May 30, 2013
The only man I know who belonged to more gentlemen’s clubs than Eddie Ulmann was the late Bobby Sweeny of amateur golf fame, who once pleaded poverty to me while signing checks to something like twenty clubs spread around the Western world. Eddie was the quintessential clubman. He cherished his clubs, took part in club activities until the very end, and was as popular with the members as he was with the staff of the various establishments he frequented throughout his life. Before I go into his sporting accomplishments, I want to take the time to tell you about Eddie’s “secret” life, that of a writer. I”d also like to pat myself on the back for discovering him. It was about fifteen years ago, and we were having lunch at the old Mortimer’s, and Eddie was criticizing some article that had appeared in “Taki’s Top Drawer,” a section of the New York Press, a weekly that has since bitten the dust. As editor of the section, I realized that he was right. “So why don”t you write it?” I asked him. “Oh, no,” he said, looking shocked, “my dear fellow, it simply wouldn”t do; club members might suspect me of being a secret ink-stained agent.”
That’s when I had the most brilliant idea since Leopold Mozart sat his son Wolfgang down on a piano stool. Use a pseudonym, I said. If it was good enough for Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle), it’s good enough for you. Eddie was delighted by the comparison, and after couple of more stiff Bloody Marys, he agreed. So began a long run of more or less wonderfully droll and sophisticated essays by “Classicus,” a name he plucked from the Greeks in my honor, or so he said. The owner of the New York Press, Russ Smith, a very good writer himself, soon wanted to know “Who the hell is this guy?” I was not at liberty to divulge.
Classicus was a hit because he wrote in a style that evoked gentlemanly prose, and it stuck out because next to my section were rows and rows of ads for all sorts of sexual enticements. Eddie used to tremble with contrived panic, “Can you imagine if any of my friends ever found out that my byline appears next to an ad selling dildos?” This went on until the New York Press was sold and eventually shut down, but then Eddie followed me and began writing for Quest, again under a pseudonym, although by now his cover was blown.
After I started Taki’s Mag, a website run out of London by my daughter which has suddenly caught on with a million viewers, I enticed Eddie to write a quasi-gossip column about manners”or lack thereof”among the new rich. I insisted he write under the name of Bunky Mortimer. “If Dickie Mortimer ever finds out I”ll have to resign from half my clubs,” was his response. “If the Mortimers didn”t mind when Glenn Birnbaum named a cafÃ© after them, they won”t mind you writing under their name,” was mine.
Bunky was a great success right off the bat, and my little girl loved it. She wanted more, but Bunky by then was not feeling his best. The few pieces that appeared about what a gent wears as underwear and how a gent behaves in our brutal and coarse society were terrific, but, alas, too few. I”ve been trying to find another Bunky Mortimer but it’s like trying to discover another S. J. Perelman”not an easy task. (My daughter, in desperation, asked me if a real Mortimer”Dickie or Topper”would do it, but I have as yet to approach them for some strange reason.)
Which brings me to Eddie Ulmann, the man about town and sportsman. Here’s Chuck Pfeiffer on Ulmann:
I was a green cadet at West Point and had a date with a beautiful girl by the name of Nancy Gillon. This was the early sixties. Nancy had a sister, Priscilla, who was going out with a man I had never heard of. When the three of them arrived to pick me up I almost dropped my cookies. The man was driving a Ferrari, was impeccably dressed in a Dunhill Tailors suit, and was wearing driving gloves. He smelled of some exotic cologne, was extremely friendly, and the first question he asked me was what prep school I had attended. I had never seen such a sophisticated fellow before. I was a jock, and jocks don”t wear driving gloves nor drive Ferraris. It was the start of a great friendship.