that what they do with crim . . .  Nevermind . . . uh. . . So, where was your father?

 All this while my father had mostly been “on the road” staging shows, occasionally popping in with a gift and a “hello, Pal!” One day he stuck his head in the door and said, “Guess what I brought you this time - a new mother!”

Well, that certainly was a lovely gift, wasn’t it?

He and his new wife, and a new baby half-brother named Howard, came to visit and ended up staying with us in what was already a crowded house.  Not long after that he announced that he had made a big deal and we would be moving as a family (pop, mom, two boys)  to California.

Oooh California.

We traveled by train to Youngstown, Ohio, where, nearly as I can tell, Dad was booked to put on a holiday show, then move on to Los Angeles.   We had Christmas and New Year’s in Youngstown.  The highlight of Christmas was my receiving a beautiful tenor saxophone.

A saxophone for Christmas? My, you were a lucky lad, weren’t you?

Soon after that, we were on another train, heading west, all except the saxophone, which I have since deduced was one of a number of items that ended up in a Youngstown pawn shop to raise the money for the trip.

Ummmmm. That’s just sad.

Moving on . . . . So, about this big deal in California, we’re all excited to hear about how Walter Sr hit it big.

The “big deal” that took us to California became tragically entangled in the maelstrom created when “talking pictures” took over from silent movies and sounded a death knell for most live entertainment of the day, particularly for vaudeville.

Oh, no, not the maelstrom? Golly Gee. Nobody could ever have foreseen that the "talkies” would stick around.  

My dad’s deal with the theater tycoon Alexander Pantages was to produce and stage live shows to accompany the showing of silent movies in his many theaters across the nation.  Just as the hopeful young Windsor family hit L.A., the stuff hit the fan.  Pantages backed out on the deal.

Well at least your father can say he nearly had a deal with Pantages, what a claim to fame! So, what exactly happened with the “stuff hit the fan?”

I have never been privy to the details, but I know he welshed on the contract. There were many long telegrams back and forth  (I think this was the only way that Mr. Pantages communicated), and litigation existed for some time, all to no avail.  At first, Dad passed up other work opportunities, feeling he would win out in his war with Pantages.  

Litigation ensued? The Windsor legacy is born!

Soon there were no offers for stage work, and he was forced to accept directing burlesque shows to keep bread on the table. 

So what did your father do once he burned all his, err, I mean, after the work dried up?

He opened a dancing school called Windsor Castle . . .

 He started a business and named it after himself?? How very Windsoresque!

 . . . but it failed, just after I started taking tap-dancing lessons. 

A Windsor business failed? Say it isn’t so!

That was the end of my dancing career!

Well, knowing the Windsor family, I’m sure it was onto something bigger and better.

There was a feeler from the Warner Bros., even then a big force in the film industry, suggesting that Dad might choreograph and/or direct musical movies. 

Warner Brothers! Musicals were HUGE! Wow, perhaps it was best that the previous partner welched on the deal. It put him precisely in the right place at the right time. Warner Brothers!

He was thoroughly convinced that sound movies would fade out as a brief fad, and vaudeville would revive, so he spurned the idea.  I think the fellow they eventually hired was named Busby Berkeley.

Oh, well.  . . uh. That’s alright. He’ll get the next one.

This “fork in the road” of Dad’s life was most costly.  He could not support his family.  He continued to dream of great productions and plan them on paper, but nothing ever came of them.  His wife went to work for a real estate company that was then developing a large parcel of land that today is West Los Angeles.  She would sit all day in empty new houses, to show them to prospective buyers.  He would sit at home, dreaming dreams of his comeback and the return of the two-a-day, sending me to wherever she was working to borrow a quarter for two packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes.   He was a chain-smoker, and had been so since the age of fourteen; there always had to be cigarettes, even when there was no food.

Hmm. Chain-smoker who forced his kid to go beg change from his mom while she was working and dad was home day dreaming. . . . umm. I’m not feeling too good about this guy.

I have to do my father justice on one point.  He always took temporary work during the Christmas season, usually in the toy department of a local department store.  He saw to it that there were gifts and toys, although most of them were defective or damaged items the customers had returned, which the employees could purchase at a great bargain.

Broken toys totally make up for no food and begging for him.

So . .California! Such a fun place for a young boy to grow up!

 It was there that I had my twelfth birthday.  My greatest wish for some time had been to own a bicycle.  Every other kid had a bike.  With a bike, you could become a newspaper carrier and make money.  Nothing was promised, but on the birthday I was instructed to come straight home from school and not leave the house.  I disobeyed and left for a short time.  I was properly punished, but was also led to believe that the bicycle was to have been delivered and I wouldn’t get it because I wasn’t there.  I soon realized that, if not a terribly cruel punishment,  this was a cover-up for not being able to provide a bike.

The Windsors have great parenting instincts. Nobody wants to disappoint a little boy by telling him he can’t have a bike. Instead, just make it “his fault” he didn’t get it. That is brilliant!

Well, maybe you didn’t have wealth, but at least you all had each other!

The unfortunate domestic situation brewed conflict between husband and wife, which was complicated when some of her relatives from Nebraska moved into the house.  After numerous battles, Virginia took Howard and left some time in 1930.  I was then in the sixth grade.

Oh well, they had a good run - second grade to sixth.  . . . I bet you sure were sad without your brother though?

One day my father used me as a tool in an attempted abduction of Howard, but the law soon prevailed.  I never could figure out how he proposed to support three when he had no income with which to support two.  Virginia sued for divorce and charged him with a crime called, in California, “non-support.”  He was found guilty and sentenced to six months in the Los Angeles County Jail.

Umm. Well I’m positive Walter Sr was justified in trying to abduct his son. Food and shelter are overrated. I can’t believe Walter was jailed for this! I am shocked that corruption runs this far back!

So what happened to you then?

During much of this time, I had been living at 1936 Greenfield Avenue, in the house we had formerly rented, as the “guest” of an elderly woman who had been our landlady.  She loved to play the card game Casino, and I more or less earned my room and board playing this game with her.  Not gambling; she just wanted someone to play with. 

Not gambling. Right. Just like how we read that Bill doesn’t gamble. He just bets on green every time he passes a casino. . . .

One day my father, released from his incarceration during which he had worked as librarian,  came walking up the driveway.  He obtained a small apartment in downtown  L.A., and was involved in some proposed business transactions with two lawyers whose acquaintance he had made during the earlier legal proceedings. 

Earlier legal proceedings, I understand. But, friends? With lawyers?? A Windsor???

One of these ventures was the operation of a souvenir stand at the 1932 Olympic Games.  I helped out in selling items at the stand, and was rewarded with a ticket to attend the track and field events for one day.  Dad had also developed a board game, called OLYMP-O, which we tried vainly to sell at the Olympics.

I find it hard to believe that something developed by a Windsor would not become and an immediate success.

About this time, Dad opened, with the backing of his attorney friends, a little sporting goods shop in Westwood Village, about half a block from the entrance to the UCLA campus, called the Diversion Shop. 

Such a small world. Bill opened a similar shop right next to the Texas Tech University Campus!

I never knew what happened to this short-term venture, except that it ended quite abruptly.

UCLA and TTU must have a poor sports programs – only explanation.

Then the attorneys got the idea they wanted to own and operate a game attraction on The Pike in nearly Long Beach, to be managed by my father.   This was a great amusement park in its day, rivaling Atlantic City in its variety of rides, shows, games, dance palaces, and other diversions.  The game chosen was basically what we know as Bingo, except it was called OLYMP-O, and was based on the flags of the various nations on cards, with marbles shot to determine on which countries  you would place your markers..  I think we used dried beans. 

So, your dad invented Bingo? Or he just made it “better?” You must have been raking in the dough!!

Of course, we were broke, except for whatever compensation Dad received for managing OLYMP-O. 

Oh. Hey well, still, it must have been pretty fun to be a kid surrounded by games and prizes?

It was really a  gambling operation by this time, the prizes being cartons of cigarettes, which the winners could redeem across the street for cash.

I’m sure it wasn’t soo bad to be raised around gambling so long as it brought in the money and taught you the value of hard work, right?

The bingo game was closed down when the City of Long Beach decided to clean up The Pike.  Again my dad had no means of support.  We were “on relief,” which principally meant we could go stand in line for free food, usually potatoes and beans.  Dad was too proud to stand in the line, so I was elected to this honor.  It certainly did nothing to improve my self-esteem. 

Well, the Windsors are nothing if they aren’t proud.  It’s very important to stick to your core values.

My father was again dreaming of the big show he was going to produce. 

Well, there you go. The seeds of the Sundance Film Festival were sown.

He was always able to “con” people into believing in these projects and advancing cash for their preparation. 

Con is such a harsh word to use about your own father; it’s very important to have “investors.”

The Clarkes, owners of the apartment house, the Natalie, were also the parents of  Caryl, my best friend through most of the scout years.   I think we escaped rent-free for some time while these folks were involved in backing Dad’s latest fantasy.  There was an old piano in the lobby, and I nearly drove the residents crazy teaching myself to play by ear in the key of C.  Even today this is the only key in which I can play.

I’m with you. Who needs black notes?

One day there was a huge celebration at the Natalie.   Dad had spun his tales of his high times in vaudeville to one and all.  Mrs. Clarke was listening to the radio, and they introduced a song as being from, as she heard it, “a Walter Windsor Production.”  This seemed the first real proof of Dad’s high-flying past, and everyone in the apartment house knew about it and celebrated the occasion with a party at which Dad was the guest of honor.   It was years later that I realized it was a “Walter Wanger” (rhymes with “danger”) production.  But it was a great day at the Natalie, and my father took the accolades with modest grace.

Bravo for him! 

Well Walter, we have waaaay exceeded the time alloted for our interview. We'll just wrap it up on this high note in Bill's grandfather's career. In our next interview we'll delve into your adulthood and see exactly what you did to pass the Windsor ways on to Bill. I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Gambling Round America

Bill told this story on day 12 of his "I love Pie" tour in 2003.  We all wonder how this mindless monster we now see before us ever got this way.  Was it sudden?  Was there some kind of incident that triggered it?  Or was this something he has been building up to his entire life?

Now for a little history. In 1977, Boz and I took a six-week driving trip around Europe. We had big plans to finance part of our trip costs with gambling success in Monaco. We set aside a little money, and walked into the very snooty casino there, and we went to a roulette table and put all of our money (probably just $250 or so) on red. It came up black, and they took our money. We went back to our little green Ford Fiesta and felt devastated. We planned to win and then let it ride and win again and live happily ever after. The truth is that we had spent a lot more than we had planned, and we could have really used some cash. We didn't have much money, and thinking back, we have no idea how we could afford the time or the money for the trip. Back to the Ford Fiesta...we sat there and discussed whether we should take our last $250 and go back in and put it on red. We finally decided that Bozzie would go back in and do just that. She returned in a few seconds. It came up GREEN! Losing was bad enough, but there's only one GREEN spot and tons of red and black spots on a roulette wheel, and we hit GREEN. The next day, we learned how you can get a cash advance on a MasterCard. We swore off gambling, though every time we hit an area with a casino, we bet on red, and we almost always lose.

Now, this takes us back 36 years ago.  This isn't about gambling or any of that, this is about the mindset of both Bill and Barbara.  First, he admits that they had planned on their gambling winnings to pay for the trip.  Where have we heard a version of that (I just need a rich person to donate the finances for this trip).  So they decided to put i all on red and notice he says they planned to "let it ride" even if they had won.  They lose and then go to the car and have a discussion about whether they should blow their remaining money on the exact same thing that just took their money.  Barb goes and blows it and Bill complains that it hit green.  He then says it was at this time that he learned about cash advances on MasterCard, this from a guy who ran a credit card business in college.  He then says that they swore off gambling, but directly contradicts himself in the same exact sentence as he goes on to say that they bet red at every casino they crossed paths with.

Bill is a gambler, and a very poor one at that.  He has gambled his life away, his inheritance, his legal battles, his business adventures and now even his own family.  The guilt lies directly with Bill, but he spends his every waking moment of the final few hours he has left on his earth, blaming his failures on everyone BUT himself.