Cassini’s class and largess
even touched a humble writer

Mar 21, 2006 4:07 AM

A courtly reminder of the old world, literally and figuratively, bowed out last week.

When Oleg Cassini died at his estate on Long Island at 92, he took with him a grace and charm that is lost in today’s crude and crass world of rudeness and lack of manners.

Cassini was, besides one of the most successful of all American clothes designers, a legendary lover. He dressed Jackie Kennedy into an American icon, and he dressed — and undressed — two of the loveliest actresses of the American scene: the lovely Gene Tierney and the incredibly beautiful Grace Kelly. He was married to the first and engaged to the second, and he charmed countless other gorgeous women, including three of Hollywood’s most beautiful, Betty Grable, Lana Turner and Ursula Andress, who were impressed by his movie star handsomeness, his style and class, and his intelligence.

I was privileged to get to know him well, through horse racing, a passion we both shared. Twenty years or so ago, he appeared on the harness racing scene — not incidentally with a lovely young Swedish trainer — and drove trotters briefly at The Meadowlands in New Jersey, the nation’s premier harness track, and elsewhere.

He designed his own classy Cassini silks — black with a crimson stripe — and he bought and drove his own horses.

He was not a dilettante. He had ridden in the cavalry, and he knew horses.

He also knew how to treat friends.

I wrote a column about him, not intending it for anything but a tribute to the man, and certainly not looking for anything from Oleg Cassini.

Shortly after it appeared, I received an expensive Oleg Cassini sports coat, still treasured and never dated, one of the classics he and his designers turned out regularly.

When I thanked him, he sent another gift, bottles of his fragrances.

And, years after that, when I dropped him a note on one or another of his later accomplishments, I received matching His and Hers bathrobes, Cassini-designed, of course.

I do not measure friends or acquaintances by gifts, but mention them here because it was typical of the gracious thoughtfulness of the man. He was a charmer, and there are far too few of them around today.

At a different end of the spectrum, Shawn Scott, well known in Vegas but now ironically living in the Virgin Islands, has surfaced again. Fueled for life by his purchases and sales of racetracks in Louisiana, Maine and New York state, and with his mother seeking exclusive gambling rights in Alaska, Scott now is heard from again in Washington, DC, where he is seeking a license to operate a casino in the nation’s capital.

This is not his first try, of course. He was bounced on his first effort when the District of Columbia’s elections board disallowed thousands of petitions gathered at considerable cost on Scott’s behalf. Now he is generously offering Washington up to 25% of an estimated $750 million or so projected as the revenues from a casino in the nation’s capital. He would like it to be his franchise exclusively for 10 years, but if that is more than Washington is willing to give he will share the market with others.

The sale of Vernon Downs in central New York, which Scott bought and which then descended into bankruptcy, is due to close at the end of this month, and Scott will be enriched by millions once again, as he was when he sold Delta Downs in Louisiana, purchased for $10 million or so and sold to Boyd Gaming for $110 million or so, and Bangor Raceway in Maine, bought for $2 or $3 million or so and sold for a reported $50 million to Penn National Gaming.

In both Louisiana and Maine, Scott showed his cleverness and enterprise by successfully getting racinos approved by legislatures, no small accomplishment. He didn’t have to go to the legislature in New York — they already had the idea — but he did have to go the Racing and Wagering Board, and it refused to license him.

Now he is back in Washington, where the Washington Post says Scott still owes the city or the district $684,000 in fines for his earlier unsuccessful quest.

That, friends, requires very big ones, and Shawn possesses them when it comes to making deals.