Mack Cottler. Interviewed March 1998. Courtesy of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). Transcription by Speechpad.
Mack: So in 1925 I tried the amateur circuit and then, of course, I wanted to be an attorney…
Interviewer: Did you [inaudible 00:00:17]?
Mack: A little and it started as a farmhouse but after I got to it, it was more than a farmhouse because people would come up just to…
Interviewer: Where was it, [inaudible 00:00:29]?
Mack: No, it’s not far from Monticello that’s…it was Goat Smith’s Farm, that’s what it was called. And it was, oh, about four miles in after Monticello. Monticello was the brink.
Interviewer: [inaudible 00:00:42]
Mack: No, Lake [inaudible 00:00:46], yes. But I know people are gonna laugh but I can’t help that, you see, that’s my nature.
Interviewer: We’ve got the film rolling, we’ll get back to that. So let’s get some of the basics that we need to do.
Mack: Well, here’s what I did.
Interviewer: You’re gonna look at the…
Man: What I want you to do is…he’s a good boy, but you gotta ignore him a little bit. What I want you to do when you talk, don’t talk to him, talk to here.
Mack: You got it.
Man; Pretend he’s here.
Mack: That’s right.
Man: We do that when he’s in the office, we don’t pretend he’s not there.
Mack: Who signs the checks?
Interviewer: That doesn’t matter.
Mack: All right.
Interviewer: Too small anyway.
Mack: To put it succinctly, Danny K, his name was Danny Kaminski, we went to school together only we were a year apart. And he was a funny man and I remember when he finally made it. I used to play the amateur circuit. The reason we did that, in those days, $2 was a lot of money. So I worked in my uncle’s luggage factory for about six months. But I worked about four nights a week on the amateur circuit, I would dance, mostly I would dance. I also used to try some comic work, but I wasn’t with it completely at that particular time.
In any event, I decided that New York was no place to be successful with all the…shall we say well, everyone was hungry. So I decided to hitchhike to Florida in 1925, during the boom, before the bust. And I bought a ticket on the Pennsylvania Railroad. They used to run a round trip from New York to Washington D.C. to see the capital for $5. So I saved my money, I took the train. And when I got to Washington, I saw people waiting in line, I sold them the return ticket for $2 so it only cost me $3 to get to Washington. Then I hiked across the Potomac and started to get into Virginia.
And by the way, I didn’t mention one thing, a cousin of mine was with me. He lived on the East Side and he was big and husky I was just a 92-pounder. In any event, we started to walk across…and it was late in January, and it was cold. So we had one little bag with us. We started hiking, hiking, and nobody picked us up, it was getting back. So at that particular time, when you’re walking in mountains, and you’re making turns, the light that you see in the distance is not close, it’s far away because you keep circling or semi-circling. In any event, we finally got to a low, flat piece and we saw some lights in the window in a farmhouse.
So we knocked on the gate and out comes a dark black man with his gun and two of his children with guns. I says, “Just a minute, please, we’d just like to know where we can sleep tonight. We’re willing to stay here and we’ll pay you for it.” He said, “Well, the white people don’t take us in so we’re not gonna take you in even though you sound like a nice young man.” And he says, “You see that light in the distance? You keep walking, you’ll get there.” So we did, we walked and we walked and we finally got there.
And sure enough, this time we knocked on the gate, a white man with two kids with rifles come out. I know it sounds strange but we were from the city and we didn’t know about this stuff. So he says, “What you all want?” I says, “Nothing, sir, we got lost and we’ll pay for our keep.” So he said, “How much money have you got?” I said, “Well, we can give you $3 for the two of us.” He said, “All right. Tomorrow morning you’ll have harmony grits.” That’s exactly what he said to us. So they gave us a bed upstairs, it was very warm, very nice. In the morning, they took us to the well to get washed, it was ice cold. Anyway, she made breakfast, there was some harmony grits or something, we ate it. And I gave him the money and he wished as well and we took our [inaudible 00:04:59].
All of a sudden, a car was coming along, and those days they picked people up, especially if they weren’t tramps. The result was this man was a drug [inaudible 00:05:08]. I remember his name, Dr. Cornell, he was a druggist. And the reason he was going on the road was because he heard about the boom there and he was loaded with some money and he decided to buy real estate. So he stopped us and asked us where are we going. I said, “Anywhere you’ll take us.” So he laughed and he says, “Hop in.” He drove us all way to Miami. And when we stopped off at a hotel at night, he asked us if we have any money and we said yes. He said, “Well I’m gonna bring a cot in here, two cots for you people to sleep in the same room.
Now, this is hard to imagine but he had…remember the bathing suits they had? They had a top and a bottom in those days, people forgot about that. And he had a money belt around him. And he undressed in the same room that we were in, and he had thousands and thousands of dollars there. So I looked at him, “Aren’t you a bit concerned?” He said, “No, you kids are all right, I’m not worried about you.” And he drove us all the way to Miami. In Miami, he says he may only stay there about a week. He says, “Can I reach you anywhere?” I said, “The best thing to do, we’ll drop you a line care of general delivery,” and he gave us the name Dr. Cornell.
And as we’re walking in the street, my cousin and I, I know it’s a strange story, all of a sudden he said, “Leo.” Who’s walking toward us? Leo, my aunt. That is my cousin’s mother used to shop at the grocery store on Rivington Street right off Clinton. The result was they had a place for us to stay. Now, my cousin was not, I would say…he’s a nice young man but he was a little more [inaudible 00:07:05], he was bashful. He was taller than I. So he got a job in a restaurant as cleaning up the dishes and all. And I went into the department store, and I told them that I’d like to see the luggage department.
I spoke to the head of the luggage department and he said to me, “What is it I can do for you?” I said, “Well, I’m in the leather goods business and I just got down here and I have to eat so I could repair luggage that’s been torn up.” In those days in the trains, they used to always throw it around, you know, your luggage got beat up. So he said, “How old are you?” I said, “17.” He said, “What do you know about it?” “Well, what have you got to repair?” So he gives me a mahogany leather bag and it’s a little ripped. I said, “Get me some mahogany shoe polish.” He gets me the shoe polish. I take some of it up, I fit it in, I smooth it out, I made the grain just the way it should be. He said, “You got a job.”
So every day, I would do that. Then I went over to the Postal Telegraph, which is not in existence today. And I asked him if he’s got a job for a young man to deliver telegrams. And he says, “Do you know the city?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well, how do you expect to deliver the telegrams?” I said, “Well, you’re getting telegrams all day to office buildings, I can always find the building.” You know what he said to me? “You got a job, but here’s a quarter, go get yourself some soup.” So I don’t know whether this is what you want me to come up…
Man: Let me stop you for one second.
Interviewer: Mack, this is all happening in 1925?
Mack: Right. Yes…
Interviewer: It’s happening…
Mack: …in 1925.
Interviewer: And we’re now in Miami.
Mack: It was the second week of January of 1925.
Man: Answer him here.
Mack: Oh, yes.
Interviewer: Let me go back for a second. Mack, where and when were you born?
Mack: I was born in Harlem, 8385 East 111th Street on the 4th floor, in 1908, March the 21st, the first day of spring.
Interviewer: And did you live until you left Manhattan?
Mack: When we left Manhattan, we moved to Brooklyn because we were then already three children. And they felt that…they used to say that “a tree grows in Brooklyn,” but it was true. It was, it was like a country.
Man: Let me stop you just for a little bit.
Mack: You go ahead, I’m patient, I’ll do whatever you want.
Man: Is there any possibility that I could have you come up but you lean backward. If I have you…
Mack: How’s that?
Man: Let me take a look.
Interviewer: [inaudible 00:09:52]
Mack: That’s okay, whatever.
Man: That’s better.
Man: All right, hold on.
Interviewer: Mack, when were you born and where?
Mack: March the 21st, 1908. I was born on the fourth floor…I said the address before, now I don’t know. On the fourth floor in…at that time, that was East Harlem, that’s what it was.
Interviewer: In East Harlem? And when did you leave Manhattan?
Mack: When we left Manhattan? Well, as I said before, they said that “the tree grows in Brooklyn” and my mother had more of an education than my dad who was in the garment business. And she told me that we’re gonna move. I was more or less the favorite son because we were only…when we moved here I was exactly eight years old when we moved to Brooklyn, and that was in 1929. And of course, I had to transfer schools and so forth but we managed okay, there was no problem.
Interviewer: Did you stay in Brooklyn until you left New York?
Mack: No, I didn’t stay in Brooklyn until we left New York. If we have to backtrack, we’re back to going to Florida again.
Interviewer: We’ll get there.
Mack: All right.
Interviewer: But from Brooklyn, you went to Florida.
Mack: From Brooklyn, yes, we went to Florida.
Interviewer: How many were in your family?
Mack: Well, it was my sister, Betty, there’s three years difference besides me. And my sister, Edna, is six years difference from me. And then my kid brother, he was born when I was 10. And he was born at 284 Snedeker Avenue in the back of a butcher shop, believe it or not.
Interviewer: In Brooklyn?
Mack: In Brooklyn. And I was the one that was supposed to go running to all the relatives to tell them there was gonna be a bris within the following few days. So I did my chores. My father had to go to work. My mother was still in bed a while and I went around to tell all the families who were our families, and then they headed in the house about five days later.
Interviewer: You speak both English and Yiddish?
Mack: I also spoke a bit of Hebrew but I spoke Yiddish fluently. [foreign language 00:12:39] You can interpret it from English to Jewish and from Jewish into English, I have no problem.
Interviewer: And where did you go to school?
Mack: Well, of course, I went to school in Brooklyn first. I think that was PS 150. It so happens that that particular question about where did I go to school, her name…I was in the fourth grade. I said when we moved there, I was about eight. And then I said I was in the 4th grade, so now I’m about 12. Her name was Mrs. Greenberg and she took a shine to me, she figured I was a bright kid because she taught me how to multiply at 11, I’ve used it all my life. It’s a short algebra, to be effective. She used to teach me multiply six times three, six and three is not…no, add not multiply, add. Six and 3 is 693 because you add the 6 and 3 and you wind up with 693. And I used to use it a good part of my life. Somebody would say to me 6, well, 2 times 4, the 6 in the middle is 264, that’s how I’d get it. So I used it for quite a while but then they got a little tough when you go into the site [SP] figure I didn’t take algebra so I had no way of knowing. Now, what else?
Interviewer: Where did your family originate?
Mack: My mother came from Palestine in 1892. And that in itself is a story. But before I tell you that story, I father was born in Kiev, Russia to this country. My father’s sister married one of my mother’s brothers, and that’s how they met. So it was a family get up together. And the odd part of this is all the relatives in those days used to live within one, two, or three blocks from each other. And I was constantly hungry. I was always hungry. I never got enough to eat because I was the oldest so the younger ones got more. So I’d get finished. My mother would say, “You go over to Tante Sarah,” that means, “Go over to your Aunt Sarah,” and she’d make a meal for me. I was always hungry. But that’s okay because there are people starving all over the world, I managed as well, it’s no big deal.
Interviewer: Bar mitzvah was in Brooklyn?
Mack: The bar mitzvah was in Brooklyn, on Sheffield Avenue, Brooklyn. It was a little frame building. We moved from 2484 Snedeker Avenue in 1912 and we moved to 329 Sheffield Avenue. The synagogue was two doors away. And now when you mentioned Sheffield avenue to me, I have to tell you a story, which is basically true but it worked out. When we had a convention at the Waldorf Astoria some years ago…we used to play punchball on the streets of Brooklyn. You had a softball, no bat, you hit it with your fist or with your palm. And the bases were a tree, a sewer, a marking with a crayon for third, and then home plate.
Now what I did…and I know this sounds a little out of the way but it’s true. I’ve got the proof to back it up. I think I have it in my briefcase. We were six fellows that used to play ball on that street. Fifty years later, I rounded them all up and I arranged the punchball game on Sheffield Avenue with the help of the police department. They blocked the streets with patrol cars. When we pulled up with two Cadillac limousines, the neighbors where I lived came out and said. “We don’t like those strangers around here.” And I says, “Honey, I’m not a stranger here, my heart is here, I was raised here.” She threw her arms around me, kissed me. She says, “You go right to it.”
The police had arranged for six black young men, I outfitted them with shoes, uniforms, and we taught them how to play punchball. Then I told the police to do me a favor. They blocked the streets back and forth, I says, “Here’s 30 bucks, do me a favor, go out, I want you to buy Danish pastry, milk, coffee, and hotdogs, spend it all.” And I went over to Mrs. Matthews and I says, “You’ve been very nice, will you loan us your kitchen so I can bring all these people up?” She says, “Be my guest.”
They brought the stuff in. And when the cop walked in there one at a time…it was cold, so they came in to warm up and have a cup of coffee. One of the black kids says, “Man, look at that fuzz, look at that fuzz, man.” The mother said to him, “They are not fuzz, they are policemen, they are nice people.” So I think we did a pretty good job. And I’ve been in touch with them and they’ve been in touch with the L.A. Police Department, but L.A. or South L.A. is a little on the rough side. Only recently, I tried again to work something out, but frankly speaking, I don’t wanna get shot because they don’t want that kind of help. So that’s that chapter. And believe me, every word of that is true and I can just picture the street right now.
Interviewer: Mack, let’s go back to Miami.
Mack: Yes, sir.
Interviewer: You said that you had seen somebody named Leo on the street?
Mack: Leo was my cousin’s…his mother owned a grocery store on Rivington Street and Clinton Street…
Interviewer: On the Lower East Side.
Mack: …on the Lower East Side. And my aunt, who’s my cousin’s mother, used to shop in his mother’s grocery store. So we had a place to stay for a couple of days to get adjusted. That’s how that happened. He went into a restaurant, I told him, “Go in and be a busboy and pick up the stuff.” That’s no problem, it’s honest work. I said, “I’ll go into the leather goods department,” and I was getting paid too, but we didn’t know what to do yet.
So in any event, I figured the real estate was going so fast that telegrams were a tremendous thing. So I went up to, as I said, the Postal Telegraph, I asked them if I can have a job delivery. I still have the cap, Postal Telegraph, I’ve got it somewhere at home. And he said, “You look a little hungry,” he threw a quarter down on the counter, said, “Go have yourself a plate of soup.” So I had a plate of soup and I came back. He said, “How are you gonna know where to go?” I said, “You don’t have to send me out on the town, just give me where the office buildings are and I go in, I can deliver all the telegrams.” “Well, you’re a pretty smart kid, okay, here.” Gave me a bunch of telegrams, told me to go. I found the places and I delivered. I was getting tips, didn’t sounds so bad. Well, at least we ate. He was taking home food from the restaurant that looked good and I was making a little money.
Now, one day, I delivered a telegram…and this is the starting of a career. I delivered a telegram to Dave Rubin. Who was Dave Rubin? The stores on Flagler Street were all real estate offices, one after another, real estate offices, that’s what they were doing. People were coming in from the Midwest, the farmers with overalls buying real estate, the boom was on. So I get a telegram to deliver to this particular store to Dave Rubin and I walk in and I hear music. See, they played music so when the farmers go by, the rest of them will go in, then they pin flowers on them. A pink flower means maybe he’s easy to get at, the white flower means leave him alone. They had their own way of doing things and I got wise to it right away.
But I was wondering what they’re doing with the dancing there. The result was, he said, “We provide entertainment so they come in.” I said, “I can dance better than that.” He said, “Why are you delivering telegrams?” I says, “I have to eat.” He says, “I’ll you what, we give a prize, anyone who can beat him gets $5 and he gets a job for $15 for every night.” Well, I had just got finished with the Charleston contest in the polo grounds and danced in front of 60,000 people. I’m not boasting about it. I didn’t win, but I was a good dancer. So he says, “You come here tomorrow night and you’re gonna dance.” I didn’t have my proper clothes so I borrowed pants from Leo who was taller than I so my pants were falling and I was dancing. But I did my number then I found out how they worked the racket, it is was very simple. If the one who was the native who was doing the dancing for the house, that’s fine. If you got somebody to go a little faster than he did, they fluffed up the music and threw you offbeat. Well, they threw me offbeat but I was able to carry it, so when I got through, he says to me, “You take that damn cap off tomorrow, from now on you’re getting $25 a night.”
Well, naturally, it started something. So I was dancing. And then New Year’s of 1926, he booked me into the Fairmont Hotel in Miami Beach. I remember like it was yesterday. And I really was a good dancer, I was on a dance team with my sister when we were in Brooklyn. In any event, he booked me in the Fairmont Hotel. And this was a hotel where, shall we say, our people could go there but they couldn’t go to some of the other hotels in those days. And they had Frank Novak and his orchestra. He is a gentleman from Chicago of Polish descent. And the reason I say Polish descent, something happened after that which is very interesting. What happened was I remember as I finished my first number, a gentleman came over to me said, “Boy, come over here, I wanna ask you a question. You’re a Jewish boy?” I said yes. He takes $100 bill out he says, “Can you the dance Kazatsky?” I said I sure can. He tears it in half. He says, $50 is for you and $50 for the orchestral leader. Now, you have to talk to the orchestral leader.”
Now he was of Polish descent but he knew music as music, so he played it. You know, in those days, they didn’t do the Horah, they did other stuff. But I did a hell of a number and this man, whose name was Mr. Rubin, was the Rubel Ice and Coal Company in Brooklyn, New York, which I didn’t know he was a multimillionaire. I did the dance and I told the Polish gentleman what to play, he did. He came over, he took it back, he gave us a $100 bill. He said, “You don’t have to tear it up, just divide it.” So I said okay. Now, Dave Rubin hears about it, he says to me, “From now on, I’m gonna advertise you to give lessons to society women Miami Beach. I was every bit of just not quite 18 years of age and it was a good business. I walk around with a portable Victrola and call on them. The husbands were in New York working the Wall Street, you couldn’t come down in a hurry, there were no planes. The ship took three or four days, the train took two-and-a-half days. They were all lonely and I was 18. Anyway, I gave the lessons.
So I started to make some more money. But then I started to get appealing letters, my mother was missing me. My father was teed off because he thought I should be working with them. The result was that after getting some pleading letters…Oh, by the way, my five other friends when I said about punchball, I gotta revert to that for the moment because what they did…people were different then, people were kind to each other, people shared with each other. It doesn’t happen today. What they did every Sunday, they went to visit my mother and father. Stopped off at the grocery store, bought a lot of food, brought it into the house and sat down and had breakfast with my immediate family because I was missed by everyone there.
And I don’t say that boastfully, they just missed me, and I missed them too. They sent so many letters that finally I decided…I went down to the shipping area, I found out which is the next boat that’s going to New York, I gave them my credentials and I says, “I’ll be a dance instructor on the ship, just give me my passage.” So I landed back again in New York. And my father couldn’t wait for me to come off, he jumped over the fence, he almost fell into the water. And my friends were all there. Well, again, it sounds boastfully, but not. The party lasted for eight days, the relatives, the friends, everyone came, the prodigal son had returned. Well, those things happen in life.
Now back to the luggage factory again, working, working, working but I played amateur night theaters and I’d get $3 a night. If you won first prize, you got $5 more. If you won second prize, you got $3 more, you got third prize, you got $2 more. So you were practically guaranteed $3 a night for 5 nights is $15, that was more than I was making working the luggage factory. Then I started to be on the funny side a bit, so some farmhouses in the Catskills.
I never went big time because I never had the opportunity. I had too many in the family I had to take care of. I don’t know whether I would have made it. I could, I’ve been funny at times, the only difference is a person has to eat and a person has to have regards for his family. And that’s the way I felt. And to this day, I still tell stories, I still tell jokes. And I’d like to tell one now, which I told at the table the other day. It’s a little risqué, but not that bad but it’s truly funny. Even though Henny [SP] Youngman whom I knew was a nice man and says, “Take my wife, please,” this is entirely different. In the first place, jokes are made to be told and not to offend anybody. Some people are offensive, but not to put it…here’s the way some of our people who made it big.
Take Danny Thomas, for instance, Danny Thomas was not Jewish but he could pray in Jewish and Hebrew, he was well versed. He was playing the Paramount Theater in New York one day, it was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish holiday, and Jewish holidays, the theaters are full because you can still go to a theater after synagogue. So he’s on stage and he’s telling a story, he says, “Two Jews got off a streetcar in New York City,” so the audience kind of moves. He says, “Pardon me,” he said, “when I said two Jews, I didn’t mean that. The first streetcar in New York was in New York City, the first streetcar in the world. And as it happened, two Jews were on that. But to make you all happy, here’s what it is, two Chinese got off a streetcar in New York City. One says to the other, “[foreign language 00:28:35].” Well, everyone laughs because it is funny.
And you can tell these stories, there are plenty of clean stories. At the moment, I can’t think of any, all of a sudden, it’ll come to my head. But that’s different, I still do stories. Now, one of the things we do now…there were 14 of us at one time in Beverly Hills that helped the Jewish Family Service food for the elderly citizens who go to the Levine Center once a month on Sundays for their lunch and we provide entertainment. I MC the shows, I danced with them sometimes. One day, I was dancing with a little old lady there, and she says, “Maybe you’d like to come up to my apartment and have a cup of tea.” I said, “I’m sorry, my wife is sitting there.” She said, “So what?” That’s the women. Now, the reason we say that, the proportion of women to men, we take a headcount every time, every last Sunday of the month. If there’s 127 people there, there will be 8 or 9 men, the rest are all women.
So I get on the microphone, and I told them, “You’re worrying them to death and that’s why they die earlier.” So I make a joke out of it but it’s true. There used to be 15 of us doing it, we’re down to 4, that’s because of our age factor, they passed away. Of course, I’m gonna be 90 in a day. One man is one year ahead of me, he’s 91, the other one is 86, and the other one is 89. Now, we four meet every Tuesday at the Friars Club and that’s where we have our lunch and figure out what we’re gonna do that particular Sunday of the month, and what we’ll do for them with entertainment and so forth. And we do that. I also have given my services to the Cedars Sinai Hospital for elderly Jewish patients who cannot talk English. And believe me, there’s a lot of them there today. So I spend my time on some of that also.
But I find plenty of time to do things. Of course, I’m not so active in business now, not that I can’t but enough is enough. I think that if you can do some good for people, fine, if you can’t, don’t go around rousing anyone around. As far as I’m concerned, we’re on this world to do some good. If you can’t do any good, don’t do any harm. You know, in life, funny things happen, I gotta go back to leather goods again. In 1930, there were two companies in the United States that produced the frames of a Gladstone bag, the frame, the handle, the lock in the middle, and the two catches at the end. That’s what you had but people could steal from you, even from your locker. They’d lift up that [inaudible 00:31:29], spread it apart, and steal your clothes. So I kept working on and working on and I developed something which I had patented. Now what I did was this, I arranged for two slides of little pieces of steel underneath the frame and when you turn the key, it sends it over into the [inaudible 00:31:51] so you couldn’t lift it up. And we called it some kind of a proof name, I forgot the…oh yeah, Burglar Proof.
And I remember the name, the Samuel Brier a company in Philadelphia, he told me he’d gave me a big order if I give it to him exclusive. So I told him I’d give it to him exclusive for the State of Pennsylvania, but I’ve got a lot of manufacturers in New York, I can’t do that alone. He says, “Well, that’s being fair.” And he went to the new process company that was like a Sears Roebuck, you know. And he came back with an order for plenty of luggage and I had orders for plenty of frames, and I got a patent on it. And the man that was backing me was an elderly gentleman by the name of Mr. Goldie [SP], I remember him now, he used to import Spanish tile and we got together once and he arranged this to come in from Germany.
Everything was going fine. And as God is my witness. in 1932, my income was over $15,000 a year and that was a lot of money. Mack Cottler had arrived. Helped his parents, got them automobiles, did what you had to do, what a son has to do. Younger people…so happens my brother was a talented young man. I came home one day from work I heard somebody tapping on a tin can. And Vincent Lopez and his orchestra was playing on the radio and my brother was keeping perfect time. The next day, I went to Philadelphia, I had a cousin that had a set of drums, I saved money for a suit, I bought the drums, forget the suit. I brought it home and my brother finally made the Juilliard School of Music. And for your edification, he was Frank Sinatra’s drummer for 30 years and he was being paid $100,000 a year, and Sinatra loved him. Unfortunately, my brother at the age of 70 went to sleep and never woke up. So I remember when he was born at 284 Snedeker Avenue when I got to tell every relative, “I have a brother.” You know, some stories are good to tell, some stories are not easy to tell.
Mack: Yes, sir?
Interviewer: How did you get involved in the scrap business?
Mack: I’m leading to that when I said something to you that…the frames, that’s it. Now comes the story of how I get into the scrap business.
Man: Hang on one second. Okay.
Mack: How did I get into the scrap business? Oh god.
Man: Say that one more time, start again.
Mack: How did I get into the scrap business? I said, oh, God, he blessed me. How did I get in? Very simple. I was selling frames to the luggage manufacturers, all of a sudden there’s a Hitler. And sure enough, the two companies that supplied the industry prior to my entering in with frames. and I won’t mention the name because it wouldn’t be fair, they were not actually in love with our people. But if you had to buy frames, you had to buy it either one or the other. They had the same price, antitrust, but in those days, people didn’t have antitrust like they’re educated today.
So I came along with a frame, a better one, with a patent, with a lower price. My earnings the first year was about $18,000, that was a fortune. But I really earned it and I was really going to town. So Hitler came along. Who do we have luggage manufacturers, especially suitcase company? My uncle Samuel Berkman, Everlast Suitcase Company, my uncle Harry Bernstein. No use mentioning war, they knew and I knew. So we had a problem but problems can always be solved, but it hurts.
One thing they told me, the luggage manufacturer said, “Mack, you a nice young man, but we’re not gonna buy German merchandise.” I says, “I came here for another reason. I want to tell you that all I’m gonna ask you people to do is please buy what we already have in the warehouses in the United States. And please buy what’s already en route from Germany to the United States. So at least we can get out of the mess without getting hurt and if things work out, we’ll thank you now but we’ll take care of you later too.
Well, things were really rotten because one day you’re sitting on top of the throne and the next day back again you are off. Of course, I had some money though that was the difference. I can manipulate a bit. Well, it so happens we had a discussion one day, some Jewish people, and I was at that meeting because I had been importing from Germany. And I told them what I did. They thanked me. They said, “What are you gonna do now?” I said, “I don’t know. I gotta do something. I’m not poor but I gotta do something.”
Somebody said to me, “You know, Mack, you’re a good salesman, we want you to go up with us to the ‘American Hebrew.'” That was an Anglo-Jewish publication published in New York, a fine, well-written magazine. It was a glossy magazine. I came there, they interviewed me. And they said, “You have a car, don’t you?” “Yeah,” I had a gray [imaudible] Supercharger, I forgot to tell you that. After all, if you make a buck, you gotta spend a buck. So he says to me, “We send out a crew every weekend for a couple of days calling on Jewish merchants and department stores and stores, and what we want is for them to buy the ‘American Hebrew Magazine’ and also to buy some within the confines of their city for public school, for high school, for a library, for the church, and so forth.” Why? Because they wanted to express our views, naturally being anti-Hitler.
Well, I was at a loss in what to do. And I had this nice automobile, I was still well dressed. And they gave you a reporter’s card. A reporters card for the fact that you’re gonna interview Jewish people. So I call on merchants and so forth and tell them the story. And then the big deal of the story was because I didn’t wanna have a phony deal milking people for money if it wasn’t on the square, I found out that they lived up to it. What they did, we asked them if it’s possible, they should buy three magazines, send one to a church of their town, sell one to the library of their town, and to a school of their town. And all the cost would be $15 for 3 and $5 for them to get the magazine is $20.
And I seemed to be very convincing because I wasn’t no kid anymore and I had made money and I was okay. And they just couldn’t figure out what to do with me because they told me to take this cruise to Allentown, and as close as possible. I said, “My God, you got Jews all over the United States, why do I have to go there for?” So they made a deal, they said to me, “Mr. Cottler, you can go anywhere in the United States you want, we like what you’re doing.” I got married before I even left. In other words, Sylvia and I were married in 1936, 1st of November, a week later, we were on the road.
Interviewer: How did you meet her?
Mack: I beg your pardon?
Interviewer: How did meet her? How did you meet Sylvia?
Mack: How did I meet Sylvia? Oh, that goes back to the farmhouse again. Her sister was married to a boy who worked in the post office. After all, that was a steady job, you know, $1,800 a year and you had a Chevrolet coupe and he used to polish it every day. Well, that’s the way people were in those days. So she told her sister Sylvia, who’s my wife, that she’s going to go up to the mountains, and she’ll go along, maybe you’ll meet a boy. Well, I told you I was up that mountain, I used to dance with the girls and so forth and toggle [SP] around a little bit. I didn’t care so much for being a pro. I could’ve maybe, I don’t know. I’m not sorry. So I met her but the odd part was under no circumstances…you know, I’m a little dry, I need a glass of water.
Interviewer: So when you married Sylvia.
Mack: Right. So she invited me over to…what happened was I didn’t have her phone number. I took a walk with a friend of mine on Sutter Avenue in Brooklyn, a cold, wintery night, we just took a walk. And all of a sudden, we bumped into a young man who was at the mountains at the same time we were. He was a nice young kid but he was a kid, you know, I didn’t consider him a man. And he started to boast and he takes out a picture of my wife, who was now, of course, she wasn’t my wife then, showing that he took a picture with her. It was in a photo mat, you know, probably put in a dime or something, got a picture.
And he started to brag how he’s gonna be engaged to her and all. And it didn’t make sense to me and I didn’t know where to reach her. So I concocted a story on the spot and I told him, “Remember the other girl who was there, the model of my friend Louie Alphin [SP], who was in the ladies underwear business?” He says, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, she’s in the hospital and she had appendicitis and when I saw her, she asked me if I could reach Sylvia to let her know that she’s in the hospital,” because she met her in the mountains. The guy says, “I didn’t know.” So he says, “Oh, listen, I’ll be glad to give you the phone number.” Now, if I didn’t meet him on that street where we were gonna take a walk, I never would have seen her because I didn’t know where to find her.
But that was the way life works out, I guess. And the result was that I called her up, I made a date with her, and then I met her, I met a family, and her father looked at me as if I’m a city slicker. Well, I would say he was a pious Jew. In any event, we did get married and that’s when we started to travel. Now, remember, we didn’t have much money, but everywhere I went and the people that I called on were very gracious. I personally think I did a very good job because it was bad times, bad times. Every time you were one of our religion, you weren’t even liked here or you weren’t liked there. And you can’t keep fighting all the time.
In any event, Sylvia and I kept traveling across the country. And as we traveled across the country…we’re leading to a question, how does faith work? One habit we had, we pull into a town, mostly small towns, she would go to a department store so she could keep warm and she’d find a sandwich to eat while I would work a town and Jewish people, call on four or five different families, and then proceed to the next town, then we’d stay in a motel and so forth. We traveled across the country all the way and we were in Laredo, Texas. In Laredo, Texas, I go into the Laredo National Bank, I forgot the name of the Jewish gentleman, he was the owner of the bank. I went in to give him my talk. He was Yiddish of German descent, but a very fine man, very intelligent man. And by this time, I had become a bit more professional in my talk with these people because I learned a lot from the people I was talking to about their sons, daughters, what’s happening, people are going into service, you know, things are going on.
So 9 times out of 10, whenever I visited a small scrapyard or a large scrapyard, it didn’t matter, they always were very gracious, they always bought the magazine. And I wouldn’t leave until they would tell me when they’re gonna send the other two or three. Write down the addresses to go to the church, to tell our side of the story as what Hitler was doing. And I enjoyed doing that work because I think it was a good cause. Of course, I earned a living, I didn’t get fat, but we ate, we did, okay. And we went up to Laredo, Texas and we already had worked a little further past that. But I said to Sylvia, “We better start heading back.” She says, “Whatever we have to do.” So I stopped over this bank, you know, my reporter’s card in there. And sure enough, he came on, a portly gentleman, “What can I do for you, young man?”
So I gave my press card and I showed him the “American Hebrew Magazine,” and I told him what I would like him to do. I said, “You’re not obligated to do anything. If you like what I’m gonna tell you, you’ll take care of it.” I told him what’s going on, you know, we had some of these horror pictures where they’re hanging the Jews and, you know, you have to use some pressure. So he looks at it, said, “Young man, you’re doing a wonderful job.” He said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “Well, we recently got married, we’re on our honeymoon.” He says, “You know, from here to Monterrey, Mexico is only 134 miles. I’ll tell you what you should do. It’s almost Christmas now and Hanukkah, where are you gonna go?” I said, “I don’t know, we’ll go back.” “No, go on a honeymoon.” Takes a business card out, writes out, “Please extend all the courtesies necessary for Mr. and Mrs. Mack and Sylvia Cottler to the Encierro [SP] Hotel, one of the finest hotels in Monterrey in 1936 it was. Yeah, no, I don’t remember, it doesn’t matter. And we went in, they gave us a room with a swimming pool, with a balcony.
And then he gave me the name of a man who originally came from New York who was a silk salesman, but he had developed tuberculosis. And because he had developed tuberculosis, they figured that Monterrey, Mexico, which is high up, it’s mountainous, actually, the climate will be perfect for healing. Well, evidently, after a number of years, he healed. So he opened up a little gift shop, the name was Mr. Rubin, just had to remind myself. He says, “You go into him also and he’ll take care of you.” Because Rubin was depositing money in his bank in Laredo, I found that out, too. So here’s a funny situation, all of a sudden you meet a man and here we are dining in a beautiful hotel. It was brand new then, swimming pool, everything. Next day, we went over to see Mr. Rubin, he says, “Tonight we go to dinner at the American Club.”
What was the American Club? In those days, all the engineers were Americans, they lived in Monterey in this American Club. And they were the ones that were doing the mining in those days. After that, the Mexican government decided to use their own engineers. But, that’s okay. So we met all these people and then they had drinks there. And so we had a beautiful night. We stayed there two days, we drove right back. I thanked him and then we continued, this time, I went straight back to New York. In otherwise, we got married in November, we left in November, I came back in December.
Interviewer: Mack, we need to speed up a bit.
Mack: All right. What do you want?
Interviewer: Let’s start with your entry into the scrap industry and what it was like.
Mack: Right. Now, when I came back to New York, I didn’t like that so much what I did, it was good work but to me, it wasn’t a professional business. It was charity work, which is fine people have to do that, too. But as it happens, I noticed when I went to some of the scrap dealers, I used to see on the desk, “The Waste Trade Journal”, “Daily Metal Reporter,” “Daily Mill Stock Reporter,” all for the scrap trade. And Mr. Charles Lipschitz [SP] was the owner. So I found out the office…because I saw it in all these scrap plants and I figured heck, I can sell advertising. So I went into their office and I spoke to Mr. Lipschitz, yeah, he’ll give me a job for the Pacific Coast because he says, “Mr. Lazarus is getting older and he’s fabulous in the Midwest and he doesn’t have to go that far.”
So I said to him, “Well, that’s fine. And what will be my drawing account?” He says, “You’ll get advertising and we’ll get paid, then you’ll get paid.” I said, “I’m sorry, that’s no way,” I said, “How are we gonna live?” He said, “That’s your business.” He was kind of a hard man a bit. So Harry Lazarus, when I came out, he said, “Well, what happened?” So I told him. He said, “Don’t worry about that, I’ll give you a drawing account. I’ll give you a part of my territory and you can have the Pacific Coast. But part of my territory, if you get business, I get it.” I said, “Fair enough, that’s fine.” So I got the position. I took Sylvia, we put our bridge set that we had for a gift in the back of the car and we went traveling again. Difference is, this time, I was calling on scrap dealers.
Well, it reached the point where I said, “You know, Sylvia, I may have reached my niche over here. And I may work out something.” Because I noticed one thing, every time I was in a scrapyard in their office or whatever they had for their offices, they all had daughters, the boys were already going into service or going to university, so they shouldn’t be drafted they go later, right? That’s what happened. So I said, “Well, if that’s the best we can do, we’ll just do it.” We traveled all the way to the Pacific Coast. This time we drove down the Pacific Coast into L.A. When I got to L.A…the reason I always picked up money was general delivery in the post office. You know, I finally got Mr. Lipschitz to be a person would take care of things. So whenever I reached certain towns via telegram general delivery, and then I’d go into the post office, I’d pick up the check.
So when I got there, I remember it was September, and I’m in this place talking to a scrap dealer and he says to me…his name was Ike Miller, nice gentlemen, very nice company, Eureka Iron and Metal Company. He says to me, “Young man,” he says, “how often do you do this?” I said, “Well, this is my job right now,” and I would tell him my story about the frames. He said, “Well, you don’t have to do that, I’ll give you money for these things that you need. But why don’t you come to work for me?” So my first job offering was $250 a month plus car expenses. Well, that wasn’t too bad in 1926. My wife and I found a little apartment, I took it.
Unfortunately, you know, things work in very strange ways. Most of the scrap yards wound up with relatives, sons, nephews, uncles because they stayed within themselves, they needed the help and they shared. There was a foreman working in this plant whose son was being groomed to be an outside buyer, he gave me a rough time. I don’t blame him for it, he wanted to protect his son. So I walked up one day to Mr. Ike Miller, may he rest in peace, I said, “Mr. Miller, I’m sorry, I don’t think there’s room for me here.” And he was an understanding person, he said, “I’d really like to have you here.” He still had horses and wagons in those days. So I left.
That’s when I picked up again “The Waste Trade Journal,” “Daily Metal Reporter,” and I put in my time. I attended their meetings, I wrote it up so the magazine could publish it. I became a member of the clan supposedly. And one day, I went up to Mr. M.F. Berg, Misha F. Berg and I said, “You know, I’ve had a lot of experience in the country calling on scrap dealers.” He said, “Well, the way you talk, I see that.” He says, “How would you like to work for my company?” I says, “I’d love it, but I don’t have the experience, sir.” He says, “You don’t have to worry, I’ll give you enough to live on. They had three, four companies.
They had the wiping rag laundry business for, you know, rags. They had paper and rags in another division, that was mill stock. They supplied the Pioneer Flint coat, they’d make roofing out of some of that stuff. And they also had an iron yard and a metal plant, and they also had an ingot plant. They were the largest ones on the Pacific coast. So I received a position with them and Sylvia and I settled down, we got a furnished apartment, we could live and, of course, naturally, my wife got pregnant. And we were doing very well, we were very happy. But something was lacking and we didn’t know what, maybe we missed our relatives or so. Next thing you know, my father come up. How he came out, he was a friend of the Davinsky [SP] who used to be the union leader in New York, the garment business. So Davinsky said, “You wanna visit your son? I mean here, here’s $50, go to the bus station, buy a ticket, stop off in Dallas, go into this plant, he’ll you work for a week. You get finished with that, take another bus and go to Los Angeles, see your son.”
You think my father didn’t do it, he was in his 70s. He shows up in Los Angeles, of course, we were happy to see him and he saw his first grandchild, you know, things that happen in life, that’s natural, that’s all. Well, the next thing you know, I brought my mother out and I bought another…I brought 11 families out to California. I put them in business, some of them became very wealthy. They can’t talk to you after they get wealthy but that’s okay. And we had a good life, you know, we wound up with two sons-in-law in my business and we were a sizable outfit.
But one thing I learned, I learned that in our time, we didn’t need a fax machine, we didn’t need many contracts. You call up a man, “Hello, Ira. I need 50-ton number 1 copper.” “I got it.” “What are you paying?” “37 cents.” “I can get 37 cents FOV here.” I say, “I’ll pay the freight, you got a deal.” Okay, you sold, I bought. If not, he would say, “You bought, I sold,” and that was our contract. Now, fax machines, contracts, lawsuits, what for? Your word is as good as your brain and your brain should work in the right way. There were no problems. Well, to cut it short we were very, very lucky, very successful. I wound up representing the Feldstar [SP] Copper Corporation, the largest mining company in the United States, very friendly. They were wonderful people to us, they gave me all the pleasures of life. I did a wonderful job with them. And that’s where we are at the present time.
Interviewer: And what was the name of your company?
Mack: Name of the company, one was California Byproducts, then Cottler Alloys Corporation. The reason was California Byproducts Corporation was the first company that I formed when I went into Mr. M.F. Berg, as I told you, I’m leading back to it now. One day I said to him, “Mr. Berg, don’t you think I’m entitled to a decent raise?” He said, “That’s the problem,” with a bit of an accent. “That’s the problem, we train you and then they go into business for themselves.” Well, that’s life. I said, “How is it to you if I go into business? I might be supplying you material. But I don’t want to go into business. I’m happy with where I am but I want a decent wage.” Well, he starts telling me the story, twice he’s done it already and twice they went into business for themselves. “Well, I wouldn’t promise you that I’m not gonna go into business for myself, I have no idea what I wanna do. I know I’m here. I know I’d like some additional monies to live on. If you can pay it, fine.”
Now, the odd part of it was I was not a junk dealer in the sense of the junk because I did a different thing. I was capable of calling up Lockheed, Northrop, North American Aviation, I wound up with aircraft company scrap. First of all, I was clean-cut, I wasn’t an old junk dealer. I came in through to the department of sales, and they would take me out to the yards and I’d look at stuff, inspect it, and tell them I’d give them an analysis of it. Bring it back to the plant, get the analysis and tell them what it’s worth. I don’t know of anybody in the world that did what I did. Douglas Aircraft, Nelson Gunder [SP], and I’ve got the proof to back it up, we were buying their aluminum chips, you know, the grindings after they plane something off the machine, you know, and it’s like aluminum chips, pieces, rolls and so forth. And when they are working, you know, they got drums there, they’re throwing the oily rags in there, cigarettes in there, and so forth, and contaminating the aluminum. So I sat down and write them a beautiful letter telling them that they’ve got a war effort going on here, you shouldn’t do that. You’ve got to do something, post some letter telling them they can’t do that.
I’ll show you a letter where they thanked me for it and they installed the drums. So they can throw in all the oily rugs, not to start a fire, not to throw in all that stuff. Well, it got to a point…I know if you speak to somebody in the industry, they’d say, “Well, he’s bragging,” I’m not. The mighty Aluminum Company of America called up our company one day, not me, but the company I worked for. And they told the owners, the Berg family, “Would you lend us Mr. Cottler to go to our plant in Knoxville, Tennessee so that we could help the war effort?” That was quite a compliment. I was just an honest young man trying to do the right thing. I was spared going to the service because they wouldn’t take me because of what I was doing. I had a general wanted me to go in Europe. I had an admiral that wanted me to go to the Far East.
Interviewer: Mack, when did you start your own…?
Mack: All right. So after I was with the Berg family for quite a while, very positive, very nicely, I gave him back the company car, I went and I bought my car. I opened a company called California Byproducts Corporation, in a small way. And I built a small plant on my own building offices. And at that time, I was very heavy in the aluminum business because was being poured out all over the countryside. One day, the Douglas Aircraft asked me to come down…whether if you can believe it or not, I don’t care because it’s the truth. They had so many aluminum shavings and moorings that they were putting it in the street. They asked me what to do about it. I went back to the Berg Metal people and I said, “Look, you were afraid I was gonna go into business, okay, I’m in business. Do you wanna buy this?” He says, “How much are you gonna make?” I said, “You tell me what I should make and I’ll do it.” And he did.
They used to have rubbish trucks come in every morning, the Armenians in those days in L.A. were in the rubbish business. And they come to unload the cardboard and the paper and all that kind of material. Now they’re empty so I made a deal with all these Armenians. If they’ll go to Santa Monica, they’ll be loaded with a truckload of aluminum shavings one after another. Eleven of them in one day bring it into Berg Metal, they put it into their furnaces and made aluminum. You needed a little common sense, I was not in the scrap business, I never knew anybody in the scrap business. I just used some common sense and I tried my personality to be nice and don’t steal and don’t cheat and do a job. After all, there is a war and people are getting killed. And I lost out because of Hitler. So I had to do the other thing, which I did. So now I figured well, everything is going fine. Oh now, I brought out eight families to California. I had to put everyone to work. Now I got a family business.
Interviewer: And your second company.
Mack: Second company, Copper Alloys Corporation, I did that for a different reason. One day, I went over to the plants of Feldstar Copper Corporation, they had a tube mill in Los Angeles. A tube mill making copper tubing, they can utilize scrap. In other words, you don’t have to get to the copper all out of the mine, copper above the ground is also useful. In fact, I gave it a coined name and everyone used it after that. I used to say, “I sell the mine above the ground,” which was true. And the present manager there at that time was a fine gentleman. And I said, “I’d appreciate if you take me to the back of your plant so I can see what you do, and I think I can help you, sir.” He said, “Okay Mack, let’s go.” We went out there, he was a fine man, Mr. Kent. And I showed him, “Why do you do this? My god, a scrap god does better than.” He says, “What do you mean?” “As you’re putting loose wire on pallets, a [inaudible 01:03:28] picks it up, brings it over to the smelting department and you dump it into the furnace. You’re going back and forth all day. The material should be briquetted first, you get more weight, you make half the trips, maybe a third of the trips.”
He says, “Are you sure?” I said, “Why don’t you come over to my plant and I’ll show you the machine?” And I did. He said, “Well, we’re way behind time.” I said, “Well…” He said, “What happens after you get it briquetted?” I said, “Look, when it comes in, you unload your truck, they send in big bales, you split the bales, they’re all loose, now you make a briquette in the machine, you pile them on pallets. Now you’re walking in instead of 400 pounds, you’re walking in with 4,000 pounds,” or whatever the case may be. He says “Well, you’re a bright young man.” And he gives me the name of the vice president of Phelps-Dodge [SP] in New York that I could call because they did the purchasing there, not LA.
So I called up, and may he rest in peace, Mr. John Michael Patrick Boyle, fine man. He says, “Don’t come to New York on my account.” I says, “Sir, I’m not going on your account. I’m going to chase [inauidble 01:04:41], to some others.” It was a white lie and he knew it too. He says, “Okay, you come on to New York.” He says, “See me at 3:00,” on a certain day. I walk into his office and a tall-looking, nice American Irishman. It seems like we hit it off in the very beginning. He gave me 15 minutes at 3:00. At 5:30, he says, “Come on, let’s go down to Greenwich Village, I’ll buy you a steak.” We went down, we hit it off right away for some reason or other. He seemed to like the way…I told him I don’t have that much experience. But I said, “Business is business, wherever you cut corners honestly, you should cut it.” He said, “I like what you say, I want you to prove it.” I said, “Well, let me put it to you this way. I receive copper all day long from truckloads, wagonloads and,” I says, “we briquette it. What you need is a briquetter in your plant. You can keep buying all day long, you briquette it.”
“Well, it’s an idea. Tell you what, let’s go down to Greenwich Village,” bought me a steak. I said, there’s the man that told me he’ll only see me for 15 minutes. We got all through that evening and he says, “See me tomorrow for lunch.” So I came there tomorrow and I remember the name Hank Phillips was his assistant. We seemed to have hit it off right. Hank takes me up to the Waldorf Astoria to shoot pool. So we shot pool. And they were very nice. I stayed there three days. He said, “Young man, you go back to L.A. and see Mr. Kent, give him these ideas as you told me, I will give him cart blank that we should do it. I think you’re right.” Just like that. Well, I was elated. So I came back and I borrowed a machine from somebody else, which was above ground, mine was sunk in the ground. And I delivered it there and I said, “Mr. Kent, here’s what Mr. Boyle said we should do to experiment. If the experiment is successful, that’s what he would like you to purchase from me.”
So we did, it was very simple. It was no big deal, you didn’t have to be a genius. I was never in the scrap business. But common sense dictates to do something where you can save money, or where you can do it in a quicker time. Well, the first order he gave me was for 50,000 pounds. So what happened was this. Naturally, I had a plan but I was a younger one and I wasn’t a veteran of the scrap business, so to speak, against all those that we had there. But I was well-liked with the people I did business with. And there was an honest shake, and that’s it. So I figured out, well, how am I gonna work it out? So I figured the best thing to do is to be honest. So I called up Mr. Boyle. I said, “Mr. Boyle, I have an idea, and this is something I didn’t wanna discuss over the telephone. If I can get a half a day with you,” I said, “where we can sit down, we can work something out.” He said, “Such as what?” I says, “I wanna take you to your own plants in New Brunswick, New Jersey and show you something.”
We go to New Brunswick, New Jersey, they had a furnace that was called a shaft furnace. And in a shaft furnace, you couldn’t put choppings in and get the full content. And they didn’t realize it. By me, it was done by magic or just fell into my head. So he said, “You seem to like to do things.” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, all right, I’m not gonna give you a contract but I’ll do this for you. I’ll never give you 100%, you’ll get 90%. Now, will you recommend somebody for the 10%?” So, I says to him, “I would be glad to,” and I did. But you know, the prices go up and the prices go down. One day, they order a million pounds, so I get 900,000 pounds, the other guy gets 100,000 pounds. The order was a little under the market at the time. Oh, hell, you’re working with people, you take the order. The guy that had the 10%, he says he wants more money for his scrap. So Mr. Boyle said to me, “Mack,” he says, “you won, you got the whole thing now.” That’s it.
And I supplied Phelps-Dodge for 25 years, millions and millions of pounds. Only difference is I didn’t put those into my plant. I told them, it’s cheaper to buy it from the other people. But they were always worried about the content, that no phony business. So I told them, “That’s our department, we’ll check it. If there’s anything wrong, send it back.” They told me to teach their people in the plant what to do. So I went into the plant. You’ll always find when you’re invited to a plant, the people that work in the shops, they never like a stranger to come in to tell them what to do, I learned that also. Why? They were afraid it’ll take away part of their work.
In other words, they used to make brass tubing. Now brass tubing is made out of 70%, copper and 30% tin or whatever they wanna put into it, they have different mixtures. Well, brass shells is made out of that, and if you buy brass shells and throw into the furnace, you can still produce the tubing without adding anything, it’s already got the added, you see what I mean? The result is they save money. The last big deal I bought for them was 400 ton of brass shells in Seal Beach in the Marine Corps. So the fellows that work in the shop, they’re mad, they think they’re losing out. They’re not, they finally came around, they understood it, take the shell, throw it into the furnace, the next day you’re gonna make tubing.
Interviewer: Mack, what was the total years of your involvement in…?
Mack: Oh, in the industry. Well, what happened was…
Interviewer: How many years?
Mack: I’ll tell you right now, I went on…I started in 1944 or ’45. I went in until about 1990. And I was considered the king of the copper business on the West Coast. It was a fair deal for everybody. I never took advantage of anybody and they never took advantage of me. And Feldstar was very happy because they saved a lot of money. I coined the phrase, “There’s a mine above the ground.” Now you must understand what I’m saying.
Interviewer: You’ve gone over that before. Let me go to….because we need to wrap up. Let me ask you this. You’ve been involved in [inaudible 01:11:18] and in predecessor associations.
Mack: NARI was the first one, National Association of Recycling Industries. And there was a National Association of Secondary Industries. So I was the chairman of the Government Sales Committee. For your edification, and I don’t say this boastfully, I just received the gold medallion from the Department of Defense, from Department of Commerce for the work that I did for the government. Doing the work, I never asked for a penny, I neglected my business. They sent me to the Pacific I was in [inaudible 01:11:39], I was in Kwajalein, I was in [inaudible 01:11:43], I was in Guam. The government asked me to go, I went. I received letters, and I don’t say this boastfully, I can show you letters from generals, from colonels thanking me for my knowledge and helping them as I did.
Interviewer: Mack, were you an officer of NARI?
Mack: Yes, I was chairman of the Pacific Coast Division. And I was chairman of the Government Sales Committee. Now you must listen to this, NARI had somebody else on the top, I don’t want to mention names people know about it. And if you know, fine, if you don’t, that doesn’t matter. He resented me a bit because I became, shall we say, too much in the forefront, not because I was looking for it. Cy Wakesburg [SP] would call me up, he says, “Mack, we got a meeting, we gotta go to Alexandria, Virginia. Colonel Boswell [SP], he wants you to be there.” So I went. I get a telephone call, “National Defense Executive Reserve, we want you to arrive tomorrow morning.” I got the telegram in the evening, “You’re gonna deliver a talk in Fort McNair, Virginia.” That’s Fort McNair, Washington. I delivered a talk there too and it was considered one of the finest talks in the United States on recycling. And I don’t boast about it. I’m happy where I am, I’ve got a nice family, I’ve got nice kids.
Interviewer: How many children do you have, Mack?
Mack: A daughter of 59, a daughter of 55, a daughter of 53, a son of 49. Seven grandchildren between 23 and 36 and a great-granddaughter. I’ve got wonderful people. My great-granddaughters, when I go home on the 28th, a week after my birthday, they are running a big birthday party for me. They don’t want anyone to be interested in it. They wanna make it themselves. Eight grandchildren, I’m a proud man.
Interviewer: Mack, it’s been a great interview.
Mack: Well, I don’t know what’s great and what isn’t. I’ll tell you one thing, I’m happy what I am, I was always honest, I didn’t look for the edge. And thank God I’ve done well. I brought seven families out to California. One of them wound up being the national lumber supply, he was offered $15 million and wouldn’t sell it. I had to lend him $240,000 two months ago. That’s life.
Interviewer: One last thing. If you had to do it over again, would you get into the scrap industry again?
Mack: Oh, definitely. I would have got in, I would have done things a little differently. It wouldn’t have been to any other extent, but they all know me. You know why you’re resented sometimes? Because you’re outspoken. Sometimes you’re resented because you’re too much in the limelight. Well, I don’t care who’s the boss, I don’t care if he’s the chairman. If he does the right thing, fine. Otherwise, I’ll knock him on his ass, that’s the way I am.
Interviewer: What’s the best advice you have for the future generations?
Mack: To the future generations, I think it’s a wonderful industry to be in. I think the future generations…heck, you say future generations, I wanna…give me a minute. I gotta tell you this. You know, I usually come well prepared, but I’ve got so much damn stuff, it’s a pain. Here, I wanna show you something very funny. When I told you about the eight grandchildren, here, take a look at it. I want you to look at it.
Interviewer: You have to hold it up.
Mack: I’ll hold it up. What it says here…Oh, God. What it says over here is, “A birthday celebration.” An old picture with a pipe my mouth, right. On this side, it says, read it, “Mack’s 90 years old, please join us in celebration March 28th, 1998, 5:00 p.m. Your presence is your gift. Dinner and dancing. Given with love by his grandchildren.” That’s all you need in life. People go around fighting, arguing, I don’t do that, I don’t like it. Listen, it’s been a hard road, it’s been a tough road. I could have been a comic. I could have been a dancer. I always had to give up for somebody else. My brother was the greatest drummer in America. Gene Krupa was a hophead [SP]. Buddy Rich was an actor. My brother graduated Juilliard School of Music after playing on a tin can until I bought him a drum. That’s the kind of life, and I’m proud of it, and nobody’ll ever tear me down.