SI Vault
Frank Deford
September 08, 1980
Mrs. Synodinos had lofty ambitions for little Dimitrios. He would play the violin and be a priest or a lawyer. Instead, he became Jimmy The Greek, Oddsmaker to the Nation
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September 08, 1980

'hey, Greek, Who Do You Like?'

Mrs. Synodinos had lofty ambitions for little Dimitrios. He would play the violin and be a priest or a lawyer. Instead, he became Jimmy The Greek, Oddsmaker to the Nation

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This fellow grows more conservative with age ("What did I tell you, Anthony?" he tells his son. "Wear a solid tie"), and despite some technical disclaimers, he has the bent of a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. The Greek is generous, a soft touch, an incurable sentimentalist and hopelessly nostalgic. "All the best guys are dead and gone," he says wistfully. "The reason I'm still around is just because I started so early. Those old days were so beautiful. So beautiful!"

The Greek says he has never kept company with other professional gamblers, and at his country-club dance he shares a table with dentists. Dentists! With Joan he dances a divine fox trot, and on the road he flirts with young waitresses and stewardesses as harmlessly as any smalltown Presbyterian off to a Rotary regional. "Oh, why are all the pretty girls married?" Jimmy coos. He is really, very much the loner but often frightened at the thought of dinner alone. He has never been much of a drinker, preferring sissy things like Harvey's Bristol Cream. When he first signed with CBS, Stephanie said, "Oh, oh, there it goes. Daddy. Now the whole world is going to find out how square you really are."

Stephanie also says, "His ego is really getting to him now." The dark side of The Greek is an explosive Mediterranean temper, and this has been fueled by his vanity. He can be picayune, a difficult man to work for, and he snaps and barks when the smallest things don't go right. Of course, this is the way of any high-stakes man. Old-money people seldom blow up at small things. If you have money all your life, small things can remain forever small. But for a man like The Greek, the ups and downs have been so steep and jagged that life loses its everyday proportion.

To be sure, money is not the only gyroscope of life, but in a world where money is money, the gambler's bearings are sometimes obscured. Jimmy often talks about "gambling money" and "money" as if Uncle Sam printed two different sets of currency. One afternoon, for example, The Greek was past-posted out of $137,000 in gambling money by some pals, and he recalls this practical joke, chuckling, as if they had short-sheeted his bed. He has bet as much as a quarter of a million dollars in gambling money on one football game—and at a time when a dollar was a dollar. Even now, 32 years later, when The Greek tells the Truman-Dewey story in public, he says he made $170,000. In fact, it was a great deal more, but he has discovered that if he tells the truth, people refuse to believe him. The reason he talks about ordinary money all the time is not to show off about it but—more the other way round—to give credence to this money, which is not gambling money.

The Greek came back from many losses, but they were all just gambling money. The only defeat he overcame that matters to him is the one back in the '60s when it was money he lost, to the doctors and lawyers.

Perhaps the loveliest and most expensive of all the glass art objects in the Snyder house is a crystal sculpture of a Madonna and Child that Jimmy picked out in Florida. It has an honored place in the house, but, nevertheless, he got to examining it critically one day. "Stephie," he said, "we ought to put some velvet behind it and put a light on it."

"Oh, Daddy," Stephanie cried.

"But, honey, it's worth $6,000."

"Oh, Daddy, that's so tacky."

The Greek shook his head at her. They didn't understand each other at all. Stephanie was talking taste; he was talking substance.

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