Remembering Michael Katz

Longtime and much-loved Westporter Michael Katz died Thursday at age 69.  A memorial service will be held Monday (2 p.m.) at the Unitarian Church on Lyons Plains Rd., followed by a reception at the Red Barn.

Gregory Katz shared these thoughts of his brother:

When Elvis Presley’s 1st record played on the radio, he was at the movies with a friend.  He walked into the theatre a nobody and walked out a star.  From then on, he was the headliner whenever he performed.  Nobody could follow Elvis.

That’s what it was like growing up in Westport with Michael Katz as my big brother.  He was so warm, so popular and eye-catching that he was the star wherever he went.  When my daughter Sophia was 6 she asked, “Daddy, is Uncle Michael like Elvis?”

I told her he was Westport’s Elvis. Easily recognizable with his cowboy hat, elegant clothes and fancy cars, Michael couldn’t walk a block without someone yelling “Hey Mike” and waiting for him to stop and shoot the breeze.

Michael Katz, his niece Sophie Katz and his dog Sami.

Michael Katz, his niece Sophie Katz and his dog Sampson.

Coming to consciousness at age 4 or 5, I remember him as a glamorous figure, darting around town in an Austin-Healey or weird fiberglass custom-made bubble car that, he told me, eventually broke into a thousand pieces. The truth may have been more mundane, but I believed him – he could convince anyone of anything.

My family moved here in 1950, in the first sustained wave of migration from New York to the Connecticut suburbs.  Though our roots were in Europe, he embraced all that American life had to offer in that prosperous decade, excelling at baseball and basketball at Staples, and majoring in girls.

There was a soppy tradition in those days of leaving a “last will” in the yearbook where departing seniors bequeathed things to underclassmen.  Michael didn’t leave anything to anybody – the 1958 Stapleite lists him as saying he was leaving Staples “in the Flame filled with girls.”

The Flame was one of his many cars. Elvis couldn’t have said it better.

Michael was a self-made man, though I think my late father gave him some business advice when he was getting started.  He may have worked in an office at some point, but I never remember him having a traditional job, and he certainly never had a boss or supervisor.

As if by magic he charmed an ever-widening circle of friends and associates, eventually cultivating relationships with business titans, former Cabinet members, even a former president.  But none of it took place in an office – most of his business was conducted over lunch at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York, where he was a regular.

He must have been doing some work, but to his little brother it seemed as if all he did was put on beautiful clothes, drive his Jaguar or Mercedes into town, and eat in one of the world’s great restaurants.  On summer days when he didn’t have a lunch set up, he was usually on his boat, often taking calls from business types seeking his counsel on God knows what.

I’ll happily remember Michael in an inappropriate tight bathing suit on his boat, sitting in the hot sun – sunblock be damned – offering advice to some big shot stuck in an office in Manhattan.

Thank you, Elvis.

2 responses to “Remembering Michael Katz

  1. Chip Stephens

    In the big screen version of the epic classic “Westport: The Movie,” Mike Katz was one of the lead characters.

    Which car do you suppose he is driving for his voyage to the big beach in the sky? I am sure the top is down and he is smiling.

  2. Mike will be missed. His smile, words of wisdom, example of what life can be, sheer friendship and yes, always a good story. He loved life so very much. May he rest in peace. May he enjoy the tranquility in heaven that he strived for on earth. Thanks for sharing with me. Mike’s family, his friends and Westport lost a very special man.