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“I'm an accident here, I don`t really belong.”
|At his 1,200-acre horse farm near Ocala, Florida, Dreyfus looks over one of his Thoroughbred animals. The farm raises stock for his profitable racing stable.|
Millions are familiar with the Dreyfus lion as the symbol of the fund, but few people know much about the man who put the lion on TV. Even on Wall Street, Dreyfus has always been something of an enigma. “I’m an accident down here,” he admits. “I don’t really belong.” He avoids the haunts of other brokers. He hates pomp and protocol. He hasn’t worn a tuxedo—or, for that matter, an overcoat—in more than 20 years. His wardrobe consists of 40 expensive suits, all of them dark blue, a hue which serves to give his trim figure a particularly natty look when he chooses to mingle formally with the rest of the human race.
Dreyfus resents being cooped up in offices, even his own plush establishment at No. 2 Broadway with its soothing modern décor. Whenever he feels the urge to escape, he simply takes the elevator down 29 floors and walks across the street to Battery Park. On nice days he divests himself of jacket, tie and shoes. “My brain expands when I take my shoes off,” he says. In winter, when the weather discourages this practice, he huddles against the biting winds in a niche in what is left of the park’s old aquarium.
Dreyfus possesses at least two qualities rarely seen in busy and successful men. His associates maintain that he is verconscientious about almost everything and that he goes to great lengths to avoid hurting people’s feelings. He also has an obsession about finding homes for lost dogs. He chases them on sight the way little boys once used to chase fire engines. One day not long ago, as he was peering through the brass telescope he keeps in his office for viewing the Statue of Liberty and other harbor sights, he spotted a stray loping along lower Broadway and dodging traffic. Dreyfus promptly dashed for a down elevator and took off in pursuit. After a determined chase through the streets, Dreyfus caught up with the snarling mongrel and, using his belt and his tie as a makeshift leash, returned to the office in triumph with the mutt. Dreyfus has found homes for at least 50 stray dogs, but his compassion applies to other animals as well. Once, on a business trip in Miami, he came across 14 cats cooped up in an old monkey cage on the grounds of a swank hotel. Dreyfus instantly made arrangements to have them cared for on his 1,200-acre Thoroughbred horse farm near Ocala, Fla.
He is the owner of a large stable of race horses and sometimes gives the impression that he prefers their company to that of people. The stable is called Hobeau Farm. Dreyfus picked the name himself because the idea of being a knight of the road has always appealed to him—“Just a bum with no responsibilities.” In all his life, however, he has never quite been able to achieve this goal.
As a toddler in Montgomery, Ala., Dreyfus showed distressing signs of being a natural-born over-competitor. When he was 5, he was beating his grandfather at dominos. The old man, an immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine, was a first cousin to Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the famous French prisoner of Devils Island. Dreyfus recalls his grandfather as a fiery old codger with fierce mustachios who drank a quart of corn liquor a day and hated to lose at anything. “I can remember his breath and how mad he got when he’d lose,” he says. Dreyfus’ father was in the candy business in Montgomery and fancied himself as a bridge player. But every week, when the elder Dreyfus tried to solve the bridge problem printed in Collier’s magazine, he would give up in disgust and offer 25 cents to anyone who could come up with the answer. By the time young Jack was 8 he was earning a steady income from his father solving these problems. But his first real obsession was golf.
The boy began attacking the game in earnest at age 13. At the Standard Club, where his father was a member, Dreyfus spent up to five hours a day on the practice tee struggling with his temper and an unsound swing. For him golf became more an exercise in mental discipline than a game—and his mastery of his emotions later helped him not only at cards but in the stock market as well. At 16 he was both club champion and city champion of Montgomery. At Lehigh University he barely got passing grades. College contained no challenge for him except as a member of the golf team; his only other real interest in life was bridge. By the middle ’30s he had drifted to New York and into and out of a succession of unexciting jobs. In 1937, when he was 25, Dreyfus joined Manhattan’s card-playing Cavendish Club and decided to devote himself to cards and golf. “I never became a 100 percent bridge bum,” he says. But the distinction is a fine one. Although he had finally accepted a routine job in Wall Street, Dreyfus couldn’t wait for the market to close each day at 3:30 p.m. so he could dash uptown to the Cavendish. He had been a first-rate player back home, but what he encountered in this habitat of bridge champions distressed him.
“Part of their game was to make you feel like an idiot,” he says. “I was terrified every time I drew one of the big names of the game as a partner. I found myself bidding what I thought he wanted me to instead of using my own judgment.” In a game where ego is crucial Dreyfus suffered acutely. Lack of confidence made him a “caddie” rather than a “personality”—as he puts it—until one day, quite unexpectedly, he solved the riddle of another card game. He was kibitzing a gin rummy session at the Cavendish, mentally computing the odds on various methods of discard, when the revelation came. What he discovered was an advantageous system for discarding what an opponent was not likely to need. In its simplest form, his system was to throw out, whenever possible, one card higher or lower than an opponent’s discard—but in another suit. This seemingly elementary formula gave him a significant mathematical advantage over conventional discarding. With this bit of knowledge—which he kept to himself—plus his highly developed card sense and intuition, Dreyfus became practically unbeatable at gin rummy. One by one the experts gave up challenging him. Later, when he let his opponents in on the secret, two of the better-known pros, Oswald Jacoby and John Crawford, wrote books on gin rummy using Dreyfus’ system as a basic theme. His superiority at gin also gave him back his confidence at bridge.
With this essential ingredient restored, Dreyfus took part on equal terms in cutthroat sessions with such masters as Howard Schenken and Baron Waldemar von Zedtwitz. “He could be brilliant when he really bore down,” says George Rapee, one of the group. Although he did compete successfully in tournaments, Dreyfus preferred the man-to-man challenge of informal money games.
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