Journalism Today

An intimate look at a great citizen (I'd like to work for)

MITCHELL Walter Mitchell, controlling stockholder and chairman of the board of the Amalco Corporation, arrived at the Hotel Françoise at eight-thirty sharp in his late-model Clemson Bravado, of which only one has ever been made. (In 1997 Amalco provided a start-up loan to my wife's mail-order-seafood firm.) "Chick" Mitchell, as he was nicknamed by longtime pal Bill Squires (who provided a separate loan to the firm), hopped lightly to the pavement, followed by his wife Rusty, another wife, and the man who cleans the pool. Leaving the car and its support team under the hotel's long row of acacia trees (I have occasionally done publicity work for the hotel), CEO Mitchell and his party made their way to the palatial private elevator in back that you've never seen.

In honor of his seventieth birthday and how much money he has, tonight's party would be the culmination of a series of parties all sponsored by people. Celebrities from the worlds of business, television, and masonry assembled in venues like this across the country to show Chick Mitchell their love and appreciation. (Mr. Mitchell agreed to be interviewed for this article in return for text and photo approval.) As he entered the lavishly decorated ballroom, the orchestra began to play the theme music from Amalco's latest box-office smash, Whichever (I served as a nonunion consultant on that film, and received financial compensation and a tote bag). Fontanelle Phillips, whose weekly cable news show was originally Mitchell's idea and who was the only media star invited to Mitchell's recent wedding in Monaco (my attorney and I briefly operated a hair salon for Prince Rainier), surrounded the Mitchell entourage with television lights for a live interview.

"[I very much enjoy being] here this evening," Mitchell was heard to say, as the flashes from many cameras lit up his rather sensual good looks and familiar mane of wavy white hair. "[Tonight is absolutely the thrill of a lifetime for me.]"

The interview done, Mitchell and party retired to a corner of the semiprivate Don Kirschner Room, adjoining the ballroom, where they received admirers a few at a time. As waiters and editors scurried about bringing trays and matters that had to be attended to even at this festive moment, others led individuals selected for short conversations to Mitchell's table. (For an off-the-books hourly wage and tips, I performed this task as a regular part of my reportorial duties.) There was Shreve Mycroft, of NonTel; Willy Brandt Jr., head of the European office; Michael Weiss, of West Hollywood TGI; Mr. Mitchell's brother, Norman, representing the employees' guild; and the Queen of Holland. Michael Weiss, "Mr. Big Tipper," monopolized the guest of honor for a full ten minutes. They hugged and air-kissed until a helper gently ushered Weiss away. (That was me.) Virtually everybody in that gigantic ballroom wanted to meet Chick Mitchell, and was willing to wait for the privilege. The long line grew rowdy at times. He had a kind word for all, speaking shyly with his head ducked down, as he always does. (Mr. Mitchell's demeanor courtesy of Execu-style Modifiers, Inc., of Phoenix, Arizona, which paid for this announcement.)

Access to Mr. Mitchell had been arranged for me by a New York firm that does that, but the hour for the interview came and went with no notice by Mr. Mitchell or his staff. (Mitchell denies this for the record.) Chick Mitchell is one of the three or four most powerful men, as well as a skilled amateur magician and one of the leading owners of netsuke, in the world. Naturally, he cannot be expected to remember everything. (I don't have to do this.) Very often in the course of a day he will make more than 10,000 telephone calls. (If it weren't for the free office supplies, I'd be gone.) Finally, at about 1:00 A.M., Mr. Mitchell threw a bearlike arm across my shoulders and led me out a rear security exit to the hotel's private quay, where his expensive yacht, the Branch Office, was docked. (Hi, Mom!) The crew immediately dropped the gangplank, and we were admitted to a sterling-silver-paneled reception lounge where at last we could really talk. (All Mitchell nautical properties are owned by a consortium [which also employs Art Fisher, my business manager (who is a part-owner of my condominium [the other owner of which is Bill Squires (whose lawn I sometimes mow [as part of a package deal I offer to people I've interviewed (who include wealthy individuals [who prefer not to have their names mentioned here.])])])])

OVER a gourmet breakfast Mr. Mitchell outlined several important financial transactions he has in the works, but all the facts and figures flew right out of my ditzy head, I'm afraid -- something about foreclosing on Maine? And about how he's going to put cell-phone towers on the high points in all the national parks, for freedom of speech? (Mitchell insists that no such conversation ever took place.) Smiling as shyly and informally as you or I, Mr. Mitchell talked with eager curiosity on subjects ranging from the tiniest detail of one of his holdings to what we should do about war. (Some of the statements paraphrased herein are actually a compilation of remarks of Mitchell's and a later exchange between myself and a dry-cleaning man.)

One wonders what a person like Chick Mitchell can still find to occupy his almost boundless talents, sitting here in the lap of everything he ever wanted to achieve (spin © the Fern-Kellstrom Agency). (I could always teach, I suppose.) Sipping from a cup of exquisite coffee he let me have some of, I posed this question to him. In reply, Mr. Mitchell smiled warmly (Mitchell disputes the adverb) and said, "Well, you know" -- (Tape ran out here) "[I've always thought of you as my own son, Roger (not my real name), and I hoped that someday you and all the folks you work with over there could come and work for me at much higher salaries and be a part of the Amalco family.]" (New tape inserted) -- "time for you to leave now."

What more can I say? The man is, quite simply, a genius. He is the single most important individual of our era, and we cannot imagine what our lives would have been like otherwise. Let me put it this way: we love this man. One exaggerates only slightly, but perhaps excusably, when one declares that Mitchell Walter Mitchell is the living incarnation of God (not available at some locations). Chick Mitchell has remade us all in his image, and we are infinitely better off for the change. (Call me.) What with the contributions this man has given to humanity, he should never pay another dime in taxes. (I owe Visa in the high five figures, FYI.) Did I mention that in his spare time he paints in watercolor better than Bonnard? (Before 6:30, leave message on my machine.)

Illustration by Barry Blitt

The Atlantic Monthly; October 1998; Journalism Today; Volume 282, No. 4; pages 93 - 94.