In 1970, Michael Brody became the world’s most popular millionaire for a few weeks.
The 21-year-old Margarine heir from Scarsdale, NY, vowed to give away his fortune — all people had to do was ask — to spark a whirlwind month that resulted in money raining down on the streets of Manhattan, an appearance on Ed Sullivan and Brody attempts to land a helicopter on the White House lawn.
Never mind that Brody didn’t have what he once claimed was $10 billion. Apparently he had a trust fund of $1.25 million ($9 million today) from a grandfather who first made branded margarine and sold the Good Luck Margarine company in 1948.
“I was told that by the age of 21, Michael might have received $250,000 from the trust and a monthly allowance of $20,000 or $30,000,” Keith Maitland, the film’s director, told the Post.
Brody’s capers began when he met a girl named Renee in December 1969: she showed up at his house to make a hash delivery for her drug-dealing boyfriend and didn’t leave. Three weeks later, Brody married the 19-year-old.
“Michael was on a beach in Jamaica on his honeymoon [in early] January 1970,” Maitland said. “His feeling was that there was love between them [he and Renee]blue skies above them and the world should see what they have seen.”
Spreading the love, Brody apparently tipped around $50,000 during the trip. As a romantic gesture, he bought a Pan Am 707 flight back to New York so he and his bride could fly home privately. When they landed, an army of reporters awaited them at the airport.
“I think Pan Am got wind of the plan and tipped off the media to promote it,” Melissa Glassman, a producer on the film, told The Post. The attention must have inspired Brody. “He spontaneously announced that he would give away all his money. He gave his home address in Scarsdale and asked people to submit inquiries by mail.”
More than 200,000 letters – sob stories and pipe dreaming – quickly arrived. There was the boy who wanted $5,000 so he could go to Japan and make a movie. The wife of an incarcerated drug addict sent in a photo of her child asking for finance that would “keep the smile on his face.” People were sending X-rays while looking for cash to pay medical bills.
Brody immediately began writing checks and handing out cash. People were queuing on the front lawn of his upscale home. A woman named Bunny Jones was paid $60,000 to open a recording studio in Harlem and allowed Brody to use her Broadway office as his Manhattan headquarters. She, too, was soon besieged by people asking for alms.
In the next week, Brody walked the streets of Manhattan handing out $100 bills to strangers. He and his crew of fellow walkers, often with joints in hand, were fixing up at his father’s East ’60s apartment, who was reportedly out of town when all of this happened. Soon the sidewalk in front of the building was full of fortune hunters. Brody threw it up and threw $20 bills out the window while flipping the bird over.
On Jan. 11, the newly minted celebrity appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and played a Bob Dylan song on his acoustic guitar while the host marveled at “the youngster giving away $25 million.” The spectators applauded wildly.
A day later, he and Renee chartered a helicopter with the intention of landing on the White House lawn. Brody told the press he would offer the North Vietnamese $10 billion to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. (Not that he had $10 billion.)
But by the time the helicopter entered the airspace over the President’s lawn, Secret Service agents were on high alert. “They kept telling the pilot that if he lands on the lawn, he’ll be shot down,” says bodyguard Michael Aronin in the documentary. Brody kept tossing the pilot $20 bills and insisting he land.
Eventually, however, the pilot got cold feet and swung to a nearby airport. Brody and his crew – including Aronin – taxied to the White House, where they insisted on seeing Nixon so the war could end. Intelligence agents arrested the group before throwing them out and arresting the bodyguard, who had an outstanding warrant.
At a press conference immediately after the incident, Brody grumbled, “I came up with a surefire peace plan… President Nixon showed how much he cared about arresting a person I was down with. I [wanted] 10 billion dollars and a lot of love to give and what did he give me?
Reporters and establishment-hating hippies ate it up. RCA Records offered Brody a contract. And in the midst of it, the Grateful Dead recruited him to open a show in Hawaii.
“He was paid $300 for the performance, demanded the money in pieces and threw it all into the crowd,” Maitland said. “Also, he was dosed with LSD by a Grateful Dead roadie.”
Back in Manhattan, Brody continued to write checks like he was drawing from a bottomless pit. But on January 19, those checks bounced. His admirers began to turn against him, shouting from the streets. A disheveled Brody was asked by a reporter what his destination was.
“To bring peace to the world,” he said. “The world will realize that they are killing themselves over the paper. I’m the worst thing that ever was. I’m a big cheater. i am not real If I die, the whole world dies with me.”
In fact, Brody was ill-equipped to deal with such a rampant killing spree and the trial that came with it. His mother had died when he was 3 years old and a childhood friend in the film recalls being raised by babysitters and housekeepers while his father, a notorious playboy, disappeared from the picture.
Brody was so desperate for friends that he invited local kids to poker nights and then happily lost to get them to come back.
“Michael struggled to make connections,” Maitland said. “I think giving his money away was about making connections. But it got out of hand.”
There was something else at play. According to Ed Dwyer, a journalist who wrote about Brody for High Times magazinethose joints he chain-smoked contained more than just marijuana.
“If Michael Brody was just a stoner, I don’t think any of this would have happened,” says Dwyer in the documentary. “Do you know anything about PCP? I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It makes you feel like you have all that power and energy, and you really don’t.”
As Maitland told the Post, “PCP was the fuel that kept the engine running.”
Word got around that things were going badly and that the money wasn’t as high as Brody had encouraged. A New York Times article quoted him as saying, “It was him stumbled on drugs‘ when he decided to blow up his inheritance.
“What a joke I made on the world,” he added. “They think I’m Jesus Christ.” On January 19, 1970, the front page of the Post blared: “Brody’s Millions – More Questions.”
Given the whirlwind nature of it all, Aronin marveled: “It’s an Andy Warhol ’15 Minutes of Fame’ story.”
To escape the madness and mobs of critics, Brody tried to keep a low profile in the late 1970s. He and Renee moved into a house in Woodstock. But the comedown of it all — maybe the drugs, definitely the fame — was brutal. After giving away an estimated $350,000, he became increasingly depressed.
He ended up in a mental institution. Renee, as she explains in the documentary, “went to California in a VW bus [the couple’s baby son] Jamie.”
Brody was released in 1971 or 1972, only to be arrested at home in Norfolk, Connecticut, for making threatening calls to the White House. Speaking to Nixon’s receptionist, he threatened to set himself on fire and vowed to kill the President.
He was released on bail, then arrested again and charged with arson when his $100,000 rental home burned down. Brody temporarily ended up in a mental institution again. When he was released, he drank a case of beer a day.
On January 26, 1973, he went to Renee’s father’s house and shot himself with a hunting rifle.
Looking back, after reviewing more than 12,000 of the letters sent to Brody, Maitland said, “The obstacles and problems that were holding people back in 1970 — finding money for college, paying medical expenses, coping with tragic drug addiction problems — are the same.” as today. I think we could use a Michael Brody right now, just without the unraveling he’s had to endure.”
https://nypost.com/2022/03/04/dear-mr-brody-hippie-millionaire-who-gave-away-fortune/ Hippie millionaire who gave away fortune