After "Rocky," what?
Here's a plot outline:
Stanley J. Stankiwicz (a 27-year-old salesman from Pittsburgh, married to his) high school sweetheart, the former Carol Ia Jevic) decides to buy a case of rare, expensive Scotch whisky. He sends an inquiry to Scotland, a pencil written note.
This is the beginning of an eight-year adventure tinged with mystery, corporate intrigue and a meeting with royalty. Shooting will be done on location in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, in historic Inverness and at the British Embassy in Washington, where the film concludes at a reception sponsored by our hero and her heroine.
Who will star? Stanley J. Stankiwicz, blond of hair and icy blue of eye, bears more than a passing resemblance to Michael Caine. On the other hand, Gene Wilder could project the wide-eyed, earnest enthusiasm necessary for the part. The title? We'll call it "The Usquaeback Affair"!
Stanley J. Stankiwicz of Pittsburgh does own the rare and expensive Scotch known as Usquaebach ($30 a bottle) and did host a reception at the British Embassy Thursday. The letter that began it all was written in January 1969, to William Grigor & Sons of Inverness.
His request was turned down. Usquaebach, he was told politely, was reserved for people who count. There was no "concessionaire of distributor" in the United States. Stanley J. Stankiwicz shook off this left jab, got in touch with the Pennsylvania Liqour Control Board and finally negotiated purchase of a case. It was stolen on the London docks.
In time, Stankiwicz got his case and, reacting to a friend's challenge, then got an appointment from the firm's London agent as sole U.S. distributor. What he didn't get was any whisky to sell. He contacted Grigor in Scotland and learned the London agent was in "financial difficulties." According to Stankiwicz, "It was tied up in court a year and a half. It didn't cost me any money, I hadn't received any shipments. The only cost was time and dream."
(" . . . time and dreams." Stanley Stankiwicz says things like that without a scriptwriter behind him.)
Then came July 13, 1973. It was Friday. "My wife called," Stankiwicz said, "She had locked herself out of and let her in. 'I think we've head from Scotland,' I told her. She said, 'After a year and a half? You're cracy.' I don't want to get into personal stuff, but I've always been very strong on vibes. I don't understand it myself, but I felt it."
The letter was there. If offered him the option of buying the trademark and the blend formula or leasing the business and operating on a commission. (Director please note: "When I read the letter I literally screamed and yelled," Stankiwicz recalled. "I'm a very emotional person.")
"I found out I am only the third person since 1800 with a chance to own the trademark and said to myself, 'How does a little Polish kid like you end up with the rarest Scotch whisky in the world?"
Stankiwicz chose to buy the trademark an the formula, but what he couldn't buy was the distillery because it had been sold. The price was in "the hundreds of thousands" range, but our hero, a sales representative for the Bureau of National Affairs, was able to negotiate without partners because the Grigor family wanted payment in yearly amounts in the form of royalties on sales. The whisky, a blend of malt and grain made to an exacting formula, has a limited production potential between 8,000 and 10,000 cases a year. It is rare because of its low production, high price and because it had not been offered for sale in retail shops.
Feeling "a little paranoid" after his experience with the London agent, Stankiwicz, with his lawyer, set off for England and Scotland in November 1973.
The trademark was clear, they discovered. Next they met in Glasgow with chairman of a large Scotch manufacturer they hoped would blend Usquaebach. The firm wanted to, but they wanted the trademark, too.
"They were giving us Scotch whisky at 10 a.m., trying to get us drunk," our hero reminisced. "I had nothing in writing, only Robbie Grigor's word. 'I gave Stan my word,' Robbie told the chairman. It didn't go well. I walked out. I had the trademark but I didn't have anyone to blend the whisky.
"That affernoon we had an appointment with a man who makes the hand-stone flagons for the whisky. It was a little, old shop and he was a litter, old man. Really, I asked him what to do. He said 'Don't sell to anybody,' and got on the phone to make an appointment with a small firm, Douglas Laing & Co. They said they were flabbergasted and would be hornored to make Usquaebach."
There was another hurdle, however. The Scot who was to make the whisky grew resentful when the upstart American kept rejecting his samples. Finally three of different ages arrived, followed by a phone call asking which was which and which Stankiwicz preferred.
"I'd been studying day and night to learn all I could about Scotch," Stankiwicz said, "so I took a gamble." He told him none were satisfactory but correctly guessed the age of all three.
'There was dead silence on the other end of the line. It was a little showboat, but since then we haven't had one bit of difficulty."
Remember James Garner's Bret Maverick on TV?
The next chore, one that has occupied Stankiwicz part-time since 1974 and full-time since Janaury when he cut the anchor and left BNA, was marketing.
Script-written invitations to buy mailed from England introduced Usquaebach to corporate executives in the Pittsburgh area. (In Pennsylvania, due to antique liquor laws, it is sold only by the case. The price" $360.) But with Scothc sales on the decline, the large national distributors turned thumbs down on a $30-a-bottle product with an unknown name. Retailers in New York suggested some unsavory deals.
Behind the dark clouds there were patches of blue sky. A mention in Playboy brought 500 letters. Gentlemen's Quarterly mentioned Usquaebach. But the big boost was an audience with Prince Rainier of Monaco.
Stanley J. Stankiwicz; in a white suit with a white tie and white shoes, and Carol, in white, too, spent an hour with the prince in Monaco presenting him a special bottling of Usquaebach with the royal crest on each bottle . The tasted it. The Prince approved. He pointed to the yachts below them in the harbor and, as Stankiwicz recalls it, said, "As long as you're not selling this in grocery stores, they should be interested."
"It's amazing how one thing leads to another," he exclaimed as he told of plans to present Usquaebach to the presidents of Mexico and France and the prime minister of New Zealand.
Some old timers in the trade think Stankiwicz is crazy. The odds against him and his luxury product are just too great. His response?
"I've got sales potential of $3.6 million a year. I don't think that's too bad for a one-man corporation. Furthermore, things just keep happening. A number of companies want me to handle their wines or whiskies. My whole life is wrapped up in this. I'm one of those nuts with a totally positive attitude."
He paused, then ended on a chord worthy of William Holden in "Executive Suite".
"But the product counts, too. At my price if it's not there in the bottle, forget it. And I have a very good system of quality control."