Killy – the Vail spokesman that never was
Abramoff and I had been working for several months on the academy project. I met him through Mark McCormack and Arnold Palmer. Mark was a friend of mine from Cleveland, where we belonged to the same golf club, at the Cleveland Country Club. He was a superb golfer and one year qualified for the U.S. Amateur. This was when he had just graduated from Yale Law School and had joined a local law firm. It was also some time before he started the International Management Group.
During the World Cup races, there was a party at Pepi’s that many of the international contestants attended. In the course of the evening, Frank and I met Jean Claude Killy.
As Abramoff recalled, “He was a French version of Arnold Palmer with a snow background. He had a certain charisma and the girls found him most attractive.”
Killy indicated to us that sports agents wanted to represent him. I told him that before he did anything, he should talk to McCormack.
Sports Illustrated Magazine’s current issue at the time had an article about MacCormack’s new book, “My Friend Arnie.” I ran up the street to our house and brought back the article. We told Killy that MacCormack was far and away the leading sports agent. He represented golfers Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and many other leading stars in several sports. Killy was anxious to meet him.
A few years earlier, MacCormack, who lived opposite the entrance to the Cleveland Country Club, asked me to visit him because he knew of my involvement in skiing. It was in the summer and we sat out on his back porch. By then, MacCormack was famous as a sports agent and attorney. MacCormack sat back, twiddled his thumbs, and said he wanted to get involved in the ski industry and meet some of its stars. I gave him about 10 names, which included Pepi Gramshammer, Anderl Molterer, Christian Pravda, Stein Erickson and others. He did make a deal with Stein and was his agent for several years.
Killy, meanwhile, was excited and anxious to meet MacCormack. Having skied in Val d’Isere, France, and visited Killy’s father”s sports shop there, it was not too difficult to get Killy’s phone number. Later on that year, Mark made a date to meet Killy in Geneva, Switzerland.
One of Mark’s clients was Howard Ketchum, whose cartoon strip “Dennis the Menace” was known worldwide. MacCormack was going to meet Ketchum at his home in Geneva and arranged for Killy to see him there.
That meeting was very successful, but they weren’t able to officially make a deal until after the Olympics in Grenoble, France, the following February, where Killy won three gold medals and became a world-famous celebrity. MacCormack then signed Killy to a contract that made him rich.
MacCormack never acknowledged what Abramoff and I did for him. Later, I heard Bob Beatty, coach of the U.S. ski team, got credit for the introduction.
Several years later, I had the occasion to talk with Killy at the ski show in Las Vegas, and he did not recall the incident at Pepi’s party. Abramoff and I have often discussed how it happened, however, and there is no question that the “meeting” at Pepi’s and subsequent introductions took place.
I must not be a very good businessmen, because there have been other situations in my life where I let the business opportunity slip by for the fun of the promotion.
C’est la vie.
During the course of the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy, which will be discussed in a later chapter, I thought we could have a ski academy also. We were going to call it the Killy Ski Academy. With MacCormack’s vice president, Ed Keating, we designed a training center that would have a half-dozen parallel, rather short training courses for practice. After considerable study and drawings, we decided to abandon the project.
Later, negotiations to have Killy represent Vail fell through. This certainly was regrettable from both Killy’s and Vail’s point of view.
Editor’s Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail.” This is the 56th installment, an excerpt from chapter 7, “The History of Ski Racing in Vail.” The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi’s Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.