About Jewish Montreal By Joe King
The Purple Bag and Crown Royal – The importance of marketing can be readily shown with the popularity of the Purple Bag enclosing every bottle of
Crown Royal. The idea for the bag (which people kept after downing the booze—and was a favourite with little boys for their marbles) came from
Gerald Bronfman (Sam’s nephew) and prompted a wordy executive to introduce Gerald at a New York meeting as “the next president of Seagram’s”.
Sam, with two sons (Edgar and Charles), wasn’t going to install a nephew in the senior post, so he fired Gerald! Gerald turned from booze to milk and was worth a reputed $200,000,000 at his death. He was an unusual chap in a number of ways—wearing rubbers 365 days of the year (!), always driving a Plymouth and giving his two daughters 75 cents spending money every two weeks—that is 37.5 cents a week!
Most people are aware of the fact that Sam Bronfman was one of the world’s richest men—owning (as he put it) “more booze than anyone else in the world”. But he was much more than a distributor of liquor. He became an expert at blending whiskies and at marketing. One of his biggest homeruns was his creation, in time for the pre-World War Two visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, of a new blended whiskey he dubbed “Crown Royal”, and he had a bottle made shaped like a crown. When he offered the royal couple ten cases, they accepted.
For more than twenty years, Sam and Saidye Bronfman hosted the annual launch of the Combined Jewish Appeal in the lower level of their red-brick Westmount mansion. While the General Chairman changed every year (except for the two years Sam’s brother, Allan was its head man), the Bronfmans (first Sam and then his son Charles) would kick off the evening by pledging the largest annual gift to charity in the world! Then the other great families would make their pledges—the Steinbergs, the Pascals, etc.
At the head of the stairs leading to the meeting room, there was a painting by Marc Chagall, the great Russian-Jewish artist. The painting showed a white vase with red, white and blue flowers.
On a stand below the painting was the vase Chagall had used for the painting and every day it was filled with fresh red, white and blue flowers. One day, I said, “Mrs. Bronfman, that is so beautiful. It is the painting come to life.”
“Mr. King,” she responded. “You’re the first person to notice it!”
No Second $2.00 – Two Polish Immigrants, setting up a fruit store on The Main (St. Lawrence Boulevard) needed a sign and the budget was tiny, to say the least. An itinerant sign-painter agreed to execute one for them. “What do you want the sign to read?” he asked. “Warsaw,” they both responded, but with their Polish accent it sounded like “Warshaw” and that is what the sign read. And there was not another $2.00 to correct it. That’s how Warshaw’s got its name.
Mr. Allan and v.O. – Allan Bronfman was the youngest of the four Bronfman brothers and he was an exceptional community leader—serving as founding President of the Jewish General Hospital and occupying virtually every other important communal position at least once.
I happened to be in Paris with “Mr. Allan” on a stopover and his idea of relaxation was to visit the liquor store at the airport. “They don’t carry Seagram’s V.O.”, he exclaimed and insisted that the management correct this terrible error.
When Mr. Allan was about to celebrate his 80th birthday, I arranged for a major newspaper interview at his home. (Allan and Sam lived in back-to-back residences, sharing a swimming pool.) For years, Mr. B. had been kind enough to, twice a year, send me a selection of Seagram’s which elated our friends and family as I didn’t drink. But one year, due to illness, Mr. Allan did not send the usual largesse but instead offered a bottle of wine—and the bottle was unlabelled! It was, I assumed, an error. But for the next few years, bottles of the unlabelled wine arrived.
I tucked them away. But then, chatting with the reporter who interviewed Mr. “A” she disclosed that, lunching with Allan and Lucie, they were quaffing wine from an unmarked bottle! Intrigued, the reporter asked about the wine and was told that it was wine prepared solely for the Bronfman family and friends.
And I had five bottles tucked away—but not for long!