Wismer's zest has been with him since birth. He was born in Port Huron, Mich. 47 years ago. His father, now retired, was manager of a clothing store, and the family lived in modest circumstances. His mother had five children, one of whom, a girl, died of diphtheria a few weeks before Harry was born. His mother had also come down with the disease, and Wismer says, "I think I was born to keep driving. My mother often said that she was so determined to have me born that it helped her live, and I think some of the strength and determination might have crossed over. Like What Makes Sammy Run?—only I've never stopped running. I used to read extensively when I was a kid. Those Horatio Alger and Merriwell books. They used to send a chill up and down me! I read every book about this man's success, that man's success. I'd wipe the dishes for my mother and I'd say, 'Don't worry. Someday you won't have to worry about all those bills. I'll take care of everything.' "
A good athlete, Wismer won a scholarship to a Wisconsin prep school and went to the University of Florida on a football scholarship. He stayed a year, then left for Michigan State, taking the coach, Charley Bachman, with him. Wismer had learned through a friend that the State coaching job was open.
A leg injury put Wismer on the sidelines, and when Bill Stern and the late Graham McNamee came out to broadcast a Michigan State game he served as a spotter. "If those two guys can do it, this is the business for me," Wismer told Bachman after the game. He began broadcasting on the college station, and he took Bachman in tow again. "I want to run you for College All-Star coach," he said. "Be great publicity for the school. We ought to go down to Detroit and meet all those industrialists and get some backing." In Detroit, Wismer met G. A. Richards, owner of the Lions and station WJR. "He took a liking to me and I became his prot�g�," Wismer recalls. "He would go all out for Bachman if the Lions got first crack at Michigan State players."
Wismer put Lion players to work making up petitions for Bachman by copying names from the phone book. Bachman finished second in the voting, but when the winner became ill, he got the All-Star coaching job. Wismer himself got a job as the Lions' public address announcer. He was so enthusiastic that Richards put him on WJR in Detroit five nights a week fat $10 a broadcast) as "Lions' Cub Reporter." He hitchhiked 160 miles a day back and forth from Michigan State to Detroit to keep the job. A year later he quit school.
He successfully ran Gus Dorais for 1937 All-Star coach (he substituted Dorais' name for the names of former office seekers on petitions stored in the county building) and began doing the Lions' games on radio. The next year Wismer decided to run Harry Kipke, who had been fired from Michigan, as All-Star coach. Kipke told Wismer to check with Harry Bennett, Henry Ford's chief lieutenant. Wismer did, and Bennett, who was planning to make Kipke a regent at Michigan, agreed that Kipke should try for the All-Star job.
"When Bennett spoke, people jumped," Wismer says. "We had petitions made out and sent to every Ford plant in the world. We were getting millions of votes! It was like a presidential election! But Arch Ward [sports editor of the
, the paper sponsoring the vote] was running Bo McMillin, and Kipke couldn't catch up. I even offered Ward a Lincoln car to get Kipke in—I was young and foolish—but he wouldn't take it, of course. On the last day I wired in two and a half million votes, and we were still second. But Kipke was elected regent of the university."
In 1941 Wismer married Betty Bryant, the favorite niece of Henry Ford. They have two children, a son, Henry, named after Ford, and a daughter, Wendy. Wismer and his wife are now divorced, and she is married to Charles Potter, former Senator from Michigan. When he was an intimate of the Ford family, Wismer lunched at noon with old Henry and again at one with Bennett. "I would have lunch to meet people," he says. "The more people I could meet the better it was. In many ways it's true—it's not what you know but who you know. If you're lucky enough to have any brains and coordinate them with who you know, you've got a chance of getting someplace."
In 1942 Wismer went to Washington, D.C. to broadcast the Washington Redskin games. "I had found that government was having more to do with the running of business," he says, "and I felt it would be wise for me to know the people who had so much to say."
Wismer prospered. Today he is worth almost $2 million. He bought a 25% interest in the Redskins from their owner, George Marshall, the laundry executive. As a stockholder Wismer began to make his complaints known to Marshall. "I told him," Wismer says, "that it was very obvious that Negroes were playing an important part in pro football, and that we should draft Negroes. He was adamant against it. He said, 'I was born in West Virginia,'—or some damn place—'and I will never play a Negro on the Redskins.' " The breach widened, and Wismer now has his stock up for sale. "They always call M arshall 'The Laundryman,' " says Wismer. "Hell, the only laundry he knows about is the shirt he's wearing."