If you have ever ridden on the Mail Boat – one of my most favorite things in the whole world – you may have heard about a house that belonged to Charles Revson, founder of the Revlon cosmetics empire.
Actually, it never did. The house in question, 3395 East Lake Road, was from 1953 to 1958 a summer home of Martin Revson, the youngest brother of Charles, who served as sales manager and executive vice-president of the Revlon company. In 1953, Martin and Julie Revson purchased “the Dr. Harold Moore place” in Skaneateles. They maintained a fairly low profile and Martin’s main claim to fame while here was one he did not seek.
From 1955 to 1958, the Revlon company was the sponsor of “The $64,000 Question.” At Revlon, direction for “The $64,000 Question” was in the hands of Martin Revson. Meeting every week, Martin and the show’s producers discussed contestants and ratings. Martin saw that more attractive and successful contestants drew bigger ratings, and so he urged the producers to find good looking contestants and to assure their success. The producers made every effort to please their sponsor, including coaching contestants prior to the broadcasts. In 1959, this culminated in Congressional hearings on “fixed” quiz shows, where the Revson brothers testified that they were “flabbergasted” by the news that the producers had given contestants the answers.
But prior to the revelations, Martin Revson was discomforted in another way. A young contestant, Dr. Joyce Brothers, was denied because her area of specialty, psychology, was too vague and uninteresting. So she returned weeks later as a boxing expert, and the producers accepted her as a contestant. To their surprise, she got the answers right, with no help at all. But after Dr. Brothers’ first appearance, Martin Revson made it clear he disliked her — her personality, her looks, her clothing – and added that he also found her unbelievable. He wanted her off the show. So the producers brought in Nat Fleischer, a legendary boxing writer, to come up with questions that would stump Brothers.
At the $16,000 mark, host Hal March reached all the way back to 1910 and asked, “What man refereed the comeback attempt of an ex-champ against Jack Johnson at Reno, Nevada.” Brothers calmly replied, “Tex Rickard.” She was right, and soon became the first woman to win the $64,000 prize. When investigators later asked how she became an expert about boxing, she told them she read books, like Ring Facts by Nat Fleischer.
And so Dr. Joyce Brothers went on to fame, and Martin Revson went before Congress. But Congress was not his only adversary. About the time Martin Revson was leaving Skaneateles, he was also leaving Revlon to strike out on his own. A quote from his brother Charles pretty much tells the story: “Look, kiddie. I built this business by being a bastard. I run it by being a bastard. I’ll always be a bastard, and don’t you ever try to change me.”
In 1960, Martin sued the Revlon company and his brother Charles for $600,000. In his suit, Marvin noted, “Charles Revson engaged in a practice of mistreating executives and abusing them personally to such extent that men of proven capacity who held high positions in nationally known corporations before and after their employment by Revlon, Inc., suffered humiliation.” The brothers agreed to an out-of-court settlement, but did not speak for several years afterwards.
Martin Revson sold his Skaneateles home to John Andre Bouvier Jr., a Florida attorney (and no relation to Jacqueline Bouvier). Martin and Julie Revson separated in 1963 and divorced in 1969. News reports said that Martin and his wife had three homes – in New York City, in White Plains and in Weston, Connecticut – and at one time or another Martin had been thrown out of all of them. Life continued to be cruel: Martin’s sons, Doug and Peter Revson, were both race car drivers and died while racing, Doug in 1967 and Peter in 1974.
One thing Martin Revson was not denied is longevity. In 2010, he celebrated his 100th birthday with 250 friends at a black-tie dinner held at the Mashomack Preserve Club in Millbrook, N.Y. He is today 102, and lives in Palm Beach, Florida.