Critics, according to Teddy Roosevelt, who lived his dreams
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, who knows the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the high achievement of triumph and who at worst, if he fails while daring greatly, knows his place shall never be with those timid and cold souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
Alfred Slesinger, the man who gave birth to the Alkit Camera Shops, succeeded in getting himself appointed family photographer for President Roosevelt's cousin, FDR, for many years. At Hyde Park, NY, presidential estate, you see photos that communicate what a good photographer sees, beyond the obvious. Young, tall, skinny, energetically gifted with an honest soul, Alfred had that rarest of accents: the one that physically delights your ears.
By the time FDR became President, Al's fortunes were secured. He and a close friend, Armand Hammer, made several trips per year into the center of then-communist U.S.S.R. in days of great peril to help thousands and thousands of Russia's poor. Many of them gave over to his trust lifetime accumulations of a handful of precious rubles, often kept buried underground for upwards of thirty years. He made countless trips to banks in NY, opening incredible numbers of bank accounts for children and grandchildren whom it was hoped would eventually escape Russia. For eighty years of dictatorship, emigration was difficult or forbidden to most, particularly Jewish people. His charity knew no sociological or ethnical limits. He was one of life's helpers.
His presidential access influenced his income greatly. Although providing his wife and cherished only child, Laurel, with a Sutton Place-dignified life and style, they were never spoiled. His charities and personal philanthropy quietly became legendary. When he spoke, your ears felt as they'd been fed ear candy; a musical, truly unique accent.
In the course of his travels, he did countless quiet favors behind the Iron Curtain for the U.S. State Department. There were one or two other official agencies that benefited from his intimacy with back doors and his refusal to display fear to the dreaded, and rightly so, KGB.
Legend has it that his daughter Laurel, personifying the best kind of people we produce, people of rich service, could not resist the blandishments and smooth patter of Edward Buchbinder, a slightly Jewish John Gotti-wannabe at a time when Gotti was in fifth grade.
By the time that the son-in-law had power of attorney twenty-five years later, he was allegedly blackmailing his father-in-law, who'd just been voted "Man of the Year" by his cherished comrades in the American camera industry. The son-in-law threatened to leave Alfred's daughter and grandchildren with nothing if Al didn't co-sign a one-million dollar loan for Eddie to open his own set of camera shops. Never mind that Eddie had gone from a Marine Corp paycheck to running his father-in-law's lucrative New York chain, and receiving a piece of every dollar coming in. He'd gone from a modest life to parking his own Rolls Royce in the driveway of his million-dollar home.
When Alfred firmly said "Sorry, no," Edward apparently decided to use his never-suspended power of attorney, which had been necessary with the great man travelling to Eastern Europe so often. Mr. Buchbinder stocked his new Manhattan camera store with upwards of a million dollars' worth of photographic specialty items using Al Slesinger's line of credit, knowing that he, Edward, would never repay a dime.
Motivated by instincts baser than a parent hopes for, even when his Ferrari hit a tree on Long Island's Gold Coast in the rain at high speed he gave no thought to assay his lifestyle against the cost to others. He never repented, at least outwardly, and his wife never acknowledged his profundity of anti-connubial activities. Real life can be more of a soap opera than a daytime serial tv show.
After seven decades of service, joy, and giving, it broke Alfred's heart to have been exposed to such evil; broke his heart, and his health, leading to a too-early demise.
Thankfully, his legendary generosity and love of his fellow man live on far past his painful end. The NY Times obituary for Al Slesinger while full of praise, could hardly have expressed how many people were positively touched and helped by the amazing "Uncle Al." The crowds who jammed Riverside Chapel in Manhattan certainly did, each with a warm story, a warmer memory. From the arts he championed, to family he championed, he won without ever competing.
For all the challenges & obstacles that had to be overcome by that toothpick-skinny immigrant, he made good, and left behind a legacy of giving and service, which live on richly through his daughter Laurel's life, and those he touched again and again. Like his dear friend Franklin Roosevelt, he simply refused to give in to those many early critics. As a result, he lived the life of a winner, a champion, a true role model for the rest of us.
Just as his wife Kitty made the decision to continue their good works of philanthropy and cultural patronage, the wonder of men like Alfred Slesinger, role models, came through again, as at least one of Alfred's grandchildren has grown up to be an excellent human being, spouse, and parent. The great man, and his greater wife, live on, shining.
Eight million naked faces in the city.
Every one of them with a story, a tapestry of dramatic events. How we will also applaud YOU the day, week, month and year that you, too, take the actions that provide both short-term and eternal benefit, to yourself... ...and to those around you.