Search Results for: Fortune

The Making of a Black Fortune

Portrait of a young, well-to-do African American woman, c. 1890. (Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Shomari Wills | Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires | Amistad | January 2018 | 6 minutes (1,450 words)

At the turn of the century, Robert Reed Church was 60 years old. He now walked with a cane. His eyes were still fiery and bloodshot, and he remained fear­less and quick-tempered. A decade earlier, in 1889, he had begun to draw up plans for a park and arena for black citizens in Memphis. As their construction neared completion, he wondered how white Memphis would react to his project. His life had been filled with attacks by Confederates, racist police officers, and segregationists for daring to strive as a black person. Many winters earlier, he had been pelted with rocks by racists for having had the audacity as a black man to be the only man in Memphis with a sled. What would they do when he opened a $100,000 arena?

As a young man, he had dealt with white men with his fist and gun. Now, gray and wrinkled, Church decided to exert a skill he had acquired with age: diplomacy. In 1900, a group of ex-Confederate soldiers decided to throw a reunion for Confederate veterans in Memphis. As they struggled to raise $80,000 to build a temporary auditorium in which to hold the affair, they received an unexpected donation of $1,000 from Church, a former slave. “I never gave a cent in my life, so cheerfully or gladly as I gave that check to the veterans’ entertainment fund,” he said afterward. He had learned that goodwill could be bought when he had helped bail out Memphis from bankruptcy. He hoped that $1,000 would be enough to protect his arena from the same resistance as his pool hall, which a white mob had burned down when he was a young entrepreneur.

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How One Porn Mogul Made His Fortune and Ruined Everything

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.

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Larry Ellison Is Spending a Fortune to Save American Tennis

Longreads Pick

The Oracle billionaire takes over Indian Wells.

Published: Jun 4, 2015
Length: 10 minutes (2,660 words)

Who Poisoned The Orkin Fortune?

Longreads Pick

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.

Source: Forbes
Published: Oct 20, 2014
Length: 11 minutes (2,935 words)

The Inside Story Of How Greenpeace Built A Corporate Spanking Machine To Turn The Fortune 500 Into Climate Heroes

Longreads Pick

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.

Author: Aaron Gell
Published: Jun 4, 2014
Length: 30 minutes (7,570 words)

Billie Bob’s (Mis) Fortune

Longreads Pick

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.

Source: Houston Press
Published: Feb 10, 2000
Length: 17 minutes (4,375 words)

Bundyville Chapter Two: By a Thread

Illustration by Zoë van Dijk

Leah Sottile | Longreads | May 2018 | 26 minutes (6,578 words)

Part 2 of 4 of Bundyville, a series and podcast from Longreads and OPB.


It’s mid-November, the end of the first week of the trial in Las Vegas. I’ve found that my favorite time of day here is early morning, when the only people to talk to are those calling “good morning!” from the doorways and brick plazas where they’ve slept. It’s when Fremont Street is free of tourists and populated only by guys with hoses whose jobs are to wash away the things that seem always to fill this city street: spilled margaritas and cheap beer and puke.

I’m staying in a cheap casino on Fremont Street in a room that’s not expensive enough to have a coffee maker, which means I have to eject myself into the world without any caffeine, a thing I would never do at home but here I’ve come to look forward to. It’s the only time it’s quiet enough to think, to not lose yourself in the things Vegas asks you to become.

At night on Fremont, blocks from the federal courthouse, you will be offered whatever you need. Booze, drugs, money, beautiful women, beautiful men. Your fortune, told to you in cards. Your name etched on a bottle opener, a license plate, a flashing keychain, a pair of dice. Get drunk. Get high. Get wild. It’s Vegas, baby — a line people repeat here like a mantra in packed elevators, in coffee shops, in the security line of the “fed castle” where Bundy’s followers empty their pockets of change and pocket-size Constitutions before going through the metal detector. When Judge Gloria Navarro strolls to the bench each morning — always late, always carrying an iced coffee — people explain it with a shrug: “Vegas, baby.”

I’ve avoided the Vegas life this week, but on my last night — a Thursday — I stop into a bar on Fremont Street and take the only seat left at the bar, next to a Mr. T impersonator. There’s no court tomorrow, so I’m OK with staying out a little late and seeing what’s so appealing about this city. Vegas at night, despite my resistance to it, is fun — and I’ve had enough to drink with Mr. T that I strike up a conversation with a couple of guys who’ve traveled here from the East Coast to sample the legal marijuana. I ask them if they’ve heard of Cliven Bundy, and one responds immediately, “He’s that cowboy the government is trying to steal land from, right?”

This must be what poker face feels like.

The next morning, I’m a little hungover and way out in the suburbs of the city. I’m sitting in this bright-white, fluorescent-lit office, guzzling complimentary bottles of water. I’m in the office of an ex-Bundy follower who used to be close with the family, Melissa Laughter.. She went to Bundy Ranch in 2014 and to Malheur in 2016. She has spent holidays with the Bundys.

She’s since become a vocal detractor of the Bundys and the wider Patriot movement that supports them. She says the Bundys demand loyalty, allegiance. She has come to think of them as cult leaders.

“A cult is is a blind following of some enigmatic leader,” she says. “They don’t question. They don’t act independently. They act as one.”

Laughter is a devout member of the Mormon church, and the granddaughter of a Utah dairy farmer. She explained what initially attracted her to the Bundys. “I’m like, OK, we have something in common. I’m interested in talking to them and hearing what they have to say,” she says. “So like many people, I was sympathetic to them to begin with.”

Laughter is a staunch conservative — a woman who has run for public office in Nevada as a Republican. She has bright white teeth and wears big cowboy boots with dresses. She’s pro-gun, vehemently anti-marijuana.

She grew up in the church and felt like something was off about how the Bundys talked about the Gospel to friends and family. “We would often have these philosophical religious debates where they would talk about LDS doctrine,” she says. According to Laughter, her differing perspective on church teachings wasn’t well received around the ranch. “They constantly take offense if you say anything against what they’re saying.”

But the Bundys were seeing things in the Gospel she couldn’t understand.

“I’m going to show you something else no one else has but the federal government,” she says. She reaches to grab something from the floor, then plunks a big black binder onto her desk.

“Have you heard about The Nay Book?”

Yeah, I’d heard murmurs of it. I just didn’t think it was real. Read more…

The Roaring Girls of Queer London

Moll Cutpurse, 1611. (Getty)

Peter Ackroyd | Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day | Abrams Press | May 2018 | 17 minutes (4,408 words)

The story of same-sex love among women was bequeathed another chapter with the rediscovery of the clitoris by anatomists of the mid sixteenth century. It had been known to the Greeks but then disappeared from view. It could not have come as a surprise to women themselves that some organ or other was capable of arousal, but finally it had been named. A medical compendium of 1615, Helkiah Crooke’s Microcosmographia, announced that the clitoris “comes of an obscene word signifying contrectation [touching or fingering] but properly it is called the woman’s yard [penis]. It is a small production in the upper, forward . . . and middle fatty part of the share [genitals] in the top greater cleft where the Nymphs [labia] do meet and is answerable to the member of the man.” The member of the man need have nothing to do with it, however, and the reintroduction of the clitoris heralded the rise in public awareness of the tribade, the fricatrix, the rubster. These were the women who knew how to manipulate “the seat of women’s delight” with a hand, a dildo or a massively enlarged clitoris.

Helkiah Crooke himself remarked that “sometimes it grows to such a length that it hangs without the cleft like a man’s member, especially when it is fretted with the touch of the clothes, and so struts and grows to a rigidity as does the yard of a man. And this part it is which those wicked women do abuse called Tribades (often mentioned by many authors, and in some states worthily punished) to their mutual and unnatural lusts.” It is sometimes suggested that lesbianism was, before the twentieth century, an unmentioned and invisible act; in fact it has a historical identity arguably as long as that of love between men. Wherever there are bodies, there are lovers. It is found, for example, at the end of the twelfth century, in a vision of Edmund, a monk of Eynsham Abbey. He was taken to purgatory and led to that site where the souls of those guilty of same-sex love were consigned for their own particular suffering. To his astonishment, among them were a great number of women. He was surprised because he had not suspected women to be capable of such a deed. But there they were, suspended in woe and pain. Read more…

Searching for a Future Beyond Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

 Jacob Silverman | Longreads | May 2018 | 9 minutes (2,206 words)



For the better part of two decades, an important set of assumptions has underwritten our use of the internet. In exchange for being monitored — to what degree, many people still have no idea — we would receive free digital services. We would give up our privacy, but our data and our rights, unarticulated though they might be, would be respected. This is the simple bargain that drove the development of the social web and rewarded its pioneers — Facebook, Google, and the many apps and services they’ve swallowed up — with global user bases and multi-billion-dollar fortunes. Read more…