According to other sources, it was later said that Hammer was named after the " arm and hammer " graphic symbol of the Socialist Labor Party of America SLP , in which his father had a leadership role. Late in his life, Hammer confirmed that this was indeed the origin of his given name. Epstein in his book Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer puts forward the claim that it was Armand Hammer, then a medical student, rather than his father who performed the abortion and his father Julius assumed the blame. According to Hammer, his first business success was in , manufacturing and selling a ginger extract which legally contained high levels of alcohol. Edgar Hoover in the Justice Department knew this was false, but Hammer was allowed to travel anyway. He moved to the USSR in the s to oversee these operations, especially his large business manufacturing and exporting pens and pencils.
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Wealth--and the ostentatious spending of it--assure entree into a transient high society created by early 20th century economic pirates and now dominated by Hollywood. Our history is marked by stories of the newly rich who quickly rose to political and economic power, then ended up in prison. When Dr. Armand Hammer and Los Angeles were a perfect match.
For money and smooth talk are the passports to this city, a place, like the old frontier, where the newly rich discard their old lives and reinvent themselves. This will no doubt come as a shock to the Angeleno pooh-bahs--some of them rock-ribbed, Joe McCarthy-loving right wingers--who bowed and scraped before Hammer, hoping for an invitation or, more likely, a donation to a favorite cause.
It was an improbable theory. Hammer was the leading light of the stuffy conservative Los Angeles cultural and philanthropic scene. I remember interviewing him when he was trying to drill for oil off Pacific Palisades, a project violently opposed by residents, environmentalists and just about everyone who enjoyed the beach.
So desperate was he for favorable publicity that he even consented to talk to me, a reporter from City Hall. His father was an old Bolshevik who had come to the United States from his native Russia. Armand Hammer was feted whenever he visited Moscow. The Russians cut him in on big business deals. What explanation was there except that Hammer was playing for the other team?
From that connection flowed other business deals, some profitable for Hammer, others not, but all of them of great use to the Soviet Union. When a railroad station boss demanded a bribe to move food to the mine, the Cheka stepped in again and, as Hammer liked to boast, the station commandant was shot. His relationship with the Soviet secret police is just one--and for me the most interesting--revelation in a book that is a model of biographical research.
When finished, he has provided a painful look at the corruptibility of government and the gullibility of the business, economic and social elite. His father, in whose office Hammer was working, took the fall for him and went to prison. Dealing with the Soviets, he was an atheist. When developing oil fields in Muslim Libya, he was a Unitarian. Only when death neared did Hammer return to Judaism and, in fact, schedule a lavish bar mitzvah ceremony, but he died before it took place.
When I interviewed him about his Palisades drilling scheme, he spoke in sweeping terms of the global oil shortage. Above politics? Hammer was a master manipulator of politicians. Albert Gore Sr. He tells how the senior Gore went to work for Occidental Petroleum when he left the Senate after a congressional career marked by several helpful moves on behalf of Hammer.
Another helper was Rep. Jimmy Roosevelt D-California. But all this was subtle compared to what Hammer did overseas, bribing his way into the Libyan oil concessions that vaulted Occidental into the big time of the international oil trade and, possibly, giving payoffs to some of his Russian pals, according to Epstein.
Eventually, life, as it often does, imitated artifice. As people came to believe the Hammer legend, they treated the man with deference and sought his favor. All the rich and powerful, the politicians and cultural leaders and the rest who humbled themselves before him should read this book.
They will learn an old frontier lesson that I am sure Hammer knew: Beware of smooth-talking strangers, flashing big bills and promising wonderful gifts.
Dossier : the secret history of Armand Hammer
Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer