Murray Pezim, Mr. Poland & No Light BulbThursday, September 25, 2008
When Murray Pezim (below) died on November 11, 1998 The CBC said in its obituary:
Colourful Vancouver stock promoter Murray Pezim died of a heart attack early Wednesday morning. He was 77 and has been ill for a number of months.
Pezim was once considered the most powerful man on the Vancouver Stock Exchange. At one point his companies were involved in a about a quarter of all trades.
His two biggest gold discoveries were Hemlo in northern Ontario and Eskay Creek in northwestern British Columbia. He was also a former owner of the B.C. Lions football team.
Pezim suffered a heart attack late Tuesday night, and died early Wednesday morning in a Vancouver hospital.
Through much of the 70s and 80s I had the opportunity to photograph this man in many locations and under many circumstances for Vancouver Magazine and many business magazines. When he died the Vancouver Stock Exchange was in its last legs having lost all of its credibility around the world. David Baines of the Vancouver Sun and Adrian du Plessis, a free-lance white collar crime investigator, had put the final nails on the coffin. With the death of Pezim the stock exchange lost all the humor and flamboyance he had contributed to it.
But there are two occasions related to Murray Pezim I will never forget. It has to do with the photograph I almost took and the one I didn't.
In the early 80s Pezim used any ploy to get press space. He sent a press release to Vancouver Magazine that he had hired the former Mr. Poland, Stan Liz to be his personal masseur. Mac Parry dispatched writer Les Wiseman and I to interview and photograph Liz. I told Wiseman that I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going to ask the man to stand on a chair and hold on to an overhead light bulb. It was going to be a Polish joke. When we got there Liz could barely communicate in English and I realized I would not have any problem carrying out my idea.
Some years later Equity art director Chris Dahl paged me. I found a phone and talked to him. "Alex I want you to photograph The Pez (as Pezim was affectionately known) holding a hanging knot on himself. The story is all about how he has become his worst enemy." I immediately responded, "Sorry Chris I can't. I was a Boy Scout and the one knot I was never allowed to tie was a hanging noose. I will not have any part of this." Not only did I lose the job but I then found out that it had been a cover assignment so I missed out on a good piece of change.
In later years particularly in such publications as Business in Vancouver and the Vancouver Courier there was a run of photographs much like the ones I almost took. I always flinched in embarrassment when I saw them. I felt sorry for the subjects and had little respect for the photographers who showed so little consideration for the human dignity we are all born with.
Perhaps I had indeed learned something while being a Boy Scout.
I dispatched links to this blog to both David Baines and Adrian du Plessis inquiring on my accuracy. Here is one reply:
Dear Alex ~
I believe David is off somewhere, rumour has it, he's spending the reserves in his Cayman accounts. When he checks in, he may have a different view, but, it all looks good to me!
You could describe me as eligible bachelor, music-lover, friend to felines, and other such titles, but, in the context of your blog post, I can't say that the words you've chosen don't fit the bill.
Those WERE the good ol' days in the stock trade. I wonder who's still got a Pez dispenser from Murray...
Adrian du Plessis
Allison Crowe Music
(250) 537-1286 www.allisoncrowe.com
"Why music?" "Why breathing?"
And David Baines (Back from the Caymans?) wrote:
Your piece brings back warm memories.
When Pezim was on his death bed, I wrote this column (appended). Even though it was a sad occasion, it is one of my favorite recollections of The Pez.
Pezim down but certainly not out
The Vancouver Sun
Friday, April 18, 1997
Page: D1 / FRONT
Byline: David Baines, Sun Business Reporter
Source: Vancouver Sun
Tony, the doorman at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, beamed at the mention of his name.
``I know Murray Pezim very well. He's a really neat guy. A real gentleman. He was always very nice to us,'' he said.
Tony says he was one of the first to invest in Pezim's biggest gold find, International Corona Resources, which discovered the Hemlo gold fields. He bought his shares at a buck, and before long, they went to the moon.
Not all Pezim's investors fared so well. I remembered when two young comedians, who were trying to market a board game called Punchlines, visited me at my office and described their experience with Pezim.
One, pretending to be Pezim, draped his right arm over the other and told him how he was going to finance his deal and make him rich. As he was talking, he slipped his right hand into his partner's jacket pocket and quietly relieved him of his wallet.
They laughed at their little skit. Pezim had taken them on a ride to nowhere, but what fun they had had.
Back at the Hyatt, a car pulled up and jazz singer Kenny Colman, a long-time friend and fan of the Pez, waved from the passenger seat. His partner of five years, Lilly Krief, was driving. Tony opened the back door for me and I jumped in. We were going to Murray's world.
``Murray's a throwback, the last of Damon Runyan characters,'' said Colman. ``He's a real Guys and Dolls character. If he wanted, he could have been a movie impresario, like Louis B. Mayer.
``He liked me around because he wanted to meet celebrities. I remember one night when we were at the Desert Inn in Vegas. He told me he wanted to meet Frank Sinatra, so we went back stage and, well -- you know Murray -- I was little nervous about what he would say.''
But Pezim stepped right up to the man they call the Chairman of the Board and said, ``Frank, if I'd met you 25 years ago, I'd have named a gold mine after you.'' In a single brilliant stroke, Pezim had not only made Sinatra feel like gold, he had indelibly impressed himself as the man could actually produce gold. He would not need a second introduction.
``That was Murray,'' said Colman. ``Always promoting. It was never the money, it was always the action. When Murray's not in the action, he's dying.''
The word hung for a split second, then Colman resumed his patter. ``Here's a copy of my CD,'' he said, handing me a plastic-wrapped disc entitled Dreamscape.
``You don't have to mention my name, but if you do, there's no `e' in Colman. And if you don't, please mention the club,'' he said, referring to his jazz club, the Casbah Jazzbah on West Pender.
We were getting close to Murray's world, once riotously populated with movers and shakers and hangers-on.
``There were always these struggling people around him,'' said Colman. ``But they never scored off him. You could never fool him, unless you were some blonde in an elevator.''
Lilly drove the car to Rooster's Quarters on Denman, where she picked some Montreal-style chicken. Then we drove to Pezim's high-rise condo at the foot of Hornby Street, overlooking False Creek.
As we were getting out of the car, Colman warned me Murray's world had changed. ``He wanted to cancel. He said he didn't feel up to it, but I told him he needs to see people.''
A Filipino caregiver answered the door on the 22nd floor. It opened to a fabulous view of False Creek. The furnishings were symmetrically stylish. Very un-Pez like.
The greatest promoter in Canadian stock market history, now 75, was in his bedroom lying on his side. ``David, how are you?'' he smiled. Fine, I said, but how was he?
``I'm a strong son of a bitch. I should have been dead by now,'' he replied.
He dressed. The caregiver helped him into his wheelchair and pushed him to a glass table overlooking the south shore. The sky generously allowed some sun into the room. Lilly, a most gracious woman, fussed with the food. Pezim's left arm lay idle, a casualty of last year's stroke.
``I'm embarrassed that this could have happened to me,'' he said.
``Murray,'' chimed in Colman, ``do you remember when you owned the B.C. Lions and we had Pez Day? When was the last time 40,000 people went to a football game in this town? I sang O Canada that day.''
``That was the worst part it,'' Pezim said, deadpan.
I remembered that day. Pezim's girlfriend, the stunning Tammy Patrick, who he had rescued from a serious cocaine addiction, wore a Lions jersey with No. 4 on it, signifying she was to become his fourth wife. (It didn't happen).
Pezim had also agreed to manage the nascent boxing career of Mark Gastineau, the former NFL football star. (That didn't happen either). Gastineau and actress Brigitte Nielsen temporarily moved in with Murray. Doug Flutie visited Vancouver and woke up in the morning with a hangover from laughing so hard, and a new contract to play with a team he had barely heard of.
Sports Illustrated writer Doug Looney flew to Vancouver to write a story about Flutie, but instead did a hilarious story about The Pez.
Looney followed Pezim to his second home in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he met his maid, ``who looks like no maid you have ever seen before,'' then to his $5.5-million house in Vancouver where he was introduced to Pearl the gardener, ``who looks like no gardener you've ever seen.''
The story was 10 pages in length, an honor the magazine has never bestowed upon any local athlete. ``It's great for the CFL,'' remarked Pezim. ``They tell me they have 79 million f------ readers.''
Robin Leach, the nasal host of Lives of the Rich and Famous, also flew to Vancouver to do a piece on Pezim. The background music was the theme song from Goldfinger.
Pezim reflected on those days. He said the Hemlo discovery was the best time in his career. Then there was Eskay Creek in northern B.C., another big gold find. He created big, rolling markets for his stocks. There was lots of action for everybody.
``David, I've lived a full life. I've done everything I want. I can't say God has been bad to me, but I can yell at him sometimes.''
He says he would prefer to be in the warm climate of Scottsdale, Ariz., his second home, but the medical bills were prohibitive.
``I'll bet in the last three years it has cost me $500,000.''
He says he wants to rally, at least long enough to make a public appearance. ``I really would like to walk down Howe Street. I feel I'm about eight to 12 weeks away.''
He scoffs at the blue-chip pretension that has swept the Street. Speculation has been gussied up and is now assuming the guise of investment.
``It's a totally speculative market,'' he insists. ``The problem is, it's being sold for something different.''
Bre-X Minerals, he says, happened because ``some Eastern guys took over this junior market and added a couple of zeros to it.''
Asked about his son, Dr. Michael Pezim, who took control of his flagship company, Prime Equities International, he said, ``His view of how to run the company is different from mine, but he can have his opinion.''
He once spent his days scanning a battery of quote terminals, but there is not a single machine in his apartment. ``The market is behind me now, but I do miss it. If I had the right ingredient. . . .''
Colman starts singing the words to the old Duke Ellington song, Satin Doll: ``Cigarette holder, which wigs me. . . .''
Pezim joins in: ``Over her shoulder, she digs me. Out cattin', my satin doll.''
They laugh. Forty-five minutes has passed. Pezim says he doesn't feel well. His head, he says, is spinning.
We shake hands. He tells me to watch out for Golden Trump Resources, a Prime company that has acquired some gold prospects in Mexico.
``It could be a screamer,'' he says.
We say good-bye to Murray, and to Murray's world.
Out in the hallway, we wait for the elevator. For some inexplicable reason, we are beaming. Just like Tony.