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Love and Death on the Upper East Side

Certainly much of this was a deliberate needling of the Establishment. Jacobson once purchased a foal from Ogden Phipps's trainer. Phipps was, he heard, irate. Buddy said he was going to call the horse Ogden Flips.

In 1967 the strife escalated. Buddy Jacobson was elected president of the New York division of the HBPA, which is to say the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. It is the HBPA that looks after the interests of the employees on the backstretch. Stable hands and the like. Soon Jacobson was agitating for a pension fund.

By 1969 he was in conflict with both the New York Racing Association and the state. At a meeting in April, he demanded a boycott. Even his uncle, Hirsch Jacobs, perhaps the most brilliant American trainer ever, supported him. (Family feeling was not Buddy's forte; in later years he failed to go to Hirsch's funeral.) On April 26, Jacobson's boycott struck Aqueduct.

Matters of motive are interesting here. Few seem to have found Buddy Jacobson convincing as a champion of the little man. "He would never talk to his help," recalls a trainer. "He would never say hello, good-bye."

"I don't think he cared about Puerto Rican stable hands," Axthelm says. "I think he wanted to prove that he, Buddy Jacobson, could overturn the whole power structure. Power would pass from the hands of George D. Widener into the hands of Buddy Jacobson."

Not just racetrack power, of course. Also, control of a potentially substantial pension fund. And Buddy Jacobson blew it. He made miscalculations. He should perhaps have kept the strike going for three days. A show of strength. Instead, he kept it going nine days. Support trickled away. It was finally crushed.

"Buddy always thinks he's the cleverest person in the world," says another horseman. "He had contempt. He wanted to have complete control. And, in the end, everything was a bust-out."

In October 1969, the racing establishment paid Jacobson back in full. They began an audit. "They came to us," Sam Lefrak says, "and under investigation they found irregularities."

The NYRA charged Jacobson with seven offenses and found him guilty of five. Misrepresenting sale or purchase prices and pocketing the difference. That sort of thing. Most racetrack people say that the charges, which centered on loose practices common enough on the turf, were a means to an end. Jacobson was suspended for 45 days, but the timing of the suspension was such that the tracks were able to deny him stabling. He sued for $6-million, but remained out of racing for five years.

There seems to have been no reason for him to have stayed away that long. He could have raced elsewhere until New York readmitted him, but Jacobson was tired of horses. He took his earnings and looked elsewhere.

Already, he had been indulging a consuming passion for girls. One of them remembers his bachelor apartment in Kew Gardens. "The building was full of stewardesses," she tells me. "Buddy had a Cadillac. He would leave it out in front for the girls to use. He was cooking roast beef every night. The place was full of girls. He said he was thinking of taking the door off its hinges.

"He could never go with the same girl more than once or twice. He lost interest. He would chase some girl, sending her flowers all the time, but if he heard that she was going with somebody else, he lost interest. He said it's like digging up somebody's grave."

An early venture was a ski lodge, called the Norway, near Mount Snow, Vermont. Buddy's partners still marvel at his private life. "He would fix to have one broad driven to New York. The next one is on her way. They would pass at the toll booth."

They found his business practices less amusing. "He wanted to show that he could run a ski lodge better than people who had been running them all their lives."

Jacobson's first building in Manhattan was 155 East 84th, originally a couple of nondescript tenements. Jacobson took charge of the rebuilding himself, laying floors and, if the floors were laid wrong, re-laying them. Buddy Jacobson, as always, wanted to do things his own way. And the building got built. Buddy Jacobson appointed himself his own janitor and began renting out the apartments. One early tenant was Melanie Cain.

Melanie Cain arrived in New York in 1973. She had been born in Norfolk, Virginia, seventeen years before. Her Irish Catholic background seems fashioned for family-hour television. Three sisters, two brothers. Mother, a Republican activist. Father, a salesman. Melanie spent childhood spells in Washington, D.C.; New Jersey; Texas; Connecticut; and Pennsylvania; she went to high school in Naperville, Illinois, where she did some theater. "Modeling was never an ambition," she told me. It was a way to make ends meet.


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