It was early spring of 1941, toward the end of my senior year at
Rhodes. Dad asked me what college Id thought of going to. I had my heart set on the
University of North Carolina; they had what Id heard was a fantastic drama
department and did semi-professional productions under its auspices called, "The
Carolina Playmakers." Since Id never discussed my desire to go into the
theater, this was the first hed heard of it.
He had other ideas.
"First of all," he said, "do you realize that if
youre an actor and you get sick, youre out of business? The store closes.
Its the toughest selection you could pick to make a living. And another thing, they
have to have a home for old actors, what does that tell you? I dont want you to have
to go through what I went through to get where I am. With hard work, youll be far
more successful than I could ever be."
George Burns said, shortly before he died at one hundred, that
hed rather have been a failure doing something he loved than become a big success at
something he hated. Unfortunately, it wasnt the kind of answer I had at my
fingertips at the time. "Your mother and I would like you to go to NYU and major in
Banking and Finance. For your birthday and graduation present, Im going to give you
something that I think will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life. Ive
been in touch with my old Wall Street partner, Mr. Gilligan."
"But I dont want to go into Wall Street," I said.
"Believe me," my father insisted, "you wont be
sorry. Ive made arrangements to buy you a seat on the Curb Exchange. The market is
still very much depressed and Ive been able to pick it up for a thousand
dollars." Even that was a lot of money for 1941. "However," he said,
"you wont be able to trade with it until you can qualify. Meanwhile, Gilligan
will take you into his office when you graduate, and if you feel like it, you can work
part of your summers and get a feel of the Street."
I had no answers to his argument, but it didnt mean Id
changed my mind. He had my whole life planned out for me. Somehow, I knew it just
wasnt going to happen that way, but I didnt know how. Id been a rebel
all my life, put my parents through the usual hell and then some. Id led a sheltered
existence, always had more money in my pocket than I needed; my father wanted to make sure
I never went without. As a result, Id never learned how hard it can be to make a
living. I never had to work for anything.
Well, one thing ...