“If I die, the whole world dies.”
By 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning, January 17, there were more than 100 in line outside 1650 Broadway, many of them Colombian or Puerto Rican who had heard about the giveaway on a local Spanish radio station. Many others had read about Brody on the front page of that morning’s New York Daily News: “BRODY SETS OFF A GOLD RUSH.” The accompanying story gave out the Broadway address and attracted still more money seekers. But rumors also circulated about Brody’s fortune. Word that checks had bounced had reached the streets. It did not deter the crowds.
A man from West New York wanted money to start a dry-cleaning store. He would name the store after Brody if he just got the cash. A woman from Harlem needed money because she was two months behind in her rent and needed clothes for herself and her children. Richard Castaldo, 16 years old, and his 12-year-old brother, wanted money for their mother, who was in the hospital and needed an operation. Jim Loop was 55 and living on the street, sleeping most nights on a bench in Grand Central Station. He had tried calling Brody’s Scarsdale telephone number but got a busy signal. He called back and lost his dime when he got the busy signal again. He called the operator to complain and tried getting the phone company to send him a refund, but he had no mailing address. He wandered over to the Broadway office. “I can’t go to a men’s shelter and sleep with winos and sick people,” he told a reporter. “I’m not a bum. I’m just down and out. If I can get enough money to get back to Florida I’ll be all set. I know I can get a job down there.” A 53-year-old mechanic wanted money to send his six children to college and to bring his 83-year-old mother, who was living in a shack in Mississippi, to New York. “I just don’t have the money,” he said. He had no gloves and blew on his hands for warmth. Another man wanted money for a center that treated mental patients.
Brody was nowhere to be seen. Police closed the building and urged everyone to go home until Monday. The crowd refused, determined to stay outside in the cold until the building re-opened Monday morning. About the time the police closed the building, Michael and Renée decided to leave Scarsdale. Brody had been walking around inside his rented house without any clothes, occasionally standing in front of the sliding glass doors in full view of those lined up outside. He had not slept the night before, and he could not remember the last time he had. Renée convinced him he should get dressed, and he did, though he put on his red pullover sweater inside out and backward, so that the label showed under his chin. Renée told him that they should go to Manhattan. They had hired three off-duty Scarsdale police officers as added protection, and for crowd control. The officers ran interference through the crowd milling in the driveway, and Michael and Renée got into a car and sped off toward the City. Blanche Duffy, from Chattanooga, arrived a few minutes later. She had met Brody the day before. He had kissed her and told her to come back the next day, which was also her 67th birthday. Brody had promised her a birthday present. Another man in line gave her money for a hotel room, and she had come back to get the present Brody had promised. When told that Brody had left, she started crying. She had no money and no place to go. She was hungry.
Michael and Renée drove to Brody’s father’s midtown apartment, trailed by reporters and others. The sixth-floor apartment was immaculately furnished, with plush wall-to-wall carpet and modern furniture upholstered in silk fabric. As was typical, Brody’s father was not home—off somewhere on a business trip or with some girlfriend. Brody and Renée holed up there for an hour or two trying to make getaway plans with the slowly growing group of disciples—Herman and Reynaud and Nolan and two others, Brian Wilders and Michael Aronin. The latter two had just joined the group to act as Brody’s bodyguards. Brody had known Wilders, who was from nearby New Rochelle, for a few years. He was about Brody’s height and weight but wore his hair slightly longer. Aronin was also tall and thin, with a full head of curly black hair that fell below the collar. He had been a Marine and, at age 25, was just four years older than Brody. He had met Brody at some bar a few months earlier while playing Liar’s Poker. Brody considered Wilders and Aronin his best friends. The group watched CBS’s Saturday morning lineup—Scooby Doo, Where Are You!, The Archie Comedy Hour and The Monkees—but it didn’t help. Brody was agitated and tired. Renée tried to calm him. It didn’t work. He wanted to go. Rick Herman had been working the phones, trying to make flight arrangements. Brody stuck his head out of the sixth story window and beseeched the crowd of reporters below. “Please go away. I need sleep. Please let me sleep.” Pedestrians soon realized it was the young philanthropist, and the crowd swelled. “Money, Money, Money,” the crowd shouted.
Brody, half out the window, opened his arms wide. “I don’t have any money,” he shouted to the crowd below. Renée held onto the back of his pants as he leaned out the window. “All I’ve got is paper. I’ll write on the paper and you can have that. That’s all you want, baby.”
It was clearly a New York crowd. It turned on Brody immediately. “You’re a phony. You’re a phony” the crowd chanted.
“That’s right,” Brody shouted as loud as he could. “I’m the biggest phony in the world. As phony as you, baby.” He pulled himself inside the apartment once he saw the Jaguar pull up out front.
The crowd was there on the street as Brody and his coterie exited the building. Brody and Renée hugged each other and Herman and Aronin ran interference, trying to hold back the crowd as it surged forward. Brody carried his guitar in one hand and a crystal decanter filled with gin in the other. Reynaud carried his attaché cases with the mobile telephone. A few New York crazies pushed forward, proclaiming that Brody was Christ, their Savior, and Brody was happy to oblige, pouring gin on their foreheads and promising to anoint them with oil.
While some continued to chant, “You’re a phony,” others made pleas for money—for food, tuition, a new car, to pay hospital bills. The crowd pressed, and it was becoming more difficult for the four to move. Brody answered some of the pleas, promising to respond to every request for money, then changed his mind and told the crowd that he wouldn’t give them any money. The crowd closed in tighter. It frightened Renée, who buried her head in Brody’s chest. He placed his arms around her, still holding the guitar and the decanter. “If I die, the whole world dies,” he said to the crowd. He was angry. “So, go ahead and kill me.”
Brody and his followers had pushed and shoved their way through the crowd outside his father’s apartment. Herman climbed in the front passenger seat of the Jaguar. The others squeezed in the back, with Renée sandwiched in the middle. Behind the wheel was CBS-radio reporter Ed Bradley, who was still working on the inside story. “Isn’t it ridiculous what people will do for money,” Renée said to no one in particular. The car drove off, leaving the crowd behind. A dozen other reporters scrambled to their cars or cabs and followed. The Jaguar headed south, then west, then south, zigzagging a route across Manhattan. The reporters followed, weaving in and out of traffic to keep the Jaguar in sight.
When the Jaguar reached Times Square, it became snarled in traffic. Brody jumped out with his guitar and started strolling down the middle of Broadway, playing the guitar. Renée and the others followed. They were joined by the reporters, who had double parked and abandoned their personal vehicles or hopped out of cabs. Another crowd grew as soon as everyone realized it was Brody. Several hundred pedestrians quickly surrounded Brody, marching with him. Brody periodically stopped and gave autographs or wrote IOUs. The reporters snapped photos and held microphones or pads and pens, waiting for his next words. Traffic had stopped completely by the time the police arrived.
“You got a parade permit?” one cop asked Brody. He was joined by two other officers. They crowded Brody. They were big.
“No baby, all I want is a taxi,” Brody said.
The police hailed a taxi and put Brody and Renée in it. Brody rode a few blocks, trailed by the reporters and the crowd, before he realized he didn’t have any money. He told the driver to stop at the next pawn shop, which the driver did. Brody tried to pawn his guitar at Larry Friedman’s pawn shop on Eighth Avenue, but Friedman refused. He didn’t accept musical instruments. He was also aware of Brody’s identity, and he was concerned about the crowd outside the shop. “Here,” Friedman said. He handed Brody a five dollar bill. “Get out of here.” Herman and Nolan had caught up by then, along with the police. The police broke up the crowd. Brody paid the driver, and he, Renée and his two managers walked the remaining distance back to Brody’s father’s apartment, under police escort, where remnants of the earlier crowd remained.
“Give us money, Give us money,” and “Phony, Phony,” the crowd alternated. Brody became hysterical. Herman and Nolan tried to drag him inside the apartment. “Give me seven days and I’ll save the world,” Brody screamed. His voice was high pitched and strained. He was almost crying. “I’ll bring together Kosygin and Nixon together next week,” he cried, referring to Soviet Premier Alexey Kosygin. “I’ll give North Vietnam a billion dollars and then we’ll have peace.”
“Phony,” the crowd shouted. “You ain’t got that much.”
“I’ll have it because all the millionaires in the world are together with me,” Brody yelled before Herman and Nolan bullied him inside. Safe in his father’s plush apartment, Brody decided that it was time to leave New York. He did not know where he was going, or when he was leaving, but he was definitely going. The money grubbers and the beggars were not what he had expected.
“I should have known they’d be this way,” Brody said. “I guess this proves that people are really greedy.” He complained about the requests for money from those who didn’t need it: “Oh, hell, I need money for a second car. Oh, hell, I need $40,000 for a luxury home.”
Earlier in the week, Brody had asked Herman to buy a jet, and Herman had been speaking with Pan Am representatives for several days. Inside the safety of Brody’s father’s apartment, Herman again called the Pan Am representative. He spoke for several minutes about the jet. Brody took the receiver from Herman. “I want to buy a jet,” Brody said to the Pan Am salesman on the other end. “I want to go up 40,000 feet and get some sleep. Put the plane on automatic pilot and fly around in circles. It’s the only way I can get some peace.” Then Brody changed his mind. He wanted to go somewhere tropical, he said, perhaps Tahiti or the Fiji Islands, to “groove with my wife and nature.”
The Pan Am representative had a Dassault Falcon 20F he could sell for just under $1.6 million. A small executive jet, with a low-mono wing and two rear-mounted engines, the Falcon could seat 9 passengers, perfect for Brody and his disciples. Pan Am would provide the jet on a test flight for a small down payment—a show of good faith. Brody agreed to the price, $25,000. Tahiti was out of the question, the Pan Am official said. Brody mentioned Jamaica. An international flight plan was complicated, the representative explained. He had an alternative—Puerto Rico, which was tropical and a U.S. territory. A flight plan could be worked out easily. The jet could be ready within hours.
Michael told Renée that he needed rest. Renée was also tired from the last several days. She could not remember when she had last slept, perhaps two days ago. She kissed him on the forehead and stroked his hair, trying to calm him. It did not work. He had become convinced that someone was trying to kill him. He stuck his head outside the apartment window and shouted to the crowd below. “Fuck you. Leave me alone.” He gave the crowd the finger, then came back inside and sat down. He wanted a joint. “We need a pot party in the sky,” he said.
Herman worked out the final details for the Puerto Rico trip. The jet would take off from Westchester Airport and stop in West Palm Beach for refueling. Brody could spend the night in West Palm or head to San Juan the same night. Pan Am assured Herman that the Falcon could be made ready for takeoff at 7:00 p.m. Brody and his entourage decided to take two cars to the airport, one of them Brody’s orange Cougar, which was in the garage. Brody had no cash and had to borrow money from a reporter to pay the attendant. He drove, with Renée, Nolan, a reporter from the New York Times named Nancy Moran, and another young man, who identified himself solely as Chickenhawk, as passengers. Brody thought somebody was following him, and he was right. Two cars of reporters were tailing him. Brody wanted to lose them, and he drove aggressively, speeding and weaving in and out of traffic. But he was also in good spirits. He was escaping. He laughed and talked a mile a minute. He told the reporter that he had fooled the world. “They think I’m Jesus Christ.” He laughed at the joke he had pulled on the world. A few minutes later, he turned to Renée. “You know I’m for real, don’t you, lovey,” he said, imitating the voice of Thurston Howell III, the millionaire from Gilligan’s Island. “You know I can do all sorts of wonderful things. You know I can cure cancer and cure heroin addicts. You know that, don’t you?” He appeared genuinely in need of reassurance from his wife. Renée smiled and said nothing. She leaned across the seat and buried her head in his shoulder.
Jim Markel and another Pan Am sales representative anxiously waited for Brody at the Westchester Airport. The Dassault Falcon 20F was fueled and ready for takeoff. The jet’s bar had been stocked. The flight plan had been filed, and the pilots had checked, and double checked, everything. Brody was late arriving. The evasive driving maneuvers to avoid being followed made him lose his direction, and he had gotten lost on the way to the airport. He had to circle and backtrack for nearly half an hour. He had not been able to lose the two cars full of reporters. Finally, he stopped the car and got out. He spoke to the reporters. They gave him directions to the airport. Brody, Renée, his entourage and the reporters crowded into Pastor’s, the airport bar. Brody had no money, and either reporters or other well-wishers bought the drinks. Forgetting about his commitment to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, Brody promised to return on Monday to hold a news conference to discuss the Vietnam War. “I’m having a good time,” he told the reporters, drinking a beer. “I could not want it any other way, except that I should want peace.” He gave the peace sign to passersby and posed for photos. Brody didn’t board the jet until 8:40 p.m.
The jet was crowded: it sat nine passengers, not including the pilots. Brody’s group of followers had swelled, and he had to tell several of his disciples that there was no room on the plane. He needed to take his managers and bodyguards, two reporters and the two Pan Am salesmen. And Renée, of course. Twelve, including the two pilots, eventually squeezed on board. As the Falcon taxied toward the runway, Brody told Moran that “everyone should have his own Falcon jet. It’s the only way to fly.” The jet accelerated down the runway, and Brody became giddy. “It’s the ooooooonly way to fly,” he said again, mimicking the Western Airlines advertising slogan. Markel was amused at Brody’s antics. He chuckled when Brody was repeating the rival airline’s slogan. “I’m going to buy a whole fleet of jets,” Brody said. “It’s the only way to fly,” he shouted.
Once in the air, Herman brought out the joints. He had a small leather pipe tobacco pouch that contained dozens of joints. He and Reynaud passed them around freely, and soon the cabin filled with marijuana smoke. As the plane headed south, Herman decided to work the reporters. It was his time to explain, and expand upon, Brody’s mission and plans. Two and one-half years after graduating from Radcliffe, where she had been editor of the Harvard Crimson, Moran had been assigned by the New York Times to cover the Brody story. She was young and petite, a little shorter than Renée, but more preppy. Her shoulder length chestnut hair was pulled back behind her ears: a pair of sunglasses acted as a barrette. She clutched a small pad in her left hand and jotted notes as Herman or others responded to questions. Ed Bradley was the other reporter who had managed a seat on the jet. With his Afro, he towered over everyone, presented an imposing figure, dressed in a black t-shirt with a black vest. A set of beads, a leather man purse and a large watch with a wide leather band completed his outfit. He smoked a joint as he listened to Moran’s Q&A, occasionally nodding his head and interjecting a question of his own. Moran wasn’t satisfied just talking to Herman, and she pressed both Brody and Renée for details of their lives. The newlyweds obliged, answering freely and honestly her inquiries. Moran was most interested about Brody’s giveaway.
“I came up with the idea while tripping on drugs,” Brody told Moran.
The other passengers milled around, smoking or drinking. Two hours into the flight, Chickenhawk, high and tired, reclined on the floor, trying to get some sleep. Brody’s bodyguards, Wilders and Aronin, smoked cigarettes and an occasional joint, and sat up talking. The Pan Am reps tried to make certain that Brody, the prospective purchaser of the jet, was comfortable, handing him gin and tonic after gin and tonic. Exhausted, Renée had curled up in a window seat, her head touching the window. Brody soon slipped in the seat beside her. He finally fell asleep, his head on Renée’s shoulder.
While Brody slept inside the Falcon, a cold rain started falling on the crowds outside his Broadway office. Those in line huddled close together, trying to get warm. Some sought shelter in the building’s doorway. A few wondered how long they could last. “I can stay until Sunday night or maybe longer,” one said. The police told everyone to go home until Monday. Nobody left. A man who had been in line for over eighteen hours refused to go home and come back Monday. “I’ve been here since 5 o’clock this morning. I’m a believer, I am.”
Some of those in line didn’t want Brody’s help. They wanted to help him dispense his fortune. “I think this is really beautiful,” a college student toll a reporter. “He’s a really freaky guy. I really dig him.” Others lined up merely to experience the happening: just to say they were there or, on the off chance they actually met Brody, to tell everyone they touched him or shook his hand. Graffiti had appeared on the wall of the building. Someone had spray painted a dollar sign and below it, a message: “May the baby Jesus open your mind and shut your mouth.” Accounts of the amount of money that Brody had given away escalated—$30,000 to $40,000 to $60,000 to $70,000. He had written checks for more. He’d written several $1,000,000 checks. Those in line had heard that his inheritance was $1 billion.