Despite riches, power, and respect, some people are never satisfied. A poor North Carolina kid named Michael Thevis turned paperback smut and peep show machines into a million-dollar empire, and he shaped America’s porn industry right as laws started to relax around the ownership and production of sexually explicit material. When Thevis crossed into arson, threats, and murder, he brought himself down for good. At The Daily Beast, crime journalist Jeff Maysh gets access to Thevis’ diaries and letters to tell the full story of “The Scarface of Sex” for the first time.
Rival peep machine manufacturers emerged, included those run by Leon and Mike Sokolic, Art Sanders, and Bill Walters. Before now, the most Thevis had ever done to intimidate a rival was let off a stink bomb at a store in Baltimore. Not all competitors rolled over so easily. Nat Bailen, who manufactured a peep show machine for cartoons, started to sell his units to sex-shop owners who used them for porn. In 1970, a customer named Harry Mooney in Michigan asked to lease 50 machines from Thevis—an order so large he couldn’t meet it in time. Instead, Mooney bought his machines outright from Nat Bailen. As he would do so often, Thevis turned to Underhill.
“Something,” Thevis told him, “has to be done with Bailen.”
On April 26, 1970, Underhill drove from Atlanta to Louisville in his yellow station wagon, where he met a paid accomplice, Clifford “Sam” Wilson. In the dead of night, they broke into Bailen’s factory, carrying burglary tools and five-gallon containers of gasoline. They built a bonfire using his furniture and paperwork. When Wilson found some paint cans, he told Underhill, “Let’s really screw this guy,” and poured paint over the desks and carpets. There were four-foot-tall flames licking at the windows by the time the goons fled. Reeking of gasoline, Underhill found a pay phone at the Kentucky Turnpike, and called Thevis at the Central Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.
“Veni vidi vici,” Underhill said—I came, I saw, I conquered.
Atlanta’s Rollins family has long been known for two things: throwing great parties and spawning the Orkin pest control empire. Forbes investigates the $8 billion family feud that has brought their name back into the headlines.
How a “bunch of commies” are forcing the world’s biggest corporations to stop destroying rain forests, overfishing, and burning fossil fuels.
Though they too wore business suits and what looked like P&G employee badges, they didn’t work for the consumer-goods giant. They were from Greenpeace, and they’d come to save tigers.
Wordlessly, the nine activists made their way past the security desk and headed for two rendezvous points — one, in a 12th-floor office suite in the iconic building’s north tower, the second, in an office just opposite, in the east tower. There, the two groups jimmied open several windows, attached rappelling gear to the window-washing stanchions, and climbed out into the chilly air.
Less than two years after Billie Bob Harrell Jr. took the $31 million lottery jackpot, he took his own life.
He sat in his easy chair one evening and looked at his Quick Pick and then at the Sunday newspaper. Harrell studied the sequence of numbers again and began to realize the wildest of notions. He and wife Barbara Jean held the only winning ticket to a Lotto Texas jackpot of $31 million.
Harrell, a deeply religious man, knew he had a godsend from heaven. After being laid off from a couple of jobs in the past few years, Billie Bob had been reduced to stocking the electrical-supply shelves of a Home Depot in northeast Harris County. He was having a damn hard time providing for himself and Barbara Jean, much less for their three teenage children.
Pam Moore | Longreads | July 2017 | 16 minutes (4,065 words)
1. My face—and my life—split in half ten days after my second daughter was born.
In the grainy iPhone photos taken immediately after Lucy’s birth, I am looking at the ceiling, not at her. The gray-gold glow of dusk peeks through the blinds and I feel as if it’s four in the morning, as if I’ve been laboring all day.
In fact, I’d felt the first twinge of labor around lunchtime. I put my toddler down for a nap and was halfway through an episode of Breaking Bad when I realized this was it. I made my two-year-old a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and packed her overnight bag between contractions. At three o’clock my in-laws came for her and I waddled to the sidewalk to thank them while my husband buckled her into their car. The midwives came about an hour later, and our baby was born as the summer sun dipped behind the Rocky Mountains.
In those pictures she grows pinker with every breath and all I can think is, Holy shit. Not Holy shit, she’s gorgeous or Holy shit, I am in love with her, but Holy shit, it is finally over. As in Holy shit, that was hard.
I didn’t know the hardest part was yet to come. I had no idea the next 365 days would find me depleted, sad, and anxious. I would spend the year vacillating between dreaming of a fast forward button to catapult me through time, and berating myself for squandering my daughter’s babyhood. But that would come later.
Percy Ross was a trash-bag tycoon, a serial entrepreneur who had made millions in plastics in the 1960s and relished spending it. But in 1977 he staged an astonishing reinvention. Ross would become a philanthropist — and not just any philanthropist, but one for people like him: a “blue-collar millionaire,” as he put it. He’d give money away the way he’d gotten it, in bills small and large, and always when it was needed the most. He’d portion out his millions in cash, in checks, accompanied by the satisfying clink of a silver dollar. Percy Ross would become, as the newspapers called him, “America’s Rich Uncle.”
Ross always said — boasted, really — that he’d made and lost two fortunes. It was his third business that stuck, the one in plastics. Ross had been a fur auctioneer in the 1930s — he met the woman who eventually became his wife at a craps table in Las Vegas while in the company of Clark Gable — and an organizer of farm-equipment auctions. In 1958, the story went, Ross borrowed $30,000 to invest in a failing plastics company. He knew nothing about the industry, and within five years he’d filed for bankruptcy — but with hard work, the help of his family, and a little innovation, he eventually turned the company around. Poly-Tech, as he renamed it, made plastic garbage bags. He liked to tell people he sold Poly-Tech for $8 million on the same day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon: July 20, 1969.
The story of the trash-bag turnaround was part of Percy Ross’s pitch-perfect rags-to-riches tale. Born in 1916 in Laurium, Michigan, a small town on the state’s copper-rich Upper Peninsula, Ross was the son of immigrants, desperately poor Jews from Russia and present-day Latvia. His father was a junk dealer who worked constantly, and so did his three sons. By the age of 6, Percy had begun making weekly rounds through the neighborhood with a wagon of farm eggs his father had bought for 12 cents a dozen, which he then sold to neighbors at a 3-cent markup. He sold magazines. He started his own business rebuilding car batteries. He would have shined shoes at the country club if they hadn’t rejected him for being too poor and too Jewish.
This is how I always imagine my grandfather’s departure from Shanghai: him, a lanky boy of 19, wearing khakis and a pressed shirt, standing near the docks with a small brown suitcase in hand. I imagine the shirt to be white with intersecting gray lines, a series of chess-sized squares on his body. Maybe he’s wearing a matching beige jacket too, or a hat of some sort. I assume that going overseas was probably a big deal at the time, an occasion you were supposed to dress up for.
For some reason, in this scene, I don’t see the man traveling with my grandfather—a friend of my great-grandparents he might have called Uncle. Instead, I see my great-grandmother, small and slightly bent over, her lined face rearranging its features as she struggles not to cry. I see her gazing up at her tall boy, adjusting his shirt, touching his lapel, fussing the way mothers do. I see her pressing a sack of oranges into his palms, worried he’ll be hungry on the boat. Now he’s brushing her fingers away, annoyed, impatient. He’ll only be gone for a few weeks, he reminds her, three months at the most. She tells him not to do anything rash out there. She tells him to listen to Uncle. I can see him barely registering her words. I can see his eyes lingering on the boat and the ocean and the tiny island of Taiwan he can’t yet make out. I can see that his mind is already gone from his childhood home and she can see it too. She takes a deep breath and smiles. She tries to be happy for him, to be proud of her youngest son. She tries to remember that boys his age are fighting wars in the north, and that she is lucky, so lucky, that all he wants is to explore the world. She tries to be happy that her boy will not only be well-educated, but also well-traveled, but he is her baby boy and she is his mother and he’s never traveled so far from home before.