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Buss got a job with Arthur D. Little, a Boston business consulting firm. He was employed there for a year as a trouble-shooter working the snags out of a TV-set production line, solving problems in steel-beam construction and eliminating confusion over how to distribute Sears Roebuck catalogs. "This was all strictly a matter of kinetic equations and logic," he says. "The work appealed to me, but I'm strictly a Californian and I didn't want to stay in Boston." Back in Los Angeles, he went to work in the missile division of McDonnell Douglas and then quit ("We never talked about anything but weapons and war") and took a position at a space laboratory for a time. But the regimentation and enforced uniformity of the aerospace industry irked him. "I'd turn my head," he says, "and all I could see were 500 desks, 500 white shirts and 500 different-colored neckties—which was the only way to distinguish us. We were a herd of very educated cattle."
In 1959 Buss and a fellow employee, chemical engineer Frank Mariani (who is still his partner), pooled some money to buy a small apartment house in West Los Angeles, then another and another until, in July of 1962, Buss quit the world of science for good and went into real estate full time. Mariani followed a bit later. Their corporation deals mostly in residential buildings, but also owns three hotels.
Buss' firm prospered and he became very rich—rich enough to indulge himself in just about any whim. He goes to almost every USC football game—home and away. He is a candy fiend; his office is laden with jars, jugs and dishes of M & Ms and other chocolates. He began collecting stamps as a boy in Wyoming and now keeps his albums in a bank vault. As Buss turns the pages, he murmurs, "That's $250,000 worth on that page, about $150,000 on this one, damn near $100,000 here...." He also has what he calls the three rarest U.S. coins extant, which together are worth about $800,000: a 1913 Liberty Head nickel ("This is from King Farouk's collection"), an 1804 first-run silver dollar ("There were two million made, only six are known to exist") and an 1894 "S" dime.
As for cars, Buss now owns only the Rolls-Royce Camargue, but he once had a Jaguar XKE, a Lamborghini, a Maserati Bora and a Ferrari Daytona. "I guess the cars thing came from the fact that I never had an automobile in Wyoming," he says. "If I asked a girl to a dance, we'd have to walk—and 10-below weather is tough on corsages."
No one walks when Buss asks girls to go dancing these days. He dates them by the dozen. "When I have time, I date one for lunch and another for dinner every day," he says. Indeed, just as he is ready to show anyone his stamp and coin collections, so is he quick to offer a look at his girl collection. He brings out a thick photo album, which he pages through fondly, pointing at the pictures of myriad gorgeous young women. He muses aloud, page after page, "She was Miss something or other.... This one is a model, what a beautiful woman.... This one is a Ram cheerleader.... This was a Playboy foldout.... This is possibly the most striking girl I've ever seen...." When the last page in the photo album is turned, Buss pulls out a shoe box filled with perhaps hundreds of snapshots of other young women he has gone out with. "...This one was a foldout.... This one is an actress.... This one models bathing suits.... Rams cheerleader.... A foldout...."
Buss is obviously a man-about-town, but he insists that he doesn't seek—or enjoy—celebrity status. "I don't like the tinsel part of this town," he says. He is still close to his four children by his former marriage. They visit him often in his Bel Air mansion, and he says, "They're the most important thing in my life." Yet there is that aura of conspicuous consumption about Buss that seems to generate its own tinsel. Until now, as a mere real estate magnate and owner of a defunct tennis team that lost him $2.5 million, he has kept a fairly low profile out of choice—both his and the public's. Now, however, as the new owner of not one but two big league teams as well as an arena where he hopes to promote super-spectaculars, such as a heavyweight championship fight, he is going to be a highly visible public property around Los Angeles.
It's hard to imagine a place and a personality better suited to each other. It's also hard to see when Dr. Buss will have time to finish the Iliad.