In Memoriam

Sid Dauman, RIP

The death of a friend of monumental proportions.

By 7.6.10

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In 1978, when my wife and I were having dinner at Mr Chow and I was 34 years old and all of Hollywood seemed to be opening up to be my oyster, I met a couple named Sid and Martha Dauman. Sid was a super debonair, elegant, artist/designer/businessman. His wife was a beautiful, tall, thin mother of three in Chanel. They had become fans from reading my diary of my first year in Hollywood, DREEMZ.

We became inseparable friends and had dinner two or three times a week for about five years. Sid and Martha's sons from this marriage, Jason and Claude, often joined us. They were teenagers or in their early twenties at that time. We sometimes say Martha's daughter from her first marriage, Susie.

In 1983, Martha died of cancer after a brave and cheerful fight. Sid started keeping company with a lovely young woman named Leslie. She cared for him for the next twenty-five years, often with extreme skill and determination.

The family housekeeper, Anna, also took wonderful care of Sid, who was never the same after Martha died.

Sid developed Alzheimer's about ten years ago. It went slowly at first and then revved into high gear. Along with pulmonary and throat infections, that disease took his life on June 25.

Sid had been a friend of monumental proportions to me and my wife. Supportive, caring, enthusiastic, Republican. A great, great man.

This is the eulogy I gave for him on Monday, a week ago, in Los Angeles:

To every thing there is a season,
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to reap.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to break down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance.

This is our time to mourn. But it is also our time to rejoice that we had the blessing to know Sid Dauman.

When I told my friend Barron Thomas about Sid's entry into immortality, he gasped and said, "What a gentleman."

And in a way, that sums it up.

Of course, the longer story is worth hearing and being amazed at hearing.

Sid Dauman. Born in modest economic circumstances in Brooklyn, New York. Father was a designer of handbags. Brilliant, ahead of his time designer of handbags. Sought out by the finest stores and shops.

But it was a hard living and when Sid was a small child, his family moved back to France, where they had extended family. Sid's father joined the French Foreign Legion. Sid and his brother, George, and mother stayed in Paris. Once, when Sid and his mother were talking to each other in Yiddish on a Paris bus, a man shouted at Sid, "Parle Français, Jupain," which is translated roughly as "Speak French, Jewboy."

I doubt he would have said it to the teenage Sid.

When Sid was about seven or eight, roughly, the family moved back to New York. Somehow, and I am not sure how, Sid became an ardent Marxist. He sold copies of The Daily Worker, the Communist Party newspaper, on the streets and in the subways.

He joined the Young Communists and had street brawls with rival factions. I don't tell this to embarrass Sid. Sid was proud of his street fighting youth and spoke about it often, even though he became a Republican.

But there were many sides to Sid. In addition to young political agitator, he was an artist from day one. He could capture a man's or a woman's face with just a few strokes of a pencil and he retained that skill all until the very end.

He was also a designer and designed school bow ties and hair ribbons with school colors for his high school and his junior high in Brooklyn and then set up networks of other sales boys and girls to sell similar items to nearby schools.

Sid was an artist and a political kid, but also a businessman from childhood and a fine one.

When Sid was a teenager, he dropped out of high school to work and to attend the Art Students' League, based on his art work. This was a rare tribute for a young Jewish boy with no social connections.

While he was in art school, trying to figure out how to pay his way, a friend suggested that Sid work part-time on trimming windows in stores.

The results were magic. Sid could make a window look better than anyone had dreamed possible.

From this, a career was born that led to affluence at a very early age. Sid persuaded his scientist brother George to leave his scientific work and join to make Dauman Displays.

It was a thriving business and then Sid had an even better concept. He would make display cases that showcased cosmetics and fragrances, sold them to customers, and at the same time showed the clerks and the store owners where the items were and how much was in inventory.

The effect was fantastic. Sid's and George's work could allow much quicker sales and much better control over inventory.

The business was a huge success and by the time Sid was in his late 20s or early 30s, he had a major business, with studios and factories in New York, eventually growing to include Los Angeles and London.

This was Sid Dauman the artist and designer and businessman and visionary. This was the Sid Dauman of the world of cosmetics and fragrances.

But there was another side of Sid in which his artistry and his genius shone even more brightly. That was Sid the husband, father, and friend. Sid Dauman came out of the chute a talented, brilliant artist and businessman.

But he made himself into William Powell, Clark Gable, made himself into an F. Scott Fitzgerald character, a larger than life man of incredible elegance.

It helped that he married a beautiful girl I never had the pleasure of knowing, and then, when she passed away, that he married the most elegant woman I have ever known, Martha Schwalberg Dauman.

To say that Sid and Martha were an elegant couple is like saying that Mount Everest is fairly good tall. They lit up the room anywhere they entered. Sid always perfectly dressed in his fabulous suits and shirts and red ties, Martha in her Chanel suits. To my wife and me, they defined grace and style. They knew all the right restaurants, all of the right hotels, all of the nightclubs. My wife and I used to go hear Bobby Short at the Café Carlyle. Martha and Sid were pals of Bobby Short.

But they also far transcended the superficial world of style and fashion and café society. They were real people. They had come up from the streets. They knew what was real and what was not. They had a wisdom, an insight, a way of seeing the truth of a situation that you rarely find inside such fine clothes. I think we Jews call that Sechel, but I may have that wrong.

It is funny but I studied economics and yet Sid knew the way business and money worked far, far better than I ever will.

I can recall reading that one of Sid's neighbors, one of his fabulously rich neighbors, had seen his business go into bankruptcy. I said, "Well, I guess he'll be moving out of Beverly Hills."

Sid laughed affectionately and said, "His business is bankrupt. He's not bankrupt. That's the way business works in Beverly Hills."

He had an amazing ability to sum up a situation in a few words just as he could sum up a personality in a few lines of a sketch.

Once, when I met him at Morton's, I passed a number of homeless people on the way over and expressed my outrage about it. Sid put me in my place very quickly and affectionately by saying, "Oh, so Monsieur has seen some homeless people on the street. How droll." It was his way of very rightly noting the fact that I said something about it but did nothing.

Another time, when I had written something very sharp about a major player in finance, one of the people at the dinner table said, "That man doesn't care what Ben wrote about him. That man is a billionaire."

Sid very aptly said, "I don't know. Does the king care if someone calls him an idiot?"

Brilliant.

But there was so much more to Sid. Endlessly encouraging. Endlessly supportive. When my parents would come out and visit and express dismay at my lifestyle of extravagance, Sid would say, "He'll be fine. That's who he is."

But Sid was elegant and glorious as a father, too. The boys and Susie don't know it but maybe they do know it, know how much Sid and Martha cared about them, how proud he was of them, how their welfare was always his highest concern. Claude did this. Jason did that. Susie did this. Always so proud, always so concerned.

Not a Hollywood father, only concerned about image, not a Wall Street father for whom the trade always comes first. No, a father like from Father Knows Best, a real father.

Alex and I really only spent five years of concentrated time with Sid and Martha before Martha went off to eternity. Dinner night after night at Morton's and Mr Chow and Spago and Chasen's, with Sid and Martha and their pals.

We would have drinks in Sid's gorgeous study, then Sid would do a little dance and move his delicate hands like a fighter and say, "Let's go bug it up," and off we would go.

Sid was wildly generous. He always picked up the tab and I made sure that after Martha passed on, Alex and I did that, but his generosity was of a piece with his elegance.

I tried and tried to think of a movie hero as elegant as Sid, as much of a gentleman as Sid, and I could not really think of anyone. I know I keep saying it, but he was in a class by himself.

An example: long ago, a famous diva in Hollywood sued me over a humor piece I wrote about her in GQ. There were TV trucks outside my house and sneering comments about me on TV. Sid just called and said, "Let's go out to Morton's."

We went, and I felt as if no one could harm me if I were under his care. The waiters all applauded when we walked in, and disastrous clouds turned to sunshine.

Sid was a walking, talking miracle of caring and good nature. I just never saw him display anger or vindictiveness or envy. Never. He was good natured and he was a philosopher.

I can recall many times when I said someone was angry at me and would probably never speak to me again, Sid would laugh his good hearted laugh and say, "That's how she feels right now. In an hour, it'll be completely different."

I remember the night we were having dinner at Mr Chow and Martha told us she had cancer. Even then, a truly horrible night, Sid was encouraging, positive, upbeat.

The night she passed on, he was out of his mind, Literally out of his mind with grief, but he was upbeat then, too. He said we should all go to Vegas and shoot craps. I never knew what he meant and I still don't.

After Martha died, Sid was lucky enough to have Leslie and the kids take care of him, because, as we all know, he was a changed man. He was still brilliant, still elegant, still charming, but he was a changed man. He had Leslie, an angel of caring, and he was still Fred Astaire, but the slide was on.

Then, some years ago, Alzheimer's began, imperceptibly. I can still recall his asking me about a medicine he was taking for it and I thought he was joking. But he was not joking and he was now not just a changed man but a marked man.

Still, he was elegant and upbeat.

I saw him for the last time in lucidity a few weeks ago, and in a bare whisper, he was still a gleaming flame of insight.

Well. He was blessed to have Claude and Jason and Leslie Susie and wonderful, wonderful, glorious Anna to take care of him. We were all blessed to know him. The reason I cannot come up with an example of someone like Sid is that there was no one like Sid. The perfect Christmas card, off white vellum with a red border and a little bow. The perfect Christmas gift, a perfectly shaped poinsettia. The perfect friend. The perfect father and husband and support.

Sid's friend and ours, Barbara Bernstein put it well.

When you lose someone you love, the damage is permanent. It is as if there were a brick wall right in front of your door. But eventually, there is ivy on the brick, and after that, there are roses. It will happen.

In the meantime, there will never be another Sid. We will not see his like again. But we will see you again, Sid, somewhere down the road. And we'll bug it up and then it will be time to dance.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.