[July 12 2017]
It was a late Tuesday night, during the middle of Paris’ famed Couture Week, when I found myself wandering around the hallways of Montana. The black, building situated on the chic Right Bank is comprised of many different floors and rooms that are usually filled with a mix of interesting, and sometimes peculiar, people. As I wandered through the maze of black dimly lit corridors, I made my way past some tipsy models, and young men in business suits who claimed they founded the popular dating app – Tinder. Then, I came across an older gentleman in, what seemed to be a cowboy hat, leaning against the wall, waiting for elevator. I had seen him before. In fact, we have all seen him before – especially if you frequent the fashion scene. He’s hard to miss. His daily uniform consists of tight, skinny pants – made of leather on some days and denim on others, decadent jackets made of exotic skins and textures, and any of a broad panoply of custom-made hats which float on top of a white cloud of untamed hair. His name is JAMES F. GOLDSTEIN. I had heard a lot of rumors about him and my curiosity rose to a new height after seeing the slightly older, outlandishly dressed gentleman in a rowdy nightclub at 3 a.m. In the days following the elevator sighting, I decided to reach out to him to ask him some questions.
James is a bit of a mystery to all of us. In some ways, you could say he is a real life Gatsby. Nobody is exactly sure how James F. Goldstein made the fortune that supports his extraordinary existence. Nobody is even sure what the “F’ in his name stands for. The Wall Street Journal speculated that Goldstein made billions in real estate. However, if you ask for his business card, you will receive a heavy cardstock square that simply states his three life passions “Architecture – Basketball – Fashion.”
Goldstein leads a far-from-average life. He has been labeled an “NBA SUPERFAN.” He attends over 100 games a season and sits court side, sometimes following the teams around. DAVID STERN, the Commissioner of the NBA, has stated, “James Goldstein is our largest investor in NBA tickets in the world.” Along with his love for basketball, he also has become a fixture at fashion parties, events, and shows all over the world for as long as anybody can remember.
If you don’t know James, then you probably know his house. It’s been used for everything from SNOOP DOGG music videos to iconic American classics like The Big Lebowski. When he’s not hopping around the world with a bevy of beauties, he resides way above the 90210 hills in an architectural masterpiece that has been his ongoing project and obsession for the past thirty years. The home, designed in 1963 by JOHN LAUTNER, a student of FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT, is unique beyond comprehension. Goldstein famously promised that the house would eventually become part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
I met Goldstein on a rainy July afternoon in Paris following our brief elevator encounter. He was residing on the top floor of the hotel where OSCAR WILDE spent his last days, famously remarking, “I am dying beyond my means.” After I spent some time floating around the lobby of the five star hotel, James texted me to come up to his suite. From there, I hopped into one of the most interesting conversations one can hope to encounter.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Word on the street is that you dated Jayne Mansfield while you were still in school. I saw an old black and white photo of you dancing with her in a club.
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: I am not sure which picture you saw, because there are many pictures with Jayne and me. I had moved to Los Angeles after attending Stanford to go to graduate school at UCLA…and I hadn’t been in Los Angeles very long. When I went to a new nightclub in Los Angeles called the Whisky a Go Go.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: That’s the picture I saw – both of you together at the Whisky.
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: It was located only one block from my apartment. I had been a big fan of Jayne Mansfield from the time I was a teenager and there she was in the club. So, I got up my nerve and asked her to have a dance with me…We had two dances and I don’t think I said a word to her – she grabbed me and said come with me – next thing I knew, we were in a car and then, we ended up in my apartment.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: The rest is history…
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: We started a very torrid romance… she was married at the time to Mr. Universe.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: How old were you when this was going on?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: I was in my early twenties.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: In the picture of her dancing with you – her tits look incredible, they were out for the world to see – were they as incredible close up?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN (laughing): Yes… and they were real… there was nothing fake in those days.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Has any women ever recreated the feeling that you experienced dancing with Jayne Mansfield. And if so, who? I am very curious as to who could exceed that feeling!
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: Well, you have to understand, I was very new to the Hollywood scene. So you can just imagine someone who has never been to Hollywood. I had never been around movie stars. The club at that time was filled with movie stars. They didn’t have security guards with them like they do now and, there I was, with one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, having her kissing me on the dance floor, and movie stars all around me…so I could really never duplicate that feeling again because now I’m used to being in the Hollywood scene… but at that time is was pretty amazing to me…
SAVANNAH NOLAN: What else were you doing in your early twenties besides dancing with Jayne Mansfield?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: Well I was in graduate school.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: What were you studying?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: I was in the business school at UCLA and I was going to the clubs and having a good time while I was doing it. I was enjoying Hollywood for what it was. Now, Hollywood doesn’t really excite me at all. I’d rather be in the fashion world than the movie world. But at that time, I was really enjoying it.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Jayne was a huge star, at this point, all around the world. After this encounter, did you pick up the phone and brag about it to your friends?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: I told my friends but the word spread pretty quickly even though gossip magazines and social media didn’t really exist at that time. But, eventually, it became a very scary relationship because her Mr. Universe husband got very suspicious of me. He started following us, and threatening me, and later beating me up and almost killing me.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: This is an iconic story. I can’t believe you fucked Jayne Mansfield.
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: He eventually had a private detective following us and, even though we weren’t meeting at my apartment anymore, he broke down the door of my friend’s apartment, and caught us in bed, and started beating me over the head with a snow ski that happened to be in my friend’s bedroom. I had to beg for my life and ended up in the hospital later that night.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: She must have been older then you at the time this happened.
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: Yes.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Did you have a big age difference?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: She was about ten years older than me – in her early thirties.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: She died when she was only thirty-four, so, this was towards the end of her life?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: Unfortunately, yes…and I liked older women back then.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: And, now, I assume your opinion has reversed?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: (laughing) It’s reversed.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: The Rolling Stones famously said, “You can’t always get what you want.” Do you ever not get what you want?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: (laughing) I usually get what I want.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Mick Jagger’s biographer also claimed that the rock star slept with at least 4,000 women over the course of his life. Can you compete with that number?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: (laughing) No, I am not a numbers person.. I am a quality person. I have a lowered number as a result. I think I could have achieved that number quite easily. In fact, even now at my age, I have so many girls pursuing me when I come to these Fashion Weeks, for example. That if I was only interested in numbers, I’d do very well.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: If you believed in numbers, you would have exceeded 4,000 a long time ago. Have you ever met Mick Jagger?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: Yes I have. He has been to my house.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: What did you guys talk about?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: We didn’t ever get into any deep conversation unfortunately.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Where did you grow up?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin…and then at the age of eighteen, I went off to California to go to college…at Stanford…and never moved back to Milwaukee.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: What was your relationship like with your parents?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: My father owned a small department store in Racine, Wisconsin and I worked part-time in that store, during the summer, as I was growing up.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Was that your first encounter with fashion – being in the store and working there?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: I think you could say that…my father was a very conservative dresser. He wore business suits all the time. But I went off in a different direction.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Was your mother stylish?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: My mother had her own style. She wasn’t following the fashion trends. But she had her own style.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Did she ever talk to you about style or fashion?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: No, not really. I pretty much discovered it on my own.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Some people associate money with complete freedom. Do you associate money with complete freedom? Do you believe somebody with wealth has more freedom then somebody without it?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: Well, you hit the nail right on the head when it comes to me…that was my sole objective in trying to make money…was to be free. To be able to do whatever I want…whenever I want to do it – not to be dependent on other people – not to have to be nice to somebody because I need that person for business reasons. Just to be able to be whatever I want to be at any moment. I was never focused on trying to be one of the richest people in the world. I never wanted to be a workaholic…to try and be as wealthy as possible…I just wanted to earn enough money to be free.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: And today, do you feel that freedom?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: Yes. Absolutely.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Do you have a day job now?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: I spend time working but not on a regular basis. For example,last night I came back from a fashion party at about 3 a.m. and I had to make a call to my attorney in Los Angeles and had to spend thirty minutes on what you could call working. But I do it on a random basis.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: You seem to be out until 3 a.m. a lot.. Do you sleep often?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: I sleep very little. I get by on five hours of sleep.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Have you always been like that?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: Yes. I think sleeping is a waste of time.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: I think Napoleon said the same thing.
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: (laughing) I am glad to hear that.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: You spend a lot of your time surrounded by beautiful women. Are you somebody who falls in love easily?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: It depends. You know there’s falling in love in the casual sense and falling in love in the real permanent sense. In the real permanent sense, it hasn’t happened to me very much.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: But you must have has one true love? Maybe it was Jayne Mansfield?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: No. I don’t think I was head over heels in love with her. She was very funny and very clever but she had a problem with alcohol. I was enjoying the experience though.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: You’re a big risk taker. What would you say is the biggest risk you’ve taken? Has it been with women, business, or perhaps your own sense of style?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: That’s an interesting question. No one has ever posed that question to me. I take risks, I guess, from the normal person’s perspective with women…with clothes…but I don’t consider them a risk. When it comes to clothes, I am willing to try anything, and I don’t really care what other people think. Because I’ve reached a level of confidence with the way I dress, so, I feel that I set the style. And if other people don’t understand it…that’s their problem…not mine. So I don’t consider it risky. With women, I am not afraid to be with very difficult women, beautiful women, very tall women, women that maybe other men would be afraid of…I have no fear when it comes to women. So, again, I don’t consider it a risk. In business, I definitely take some risk. For example, taking on very expensive lawsuits against some municipalities…where I put up a lot of money not knowing whether or not it’s going to succeed. But I am willing to take that kind of risk or gamble. But speaking of the word gamble, I don’t gamble in the normal sense of the word.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Not in the Las Vegas kind of way…
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: No. Absolutely not. I never gamble except in my own mind. I look at the odds or I look at the point spread and I say to myself, “This is my choice.” But I don’t ever put up the money. So, that’s my general approach to risks.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: What’s the most money you’ve ever spent on a single piece of clothing?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: I’d say roughly $25,000.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: On a jacket?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: In the old days, I bought a couple pieces from Roberto Cavalli in that price range. Recently I bought things from Balmain in that price range.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: What is it like to be able to go into a store in Paris or Milan, or anywhere in the world, and buy whatever you want? Does it bring you happiness?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: It brings me happiness because I am so into fashion, and so into clothes, that it’s nice to be able to afford a €20,000 jacket from Balmain. From a financial standpoint, the only thing that frustrates me – that I cannot afford to buy – but would like to buy – is art. The kind of art that I really appreciate is priced beyond my affordability. Other than that, I have a house where I am spending millions of dollars on improvements constantly. But I’m able to afford to do that. So, art is really the only category that I desire but that I don’t buy. Jewelry, for example, is not of interest to me at all.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Your house is a form of art.
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: I am very proud of my house. And, as you may know, I donated it to LACMA in Los Angeles. There are architectural tours all the time. I am very happy when architects visiting from Europe contact me and say they want to see the house. So, I open up the house quite often.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Did you ever picture yourself in a house like that when you were younger?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: It was never a goal of mine. When I was little, I remember building things in the sand. And people came up to me and said you’re going to be an architect someday. I’ve always had a passion for modern architecture. I follow it quite closely when I travel around the world. I try to see all the modern buildings. I never became a professional architect but I feel that I am an architect just the same. I am now taking a very active role in what I am building in my house.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: You have famously bought all of the best seats that basketball has to offer. Would you consider buying a ticket with Virgin Galactic to reserve your trip tospace yet and is it something you would do?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: Going to outer space is an experience I can do without.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Out of fear?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: It just doesn’t appeal to me that much to be worth the risk. I will stick to basketball.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: How many games do you attend?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: I go to 100 games per year and I sit courtside on the court for every game. But, a few weeks ago, the championship finals were taking place and, for Game Five of the finals, seats on the court were selling between $40,000-$65,000 per seat and I drew the line and said, “That’s ridiculous. I am not going to sit on the floor for that price. I will sit a couple rows back.”
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Who bought the tickets for $50,000?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: (laughing) Oh, some young computer geek.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: How many times a day are you asked what your net worth is? You don’t reveal it ever?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: Nobody ever asks me… people come up to me all the time and say, “What do you do?” “I see you around everywhere.” “What do you do?” I say, “I go to fashion shows or I go to basketball games,” and they give me this confused look and walk away.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: What’s your advice about having confidence with style?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: My advice when it comes to fashion is that you feel good about when you look in the mirror and not worry about what other people say because there are many people who have no understanding of fashion and those people don’t matter.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: Does opportunity look a lot like hard work? Have you worked very hard in you life to be where you currently are?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: When I was younger, I worked very hard, and, if I had to do it all over again, I would have done things a little differently. But I do think, at the beginning, you have to work very hard.
SAVANNAH NOLAN: What would you have done differently?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: For example, when I got out of college, I went to work for somebody else, and that was good as a learning experience. But I did it for too many years. I would have broken off on my own at a much earlier age if I had to do it all over again.
Learn more about James F. Goldstein at his website. http://jamesfgoldstein.com/
Text and photo Savannah Nolan