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Pom Juice Queen Has a Colorful Past

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It may be an exaggeration to call Pom Wonderful's founder, Lynda Resnick, the Forrest Gump of the American business world. But she does have a way of being part of events that capture the spirit of the age.

She was born in Baltimore -- don't ask her when, but she's in her mid-60s -- while her father was stationed at Fort Meade. She grew up in Philadelphia. As a child she did scripted stand-up comedy on "The Horn & Hardart Children's Hour," one of the live local variety shows that flourished in postwar America.

Her father, Jack Harris, was a movie distributor who wanted to make movies. In 1958, he made his first: "The Blob," now a cult classic. It is about an amoeba-like creature that comes to Earth in a meteor and proceeds to consume people in a small Pennsylvania town.

"The Blob" combined a growing fascination with space and the amorphous anxiety of the Cold War. It made a fortune, helped make Steve McQueen a star and allowed Harris to move his family to Southern California.

In her recently published book, "Rubies in the Orchard," Resnick explains that despite owning two Rolls-Royces, her father wouldn't pay for her to go to art school after she graduated from high school. She briefly attended community college, quit, opened her own advertising agency, got married and had two children.

By the fall of 1969, Resnick (then Lynda Sinay) was divorced and dating Anthony J. Russo, an engineer at the Rand Corp., a think tank in Santa Monica, Calif. He prevailed on her to allow him and a colleague, Daniel Ellsberg, to duplicate a large document using the Xerox 812 machine in her ad agency.

Starting the night of Oct. 1, Russo, Ellsberg and various helpers copied 7,000 pages of the government-ordered secret history of America's involvement in Vietnam: the Pentagon Papers.

After extracts of the Pentagon Papers were published by the New York Times in 1971 (and soon after by The Post and other newspapers), Ellsberg and Russo were arrested. Resnick was an unindicted co-conspirator and spent the next two years in and out of court: "a very dark time," she says. All charges against Ellsberg and Russo were dismissed in May 1973.

In 1985, Resnick and her second husband, Stewart Resnick, bought the Franklin Mint. They made a fortune essentially making toys for grown-ups: meticulously detailed model cars and dolls that nobody would let a child touch.

In 1996, Resnick paid $211,000 at auction for a string of fake pearls once owned by Jacqueline Kennedy. The Franklin Mint copied them and sold reproductions for $200 apiece, grossing $26 million, according to the book.

The couple bought Fiji Water in 2004. They increased their fortune (estimated to be about $1.3 billion) selling as an affordable luxury small bottles of artesian water from a volcanic paradise halfway around the world.

And now it's pomegranate juice, a boutique health drink.

Along the way, the Resnicks have become major philanthropists. They are giving more than $50 million in cash and art to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, paid for a neuropsychiatric hospital at UCLA, and have supported many educational and medical institutions in California's Central Valley, where their agricultural holdings are located.

They give each of their companies' employees $1,000 a year to give to charity and have contributed toward the college education of many employees' children.

-- David Brown

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