IN THE VIP LOUNGE ABOVE the auction room at Sotheby’s in New York one drizzly evening this May, Stanley K. Sheinbaum is pacing like an expectant father. He walks up to the window that overlooks the hall. He walks away. He picks at the hors d’oeuvres arrayed on a table. He chats for a moment with his wife, Betty. He shuffles over to the bar. He drifts back to the window. He looks uncomfortable. “This is not my world,” he says, as he watches the room below fill with elegantly dressed couples, all of whom seem to have known each other since prep school. Then he walks away again.
Sotheby’s on a night when the polo set has dropped in for the spring auction of contemporary art is not Stanley Sheinbaum’s usual habitat. Since the day 23 years ago when he married Betty Warner, the daughter of movie mogul Harry Warner, Sheinbaum has had the money to mingle in these circles. But this isn’t his crowd. It’s the wrong coast, the wrong style and the wrong politics.
Sheinbaum is a creature of living-room Los Angeles. He is the genial proprietor of the city’s busiest political salon and a full-time political activist at the hub of the city’s liberal Westside world. During his 16 years in Los Angeles, Sheinbaum has built a unique political role. He doesn’t actually have a job per se, although he participates in half a dozen left-of-center organizations and is a University of California regent. Sheinbaum’s work is easier to list than it is to define: He’s a networker, a mentor, a high-level kibbitzer, a fund-raiser, a source of funds himself, and an operator who brings together causes, money and politicians. On any given evening in his living room, amid the pottery, paintings and elegant artifacts, you might find Walter F. Mondale or Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, John Kenneth Galbraith or Abbie Hoffman, giving a speech, or looking for money, or, typically, both.
“He’s sort of the Statue of Liberty for liberal politics in America,” says Anthony T. Podesta, founding president of People for the American Way, one of the liberal groups on whose board Sheinbaum sits. “He stands there at the harbor in L.A. and says, ‘Give me your tired, your hungry and your poor, and we’ll see if we can do something with them.’ ”
It’s an apt comparison, except, to the consternation of many around him, Sheinbaum can’t slow down enough to become a monument. At 67, he remains an insistent, deeply committed man who lives his life behind a wall of motion that obscures his feelings and motivations even from many of his closest friends. Few people in liberal Los Angeles don’t know Sheinbaum; but very few know him well. He is a public man driven by private doubts and uncertainties.
There is a palpable restlessness in Sheinbaum, a ticking compulsion to be where the action is, which helps to explain why he is at Sotheby’s now, eyes nervously darting around the room, while John Marion, the auctioneer, dispatches with items number 22, 23 and 24. Then Sheinbaum sits back, takes a deep breath and listens to the buzz that ripples through the aisles when Marion announces lot 25, the evening’s premier attraction, a striking 1944 Willem de Kooning oil-and-charcoal painting called “Pink Lady” being offered for auction by Stanley and Betty Sheinbaum. The bidding starts at $1 million, and, even so, for the Sheinbaums this is not a happy occasion.
One morning not long ago, Sheinbaum invited 40 friends and political colleagues to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel to look over Democratic presidential candidate Bruce E. Babbitt, the former Arizona governor, who was trolling for money. As the host, Sheinbaum introduced the governor. “The quality I like best about Bruce,” Sheinbaum said, “is that he is an arguer. Bruce fought back in discussion and that delighted me enormously.” A few minutes later Babbitt got his turn. “I spent a lot of time arguing with Stanley,” the candidate said, “but the plain fact is, he’s never conceded me a single point.” Babbitt then moved into his speech. But a few moments after that he was interrupted by a loud cry from the audience. “Wait a minute,” Sheinbaum shouted, reaching for a last laugh. “How do you spell ‘conceded’?”
BETTY WARNER SHEINBAUM, an artist herself, bought “Pink Lady” more than 30 years ago from painter Fairfield Porter. At the time, a decade before she met Stanley Sheinbaum, she was married to Milton Sperling, a writer and producer. The painting cost her about $17,000.
“Pink Lady” was put on the block last month primarily to establish an endowment for one of Stanley Sheinbaum’s current projects: New Perspectives Quarterly, a small politics and policy magazine. The magazine was founded in 1983 by former Gov. Edmund G. ( Jerry) Brown Jr. As is so often his style, Brown drifted off after a few years, and the magazine’s editor, Nathan Gardels, approached Sheinbaum, who had been involved tangentially, about taking over the publication.
For Sheinbaum, the magazine was an unusually appealing opportunity--not because it was profitable or particularly influential, but because it was, self-consciously so, an intellectually serious endeavor. Sheinbaum has long been drawn to the intellectual world; 35 years ago he studied for a Ph.D. in economics at Stanford. But he’s never been fully comfortable in that arena; throughout his adult life, Sheinbaum has struggled with the conflict between his need to be accepted as a thinker and his doubts about his intellectual ability, between his natural inclination toward activism and the solitary nature of scholarship.
Sheinbaum’s fascination with the life of the mind is not uncommon among Jews of his generation and circumstance. He grew up in New York City during the Depression, and a university position was a ticket into respectability and the middle-class. As a child, Sheinbaum tasted middle-class life, then watched it slide away. Sheinbaum’s father was a small businessman, a manufacturer of women’s shoes and belts, who kept the family “moderately well off” through the ‘20s, but then lost his stake in the stock market crash. Bleak years followed. “The economic insecurity,” Sheinbaum says, “was awesome.”
As a young student, Sheinbaum did well, skipping several grades. But he did poorly in high school, and when he graduated he felt too uncertain of his ability to pursue college. Through the late 1930s, he drifted from job to job; restless, he moved to Houston, took a job in a printing plant and began attending night school. Then he was drafted and, because of his printing experience, spent most of World War II making maps.
Armed with the support of the GI Bill, Sheinbaum came back from the war and applied to 33 colleges. Each rejected him. Insult was added to injury when he decided, as a 26-year-old war veteran, that he had no choice but to return to high school for another semester of study. Humiliation aside, the crash course worked; he was accepted at Oklahoma A & M, where, to his surprise, he did well enough to transfer to Stanford. At Stanford he took an undergraduate degree and then stayed on for graduate work in economics. He began preparing his Ph.D. thesis on the U.S.-French balance of payments in the 19th Century (“the dullest subject imaginable,” he now calls it) and even found he had a facility for teaching.
With his Ph.D. still unfinished, Sheinbaum accepted a job at Michigan State University teaching economics and administering the East Lansing end of the university’s Vietnam advisory project, a project that at times seemed to run the shaky South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem. Though later a prominent critic of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Sheinbaum then welcomed the prospect of bringing Western capital and expertise to the Third World.
Over time, his enthusiasm waned. During a trip to Saigon in 1957, he learned that some of the men he had hired were really CIA agents. Meanwhile, at home, he got caught in bureaucratic in-fighting over which department would control the program; he wasn’t in much of a position to resist because he hadn’t secured his place on campus by finishing his Ph.D. In 1959, he resigned from the Vietnam project, not out of principle but rather weariness, and set himself the equally wearying task of ensuring his academic future by completing his dissertation.
Unhappy in Michigan, Sheinbaum found his escape in the larger-than-life presence of Robert Maynard Hutchins, the boy genius who had been dean of Yale Law School at 28 and president of the University of Chicago at 30. In 1959, Hutchins had founded an elite think tank called the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and though many considered the entire exercise pretentious and arid, Hutchins attracted some of the most glittering minds of the day. Perched atop a hill in Santa Barbara, housed in a sprawling old mansion, the center considered the manifold problems of the world with Olympian detachment.
In the summer of 1960 Hutchins invited Sheinbaum to join this rarefied world. To this day Sheinbaum isn’t sure how Hutchins came to choose him from all the other young struggling economists in the country, but he didn’t ask any questions. He packed his belongings and headed for the coast with his wife, a woman he’d met at Michigan State. His introduction to the center was jarring. Just after Sheinbaum arrived, a freak electrical fire destroyed his still-uncompleted thesis. He felt curiously ambivalent about the incineration of what was at the time his life’s work, saddened yet liberated. “I remember there was a sense of relief,” he says.
Sheinbaum’s mixed feelings about the accident reflected his continuing doubts about academic life. But its allure still held him when, in 1961, he was offered several positions by the Kennedy Administration: in the Peace Corps, the U.S. embassy in Argentina and the Agency for International Development. Sheinbaum was tempted, but, particularly in the early years, he loved the center--though it was never easy for him. Because of the intractable difficulty he had writing, he couldn’t fully participate. “He had acute writer’s block,” says W. H. (Ping) Ferry, a center fellow at the time. “There was always this handicap of getting something down on paper. He had something to say, but he wasn’t quite sure what it was because he couldn’t see it on a piece of paper.”
Meanwhile, his marriage, which had been disintegrating, ended in divorce, but Sheinbaum eventually found his place on the hill. Animated and incisive, he thrived in the round-table debates that the center held every morning. And over time, he found a more public and political role, particularly after he met Betty Warner at a party in Beverly Hills, married her in 1964 and achieved independent means.
Over the next few years, Sheinbaum’s doubts hardened into active opposition to the Vietnam War. He became involved with Ramparts, a left-leaning magazine intensely opposed to the U.S. policy, and through Ramparts he returned to Vietnam. After several newspaper reports that the United States was planning to bomb what it believed to be North Vietnamese supply routes through Cambodia, Sheinbaum and Ramparts foreign editor Robert Scheer (now a Los Angeles Times national correspondent) set out in spring 1966 to investigate for themselves. For about a week they sat in Phnom Penh waiting for an audience with Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who finally provided them with permission and a plane to inspect the area. By plane, jeep and foot they canvassed the South Vietnam border, finding no evidence of major supply routes. That was fine, but they worried about proving their case. They had pictures, but one jungle looked pretty much like another. They needed something that said “Cambodia . " They couldn’t find anything. Then they realized that the answer was not something but someone, and so they convinced the Australian ambassador to Cambodia, who had accompanied them on his own fact - finding mission, to pose in each of their photos as a silent stamp of authenticity.
VIETNAM POLITICIZED SHEINBAUM. As the U.S. involvement increased through the mid-1960s, Sheinbaum tried without success to interest several publications in his story of CIA links to the Michigan State advisory project. Eventually, he told the story to Scheer, who published it first in a center pamphlet, and later in a 1966 story for Ramparts that bounced into the national press.
With that, the obscure former economics professor suddenly emerged as an attraction for anti-war teach-ins around the country. Sheinbaum became a regular on the circuit. That year, taking another step down from the academic environs of the hill, Sheinbaum ran unsuccessfully as a peace candidate in the Democratic primary for the Santa Barbara congressional seat. Two years later, he served as a McCarthy delegate to the bloody Democratic convention and ran again for Congress, losing in the general election. As the decade roiled through the anarchy of the student protests, Sheinbaum steadily listed left. “There is no doubt that at the time I had gotten into a radical mindset where I felt that liberals, by going along with this policy (in Vietnam), were doing a great disservice to the country,” he says. “I began to see not too much difference between a liberal and a conservative.”
Sheinbaum found the electricity of politics invigorating, and, not entirely without regrets, he discovered that he had “a natural penchant for activism.” Inexorably he found himself pulled away from the center, which was, by that time, in decay. Conservatives who were harassing the Sheinbaums (a shot was once fired through a window of their home) made Santa Barbara itself less congenial for them. In fall 1970, Sheinbaum left the center and began his transformation into something without exact parallel in American political life.
Hobbled by operations to rebuild his crumbling spine, retired businessman Harold Willens, whom Sheinbaum met at the center, now sits in a stiff chair in the corner of his living room protected from the strong afternoon sun, talking about another sunny afternoon long ago. “There was one meeting of the group at my house in the Colony in Malibu,” remembers Willens, and he doesn’t stop to explain that the “group” was the Malibu Mafia, the loose collection of wealthy, liberal men that included Sheinbaum and Willens, producer Norman Lear, businessmen Leopold Wyler, Miles L. Rubin and Max Palevsky, and Ted Ashley, the chairman of Warner Bros. And on the afternoon sparkling in Willens’ memory, the gathering included Warren Beatty, Neil Diamond, Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Over the course of the day, as the group mapped its latest project and watched the ocean roll toward them, Willens saw knots of people, growing larger by the hour, passing slowly by the house, lingering on the beach, pointing, reluctantly drifting on. It puzzled him until he understood, and then he asked his guests, the stars, to turn their chairs away from the ocean, so that the group might return, with less fanfare, to the plans they were hatching.
DANIEL ELLSBERG,the former Defense Department analyst who became an icon of the anti-war movement when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, was the cause that brought Sheinbaum to Los Angeles. After Sheinbaum left the center, he and Betty bought a house in New York; and then another, for summers, on a small island off the coast of Italy. This was a pleasant, rich man’s life, but it lacked direction until former center colleague Ping Ferry asked Sheinbaum to take on the fund-raising for Ellsberg’s defense fund. The trial was in Los Angeles, so Sheinbaum moved back to Southern California only a year after he had left.
Sheinbaum’s job was to raise money, and over the next two years he helped collect about $900,000 for Ellsberg and his co-defendant, Anthony Russo. Characteristically, Sheinbaum expanded his role until he was doing much more. “He was sort of a father figure to both (my wife) Patricia and me,” Ellsberg says, “and he smoothed over the relations and furnished the glue that kept (the defense team) going for a number of years. He was very diplomatic and compassionate and empathetic.”
From the Ellsberg trial, Sheinbaum plunged into Los Angeles political life. Sheinbaum raised money for George McGovern’s presidential campaign, working with Willens, Rubin (who had become the campaign’s national finance director) and Max Palevsky (who, in the days before campaign finance reform, gave McGovern several hundred thousand dollars). Betty’s Hollywood connections brought Sheinbaum into that world, another rich source of political money.
With some help, in particular from Lear, Sheinbaum became the chief fund-raiser for the previously moribund American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California. During Sheinbaum’s tenure, which stretched from 1973 until 1982, the group’s budget and visibility increased rapidly. “His impact was very, very great,” says Ramona Ripston, the group’s executive director at the time. “Number one, Stanley was regarded by people in this community as a person who believed in social change; that gave a whole new dimension to the ACLU here. That, coupled with his ability to raise money, helped turn the organization around.”
These were glory days. Anything seemed possible: On Labor Day in 1975, Willens called to his Malibu home Sheinbaum, Newman, Rubin and Leo Wyler and by the end of the day, the five of them had committed $500,000 to launch a lobbying organization with which they intended to battle Big Oil in the legislative wars over energy policy.
In time, this group of friends became the heralded kingpins of liberal politics in Los Angeles. The Malibu Mafia was always more a confederacy than a cabal, composed of allies who often went their separate ways. (“Once, Max (Palevsky) called us all together to get behind Jimmy Carter,” Rubin says. “I left before they got to the dessert.”)
But often many of them found common cause: in a short-lived group called Democrats for Change, which tried to convince Jimmy Carter not to seek a second term; in the formation of People for the American Way, which grew from a television commercial that Lear designed to combat the influence of religious fundamentalists into one of the most powerful liberal lobbying groups in Washington; in the 1980 presidential campaign of Republican Rep. John B. Anderson. “I don’t think we ever thought of ourselves as a group,” Sheinbaum says, "(but) once that catchy phrase was thrust upon us, I think a self-consciousness did appear where we did work together.”
Time, reform and disillusion splintered the Malibu Mafia. Rubin and Ashley moved away. Lear diverted most of his political energy to his People For organization. Illness slowed Willens. Wyler became discouraged. When the campaign finance laws barred the huge contributions that gave him voice, Palevsky found it difficult to adapt and withdrew.
But Sheinbaum kept on, maintaining his roots on the left, and all the while moving more deeply into mainstream Democratic politics, until he had become an unlikely institution himself: a bridge between the fervent issue activists whom he befriended on the party’s left flank and the establishment politicians he hosted at elegant fund-raisers; the augur eastern Democrats consulted for the pulse of the mysterious Westside; a massive, inescapable presence, Mount Sheinbaum.
Even on the summit of his own design, though, Sheinbaum didn’t feel entirely at ease. There was always the matter of the money; it wasn’t his. Betty, whose money it was, shared her husband’s politics. As a young woman in Los Angeles, she numbered among her “best friends” several former members of the Communist Party who were dragged before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities during the era of the blacklist. But friends saw that Sheinbaum was uncomfortable about building his career on his wife’s inheritance; in conversation about the money, he still invariably manages to mention that he significantly increased the fortune through sophisticated foreign currency speculation just before President Richard Nixon devalued the dollar in 1971--a strategem he based on his academic work.
And as he enjoyed the comforts of affluence--not the least of which was the freedom to devote himself full time to his mushrooming political interests--Sheinbaum didn’t want to relinquish his identity as an intellectual. In a recent letter to Democratic National Committee chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr., Sheinbaum described himself as an “issues nut” in counterpoint to “the Lew Wassermans of this world"--a reference to the Establishment power politicians exemplified by the MCA chairman.
Sheinbaum has a broader and deeper interest in issues than the vast majority of fund-raisers. He has sponsored economic conferences to bring together bright young left-leaning thinkers; he bombards elected officials with unsolicited correspondence on the issues that most animate him (primarily economics, arms control and campaign finance reform), and he regularly sends books to dozens of politicians and policy-makers.
But Sheinbaum’s own writer’s block still stops him from setting down his thoughts in any greater depth than a letter. “He’s had several ideas, economic ideas,” says Betty, “and people say to him, sit down and write an article or a book, and his response is ‘I can’t.’ He doesn’t like to sit down and put something on paper. It’s almost a phobia.”
Nor is he comfortable following the literature on these issues, relying instead on meetings and phone calls to stay in touch. “I never started reading until I was 23, so reading doesn’t come easy to me,” Sheinbaum says. “I am not nearly as well read as I ought to be. One of my great frustrations is I’ve never honed myself intellectually.”
The deeper he moved into the political world, the more his frustration grew. As Sheinbaum completed his metamorphosis into the consummate political operator, fewer and fewer of the people he dealt with--outside of his immediate circle of friends and acquaintances--even knew of his academic background. He became more a promoter of ideas than a producer of them. Sheinbaum wanted to be known as an economist who happened to be wealthy; but inevitably he became known as a wealthy man who happened to be an economist.
Waiting for the shuttle to New York in a Washington airport one evening this spring, Stanley Sheinbaum was chatting with liberal Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts when the Rev. Jesse Jackson, resplendent in double - breasted gray suit, sashayed through the metal detector. Jackson spied Frank, ambled over to him, and then bent on one knee in mock obeisance, bowing his head theatrically. Then he looked up, saw Sheinbaum and headed toward the floor again. “Both knees for you, Stanley,” he said on the way down.
SHEINBAUM’S internal conflict over his position in the political world hasn’t slowed him. If anything, it has propelled him forward, doubt operating as a bilious fuel. “There is a restlessness in Stanley that will never go away,” says Ashley, the former Warner Bros. chairman who now lives in New York. “There is a questing, a push for more accomplishment, more recognition, more achievement. That insecurity helps motor a great deal of his drive.”
And there are practical reasons why Sheinbaum, despite periodic spells of debilitating fatigue, remains frenetic at an age when many people have retired. Every liberal looking for money and introductions in Los Angeles calls him, because they’ve heard his name, because he cares enough about their causes not to hang up the phone, and because he loves the game itself. But just as important, he constantly displays a strong emotional need to belong; what People For’s Podesta jokingly calls “the don’t end the war in Nicaragua until I’m back from Italy” syndrome.
“I think Stanley knows what it is to be wounded, alienated. . . . It becomes a whole way of life to try to reduce that (injury),” says Rabbi Leonard I. Beerman, a close friend who was the founding rabbi at the Leo Baeck Temple. “It’s linked to the needs of the self to be appreciated and to be respected.”
Sheinbaum defines himself by his activity; being busy is what he does. He buries uncertainty beneath motion. He moves from meetings to lunches, to more meetings, to dinners--all the while ducking out for regular transfusions of the latest news and gossip on the phone. “It’s hard to have quiet time with Stanley. It is never calm; Stanley is never calm,” says Christie Hefner, president of Playboy Enterprises Inc. and a friend for more than a decade. “Stanley has always struck me as the sort of person who if he stopped running would just shrivel up.”
If anything, he is busier today than when he first hit Los Angeles. His stepdaughter Karen Sperling says, “Basically he is lovable, because he is a good man, a decent person. But he’s in a hurry, so you have to kind of stand right in front of him to give him a hug, and then you’ve got to get out of his way because he’s got to get on the phone, he’s got to get to a meeting.”
But a strange thing has happened: As his pace has accelerated, Sheinbaum’s importance as a direct political player has diminished. He wasn’t involved in the last presidential election, and though he’s been an active participant in the elite dinners for presidential candidates and Westside donors that Norman Lear has sponsored at his home, he is unlikely to play a major role for any of the Democratic contenders in this race either. And Sheinbaum’s reputation as a fund-raiser now exceeds his reach; his network of donors is tired and shrinking, and some of the lieutenants he has relied upon to assist his efforts are now independent operators, competing with him for dollars. Candidates looking for quick cash in Los Angeles now often turn to younger, fresher sources such as savings and loan executive Carl M. Rheuban or department store heir Frederick W. (Ted) Field.
Sheinbaum himself has become dismayed by the relentless press of fund-raising. Once you become identified as a fund-raiser, everyone asks for money. (Even auto maker John DeLorean, facing drug charges, once asked Sheinbaum to organize a defense fund, as he had for Ellsberg. “I told him,” Sheinbaum says drily, “I didn’t think he represented a social cause.”) And as the costs of campaigns have increased, so have the demands from the candidates. “It is somewhat gross,” Sheinbaum says, “when candidates come in (to Los Angeles) in the fall of 1986, for example, to raise money for themselves not for the 1986 campaign, but for 1988 or even 1990.” At the same time, Sheinbaum has become increasingly convinced that candidates couldn’t care less what their fund-raisers think about policy.
What candidates listen to, Sheinbaum now believes, are institutions--such as the ACLU or People for the American Way--that speak for large numbers of their constituents. Far more than most people active in establishment Democratic politics, he has devoted time over the past 15 years to building such groups.
But his recent efforts on that front also reflect a lengthening of perspective that diminishes direct political influence. His most pressing current projects are the magazine, New Perspectives Quarterly, and his involvement with the Six Nations Peace Initiative, a group of Third World government leaders trying to bring the superpowers to arms control agreements. In different orders of magnitude, both of these projects are ambitious, and from the perspective of immediate political impact, peripheral.
As his focus has shifted, Sheinbaum seems to have lost patience with politics and politicians. Always plain-spoken, Sheinbaum has become, on occasion, cranky. In one recent letter to former Arizona Gov. Babbitt, Sheinbaum wrote, “If I have to explain to someone like you what is wrong with protectionism, then there is no point in you and I discussing anything anymore.” Heads turned last summer when Sheinbaum criticized the performance of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware at a Lear dinner--only a few weeks after Biden flew cross-country to deliver a speech at another Los Angeles dinner honoring Sheinbaum.
Many more heads turned this winter when Sheinbaum turned up in the Los Angeles Times criticizing New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo’s poorly received speech at a Center for Law in the Public Interest dinner. Sheinbaum had been trying to convince Cuomo to come to California since 1984, and it was his invitation that prompted Cuomo to speak at the center’s dinner, the governor’s aides said.
To Cuomo’s staff--and to many neutral observers--it seemed a bit strange that Sheinbaum turned on his invited guest. “I think fair’s fair and accuracy is accuracy,” Sheinbaum says defensively of his remarks. “I didn’t think it was a betrayal.” Cuomo apparently didn’t either, meeting with Sheinbaum a week later in New York (though during the meeting he pointedly left Sheinbaum in the dark about his decision, announced later that day, not to seek the presidency). But to some national Democratic political operatives, Sheinbaum’s denunciation of Cuomo demonstrated a rich man’s arrogant belief that he has outgrown the rules of the game.
There’s much truth to that, but an irony too, for Sheinbaum’s independence is bounded by his need to belong. His relationship with Los Angeles’ powerful Jewish community is instructive: Because of his outspoken belief that Israel must cede territory to the Arab states as part of a peace agreement, Sheinbaum has frequently been at odds with organized Jewish groups here, which take a hard line against concessions.
But he will only go so far afield. When asked which of the current Democratic leaders most closely reflects his thinking, Sheinbaum says quickly, “Jesse Jackson,” and privately, he has asked McGovern to endorse Jackson. Yet Sheinbaum has not endorsed Jackson himself. “The Jewish community,” he says, “would not understand that. They would consider me a traitor to the Jewish people. And that would bother me.”
And that is the fundamental paradox of Stanley Sheinbaum: He is an iconoclast who wants to be loved. “People have described Stanley as a big teddy bear of a guy,” says Norman Lear, “and teddy bears like to be hugged.” Sheinbaum is the reluctant outsider: a man who craves approval as much as influence, and can never accumulate enough of either. After a long career, he is neither at rest nor at peace.
AT SOTHEBY’S, Stanley and Betty Sheinbaum sit rapt, barely breathing, as the auctioneer spirals the price of their painting toward a final bid of $3.3 million, which exactly tied the record for a work of modern art sold at auction. For Betty, parting with “Pink Lady” is extremely painful. She had never before sold any of the paintings in her collection. But the family, though very wealthy, is not as fabulously rich as often assumed--their worth is probably around $10 million to $20 million--and with all of their giving to political, electoral and charitable causes, which they estimate at $750,000 annually, Sheinbaum needed the money to fund New Perspectives. “I don’t see how I can finance it otherwise,” Sheinbaum said. “To give more than we’re giving, we’d be dipping into our capital.”
Earlier that afternoon, while Sheinbaum worked a pay phone in the hall (“No from Bill Moyers,” he said into the receiver; then to an associate passing by, “Bill Moyers--I just lost him for a speech”), Betty Sheinbaum stood in the icy quiet of the Sotheby gallery, staring silently at the painting that had hung in her living room for the past quarter-century. After a while, a man strolling through the gallery stopped and softly asked, “You parting with a friend?”
“Oh yeah,” she said, “it’s really hard. I didn’t realize how hard it would be.”
He nodded and moved on, and she remained. “Oh dear, dear, dear,” she said finally, her words like puffs of smoke. Then she turned and walked out of the gallery to rejoin her husband.