Bio smudges image of Armand Hammer

March 09, 1993|By Orange County Register

There was the Armand Hammer you, the public, knew.

Then there was the other Armand Hammer.

Not a guy you'd necessarily want to know.

For 25 years, industrialist Armand Hammer's myth machine spewed out the image he paid for. The founder of Occidental Petroleum wanted the world to remember him as a humanitarian who parlayed his good deeds into a fortune, a peace diplomat between the United States and the Soviet Union.

But the portrait that emerges from a recent biography is disturbingly different. Author Carl Blumay says Hammer:

* Was known in Moscow as the "Pimp of the Politburo" for his willingness to spread communist propaganda in the United States.

* Lied about his business projects.

* Maintained business in the Soviet Union by putting key Soviet officials on the payroll.

* Was accused of bribing government officials to get business.

* Never fed the starving in the Soviet Union as he claimed.

* Betrayed his Jewish heritage to get oil contracts in the Mideast.

Mr. Blumay was in a position to know. For 25 years, Mr. Blumay served as chief public-relations consultant to Hammer and director of public relations for Occidental Petroleum Corp.

Mr. Blumay and journalist Henry Edwards co-authored "The Dark Side of Power: The Real Armand Hammer" (Simon & Schuster, $25).

Hammer died three years ago at 92. He had come out of retirement at 59 to build Oxy from a four-man staff in a dingy office to a multinational oil company.

During Hammer's incredible second career, the media sometimes succeeded in stripping away the entrepreneur's veneer. Hammer's famous art collection, for example, was exposed at first to be a motley collection of "losers by major masters." So said the Washington Post.

But for the most part, Hammer succeeded in conning even the vigilant media, Mr. Blumay said. Hammer's secret: He told a fabulous story.

"Hammer," Mr. Blumay said, "should have been a fiction writer."

Hammer's success was a by-prod- uct of good public relations. For example, he fooled the financial community into thinking he had projects that never even advanced to the specification stage. The stock soared; the projects never materialized.

"The first crack in his wall of veracity was one day when I got a call from the Wall Street Journal," Mr. Blumay said. "They were interested in an industrial project the company was engaged in. I wrote a statement, and he said, 'I don't like it. Put in some lies.' I thought he was kidding."

On another occasion, Hammer directed Mr. Blumay to issue a release about a new chemical plant that the company was building in India.

"I put out the release. Then I didn't hear about it [the plant]," Mr. Blumay said. "I discovered there was no plan to build a chemical plant in India. He was just getting bored and wanted to kick up the stock."

But the fiction started long before that -- with Hammer's rendition of his youth. He was raised by Julius and Rose Hammer, leaders in the U.S. communist movement, Mr. Blumay said. Hammer tried to hide this part of his past, Mr. Blumay said.

"Lenin had sent over three fellows to do subversive work to overthrow our government," Mr. Blumay said. "They worked with Julius Hammer."

Hammer claimed his association with the Soviets began when, as a young doctor, he bought a portable army-surplus hospital and went to work ministering to sick and starving Russians.

"He never did work in the famine," Mr. Blumay said. Instead, he said, Hammer opened an asbestos mine in the Urals. He used U.S. grain, destined for the starving, to feed his workers.

Hammer said he studied Russian by memorizing 100 words a night; in fact, Mr. Blumay said, his parents spoke fluent Russian in the house, and he grew up speaking Russian.

Hammer had a communist set of ethics that allowed lying to achieve a desired end, Mr. Blumay said.

But his success wasn't solely attributed to lies. He was, more than anything, a hard worker, sleeping only in cat naps. He was a tremendous risk-taker.

"In the mid-'60s, Occidental started drilling a series of wells in Libya at a million dollars a clip," Mr. Blumay said. "They all came up dry. His head men told him that Occidental should pull out of Libya; the company was still small and couldn't afford to lose that many millions. Hammer said nuts to them: 'I'm Oxy. I'm the business. I make the decisions. And I have decided we're going to keep right on drilling.' "

Eventually, his crews hit oil. One well tested at 74,000 barrels a day -- among the largest wells in the world.

The book has an immediacy lacking in many biographies of dead people. That's because Mr. Blumay, a compulsive note-taker, recorded on paper many of his conversations with Hammer throughout the past quarter century. The book, therefore, contains fresh dialogue. Mr. Blumay spent 10 years writing the book, his massive volumes of notes requiring an entire room in his house. Hammer knew he was writing the book -- and was unhappy about it, Mr. Blumay said. Mr. Blumay said the book was unfinished when Hammer died.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.