In 1927, when William B. MacDonald Jr.—the promoter of the forthcoming Liston-Clay fight—was 18, he was happy being a bus conductor for the Chicago Motor Coach Company, but the superintendent of the South Side garage, a man named Paddy Leyden, insisted he become a driver. "Me bucko," said Paddy, "a driver you are and a driver you'll be. You'll not be a conductor." So MacDonald was a driver. "It was the Fourth of July," he recalls. "A jillion people got on and got off. It was ding, stop, and dong, go. I never got out of second gear. I must have lost five pounds. When I got back I told Paddy he could keep his glamorous driver's boots and fancy uniform. I wanted to be a conductor and stand in the back and ring the bell and holler, 'low bridge!' and meet the people. 'Me bucko,' said Paddy, 'a driver you are and a driver you'll be.' " So MacDonald quit. "If I hadn't been so impulsive," he says, "today I'd have 36 years' seniority and the choice of routes, a Polish wife, two kids and only a couple more payments on a refrigerator."
Today William B. MacDonald Jr. of Bal Harbour, Fla. is president and director and, together with his Polish wife Victoria, owns all the stock of the William B. MacDonald, Jr. Corporation, gross assets $52 million. Among its wholly owned subsidiaries are: Housing Investment Corporation of San Juan, P.R., the island's largest mortgage company; Silmac Corporation, which holds 45% of the outstanding stock in Tropical Park racetrack; and MacDonald Farms, a stud farm near Del-ray Beach, Fla. MacDonald also owns the Tampa Tarpons of the Class D Florida State League.
MacDonald, a practicing extrovert who calls almost everyone "coach" and hands out gold-filled cuff links graven in his own image, lives in a $250,000 house with lime-green trim that is decorated with $3,200 worth of mechanical displays at Christmastime. Adjoining the house on a $50,000 two-lot plot is a two-hole pitch-and-putt course designed by Robert Trent Jones. MacDonald's 50-foot cruiser, Snoozie (Edward Elrod, captain), is tied up a couple of Rolls-Royce lengths from his front door. MacDonald has a Rolls convertible, and his "assistant," Sugar Vallone, a burly ex-bartender who wears one of the boss's cuff links as a combination tie pin and napkin holder, is due to go to England to pick up a $32,000 seven-passenger Rolls limousine equipped with TV and telephones. It has been written that MacDonald was the first to have TV in his car (he wasn't) when he had a set with a 12�-inch screen installed in a Cadillac in 1951. There are two TV sets on the Snoozie, which is named after MacDonald's wife. "I used to call her Snoozie, the Boozie, the Buttsie," he explains. "She's cut back on the smoking and the drinking, but she's still harder to wake up than a bear. When you approach her in the morning you better tread softly and take the turns kind of wide."
The MacDonalds have two adopted children—Vickie, 15, and Billy, 13. Vickie won the 1963 Sunshine Circuit juvenile three-gaited championship with her horse, Witch Doctor. MacDonald owns four show horses and, at his daughter's behest, he became chairman of this year's Miami horse show. For Vickie's eighth birthday, MacDonald installed a jukebox in her tree house, an arboreal bungalow decorated with carpeting and draperies identical with those in the main house and equipped with a paid-up refrigerator and stove. Billy owns a 16-foot runabout. For his sixth birthday, MacDonald gave his son the Billy Buster Bal Harbour Railroad, an outsize toy train that transported Billy and his friends over 800 feet of track on the MacDonald property. "I guess I spoil my kids," says Bill MacDonald.
MacDonald works mornings in an office that fronts on his pool and adjoins his bar. In the afternoons he plays golf (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday), goes to the track (Wednesday and Saturday) and fishes or steams about on the Snoozie (Sunday). The walls of his 10-stool alfresco bar are hung with fish he has caught, ducks he has shot, awards he has won, letters of heartfelt thanks and photographs of MacDonald beaming upon the great and the near great. The personalities, as he calls them, range from President Kennedy, to whom MacDonald is pictured presenting a check, to Jayne Mansfield, whom he is shown checking out. Between these two extremes are 8-by-10 glossies of MacDonald and picture people, MacDonald and politicians and, mostly, MacDonald and athletes.
Over the past decade or two Bill MacDonald, leading with his smile and his checkbook, has engaged in more deficit spending in more sports than any other millionaire of his weight and age. MacDonald accepts his weight, by the way, though he mourns the fact that he is not as photogenic as he used to be. "These days they tell me they got to use a wide-angle lens," he says. Indeed, one of the beguiling things about this man is that he does not take himself too seriously. Although one sportswriter, coining a euphemism, referred to MacDonald as being "chubby-set," MacDonald calls himself "the little fat man" or "fat Willie." But, despite all his jollity, his relentless goodwill and lavish good works, MacDonald seems to be possessed of a restless discontent and an overwhelming need to be renowned and loved—which, after all, is not an uncommon condition.
Boxing is the least of MacDonald's sporting investments; the Liston-Clay fight is only his second fling in the game. "Someone once approached me to manage Liston," he says. "He was looking for a front man, but it's an ugly business to begin with and I make too much money other ways to be bothered wet-nursing those kids." But in 1960 MacDonald blithely guaranteed Feature Sports, the promoters of the third Patterson-Johansson fight, $400,000 to bring the match to Miami Beach. MacDonald had nothing to lose but his money and nothing to gain but seeing his name in the papers. Fortunately, the fight grossed $500,000, so, in a way, it was a better deal than being the only Catholic founder-member of Mount Sinai Hospital of Greater Miami. "That cost you $50,000," says MacDonald proudly. On the Liston-Clay fight he stands to make a buck, however. Acting on a suggestion by Boxing Promoter Chris Dundee, who is associated with him in the fight, MacDonald bought the live promotion—not the lucrative theater-TV—from Intercontinental Promotions, Inc. ( Sonny Liston, 47.5% stockholder) for $625,000. "I gave my maximum offer the first time up," says MacDonald. "I figure if this man Jack Nilon [ Liston's manager] don't take it he can't count. And him being in the concession business, coming up from a bag of peanuts and a hot dog, he ought to know how to count." The site of the fight, the Miami Beach Convention Hall, is scaled for $1.2 million with a $250 top (SI, Jan. 27), and MacDonald figures he has to gross $800,000 to break even. He is alternatively sanguine and gloomy about making this nut. "Chris said we could make a million like breaking sticks," MacDonald says one day. "It may be more like breaking bones. It's pretty farfetched, $800,000 indoors. Those other guys didn't make $300,000 worth of mistakes. I don't care about making money. I just want the fight to be here so it can help the area. The best I can make on it is $100,000." Another day he will say: "If we can't put this fight across we ought to turn in our suits. I want them sleeping in the streets!" And at times, "Why am I in it? For kicks. I'm in it for kicks. Why do I do any of the sports things? Because I like to be in motion. Inertia is the worst thing. A great philosopher, Will Durant, said if you got nothing else to do you can always get into trouble. He's right. Go up and hit a policeman. He'll hit you back. You hit him again. He puts you in the paddy wagon, but you're in motion!
"We're not having any trouble selling the two-fifties," MacDonald says. "Certain people wouldn't be caught dead in the tourist section of an airplane because to get there they have to walk through the first-class compartment and they might see someone they know and lose face. The two-fifties are for these status people. A guy calls me, for instance, wants to buy a $100 seat for Andy Williams. I tell him Andy Williams got to be up there with the big kids. I can't imagine him sitting back there with the little kids. He got to be in there with the wheels, not the hubcaps.
"This promotion is going to be as clean as possible. It's going to be a breath of fresh air. I borrow 40 million a year from three big banks. I've got to think of my credit. The FCC examiner has recommended that my application to buy Channel 10 [the once scandal-beset ABC affiliate in Miami] be approved. I've spent $165,000 in legal fees, but if I get it, it's bingo—seven or eight million right away.
"I figure Clay win it," MacDonald says, with dubiety. "He'll take the title if he stays away, jabs and runs, but the little jerk is so egotistical—he's getting hysterical—he thinks he can punch Liston's nose sideways. It's liable to be a stinky fight to watch, but if Clay gets by seven or eight he's liable to win it."