Wilson Mizner

Wilson Mizner (May 19 1876, Benicia, California - April 3 1933, Los Angeles, California) was an American playwright, raconteur, and entrepreneur. His best-known plays are "The Deep Purple", produced in 1910, and "The Greyhound", produced in 1912. He was manager and co-owner of The Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles, California, and was affiliated with his brother, Addison Mizner, in a series of scams and picaresque misadventures that inspired Stephen Sondheim's "Bounce".


Wilson ("Bill") Mizner was born in Benicia, California, one of eight children including brothers William, Edgar, Murray, Wilson, Addison, Henry, and Lansing. Sir Joshua Reynolds was their great great uncle. Their father, Lansing Bond Mizner was named Benjamin Harrison's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Central American states, and the family moved to Guatemala, the brothers spending their teenage years there—robbing churches, they later claimed.

In 1897, Addison and Wilson, with brothers William and Edgar, travelled north to the Alaska Gold Rush, which they spent bilking miners rather than looking for gold. Wilson operated badger games, managed fighters, robbed a restaurant to get chocolate for his girlfriend "Nellie the Pig" Lamore (saying "Your chocolates or your life!"), and grub-staked prospector Sid Grauman, later of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. He also met Wyatt Earp, who became a lifelong friend.

Addison and Wilson fled Alaska for New York, where Addison opened a Fifth Avenue shop where he sold Guatemalan relics and colonial-era furnishings at dramatic markups. Wilson became a New York dilettante, raconteur, and Broadway playwright. He married Mary Adelaide Yerkes, widow of industrialist Charles Tyson Yerkes, in 1905: while Wilson was penniless (and 29 years old), his new wife, aged 47, [She was "not", as is often stated, in her 70s or 80s] brought between $2 million and $7.5 million to the marriage, as well as several artistic masterpieces that Wilson duplicated, selling the copies as originals.

The marriage did not last long. Wilson ran the Rand Hotel, posting signs that "Guests must carry out their own dead" and "No opium smoking in the elevators." He managed several boxers, fixing the fights to enhance his gambling revenues. When one of his fighters, Stanley Ketchel, was murdered, Wilson joked, "Tell 'em to start counting ten over him, and he'll get up."

Wilson's playwriting career was undermined by his laziness and an opium addiction that started when he was prescribed painkillers after an assault. He was arrested in 1919 for running a gambling den on Long Island. He and Addison then travelled south to Florida, where a land boom made it possible for the brothers to swindle some of America's wealthiest men before they were exposed in 1926 by General T. Coleman du Pont. Their customers began defaulting on their loan payments, and a railroad embargo on building materials led to the collapse of the brothers' Florida venture, the Mizner Development Corporation.

Leaving Addison behind holding the bag, Wilson returned to California, obtained backing from Jack Warner and Gloria Swanson and bought into, and managed, the Brown Derby, and wrote screenplays for some of the early talkies. His best known film work is the screenplay for the Michael Curtiz film "20,000 Years in Sing Sing". Wilson called his Hollywood years "a trip through a sewer in a glassbottomed boat." Several of the brothers' friends from New York, including Marie Dressler and Ben Hecht, helped them in their later escapades. Another friend, Irving Berlin, started, but did not complete, a musical based on Wilson's life.

Wilson Mizner is noted for many "bons mots" such as "Be nice to people on the way up because you'll meet the same people on the way down" and "If you copy from one author, it's plagiarism. If you copy from two, it's research."Quoted by Stuart B. McIver, "Dreamers, Schemers and Scalawags", Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida, 1994. ISBN 1-56164-034-4] Mizner suffered the same fate as Dorothy Parker: both are better remembered today for their witty repartee than for specific literary works.

Anita Loos based the leading character in the movie "San Francisco" on Wilson Mizner, whom she described as "America's most fascinating outlaw".

Alva Johnson wrote:

[Wilson] Mizner had a vast firsthand criminal erudition, which he commercialized as a dramatist on Broadway and a screenwriter in Hollywood. At various times during his life, he had been a miner, confidence man, ballad singer, medical lecturer, man of letters, general utility man in a segregated district, cardsharp, hotel man, songwriter, dealer in imitation masterpieces of art, prizefighters, prizefight manager, Florida promoter, and roulette-wheel fixer. He was an idol of low society and a pet of high. He knew women, as his brother Addison said, from the best homes and houses.

At Warner Brothers

Around 1931, Warner Bros. head producer Daryl Zanuck hired Mizner to work as a top screenplay writer for the studio's First National films.Thomas (1990), pp. 89–92.] While at the studio, Mizner had hardly any respect for authority and found it difficult to work with studio boss Jack Warner. Mizner, however, would indeed become a valuable assest to the studio's films. As time went by, Warner became more tolerant of Mizner and invested in the Brown Derby restaurant.



* "The Only Law", 1909
* "The Deep Purple", 1910
* "The Greyhound", 1912


* "The Discord of Harmony", "The All-Story Magazine", November 1908
* "The Cock-Eyed World" (1929)
* "You’re Dead!", "Argosy" (UK), May 1937

Famous Quotes

* "Copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from two, it's research."

* "I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education."

* "To my embarrassment, I was born in bed with a lady."


Other References

* Alva Johnston, "The Legendary Mizners", Farrar, Straus and Young, 1933. (Reissued in paperback 2003, ISBN 978-0-374-51928-5)
* Stuart B. McIver, "Dreamers, Schemers and Scalawags", Pineapple Press, Florida, 1994. ISBN 978-1-56164-155-0
* John Burke, "Rogue's Progress", New York, 1975, ISBN 978-0-399-11423-3

External links

* [http://www.chefanton.com/scoundrelsstore/scoundrels_gallery.htm School for Scoundrels] : includes a lengthy biography of Mizner, paying special attention to his more unsavory activities.
* [http://www.sondheim.com/features/les_miz.html Les Miz Brothers] : another lengthy biography of Wilson and his brother Addison, including source material used for "Bounce".

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Wilson Mizner — (* 19. Mai 1876 in Benicia; † 3. April 1933 in Los Angeles) war ein US amerikanischer Dramatiker, Erzähler und Unternehmer. Seine bekanntesten Stücke sind The Deep Purple und The Greyhound. Er war Geschäftsführer und Mitinhaber des Restaurants… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Wilson Mizner — est un scénariste américain né le 19 mai 1876 et décédé le 3 avril 1933. Filmographie sélective 1932 : Winner Take All de Roy Del Ruth 1932 : Vingt mille ans sous les verrous (20,000 Years in Sing Sing) de Michael… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Mizner, Wilson — (1876 1933)    Along with his brother Addison Mizner, Wilson Mizner led a controversial but fascinating life, working as a shill in medicine shows, professional gambler, and fight promoter before turning to theatre to write a play, The Only Law… …   The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater

  • Addison Mizner — Born December 12, 1872(1872 12 12) Benicia, California Died February 5, 1933(1933 02 05) …   Wikipedia

  • Bounce (musical) — Infobox Musical name= Bounce subtitle= caption= Original Cast Recording music= Stephen Sondheim lyrics= Stephen Sondheim book= John Weidman basis= productions= 2003 Chicago 2008 Off Broadway planned awards= Bounce (now titled Road Show ) is a… …   Wikipedia

  • Anita Loos — (c 1930s) Born Corinne Anita Loos April 26, 1888(1888 04 26) Sisson, California, U.S. Died August 18, 1981 …   Wikipedia

  • Warner Bros. — Infobox Company company name = Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. company company type = Subsidiary of Time Warner foundation = Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA (1923) founders = Jack Warner Harry Warner Albert Warner Sam Warner location… …   Wikipedia

  • Warner Bros — Warner Bros.  Cet article traite de la Warner Bros. Pictures et de la Warner Bros. Entertainment plus généralement, pour les autres acceptations, voir Warner …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Warner Bros. —  Cet article traite de la Warner Bros. Pictures et de la Warner Bros. Entertainment plus généralement, pour les autres acceptations, voir Warner  …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Warner Bros. Entertainment — Warner Bros.  Cet article traite de la Warner Bros. Pictures et de la Warner Bros. Entertainment plus généralement, pour les autres acceptations, voir Warner …   Wikipédia en Français

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