The Sultan of Schmooze

Michael Aller can smooth-talk with the best of them. His political friends in Miami Beach love him for it. His creditors don't.

"Fuck you, Jason!" the short guy shouts on the air as Aller pulls the microphone away, red-faced. Aller says, "Let's not start a fight, guys." But he continues to ask more questions: "So where's your girlfriend tonight?"

"She's out getting laid," Jason quips, and the short one chases after him.
"Welcome to live radio, ladies and gentlemen!" Aller laughs.
This may not exactly be an exemplar of dignified broadcasting, particularly for a public official, but Aller isn't worried that these kinds of shows will tarnish his or the city's reputation. "I don't think anything I do on the air would embarrass the city or anyone else," he says. "This is 1994."

There comes a moment in every young man's life when he's seized by a dream. For Aller it came in 1953, when he was fourteen and went to a theater in Detroit to see "Mr. Showtime," Georgie Jessel. Jessel was a feisty raconteur and entertainer who was dubbed the "Toastmaster General of the United States" by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. "I went nuts," Aller recalls of that Detroit show, adding that he insisted on waiting backstage to meet Jessel. He got an autographed photo and exchanged a few words. Most people would have been satisfied with that, but not Michael Aller.

Aller kept pestering his father, a wealthy builder, to arrange a meeting with Jessel, until his father invited Jessel to the family country club. (It wouldn't be the first time Aller got what he wanted from his family; as an adopted child, he was showered with love and lavish treatment from both his father and mother.) At the luncheon his fascination with showbiz grew, and he formed an improbable, long-lasting friendship with Jessel. During the summer months over the next two years, he went on the road with the entertainer. Today Aller quickly points out that there was nothing improper about their relationship.

In fact, unlike Aller, Jessel was a ravenous womanizer who often awoke the boy at 2:00 a.m. for a special request. "It's a beautiful night," Jessel would say in the rough-hewn vaudeville style that Aller mimics perfectly decades later. "Come down and sit with the bellman." Then Jessel would sneak up to the hotel room with his female conquest of the night. Jessel even took Aller with him to meet Jack Kennedy at the 1961 presidential inauguration, and took him to the fabled Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles, where he watched Jessel sitting around cracking jokes with the likes of Jack Benny.

Aller's own later effort to make it in show business was short-lived -- but at least it lasted longer than his aborted college career at the University of Miami, where he dropped out after a few hours. Though he had no interest in higher education, his parents didn't want him to be the social pariah of an upper-middle-class Jewish family. And no mere college dorm was good enough for their son, his mother decided, so his parents rented him an apartment in Coral Gables, gave him plenty of cash, Diner's Club and Texaco credit cards, and arranged for him to get meals -- billed to his parents -- at a nearby motel. Aller was set to attend college in high style, an expectation of first-class living he has carried with him ever since, even as his wealth has dwindled in recent years. He was, he admits, a spoiled kid.

Aller went to his first day's classes, discovered that he was assigned $162 worth of books, and decided it wasn't worth the money. He never showed up at classes again, but continued to fool his parents into believing he was busily attending school. When the sham was finally exposed, his parents were naturally upset, but now Aller was free to pursue his real dream: to go to New York and make it in show business.

Here, too, he was supported in fine style by his parents, living at an apartment in the Wyndham Hotel on 58th Street. He failed at his bid to become an entertainer after a prominent TV producer told him bluntly, "You have no talent." He became an agent instead, building up a client base of about 50 small-time performers.

His exuberant personality and constant networking enabled him to meet such celebrities and rising stars as Frankie Avalon, Barbra Streisand, and Joan Rivers. His ultimate coup, though, came when one of his friends who was related to a Vatican-based cardinal enabled him to win an audience with the pope. As Aller tells this name-dropping topper, he was quite nervous when he joined those ushered in to see the great man, and when it came his turn to receive a papal blessing, Aller blurted out, "I'm Jewish!" Pope John XXIII smiled benignly and said, "I know."

While working as an agent, he stumbled by accident into the field that would help make him a wealthy man. Using some of his family's money, he had loaned a friend $25,000, and as part of the deal, a nineteen-bed nursing home in Brooklyn was offered as collateral. Five months later his friend defaulted on the loan, and Aller and his family became wary owners of the business. With his family's backing, he says he gradually acquired a string of eleven nursing homes in Michigan and California. He moved back to Michigan and stayed in the field for about twenty years.

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