by Len Lear
On August 13, 2003, exactly 12 years from the day this paper comes out, Stanley Green died of heart failure at the age of 73. I happened to find the photo that accompanies this article when I was cleaning out our basement last week, and it reminded me of what a unique character Stanley was. I thought he was worth a tribute to those who may not have known who Stanley Green was.
Stanley, a lifelong Philly resident, was usually referred to in the press as a restaurateur-turned-bon vivant, although I called him “super-shtick.” When he died, it was said that his biggest disappointment was probably not being able to see his name in print in his obituary. For many people that would be considered an insult, but Stanley made no secret of the fact that he would do anything short of jumping out of an airplane without a parachute to get his name (and the names of his public relations clients) into the newspapers.
Stanley was a Damon Runyon character, and there simply is no one around like him anymore. He was born in West Philadelphia, the son of Sy Green, who owned several successful Jewish delis catering to truck drivers, garment workers and cabbies. But Stanley Green always wanted to rub noses with the rich and famous. His father “had the jet, but not the set,” Stanley once said.
Stanley opened a deli of his own, Stanley Green’s, on the 1600 block of Chestnut Street in 1960, which had wall-to-wall customers for a few years but began to fade when the city’s Restaurant Renaissance emerged in the mid-to-late 1960s. It closed its doors in 1971. He proceeded to open one new restaurant after another — Stanley Green’s Hollywood, Greenstreets, Stanley Green’s Winners, Stanley and Luigi’s, Green & Hardart, Tavern on the Greens, Burger-Greens and Jolly Green Giants, but every one lasted about as long as a grilled cheese sandwich. I used to kid Stanley that he should wear a Medic Alert bracelet that said “Terminally Insecure.”
In the late 1960s, Green began doing a series of stunts for Mike Douglas’ live, syndicated TV talk show, which was then broadcast from a location around the corner from his deli. Stanley would regularly deliver 5-foot-long hoagies to the host, hand out knishes to the audience and get his face on national television.
After finally being chewed up by the restaurant business, Stanley went into the public relations business, and he became a publicist’s publicist. “One of my best p.r. events,” he once told me, “was my third marriage. (He had five.) On the cake was a bride, a groom and a lawyer. At the end of the night there were marks all over my face. Instead of rice, the guests threw blintzes.”
Stanley arranged unforgettable events — from Mike Todd’s 50th birthday party (he was once married to Elizabeth Taylor) to a publicity event for a center city tuxedo company in which he hired the “Human Fly” to climb City Hall in a tuxedo and put a huge black tie around the neck of Billy Penn’s statue.
Stanley would regularly send TV talk show hosts a CARE package of Philly junk food. He rode in Frank Sinatra’s white limousine to get a sandwich at Pat’s Steaks; he greeted Secret Service men landing a helicopter on his roof. Once, when an intoxicated friend was being roughed up by police, Stanley said, “Let him go, officer. I’m the king of corned beef. I’ll send you guys 100 corned beef sandwiches!”
Stanley also became a gossip columnist. He would send a column each week to lots of weekly newspapers and would not charge them anything to run it, but he would mention local businesses and personalities in the column. He would charge the clients a fee to have their names inserted into his column on any given week. “It’s a win-win,” he told me. “The papers get a great, funny column with celebrity names, and my clients get their names out there.”
Here is a typical first paragraph from one of his columns: “Good morning, Mr. & Mrs. Delaware Valley. A kiss is a lot like gossip. It’s mouth-to-mouth! That’s what I call letting the chat out of the bag! Let’s go to press!!!” Stanley was even paid by restaurateur Neil Stein to sit at Rouge on Rittenhouse Square, schmooz with customers and tell them stories about all the celebrities he knew.
He would party with buddies like Harry Jay Katz, the “Philadelphia Playboy”; Princess Grace Kelly’s brother, City Councilman and former Olympic rower Jack Kelly; Congressman and Ambassador to Italy Tom Foglietta; actor/comedian Red Buttons and legendary pool hustler Minnesota Fats. Foglietta was quoted after Stanley’s death as saying, “I have known Stanley for 50 years. He was as important to Philadelphia as Benjamin Franklin walking down the street eating a roll. He meant as much to this city as the Phillies, the Eagles and Pat’s Steaks put together.”
I used to tell Stanley that he was a man of a thousand faces, and 8” by 10” glossies of each face were always available for a modest fee. Although many people assumed Stanley was super-rich because of the circles (and triangles) he traveled in, he always insisted he did not have a pot to hiss in (to use an old snake charmer’s expression).
“People just do not believe I have no money,” he said. (Anyone who had to pick up one of Stanley’s checks did believe it.) “I don’t even own a car, although in my prime I had a Rolls, a Jaguar, the best. I had a 1929 Mercedes that was used in Smirnoff vodka ads, but it was repossessed. Cars come and go. Whatever I had, I’d always spend more. But there’s not much I missed. If I died tonight, at least I wouldn’t have to rent pallbearers, like a lot of people I know.”