Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
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Son's Not Quite Like Dad, but He's a Todd
Hollywood, U.S.A. -- The shadow of a showman slipped into town this week.
His name was Mike Todd, with a Jr. tacked on the end, and he came in on tiptoes like he was afraid everybody was asleep and shouldn't be disturbed.
He had the trademark cigar. He studied it and fingered it and inhaled it with taught dexterity. With it, he was a mimic unaware.
His suit -- navy blue -- was once his father's, too.
But behind the cigar and under the suit there was no more showman Mike Todd to be found.
If there had been -- you can be sure -- his arrival would have been heralded. It would have been recorded on Page 1. With a picture.
But Mike Todd Jr. has neither the drive nor the desire to be news. And you get the feeling that he's annoyed by any attempts to draw a comparison.
We talked across a desk.
"The cigars," he said, "are as close as our personalities coincide. When I was a kid, Dad used to tell me that smoking cigarettes looked silly. I never smoked cigarettes. I've been smoking cigars since I was 21."
Mike Todd Jr. is 30 years old. Six years ago, he married, literally, the girl next door -- the daughter of a successful building contractor. The Todd Jrs. have three children.
"We lead a completely asocial life," he said. "We never go out at all. Maybe, four or five times a year. That's it."
That wasn't the way it was with his father.
"No," Mike agreed, "he liked being with people. I'm just not so crazy about it. I get nervous."
But the son of Mike Todd made it clear that personality differences weren't synonymous with personality clashes.
"I hope that I can be half the father to my kids that he was to me," he continued. "He never preached to me. There was nothing heavy-handed. Getting guidance from him was fun.
"He never tried to cut out any career for me. He let me decide."
Mike Jr.'s choice was to follow his father. He worked with him until the plane crash in March of 1958 took Todd's life. The he continued on alone. His first production, "Scent of Mystery," premieres here next Monday.
"With my father, his work was his life. Everything he did was centered around his work. He was in love with it.
"It's not that way with me. It's not my life. I do as little work as possible. At home, in New York, I get to my office at 10:30 and usually I'm through by six.
"We've got five fireplaces in our house and I like to sit in front of them. We burn two cords of wood a year."
"My father and I," he continued, "were more like brothers. I was the conservative one. In that respect, sometimes he was almost the youngster brother."
He remembered his father -- a man with a reputation for his ups and downs -- as a man without a problem in the world. "I never went wanting," he said. "I guess that he made and lost a million more than once, but I never knew if he had $2,000,000 in the bank or if he owed $2,000,000.
He recalled that his father was president of a bricklayers college at the age of 16. "He used to tell me about that," Mike said, "and about how the college folded after one semester after none of his students could get jobs as bricklayers."
Tales of a Gamboleer
Eventually, Mike Todd told his son about all the wild gambles he took in business.
"Money," he said, "was no objective in Dad's life. He had a fantastic imagination. When he got an idea that he liked, he'd sink everything into it."
"But you?" I asked. "You don't operate that way.
The son of Mike Todd shrugged. "Everything I've got is tied up in 'Scent of Mystery.' It's a fun picture. The people will love it. Smell-O-Vision, Smells piped right into their seats. Thirty-three of them."
His smile was one I'd seen before.
"Thirty-three," he repeated. "Count 'em."
There might be a sequel to the Mike Todd story, after all.
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