Great American Men


Case Studies: Great American Men

As we discussed in our section on education, if we wish men to be moral, we must consciously guide them with good examples. The following are case studies on men whom I believe to be great. Many biographies exist on these men. However, it is important that I describe some significant lessons from each of their lives.

The list of men in this set of case studies includes:

Bill Graham, Dave Thomas, Harold Medina, John Kennedy, Bill Cosby, Michael Landon, and Arlo Guthrie.


It should be noted that there are some men who have provided more personal inspiration to me than others. For me, I chose three American men, more or less contemporary, as personal models. These men are John F. Kennedy, Michael Landon, and Arlo Guthrie.

Before we delve into all the biographies, I believe a few words should be said about the three men who I took as personal role models.

These three men have certain things in common. They have high moral principles. They believe in making the future better than today. They have great inner strength, yet at the same time, posses deep emotions. They are very comfortable with who they are. They are the first to laugh at themselves. They mix silliness and seriousness. They are always ready to stand up for injustice, they always have time to care when it caring is needed most, and in spite of all that, they laugh at life more often than not.

They have all produced works of art which show how life has been or could be. In addition, they try as much as they can to practice what they have said through their art. And, of course, each is incredibly talented.

I consider these three extraordinary human beings to be men of the highest calibre. If I could be 1/100 of what these men are, I would be doing very well indeed.

Let us now get a brief glimpse of a few of America’s greatest men.


Bill Graham


Like Pericles in the Golden Age of Greece, Bill Graham in the 1960’s played an important role in promoting the arts. Without him, many great artists would not have been able to spread their words.

More importantly, Bill was a man of optimism and of great love. He had much in his life where he could claim victimization, but he did not. He could have used his wealth solely for himself, but he did not.

Bill Graham was born as a Jew in Germany just before World War Two. Both of his parents were killed, and Bill, as an orphan, made his way to the United States.

He was eventually adopted, and grew up the Bronx of New York City. He learned to take care of himself, and be as tough as he needed to be. However, he would always remain a decent man.

Moving to San Francisco, Bill bought the Fillmore, a dance/music hall. It was here that Bill created his business as one of the greatest promoters of rock music, and it was here that he created his financial wealth.

Bill always wanted to ensure his audience had a good time. And they did. It almost didn’t matter who was playing, if it was at the Fillmore, it was destined to be good. And, although he became rich enough to hire others, he would always attend the shows himself.

In the 1980’s, I twice saw Bill at concerts. Most of the 10,000 customers didn’t know who he was, but I knew, and I was fascinated as he checked the wires, checked the traffic control, and ensured that the customers would be entertained. He could have hired plenty of people to check as he did, but he wanted to be there himself.

Bill must always be remembered for an important philosophy, one which he repeated often:

You can complain about social problems, or you can do something about it.

Short. Simple. Yet never outdated.

Bill did many things about social issues. What is even more amazing is that he kept most of these anonymous; only at the benefit in his honor were these deeds made public. For example, he donated a Hanukah wreath for the Jewish community in San Francisco. He would be the first to donate money for a rock musician to go through drug rehabilitation. In the early days of the Fillmore, when drugs were common, Bill would pass out free apples, with the concept that a full stomach would reduce the effect of the drugs. And last, but not least, when the Shoreline Amphitheater was created, he helped design the facilities to have twice as many restrooms as men - no small improvement for the female customers. Thus, Bill clearly acted on social issues whenever he had the opportunity.

Bill lost his parents in World War Two, and had to move to another country as an orphan at a very early age. Yet, he was able to follow his passion, and create wealth for himself and his family. He remained human, always working to give his customers the best entertainment, and doing what was within his power in order to make his city just a bit better. And, because of his position (slightly older than the musicians, and the owner of a music hall), Bill was able to be a significant force in assisting the talented musicians of the day to become famous professionals.

Indeed, Bill Graham had much to claim victimization over, but he did not do so. Bill created a business and enormous wealth, and he did it in a way which was pleasurable for everyone. And, he always held firm to his beliefs of doing what he could for the community.


Dave Thomas


Dave Thomas was the founder of Wendy's Restaurants. He passed away only recently, but he left a great legacy and an enormous amount of advice.

There are many areas where Dave Thomas is a role model.

First there is the man. It is the story of an adopted child who held his own. Its the story of a man making his own success - and company worth
$3 Billion. Its a man who remained moral all his life, a man who was both moral and financially successful.

Then there are the business angles to look at. It is a case study of how his business economics - simple and ethical - created a world class company.
It is a case study in family business, where family style business management really works.
It is a case study in treating employees and customers with morals. Dave's morals were important in helping his business to grow.

So many stories for just one man.

Thankfully, he left us a written revord of all his beliefs and his secrets to success. Dave Thomas wrote his book Dave's Way in 1991. It offers, in simple language, all his views on business and people. I will paraphrase a few items from that book.

Looking at the book as a whole, we see many of his methods which prove what we are saying in this book. For example:

1. Pace of work: you should plan and prepare for busy times, and do maintenance in slow times.
This fits in with our section on Crisis Management.

2. Have fun: enjoy what you do, have employees enjoying what they do, and have the employees enjoy you as a supervisor.
This fits in with our sections on Humor, and on Business techniques. We emphasize that work should be enjoyable!

3. Family and Teams: the best stores acts as a family. A good manager gets his team to do fun stuff together.
Run your business like a family! It creates success.

4. In accounting and business aspects, stick to the basics: Use the key numbers rather than confusing accounting tricks. Through these key numbers you see what the true problems and true successes are.
Simple business can be the best. We've seen in recent times many companies go out of business, and part of the reason was accounting methods that few people can follow. Keep it simple, and see what is really going on.

5. Don't treat people like "plug in parts"; give people more responsibilities; reduce turnover; crosstrain. These are just some of the methods Dave discusses in detail which we also believe in.

Dave Thomas really does a great job in his book. He explains principles, and he gives examples from his business. Most of his book, and his business, support our views. Dave Thomas - a great man, a great businessman, and a great American.


Harold Medina


Harold Medina was a Federal Judge for the State of New York in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. We ought to remember him for two things: his character, and how he handled a particularly difficult case.

Medina was a wise man. He would listen to the evidence before judging a person. He had high morals, which he would not compromise. Finally, when he had decided that a particular individual was guilty of criminal behavior, he would use his powers to punish them. The last point is important, for a man of morals knows that we must punish criminal behavior to keep our society together. Thus, Medina was generous enough to never prejudge an individual, yet when he was convinced that a man performed criminal acts, Medina would not hesitate to deliver appropriate punishment.

Medina became internationally famous for one case. It is not the what the defendants were accused of that concerns us, nor are we concerned with the final verdict. What we must learn is the unethical behavior of the defendants, and how Medina acted during the case.

The case involved several Communist leaders in United States, who were charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Before the trial even started, everyone knew the outcome would have profound implications. Being held the same year that China became Communist and at the beginning of the Cold War, many Americans (though not Medina) were suspicious of anything Communist. Therefore, Medina had to make sure they got a fair trial. On the other side, these Communist leaders knew that if they lost this case, their cause would suffer. Therefore, the defendants not only tried to win their case, but tried to make Medina make a mistake which would be grounds for mistrial.

This is significant, and is the central concept for us to learn from this case. We do not care that they were Communists, we do not care what the final verdict was. The reason that these men are criminals (yes, I said criminals) is not for their specific charge, but for their devious plotting and tricks designed to disrupt the trial.

Medina was more than fair, and many editorials said he was too lenient. Yet the defendants did trick after trick to annoy Medina and try his patience.

The first trick was to claim that the jury was not representative, and that Medina was partly to blame. (This was ridiculous since Medina had become famous a few years earlier for making the jury system more equitable.)

The second trick was that one defendant, Dennis, who was the leader of all the defendants - wanted to be his own lawyer. Medina knew that if he allowed Dennis to represent himself that he could often spout Communist ideology pretending it was vital to the trial. However, to avoid the possibility of mistrial, Medina allowed Dennis to be his own lawyer. As predicted, Dennis would daily go on tangents about social injustice and whatnot, forcing an annoyed Medina to calmly bring him back to the point.

There were plenty of strategies. From the beginning, Communists were instructed to make a nuisance of themselves. Thousands of letters came in daily - all in favor of Communism, and none opposed. Communist sympathizers would wait outside his office and home to “discuss” the issues. Protesters in favor of Communism shouted outside the building. Day after day, month after month, they would call Medina names. Medina himself admitted, “If you are called an S.O.B. often enough, you begin to wonder.”

Then there was Medina’s fear of heights. In an incident unrelated to the trial, a public figure committed suicide by jumping out a window. However, the Communists had done research to discover Medina’s fear of heights and of falling to his death. The protesters began to taunt Medina to jump out the window. This tactic affected Medina. After the trial he commented, “Of all the things they tried on me during the trial, this came closest to working. I got so I didn’t dare go near a window, and I feel it even yet.”

After about 6 months into the trial, Medina finally used his authority to stop the nonsense, and bring the trial to a speedy conclusion. After a witness was being particularly obstinate, and Medina had already told him his obligation, Medina calmly stated, “I now ajudge you guilty of willful and deliberate contempt, and by reason thereof I sentence you as follows. You are to be remanded until you have purged yourself of your contempt for a period not to exceed thirty days.”

The room was full of commotion, and one by one the lawyers popped out of their seats to object. Medina calmly put his foot down, “Mr. Winston, I hereby direct that you be remanded for the remainder of the trial.” “Mr. Hall, is it? You are hereby remanded for the balance of the trail.” Eventually, the room settled down. The Communist leaders continued with their tactics, but the trial became more manageable.

Medina began to cut down on what he referred to as “peripheral argument,” and he refused to let more than one lawyer take part in the same argument. Medina became firmer and firmer in ordering lawyers to sit down, and not allowing them to object when their objections were ridiculous. The Communist leaders continued to create more distractions but the trial became more manageable.

When the trial was over, the jury found all of the defendants guilty as charged. But, again, this is not important. However, what was important was how Medina punished the lawyers after the jury reached their verdict.

Medina began by stating that at the beginning of the trial he was open-minded, and if anything, inclined to be more lenient toward the defendants.
“I was reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the acts and statements to which I am about to refer were the result of an agreement between these defendants, deliberately entered into in a cold and calculating manner for the purpose of:
1. Causing such delay and confusion as to make it impossible to go on with the trial;
2. Provoking incidents which they intended to result in mistrial;
3. Impairing my health so that the trial could not continue.

I find that the acts, statements, and conduct of each of these defendants (the lawyers) constituted a deliberate and willful attack upon the administration of justice, an attempt to sabotage the functioning of the Federal judicial system so as to make a fine a futile gesture and wholly insufficient punishment.”

He then listed 13 tactics, including:

“e. Persisted in making long, repetitious and insubstantial arguments, objections, and protests, accompanied by shouting, sneering, and snickering”
g. Repeatedly made charges against the Court of bias, prejudice, and partiality.

i. Disregarded repeatedly and flagrantly the orders of the Court not to argue without permission and to desist from further argument or comment.”

Medina then cited specific actions, using the lawyers own words. (Medina had taken detailed notes throughout the trial, an effort which paid off tremendously.) He then sentenced each to jail for 4-6 months.

One lawyer, Mr. Sachel, shouted at Medina and made comments about the “price of Liberty.” Medina responded coolly, “It is not the price of liberty. It is the price of misbehavior and disorder. Let this be notice to you, and to all who may be tempted to follow in your example.”

Thus, we have much to learn from Medina. Recall our discussion of the criminal element. There are certain behaviors which are unacceptable whether there is legal recourse or not. Medina recognized this; he managed them during the trial so to let it continue, then punished them afterward. We, too, must punish such criminal behavior whenever we see it. Their goal is to destroy us, therefore, we must destroy them.


John Kennedy


John F. Kennedy was one of the greatest Presidents of our country. We ought to follow his example on many fronts.

Kennedy was a quintessential philosopher-statesman. He had an enormous appetite for history and philosophy, and he made notes in the margins of all the books he read. This aspect to his character was exhibited often in his speeches, and in his intellectual discussions with guests at the White House.

Kennedy also never lost his sense of humor. He could make fun of himself with dry wit and classic understatement. He knew the gravity of his job, but he knew not to take himself too seriously.

He was also clever in creating integrated approaches to problems and win-win solutions. For example, setting the vision of America landing on the Moon was very clever. This was an adventure - like Columbus discovering America or the Wright brothers flying for the first time. It was an idealistic vision, something America would invest in emotionally and financially. He knew that when we made it, we would show the world (i.e. the USSR) that American technology and ambition still reigned. Finally, but not insignificantly, the adventure would create military spin-offs which were realistically necessary to keep us on the stronger side of negotiations. This was a clever win-win solution to real problem.

The item which we must bow in praise to him most for was his strength amidst his continuous back pain. This alone makes him one of the greatest human beings who ever walked the earth.

Kennedy’s boat in World War II, the PT-109, was sunk. Kennedy became a hero, but his back was seriously injured. Throughout his life he would continue to undergo operations. Every day, he would do exercises and take baths to relieve the pain. He would often use crutches. He was almost always in pain.

In spite of this, he rarely complained. He was in pain most of his life, and yet he rarely showed it, verbally or otherwise. Moreover, Kennedy served as Senator and President with the pain. Public office is draining for any man, the ‘wise’ decision for Kennedy would have been to stay away from such a stressful occupation. However, after his brother died in World War II, and after witnessing the signing of the U.N. charter, he vowed to keep the dreams alive. He felt his back pain inconsequential to those who gave their lives.

One operation was especially problematic. In 1954 Kennedy underwent a dangerous double spinal fusion operation. After the operation, twice he was in critical condition and twice the church administered the last rights. Twice he fought his way back to life.

Even though he was off the critical list, he had to lie in bed all the time for a period of months. The pain was harsh. To take his mind of his pain (and I think to give him some inspiration as well), he used this time to gather information from the library and write a little essay. This essay evolved into a book, Profiles in Courage, and would eventually win the Pulitzer Prize.

Yes, Kennedy is one of the most amazing men in all of history. His wisdom, his strength, his creativity, his can-do attitude - these are things which we should all strive to attain.


Bill Cosby


Bill Cosby made himself a millionaire by making people laugh. His humor was always clean and family oriented. And, he attained all this success despite the color of his skin.

Cosby grew up with little money. However, his family did instill values into him. Cosby went on to earn a college degree from Temple University.

In the early 1960’s Cosby began making a name for himself as comic. This was the era of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movements. In spite of the obstacles, people recognized Cosby’s talents and he quickly launched his career.

He went on to be involved in many television shows, “I Spy” and “The Cosby Show” among the most popular. He also appeared in many films, made many albums. Notice that among all the thousands of sketches Cosby did, not once did he use profanity. Not once did he put others down. Not once did he use the uneducated language of the streets.
Notice also that his sketches often involved family. Particularly notice in “The Cosby Show” how his kids were more respectful and well behaved than most kids depicted on television. All of these activities were part of Bill Cosby’s basic beliefs.

Remember the truths in A Christmas Carol? Remember our challenges? Indeed, family values and clean humor made Bill Cosby incredibly rich.

Again notice the color of his skin. African-Americans everywhere should take a very close look. Bill Cosby managed to rise to fame before the days of affirmative action. Notice that Bill Cosby depicted himself in “The Cosby Show” as a professional - a medical doctor - who worked hard to make a comfortable life for himself. Cosby is not just showing the culture of European whites, but rather the culture of America.

Finally, Bill Cosby went back to school to earn his Ph.D. in Education. Certainly he was very wealthy, he could have done lots of things - why earn a Ph.D.? But that is the nature of Cosby. Also, this again shows that family is very important to Cosby; important enough to earn a degree and write books about it.

Yes, Bill Cosby made himself wealthy without harming anyone. He became wealthy while making people feel good. And, he managed to do it in spite of the color of his skin. Yes, Bill Cosby shows us that anything is possible.

Michael Landon

Michael Landon was a talented actor, writer and director. With his good looks, he could have chosen films where he slept with a woman every other scene. Yet, he chose family stories instead. With his ability as a director, he could demand anything he wanted from his cast, yet he chose to make the environment pleasant and fun.

Only Michael could create stories about men who were physically strong yet loved their family, about friends who survived a crisis together, and about people who conquered their limitations. And, Michael became enormously wealthy doing it.

Yet growing up, Michael did not know a rosy life. He received Anti-Semitic taunts, and comments about his curly hair. He lived in a dysfunctional family, and, except for his short stint in track, was a man of limited abilities. To look at earlier periods of his life, one might consider him a loser. But circumstances did not prohibit Michael for long.

When he got into acting, his abilities were discovered. When he started writing his own scripts, and started directing, he began to formulate his vision. He wanted to create family television, where “people stay together because they communicate.” This vision carried him through his prolific career in family television. I would argue that the world is better for it.

Yet, the films are just the beginning. Michael also showed that a man can be very strong, very tough, very masculine, and at the same time, be very caring. Being strong and caring are not mutually exclusive. Being caring does not deny your manhood. Despite the efforts of the 1960’s to make gender equality, men today still feel the pressure to boast their machismo rather than their sensitivity. Landon’s physique combined with his enormous love was perfect combination for spreading this concept.

Michael continually preached love. He never said having money was bad, but he did say, in several scripts, that without love you have nothing. I believe that too. Money is great. The more the better. However, remove the love, and the world becomes empty.

Michael never became to old for humor. He would continually joke on the set, often paying practical jokes on his crew. He would also put humorous scenes in his scripts, even making fun of himself. One such scene was in a “Highway to Heaven” episode. The characters Smith (Michael Landon) and Gordon (Victor French) were walking along the Hollywood walk of fame. Gordon points to the star of one his favorite actors - Michael Landon - to which Smith (played by Landon) replies, “Who? I’ve never heard of him.”

Michael also made the work environment pleasant and fun - the crew itself was a family, with Michael as the father. Everyone who worked with Michael Landon enjoyed their work thoroughly. The work was challenging, but in the end, an enjoyable experience.

This family style production is not limited to the arts. Try applying Landon’s views to the industrial environment. Imagine how you as a manager could create a more family type atmosphere. Imagine how by truly caring for your employees, they will be more inclined to do their best for you. At the very least, imagine how much better going to work will be. And yet, this does not have to cut into productivity. In fact, it will even enhance productivity because the employees enjoy what they do.

We must remember Michael Landon for his amazing amount of love, for his messages about being proactive and moral, for his examples of possible solutions to real issues, and for the concept that a business can be profitable and fun at the same time.

Remember Michael Landon’s vision of a Family atmosphere, in your own family, among your friends, or in the workplace.


Arlo Guthrie

Unlike the other biographies, this biography of Arlo Guthrie will be more personal, for he has had a profound influence on my development and beliefs.

Arlo Guthrie was born as the son of the famous folk singer Woody Guthrie. Woody’s song “This Land is Your Land” is American as you can get, and is perhaps one of the most well known songs in America.

Arlo soon became a musical force unto himself. His textured orchestration, his brilliant lyrics, his range of musical styles, and his never ending wit have resulted in some of the finest music ever recorded.

Arlo Guthrie’s primary inspiration to me was saying it is okay to be more than superficial. Arlo’s second inspiration to me was that is okay to be a holistic person. While my peers focused on outer trappings and cliques, I always sensed there was something more. Then I discovered Arlo’s albums, written at an age not much older than I was. The Album “Arlo Guthrie” has political commentary such as “The Presidential Rag” (about Watergate) as well as fun stories such as “Me and My Goose.” He gave me freedom to explore the full richness of life.

The album “Amigo” provides a good example of what being a holistic man is about. “Patriot’s Dream” and “Victor Jara” are powerful political commentaries. “Massachusetts” and “Manzanillo Bay” are beautiful ballads which compel the listener to visit the places he loves so much. “Grocery Blues” and “Guabi Guabi” show his irreverence. Then there are the purely fun pieces such as “Walking Song” and “Connection” (the latter a pure rock N’ roll song which would make even ZZ Top blush).

As I continue to meet people, I am disappointed that most people today are one dimensional. I, like Arlo, strive to be multidimensional. The richness of life lies in the complete range of emotions. If you ignore one, you miss a significant part of being human.

Like Arlo, we should try to have the full range of emotions. Some circumstances ask us to be serious, other circumstances allow us to be irreverent. Sometimes we must be astute in the ways of the world, and other times we can be ourselves amongst our true friends. Love, strength, social commentary, irreverence, community, spirituality, aggressiveness - these are all various elements of Arlo Guthrie, and of life itself. Don’t neglect any part of being human.