In the 1991 edition of our Lionel 1900-1969 guide, we included an article on the purchase of the iconic Madison Hardware by Dick Kughn. In our new 2011 Guide,we tell the rest of the Madison Hardware story.
John La Lima became friendly with Lou. “I loved his stories. One was about Frank Sinatra. When Sinatra was in town, he would call Lou and tell him he wanted to buy some trains. Usually it would be on a Saturday. Lou would close the door to the public and wait. Sinatra would come in and hand Lou $10,000 in cash. Then Lou let him go wherever he wanted, even to the storage areas upstairs – places were no customer was ever allowed. Sinatra would point to this and that and his guys would carry it out. Sometimes the stuff would total more than $10,000, sometimes less. Lou didn’t care. It was Frank Sinatra.”
Lou was the business brains and Carl was the man-about-town who loved Manhattan’s nightlife. They opened the store as partners but Carl quickly grew bored with trains and Lou bought him out. Carl wanted to pursue a career in show business. He came up with a tap dance routine where he told jokes and wore funny hats. In those early vaudeville days he palled around with Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Jimmy Durante. There’s a picture of Carl with Babe Ruth and one with Mayor Jimmy Walker. Carl was a fine jazz drummer and formed his own band, the Carl Shaw Orchestra (he changed his name after entering show business).
Carl, who also played a fine game of polo, was a handsome guy with a full head of wavy gray hair. He loved the ladies and the ladies loved him. He was still playing competitive polo at 94 years old. There was a bar in Ft. Lauderdale for ladies only. It was not a topless bar but some ladies went topless to get an all-over tan. Carl volunteered to be the bartender at no salary. The girls let him because, at 94, they figured he was harmless. Not sure they figured correctly. Remember, he was still playing polo.
Lou was a shrewd businessman and elegant dresser. His usual work attire was a crewneck or cardigan sweater, shirt with top button buttoned, snappy tie, pressed slacks, and loafers, always perfectly polished. When having lunch with friends or customers, he always picked up the tab, but not without some comment like, “Hey, I didn’t want to buy the joint. Just rent it for the day.” In his early 80s, he still had an iron-grip of a handshake and loved to shake hands with unsuspecting younger guys. He’d grip their hand, squeeze hard, and say, “Not bad for an old guy, huh.” Lou also carried a licensed gun which he liked to occasionally show off. Lou and Carl were quintessential New York guys, smart and aggressive. Both had a wry sense of humor and they loved to play little tricks on their unsuspecting visitors.