him for about one month's rent - it was more a matter of principle
than anything else - and I was drafted to try the case before the
justice of the peace, some sort of magistrate in Fairfield.
We tried the case for about three or four days. Every day
when I would arrive in court, Lloyd Robbins would be closeted with
the judge in chambers. That was a little unnerving to start with.
And then whenever I would put on a witness, Lloyd Robbins would
promptly rise and say, "No, that isn't the way it is." I finally
said to the judge one day, "You know, I'd be happy to waive
Mr. Robbins 's taking the normal oath of the witness, but I do wish
that when he was testifying he'd be sitting in the chair and not
standing in the well of the court."
Well, he was very indulgent with me. At the end of every day
he'd say, "Come on, let's go have a drink," and I'd get in his car,
and he'd drive me out to the ranch. And he said to me, "Now young
man, the doctors only allow me one drink a day." And then he'd
shout at some attendant, and they'd bring him a martini in one of
those [demonstrates with hands] -
Hicke: A foot high?
O'Brien: About a foot high, really.
Hicke: How did the case turn out?
O'Brien: It didn't take that judge very long to decide in Mr. Robbins 's
favor. He was the squire, he ran the whole county. But he was an
agreeable old gentleman, and I learned a lot about -
Hicke: You didn't learn how to get closeted with the judge before -
O'Brien: No. How to get clobbered, I guess.
Hicke: Oh, on one drink.
O'Brien: Let's see. Who else is on here [looks at list]. Al Tanner worked
for Felix Smith, and as the years wore on he, as I recall, became
primarily interested in corporate securities work. I think a lot
of young lawyers in the firm found him hard to work for. He was a
man who was frightfully meticulous, meticulous to a fault, shall we
say, and I guess that's a good fault if you are a corporate lawyer
and you really need to dot every "I" and cross every "T" and so on,
but it would be an enterprise that would drive you up the wall.
But he had the confidence and respect of Felix Smith, and he
handled a lot of important matters for the Standard Oil Company
over the years. He was a partner in the firm, and retired, and
lived on after his wife's death for quite a number of years.
Henry Hayes was a particular favorite of mine, and he just
died a few months ago.
Hicke: I saw the notice in the paper.
O'Brien: He didn't have what you'd call a happy career exactly, because he
was profoundly disenchanted that he hadn't been made a partner. He
was about that tall. [gestures with hands]
Hicke: Five feet?
O'Brien: I would guess less than five feet. He was a brilliant fellow with
great charm. He had gone to Deep Springs School - that was a very
special school, I think maybe sponsored by Yale University, but it
was a very special place. He went from there to Yale and the Yale
Law School, I think, and he had a fine academic record when he was
in school. He worked very closely for and with Felix Smith.
He and I were the two associates that worked on all those
glass cases that I described for you. Henry was very quick and an
excellent draftsman and a most agreeable person to work with. But
for some reason unknown to me, he didn't become a member of the
firm, and during the war he left the firm and went to teach at Deep
Springs. Then after the war, he came back. He still didn't become
a partner, but he worked on, I think, until his retirement, as I
In any event, I thought he was a very good lawyer indeed, and
a most charming, entertaining, and engaging friend. He had a wife
named Kit. They had a big, open car, and they had one of those
huge, woolly sheep dogs. I have a vision of Henry and Kit and this
enormous sheep dog tooling down the road. They lived in Marin
County. And we became good friends.
I've lost track of some of these people, because they
disappeared during the war. Bud Pringle I knew before the war. He
had been the roadman. I don't think I succeeded him as the
roadman. I think it was Bud Pringle, and then Bob Bolander, and
then O'Brien. And as I've told you, the roadman argued a great
many preliminary motions and demurrers and that sort of thing, and
Bud Pringle had an unbroken record of having something like forty
or fifty or sixty demurrers sustained against other people. A
demurrer is a common law legal motion which says in effect that I
concede all the facts that you state in the complaint, but they
don't state a legal cause of action; there's something faulty about
Nobody could plead a cause of action against
I bet they were sorry to lose him as roadman.
He then went on to handle - I think after Francis Gill, who was
another real character, an associate - workman's compensation
matters and promptly became possessed of every disease of every
case. He was not a very prepossessing-looking guy, kind of pale
and sallow, but he was a bright man, and we both knew the grip,
both having been roadman. But he had a long tenure as roadman or
he never would have scored as he did on all these demurrers.
Bob Bolander: I don't know what happened to him. He was a
very attractive, good-looking, young man. He was the roadman, I
think, before me; I
pulled off the road.
think I took over from him. I was only on the
I don't know, three or four months, maybe something
I guess I got into some of these cases and had to be
But I think I succeeded Bob Bolander. I
never knew him very well, but he was a very pleasant, agreeable
person. I've kind of forgotten what happened to him, whether he
stayed on until the war started and left in that context, or
And I guess that's about it on those people on the list.
You mentioned Francis Gill. Do you have a couple more minutes?
Oh, Francis Gill. He was a real character. Where he came from I
don't know, but he was a true eccentric - skinny, intense,
brighter than the dickens, and a nonconformist. I remember that he
somehow got an important case involving workmen's compensation law
into the Supreme Court of the United States before anybody in the
firm realized what had happened. And in those days, where
everything was, you know, so carefully supervised - anything that
an associate did was carefully reviewed by serried ranks of elder
lawyers and partners - suddenly they found themselves with Francis
Gill about to go to Washington to argue a case in the Supreme
Court. And how he got it there, I don't know, perhaps on some
special writ, because he was a very creative, imaginative, skillful
lawyer. But as I say, he really paid very little attention to the
He was working away and -
Working away and doing his thing. And I haven't any idea of what
became of him. I guess he must have left during the war. Of
course, a lot of us got into the service, and I don't know the end
of that story.
Price -fixing Cases: Paint. Glass, and Wallpaper
[Interview 7: April 7, 1987 ]##
Hicke: I am going to just recap a little bit. We got you back from the
war the time before, and then last time you talked about the
associates. So we really didn't make any forward progress
chronologically. So where we stand now, chronologically, is with
what you started to do after you got back from the war.
O'Brien: All right. I came back gradually to resume my role with some of
the clients that I had represented before the war- -personal
clients and corporate clients. My practice changed in the sense
that I became more of a business lawyer and antitrust lawyer than
an active litigator. I ceased to have anything really to do with
frequent courtroom appearances. As it happened, immediately
after the war, with the end of price controls, there was again a
great flurry of antitrust proceedings. I represented Fuller in
three successive national antitrust grand jury proceedings:
paint, wallpaper, and glass.
Hicke: Those are the three different subjects -
O'Brien: Segments of their business that were involved in national
investigations. As I recall, one investigation was in
Pittsburgh, one was in Philadelphia, and one in San Francisco.
Hicke: I'd like to interrupt you just to ask if you could tell me a
little bit more about what was involved?
O'Brien: They all involved federal criminal grand jury proceedings for
alleged price fixing- -conspiracies- -in paint and glass and
Hicke: Were these in response to a complaint by competitors, as the
other one was?
O'Brien: Not to the best of my knowledge. If so, I don't identify any
individual complainant. It really may have been, again, kind of
a political exercise. After the war, there was tremendous pent-
up demand, and prices tended to rise rather rapidly after World
War II. I think these grand jury investigations, in part, were an
effort by the federal government to help keep prices down.
I know that in the case of Fuller & Company, the chief
executive officer, Harry Brawner, who had served in the Air Force
during the war, as many of the other Fullers did, was very much
concerned about prices in the paint industry. He made a trip
around the country, in the course of which he managed to see the
chief executives of many of the other major paint companies. I am
sure that he acted in all innocence and had no intention whatever
of entering into any price arrangements or agreements. He was a
very well-intentioned gentleman, if a little naive about the legal
niceties, and when I learned of this trip, we had a number of
I then helped him to issue a memorandum to all of the branches
of Fuller & Company (and they then had approximately two or three
hundred branch stores in the western United States) in which he
recited to the local managers that he had made this trip, noting
that he had talked to these various competitors, and that as far as
he was concerned, Fuller & Company was going to follow Mr. Truman's
plea and hold the price line.
Now as it happened, most of the rest of the industry increased
the prices of paint, and so we were not what you would call a good-
In fact, we had gone the other direction. Ultimately the matter
came before a grand jury in Pittsburgh, which was the headquarters
of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, one of the largest paint
manufacturers of the country. All of the major paint companies and
most of the executives except Fuller were indicted.
It was a good bit of preventive medicine you arranged.
Yes. We had a number of similar cases. I also gradually got into
the Aramco problem and those of Caltex. I picked up a number of
other clients - I can't remember them all. I represented TWA for
a while on the West Coast. I represented Sylvania when they
decided to move west, and we acquired some property in Mountain
View. I went through an annexation, a so-called strip annexation,
under which we annexed the plant site land which lay outside the
city limits into the city. It was a very highly contested
proceeding, with public hearings on the zoning, a lot of marching
and counter-marching by people who didn't want this Sylvania plant
to come to their rustic community.
Just because they didn't want any more development?
O'Brien: I guess.
Abercrombie & Fitch Company
Hicke: Had you done any real estate work before?
Hicke: I know you said Abercrombie [& Fitch Company], but maybe that was
O'Brien: Yes, I also represented Abercrombie. One of their first ventures
outside of New York City was in San Francisco, where they built a
beautiful store. The store property belonged to the Crocker family
trust. The president of Abercrombie first came to see me pretty
much after he had agreed with the Crocker trust on a form of lease.
When I looked at the lease, I was horrified because it was so one
sided and such a rip-off. After I'd explained all of its ins and
outs to him, I said I thought it really had to be renegotiated.
The executive director of the Crocker family trust - a
property-holding company - was a gentleman named Dante Lembe. I
made an appointment to see Lembe to discuss the lease. I took
along the president of Abercrombie, who was a gentleman named Otis
Guernsey. After a little sparring around, we made a second
appointment, and Lembe came to my office, and we began to slug it
out. He was furious that I had unraveled his tentative
arrangements with Guernsey, and we had a very hard time and a lot
of negotiations before we finally got a more balanced and more
Hicke: How did it happen that they had gone ahead and worked out the lease
without legal advice?
O'Brien: Oh, I don't know, they were just businessmen who came out, thought
they knew a lot about these things - this was a percentage lease,
where you paid so much of the gross revenue that was developed by
this outlet. Anyway, they spent a lot of money remodeling the
building, which is now occupied by Eddie Bauer.
Hicke: Oh, yes.
O'Brien: It is just below Gump's on Post Street. We had a great opening,
and there were all sorts of window boxes and flowers. The store
was a great success for a while. At the end of that negotiation,
Mr. Guernsey asked me if I would go on the Abercrombie board in New
York, which I did. That was kind of an interesting experience.
V.P. Fuller & Company had, as I say, two or three hundred
retail stores. I handled their legal matters. They owned stores
and they leased stores, so I negotiated the leases and property
arrangements - got a liberal education. I once went to Hawaii to
negotiate with the Big Six families when we wanted to build a store
in Honolulu, and discovered how expert they were in the drafting of
Hicke: You had to deal with all six of them?
O'Brien: No, no. It was one of the Big Six companies.
Hicke: Does anything else come to mind about being on the board of
Abercrombie? Did you go back there for meetings?
O'Brien: Well, I went to their meetings. Some were held in New York, others
in Florida and elsewhere. Mr. Guernsey retired within a year or
two after I went on the board. He was succeeded by a fellow named
John Ewing - a very attractive, nice man, but without much retail
merchandising experience. Though he worked like an absolute galley
slave, he couldn't seem to get a handle on the marketing side of
the business - he tried very hard indeed. I stayed on that board
almost until the time that I went to work for Chevron.
Hicke: So they got some legal advice before they actually entered into
some of these things?
O'Brien: Yes. Sure. Although I didn't purport to be their counsel, I was a
regular board member, but you know, when these things came before
the board, at least I would be aware of them and could look at the
papers. They had a very fine board in those days.
Hicke: Who else was on the board?
O'Brien: There were two in particular: one of them had been a former
secretary of the navy - I can't be sure of his name, I think it
was [Artemus L . ] Gates; one of them was a gentleman named Gilbert
Scribner, who was a very successful financier, real estate magnate
of Chicago, who was on the General Motors board and other boards,
and he and I became very good friends in the course of all of this.
Later on I was able to help his children when they moved out to the
West Coast. Anyhow, I made some interesting associations.
Abercrombie was a special company because of its unique
carriage trade and the extraordinary things that you could acquire
and buy at Abercrombie. The company finally went over the
waterfall, principally because they expanded and opened stores, not
only in San Francisco, but in Palm Beach and Colorado Springs and
so forth, and began to try to follow the fashions and carry all
sorts of sporting wear and special things for these resort
atmospheres, and I don't think they really knew too much about how
to do that. And they had big overhead costs, et cetera, et cetera.
Then a gentleman, whose name I've forgotten at the moment, who
was a sort of a collateral branch of the DuPont family, a
congressman from Delaware, became gradually - he was on the
board - the pre-eminent stockholder in Abercrombie. He and some
of his investment banker friends in Delaware undertook to manage
the company, with little or no success. And about that time, I
went on the Standard board and resigned from the Abercrombie board.
So I came back in 1946, and in addition to these private
clients, I spent some time on behalf of a personal client by the
name of Mary Eudora Miller Clover, who's worth a book by herself.
She was the cousin of John Foster Dulles, the secretary of state.
I spent a considerable amount of time trying to rescue the
fortune of Mrs. Forrest Meyers, whose husband was an extremely
wealthy man in Manila and who suffered a fatal stroke after he and
his wife were released from Santa Tomas. She came to me for help
to marshal the family fortune in the Philippines and get it back to
the United States. That is another volume of litigation in the
Philippines: attempts at blackmail, threats, double-dealing and
all sorts of horrendous things. At one point, the poor lady had a
judgment against her for a million or two dollars in the Philippine
courts, which we ultimately reversed in the Supreme Court of the
Philippines. We finally succeeded in getting the bulk of her
fortune back to the United States.
Hicke: But it all had to go through the courts?
O'Brien: Well, yes. I was very fortunate in enlisting the help of a famous
American, who had been a great hero in the Philippines in World
War II, a fellow named Charles Parsons. With his help, we managed
to get a handle on most of everything Mr. Meyers owned and not to
get too badly ripped off.
Oh, we also got sued in the United States, in a case that Noel
Dyer handled here. There was a determination by the Labor
Department in the Philippines, upholding a fraudulent claim that
Mr. Meyers had promised all of his workers that if they would go to
Corregidor with [General Douglas] MacArthur, he would pay their
salaries for the duration of the war. A judgment was taken against
Mr. Meyers and Mrs. Meyers based on that preposterous promise or
alleged promise. There were U.S. income tax problems which Frank
Roberts handled with great skill,
So that was an interesting
Mary Eudora Miller Clover
Indeed. ell, let's go back to Mary Eudora.
worth a book, but you skipped right on by.
You said that was
Yes. Mary Eudora Clover was the daughter of an American admiral
who had been the naval attache in various embassies around the
world. He, in turn, was the son of some famous gentleman who first
established the family fortune by acquiring the seal concession in
the Pribilof Islands.
I think her grandfather was an early senator in California.
At least when her father died, she was left with two enormous
ranches: one in the Napa Valley, and one near Helm, outside of
Bakersfield. This was long before I knew her. She lost the one in
the Napa Valley, because it was so immense. She had no money to
pay the taxes, and she was being sued right and left by farmers in
the valley who wanted to get her water rights away from her. She
ultimately lost that property. But she managed to hang onto the
one in Helm, which was farmed by a family that had been on the
property for a generation or two, and that paid enough to pay the
taxes and give her some small income.
She, through all these years, had lived in France, because it
was less expensive, and for her, a great deal more interesting.
When World War II was about to start, she got permission from the
State Department to go back to France - she happened to be in the
United States - and disappeared behind the German invasion and was
not heard of for the duration of the war. She did survive it. In
the meantime, her local representatives in the San Francisco bank
took a flyer, even though they couldn't reach her (they held some
sort of power of attorney). In the wartime search for oil, one of
the oil companies took a lease on this farming property in Helm and
brought in a huge oil field.
So shortly after I came back in 1946, the phone rang one day,
and Eudora Clover was on the phone. She was in a San Francisco
hotel. She had just arrived after a triumphal procession across
the country in which she acquired a farm or two in Maryland, and an
apartment house in Chicago.
She had a nice bank account waiting for her.
Yes, right. And various other properties.
Hicke: How did she happen to call you?
O'Brien: I haven't any idea. I don't know how she ever got hold of my name.
In the years in which she had lived in France, she had become very
closely identified with the the White Russians that lived in Paris,
and with the remnants of the Czar's family. So I helped her
acquire a house I can't think of the name of it, off of Lake
Street - beautiful house out on the bay. It has a special name -
Hicke: Oh, where Dianne Fienstein lives.
O'Brien: Yes, I guess.
Hicke: Yes, I can't think of the name of it either.
O'Brien: Anyway, we put an elevator in it. She was immense. She had some
sort of thyroid trouble, so she was huge. She had brought out with
her two body servants, two attractive, nice, black people to take
care of her. So we got them all safely ensconced in this house,
and then she invited the two remaining heirs [to the Russian
throne], two real Romanovs - two nephews, who had been raised at
Hampton Court in England to come and live with her. They did,
and she once said to me, "The only trouble with the Romanovs was
that none of them ever had a decent education." So she was
determined to educate these two boys.
Everything was great, except that she was bored and she lacked
for interests; she was relatively immobilized, because of her
disease and her bulk. But she had a sister who lived in the East,
and the sister had a son, Miss Clover's nephew, who was the natural
object of her bounty, and he in turn had two children, two little
girls. I represented her for quite a number of years, until her
death in 1954. In the meantime, she was constantly casting around
for something new, just to enliven her personal equation.
For example, she once went down to Shreve's one afternoon and
bought three or four hundred thousand dollars worth of jewelry,
which she brought home in a brown bag, I guess.
Hicke: Oh, my goodness.
O'Brien: She called me up and said, "I've just acquired this jewelry, and I
need to modify my will to decide to whom I intend to give it." I
went out, I looked at the jewelry, and then discussed with her
which friend or relative she should leave it to. I said to her,
"Is it insured?" She said, "Oh, no, no." So while I was there, I
called up her broker, and said, "We've got all this jewelry here,
and the invoice on it is two-three thousand dollars. Will you put
a binder on it until it can all be scheduled and added to her
regular policy?" So that was arranged. About a week later, it was
Hicke: Again, some good preventive medicine.
O'Brien: Yes. Well, anyway, we, of course, had all the police in. In those
days it was easier; they put some sort of surveillance on her
telephone, and sure enough within a few days some fellow called her
up and tried to ransom this jewelry back to her - not only this
stuff she'd bought at Shreve's, but some of her own family jewelry,
which she really prized. We did our very best, and once or twice
we got within an inch of the person. She, in meantime, was having
an absolutely uproarious time, enjoying every moment of it, under
instructions to try to keep the caller on the phone long enough for
us to go back through the telephone exchange to locate the booth he
was phoning from. Well, we never quite made it, and she never got
the jewelry back, but she got all the money back.
Hicke: From the insurance?
Hicke: And she had a good time.
O'Brien: Yes, a good time. Over the years she gradually became quite
disenchanted with this nephew, who paid little or no attention to
her. She continued to write wills all the time, and in the end, I
had maybe seven or eight wills that I had drawn for her - long,
elaborate wills with all sorts of trusts and contingencies - and
you could see this gentleman's stock falling, falling, and falling