Sunday, March 31, 2019

Charles B. Wrightsman's Early Years

Charles B. Wrightsman grew up in Pawnee and Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his father, Charles John Wrightsman, was a lawyer--practicing with C.E. Bush and  V. O. Johnson. C.B. was sent off to New Hampshire for boarding school at Phillips Exeter Academy before March 1913.

In 1914, however, C.J. Wrightsman announced he had sold all his property in Tulsa and was moving to New York, where he and several independent oilmen from Oklahoma were then in the process of contracting to sell oil to the U.S. Navy for the market price of 50 cents a barrel. In 1915 the Wrightsman family had moved from Tulsa to New York. C.B.had attended prep school at Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire, and by the spring of 1915 was enrolled in Leland Stanford University at Berkeley, California.

In 1916, C.B., by then a student at Columbia University in New York City, went with his father to Kansas to look over oil properties his father had just purchased in the El Dorado field. But in New York he had fallen in love with airplanes, although his father had attempted to discourage him by giving him a boat. The Tulsa Daily World wrote in April 1917 that C.J. finally consented to allow his son to enlist in the volunteer aviation corps and to train as a pilot, and he was not ready to give up flying at that time to be a mere oilman.

As a Navy Ensign, C.B became executive officer and aide to Lieut. Comdr. Albert Cushing Read (nephew of Rear Admiral Albert Smith Barker, deceased in 1916). A. C. Read had started a flight school at Bay Shore, Long Island, New York, one of the millionaires' units described by Marc Wortman in his 2007 book, The Millionaires' Unit: The Aristocratic Flyboys Who Fought the Great War and Invented American Air Power. From there Read and Wrightsman moved to Florida to  build a new school south of Miami. A court case decided in 1970 reveals the highlights of Wrightsman's life, from that point up until his "career" as an investor in works of art.

Excerpt from court case:

Charles B. Wrightsman and Jayne Wrightsman v. the United States United States Court of Claims. - 428 F.2d 131

 July 15, 1970
In 1918, after active service in the United States Navy, Charles Bierer Wrightsman moved to Fort Worth, Texas, [sic] where he engaged in the oil business as a lease broker and in several oil ventures. He accumulated sufficient funds by 1930 to purchase, and did purchase at private sale, the shares of the largest stockholder of Standard Oil Company of Kansas. He was then elected to the board of directors and, in 1932, became president of that company. He held such office through January 1951, when liquidation of that company, which had commenced in 1949, was concluded. At this time, Charles owned 93.7 percent of the outstanding stock.

Upon the liquidation, Mr. Wrightsman received a 93.7 percent interest in all of the properties, including one million dollars in cash distributed to him. With the removal of the corporate structure, his financial position changed from stock ownership to direct ownership of oil-producing properties, which he has continued to operate as an individual under appropriate arrangements with the owners of the 6.3 percent interests. Thus, he commenced and has continued to receive directly a large cash flow, which had previously gone into the corporate coffers.
Aside from his investments in Standard Oil of Kansas, Mr. Wrightsman's ownership of stock, as well as that of Mrs. [Jayne Kirkman Larkin] Wrightsman, has been quite limited. In 1959, Wrightsman Investment Company was organized, with Mr. Wrightsman as the sole stockholder, owning minor Oklahoma oil properties contributed by Charles, land on which plaintiffs' Palm Beach, Florida, home is located, and limited assets previously owned by Charles in New Mexico, Mississippi and Nebraska. Plaintiffs acquired 1,583 shares of Wrightsman Petroleum Company in 1960 and 1961, a company which had been organized by Charles' father. At the time of the trial of this case, Mrs. Wrightsman was the beneficial owner of a trust for which a bank, as trustee, had purchased stock.

Mr. Wrightsman believed that oil was one of the best possible investments, if selectively made. His trips to the Persian Gulf countries in the mid-1950's indicated to him, however, that there was a possibility of an oil glut, which caused him to conclude that he should make an effort to hedge his investments in oil with investments of other kinds. He sought advice from qualified employees. The certified public accountant in charge of his accounts recommended purchase of unimproved real estate and stock in corporations not in the oil industry. These recommendations were not followed.

By this time, Mr. Wrightsman had formed the belief that works of art were an excellent hedge against inflation and devaluation of currencies, that they represented portable international currency, since there were no restrictions on export from the United States, and that works of art were appropriate assets for investment of a substantial portion of his surplus cash being generated. These beliefs and investment intent were expressed to numerous friends and associates and the employees of his business office.

Mrs. Wrightsman's assets have been derived from income through Mr. Wrightsman under community property laws and from funds received from Charles in the form of gifts. Jayne Larkin Wrightsman fully shared Charles' beliefs and intent concerning investment in works of art. Their marriage has been one of constant association and travel together, with common interests and goals.

In their art collecting activities, plaintiffs have specialized in the acquisition of 18th century French works of art. Mrs. Wrightsman is not just a nominal party herein because of the filing of joint returns by the parties. She owns about three-fourths of plaintiffs' works of art, either by number or by value. Their activities in the acquisition and holding of such works of art have been conducted jointly.

Plaintiffs' mode of living from 1947 to the present time has been to reside from the latter part of November until late April at their home in Palm Beach, Florida, with occasional trips to New York City or elsewhere. Commencing about the first of May, they live for about 30 days in New York City, staying since 1956 in their Fifth Avenue apartment. From June 1 to the end of September or early October, they are in Europe, where they live exclusively in hotels. (Emphasis added above in italics and bold text.)

Wrightsman Residences

From news reports published while the above mentioned events were taking place, we detect at least one misstatement. Wrightsman did not move to Fort Worth in 1918. 

Carl Fisher's Miami casino
News reports indicate he and then-Lieutenant Read were guests at the Royal Palm Hotel in January 1918, where Glenn H. Curtiss was said to be a "regular". "Captain" Read and Ensign Wrightsman were also in attendance at that year's opening of Carl Fisher's casino in Miami Beach, along with two sons of Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo--Ensigns P. H. and W. G. Jr. That month Wrightsman was Read's only attendant at his wedding to Bess Burdine, and the following month he and William G. McAdoo Jr. were together in Palm Beach. Running the flight school was their job until at least May 1918.

C.B. disappeared from society news until he resurfaced in Shreveport, Louisiana in September 1919, just in time to be visited by his friend from the naval air school, preparing for a reprise of his transatlantic flight with the original crew who had accompanied him on the first flight only weeks before. In October C.B. set up American Drilling Company, Inc. in Shreveport with H. C. Brewster, Jr. and C. S. Clarke.

There are indications from these same news reports that, although involved in drilling for oil, his major interest was still aviation. In August 1920, he entered the Pulitzer trophy transatlantic race in New York with a friend from Tulsa, Howard Birkett, but was also entered the next year for the Pulitzer trophy in Omaha. 

Referred to as the "senior lieutenant on the reserve list," Wrightsman was said to own three airplanes entered in the American Legion aerial derby held in Kansas City, Missouri, during the organization's annual meeting. There was some confusion spread among various newspapers about which of his planes won which prizes, most alleging first place had been won by Lloyd Bertau. Later reports stated that a $3,000 prize awarded to Earl F. White, had been enjoined because the plane he flew, owned by Wrightsman, was not in compliance with the race rules. Wrightsman refused to give up the prize, and the court eventually sided with him.

Intelligence report on oil in Soviet lands
According to the write-up in the Tulsa Daily World, C. B. had spent the months of June through October 1921 traveling across Europe by air, to "study oil conditions, particularly in Russia and Roumania." The newspaper then printed a large portion of what appears to have been an intelligence briefing prepared for investors hoping to obtain the right to drill in old Russian oilfields now controlled by the new Soviet Union.

Once the court case was settled in his favor, C.B., reportedly of New York, was back in Miami by February 1, 1922 to enjoy the beach and polo games. By June he had met his first wife, Irene Stafford, and married her at his home in Tulsa--1645 South Cheyenne Avenue. 

Later that year the Aero Club of America ordered C. B. to return the $3,000 award from the previous year's contested aero race in Omaha. 

By 1923 the younger Wrightsmans were residing in Beverly Hills, while his parents had homes in both New York and Tulsa. C.B. began playing polo at the Midwick Country Club near Alhambra where he sometimes teamed with Hal Roach, Will Rogers, Jr., Carleton F. Burke and others until 1931. By 1932 his primary focus centered on the proxy fight he was waging for Standard Oil of Kansas, along with Lionel T. Barneson and Cyrus Bell. After 1934 everything in C.B.'s life would change.

Charles John and Edna Wrightsman (not related) Wrightsman, did eventually move to 935 Hillcrest in Fort Worth, Texas, but not before 1938, where they lived adjacent to the River Crest Country Club golf course, their home until their deaths in 1950 and 1959. Only nine houses now stand between their home and 805 Hillcrest -- a residence built in 1927 by attorney Edwin T. Phillips, father of the notorious CIA agent David Atlee Phillips.

The year after moving into the new home, Edwin died, leaving his widow with numerous sons to support. Mrs. Phillips then moved less than a mile away to the northern tip of the golf course on Rivercrest Drive in Fort Worth. The background of CIA Agent David Atlee Phillips, and his ancestry, has been set out in detail elsewhere in this blog.

Charles B. Wrightsman is more fully developed at a previous blog post as well.