SAMUEL BRONFMAN by Michael R. Marrus

SAMUEL BRONFMAN

The Life and Times of Seagram's Mr. Sam

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A fact-filled but plodding biography of Samuel Bronfman, who achieved mythic success in the North American liquor trade. Marrus (History/Univ. of Toronto) provides a wealth of background on the entrepreneurial genius who made Montreal-based Seagram a lucrative multinational enterprise. Unfortunately, his subject (whose name means ``whisky man'' in Yiddish) left almost no personal records, and despite cooperation and financial support from Bronfman's heirs, the author never quite manages to make ``Mr. Sam'' stand up on the page. To a welcome extent, though, the details of Bronfman's remarkable career sustain the lengthy narrative. The son of immigrant Bessarabian refugees, Bronfman was born during their 1889 journey to the New World, then spent a hard boyhood on Canada's western prairies. One of four brothers, he joined the family's modestly prospering hotel business, and soon sensed that there was more money in making than in serving alcoholic beverages. Accordingly, he headed east to set up shop as a distributor. Bronfman eventually became a distiller, making acquisitions on both sides of the border. Legend has it that he was a close bootlegging associate of US gangsters during the 1930's. By Marrus's convincingly documented account, however, Bronfman seems to have operated within the letter of American as well as Canadian law. At any rate, once the temperance movement lost its momentum following WW II, Bronfman's merchandising savvy enabled him to build a global empire based on brands (Calvert, Dewars, Seven Crown, etc.) that target upscale consumers. An avid pursuer of honors and recognition, Mr. Sam staked out a limited claim for himself in public affairs. Beyond the presidency of the Canadian Jewish Congress, his company, and family, though, the late-blooming Zionist (who died in 1971) had few interests. Marrus nonetheless burdens his text with tedious recitals of the CJC's internal politics and other minutiae, which add little to our understanding of a man who may just have been all business. An informative, albeit less than insightful, saga. (Eight pages of humdrum photos.)

Pub Date: March 27th, 1992
ISBN: 0-87451-571-8
Page count: 551pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1992