Colleagues are scared to talk about Stahl; they're embarrassed to see their names connected with Hirschfeld's. The few who know them both are mystified that the two men crossed paths, let alone have been partners in residential and commercial buildings since 1957. "They're like chalk and cheese," says James Austrian, one of the city's top real-estate consultants. "They just don't go together at all. It's hard to imagine them in the same room. It's hard to imagine what they'd talk about."
Stahl does, in fact, have open admirers. Yet they practically sweat through the phone when discussing the man. In 1996, Robert Gladstone, developing a Planet Hollywood Hotel in Times Square, negotiated with Stahl for the air rights to the adjoining Lunt-Fontanne Theater, which Stahl co-owns with the Nederlander Organization. "We made the deal on a handshake," Gladstone says hurriedly. "In real estate, nobody does business on a handshake, and we did. That speaks volumes about Stanley. I always admired and liked him. He's a nice guy. I really have nothing else to say."
A former longtime colleague, once friendly enough to dine socially with Stahl, has an indelible image of the developer. "For all the years I knew him, the number of times I met with him -- I never, ever saw the guy smile," says the executive. "Never. No sense of humor. No sense of live-and-let-live. He's just a very, very unhappy guy."
At the Friars Club, people regularly discuss killing. Billy Crystal, Robert Klein, Shecky Greene, they use the word in its comedic slang form, as in slaying an audience with jokes. Today, though, beneath the framed leer of Jerry Lewis, as he heaps sauerkraut onto his kosher franks-and-beans, Friar Abe Hirschfeld is talking about the real thing. And his lunch buddies are laughing it off.
Homicide, schmomicide. "Scared of Abe? Because of some indictment? Come on!" Bob Glenn says with a chuckle. Bob, a taut, natty silk-sweatered gent, is a retired carbon-paper mogul. He's been pals with Abe for a very long time, since the days when secretaries actually used carbon paper. "People tell you Abe's crazy -- don't listen to that shit! He's crazy as a fox."
On Abe's right sits Frank Gordon, just back from the Florida Keys and with the tan to prove it. Bob, Frank, and Abe play gin almost every Saturday, have for years. The silver-haired Frank is a brassiere-fabric manufacturer. "His girlfriends -- you cannot imagine how beautiful the girls are!" Abe gasps. "Believe me, Paula Jones or Monica Lewinsky wouldn't be used as a maid in his house." Frank smiles, though he appears somewhat stumped by the compliment. He, too, testifies to Abe's gentleness, sagacity, and civic importance. "I was at Abe's 75th-birthday party," Frank says, "and Pataki was there. Pataki said to me, 'Without this man, I would not be the governor of the state of New York. He made me.' Because Abe spent a fortune against Cuomo."
"You waited until now to tell me this?" Abe says gruffly.
Frank looks puzzled. "What do you mean?" he says.