America really has degenerated as a breeding ground for Class A scoundrels. Bernie Madoff? Ken Lay? Charles Keating? Small men in both ethics and actions, but mostly in their lack of style. Put them up against a Wilson Mizner and they shrink to the D list specimens they are.
Mizner was old school. He was the youngest son of an old line California family from Russian Hill. A beautiful place, but it was not for him. Money and comfort were all well enough, but Wilson was man of restless intelligence and a need of excitement, and there was little of that where his parents lived. His preferred venues were the dives and hells of the Barbary Coast where there was always something interesting going on. At six foot four and over two hundred pounds, he was able to handle himself. With a little help and guidance from some of the area’s shadier people, he was soon able to handle others as well.
He worked as a saloon singer despite a terrible voice (women didn’t mind; but then, they weren’t really listening so much as watching), played the shill to a patent medicine salesman, and organized illegal prize fights. When gold was discovered in Alaska (1897), he and two of his brothers followed the call of the wild. It didn’t take him too long to realize, like Levi Strauss, that the real money, the easy money, was not in the river beds, but in the miners’ pockets.
Unfortunately for the miners, Mizner had fewer ethics than Strauss. Continue reading