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Gwilym S. Brown
May 04, 1970
Yes, Virginia, there is a Bill Cox. He is alive and well in London, dreaming up all-world soccer teams, issues of postage stamps and a hall of fame in Nicaragua. Nicaragua?
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May 04, 1970

What Will He Think Of Next?

Yes, Virginia, there is a Bill Cox. He is alive and well in London, dreaming up all-world soccer teams, issues of postage stamps and a hall of fame in Nicaragua. Nicaragua?

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Currently established at No. 19 Green Street, London, W. 1, in what was once the Bulgarian embassy, is a pinstriped, buttoned-down, rep-tied entrepreneur named William Drought Cox, almost Yale '30. Students of track, the Wall Street scene, Santa Claus, fine arts, the lumber business, minor league pro football, major league pro football, horse racing, major league baseball, politics, Greek mineral deposits, the Olympic Games, soccer, Latin American republics and the international postage-stamp trade may recognize the name.

Bill Cox is tall, only slightly plump, pink of cheek and gray of hair. His voice is deep, and most frequently used to pass along—in strictest confidence—tales of stupefying chicanery in high places, face-to-face confrontations with the movers and shakers of the world and assessments of exciting and vital programs that somehow never attain the glorious blossoming for which they seem so surely destined. In recent weeks the activity around the old Bulgarian embassy has been especially frenetic, for one of Cox' most exotic enthusiasms has—against all odds—come to full flower.

As late as last September, Cox' current project was nothing more than an idea without takers. But suddenly it caught hold, and now deeply involved is World Sports magazine, an internationally respected British monthly which, thanks to Cox, has gained still further prestige by conducting a poll to determine the first modern-day all-star team of world soccer. Involved, too, is the Republic of Nicaragua which, also thanks to Cox, will net a million dollars or so and pick up valuable promotion by issuing a colorful set of postage stamps honoring the team. Even the sport of soccer is getting something out of it. Nicaragua, hardly a world soccer citadel, is busy building soccer's very first international Hall of Fame. Thanks to Cox.

And Cox, the man who brought all this about? What is he getting, aside from the satisfaction of producing stamps and promoting soccer?

"," groaned Cox on a recent afternoon in the drawing room of his ex-embassy, as he undiplomatically covered his eyes with an agonized hand. "I don't want to answer that question. Let's just say that people who succeed in selling stamp motifs are in the same class as authors who write bestsellers. But I receive no advance. I don't take a penny out of it until the stamps are issued."

Some of Cox' schemes have sold like Gone with the Wind, and some have only gone with the wind. But his machinations, often in the realm of sport, have never been dull. He was only 15, the second youngest in his class, when he entered New York University, where he ran track and cross-country. Yale was always his goal, however, and after a year at NYU he transferred to New Haven and repeated his freshman year. At Yale, he was a catcher on the freshman baseball team and a middle-distance runner for the track team, an unlikely diversification, but typically Cox. He did not stay long enough to graduate with his class—1930—but quit school at the end of his sophomore year. Cox lays part of the blame for this on an Ivy League athletic committee.

"It ruled that anyone who had competed at one college would be ineligible if he transferred to another," he says. "There I was, 17 and a tramp athlete. It was ridiculous." On Oct. 29, 1929—a date easily remembered for its depressing repercussions in stock-and-bond circles—Cox went to work for a Wall Street brokerage firm. Undaunted in this get-rich-never atmosphere, he turned a quick profit on, of all things, that famous old bit of Christmas humbug called "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

Cox had heard that the rights to the famous 1897 New York Sun editorial had lapsed, so he bought them for $1,000. He next convinced an ad agency that it should use the editorial as a yuletide promotion gimmick on the Ma Perkins radio show. Then Grosset & Dunlap brought out Yes, Virginia in book form and sold over 50,000 copies. In all, Cox cleared a quick $10,000 on the editorial.

By the mid-'30s, with help from some Wall Street connections, Cox had established himself as an entrepreneur in American art, dealing in Eakins, Bellows and the like. However, his devotion to the fine arts waned in 1936 when he learned, on a friendly tip, of the profit to be made supplying rustic wooden lampposts to the city of New York. That success led to the purchase of a lumber company being sold to pay off a debt. Cox parlayed it into a small fortune. In 1938 he married Margery Gilbert, a girl from a wealthy Englewood, N.J. family, and that didn't hurt his Dun & Brad-street rating, either.

Cox now felt ready to indulge a cherished ambition. In 1941 he bought the New York Yankees. Well, this was not exactly the New York Yankees, but rather the New York football Yankees of the American Football League, a minor professional circuit that included entries from places like Columbus and Milwaukee. Cox signed two highly publicized All-America backs—Tom Harmon of Michigan and John Kimbrough of Texas A&M—to their first pro contracts. But that was the only notable feature of his ownership, and with the coming of war both the team and the league died. Cox was lucky to break even.

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