Two blockbuster Hollywood movies of the late 60s were written by
Alan R. Trustman. His interest turned from Hollywood to Jai-Alai.
By Marty Fleischman
The Thomas Crown Affair, debuted in the theaters in 1968. Starring the hottest male actor of that time, Steve McQueen, the movie was a tremendous hit. Alan R. Trustman wrote it.
The following year, Trustman sat down at his typewriter and in 20 hours wrote the movie Bullitt, again starring McQueen. Bullitt is still known to have had “the greatest Hollywood car chase of all time.” Both movies had tremendous box office and financial success.
As I put together the first page of the Tampa and Ocala programs, I would get the list of “officials” for the coming meet. After the names of our local management, typically I would insert L. Stanley Berenson, President, a name that most people recognized. However, included in the list would be Sam Pinanski, Chairman of the Board, and Benjamin Trustman, Executive Committee. I had no idea who these people were.
In the middle of our first Ocala Jai-Alai season in 1973, I got a call that some members of our Board of Directors would be visiting Ocala Jai-Alai. I really didn’t know we had an actual Board of Directors.
After three weeks, we adjusted the season to a near normal schedule and the attendance was now beyond expectations. We were getting over 2,000 fans to our weekend performances (capacity was around 2,100). Our weeknights and matinees were actually now above projections. Ocala Jai-Alai was profitable that first season, a huge feat.
I figured these so-called Board of Directors were making an obligatory trip to see the new operation. But then I was told that I would drive them to Melbourne to see the nearly completed Melbourne Jai-Alai Fronton scheduled to open in the coming months. The names relayed to me were Ted Libby, Milton Green, Louis Weinberg, and Ben Trustman. But who were these people?
Everyone knew that L. Stanley “Buddy” Berenson owned Jai-Alai. It was said his father, Richard Berenson, was responsible for bringing the fledgling sport to the United States. Son Buddy was the heir to the throne and had been at the helm steering the company to large profits and future expansion. Few of us knew the Berenson’s had silent partners, mostly in Boston. For years, they had been satisfied receiving their lucrative dividends from their family’s long-time investment. Until now!
Buddy loved Jai-Alai with his soul. He was a tremendous businessman and the consummate promoter. He had already proved that in Miami where it became known as the “Yankee Stadium of Jai-Alai.” He proved it again by taking on the “religious right” in Ocala getting a referendum passed against tremendous odds allowing Ocala Jai-Alai to be built. He was an innovator and operator. His vision was to keep expanding the sport throughout Florida and beyond.
But little did many of us know the Berenson family owned less than 20% of the private stock. He was left alone to run the business and make money, both for which he did magnificently. But then, these silent partners, the ones that had been satisfied with splitting the company profits, these unknown names that did absolutely no work for the success of Jai-Alai, got greedy.
Libby, Green, Weinberg, and Trustman arrived at Ocala Jai-Alai in a rented Lincoln Continental. Buddy Gilbert, our general manager showed them the facility and introduced them to me, the PR Director, but really their chauffeur to Melbourne.
We piled into the Lincoln with me driving and departed Orange Lake heading to the east coast. They were very friendly, and we chatted about the new fronton. I soon found their questions very targeted, asking what I thought was wrong with the new facility. Ft. Pierce Jai-Alai, our next fronton scheduled to open in the summer of 1974, was under construction. They said, “we don’t want to make the same mistakes we made in Ocala.” What mistakes? We were doing great, after a slow start due to the experimental schedule. But everything had changed.
We arrived in Melbourne and toured the facility. Melbourne Jai-Alai was owned by Daytona Beach Jai-Alai and would be their sister fronton. It was a colorful, well-designed facility, quite different from Ocala. Different architects have different designs.
I really wasn’t sure what these gentlemen truly wanted to see, but they made notes and we returned to Ocala.
I said goodbye to the group and went into my office. I heard our announcer page Ben Trustman to the front office for a phone call. When Mr. Trustman entered the office, Buddy Gilbert said, “Your son Alan is on the phone.
I could hear most of the conversation, at least Ben Trustman’s words. He seemed to focus on the negatives about our design compared to Melbourne’s. I noticed he really never said anything positive to Alan.
Little did I know, this would not be the last time we would hear from Alan. Alan R. Trustman was no longer interested in making movies. He would now turn his attention to Jai-Alai. And Buddy Berenson was in for the “car chase” of his life.