I've heard that he said something to people about trying to stop the book. But I don't know what that is, and I know of no other incident where someone has stopped a book from being published. August III and August IV were offered the chance to be interviewed for the book, and they declined.

I didn't expect August IV to talk to me, because he's declined to talk to police [after girlfriend Adrienne Martin died of a drug overdose inside his home in 2010]. As for it being unflattering, that's not the intent. Everyone does unflattering things. And people who move mountains to accomplish goals step on all kinds of toes. It doesn't excuse it. But it's not unique to the Busch family. Scratch any family dynasty, and you're going to find some stuff.

As you document, the Busch family has a long history of being able to influence the media, most notably via the great PR flack Al Fleishman, who often served as Gussie's right-hand man. How difficult was it for you to separate fact from fiction?

August Busch IV was the last Busch to run the company.
UPI via NEWSCOM
August Busch IV was the last Busch to run the company.

Details

Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer will be released this month by HarperCollins Publishers. Author William Knoedelseder reads from the book at Left Bank Books' Central West End store (399 North Euclid Avenue; 314-367-6731) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 13.

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One thing I was surprised about was how much people were willing to talk. That's especially true with former employees who, after the company was sold, felt a bit freer to speak without the threat — either real or perceived — of repercussions. The Busch family was less powerful. They were merely really wealthy people. With the Busches the media has always been a double-edged sword. Few things go unreported: When August III got a speeding ticket as a young man or got into fracas on Halloween night as a child, it's a headline in the paper. If it was anyone else, they'd never have been in the paper.

But if you look at the record, Gussie talked all the time. The only thing was that to get an interview, you had to go through Al Fleishman, and he was masterful at telling the story Gussie wanted to have told. By contrast, August III hated the media, and he talked only if he absolutely had something he had to get across for the company.

Speaking of fact and fiction, perhaps you can settle one of the greatest St. Louis rumors of all time: Did August III's wife, Susan, really have an affair with Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray? Both are quoted third-hand in your book as saying it didn't happen. But does your research indicate otherwise?

The only person alive today who knows for sure is the ex-Mrs. Busch. She has consistently denied it. Harry Caray denied it, but less consistently and less adamantly.

But I have my own story on that. Before I moved away from St. Louis, I worked for eight or nine months at Tony's. I was not the main maître d', but I greeted people at the door in a tux. This was at the old location, where you had the downstairs dining room for those who wanted to be seen and the upstairs for those who wanted privacy. I was working the night when the two of them came in together and were seated downstairs. Everyone in the restaurant knew who Harry Caray was, and it quickly flashed around to the staff that the beautiful blond woman who was with him — and who he was getting along with very well — was Mrs. Busch. They were openly affectionate. The conclusion you would jump to is that there was something going on there. No one on the staff had heard any rumors prior to that, so it wasn't like we were making it up. It got to the point that the owner, Vince Bommarito, told people to stop staring.

So I don't know. Maybe they were trying to make a statement.


Infidelity is a common theme among Busch males throughout the book. So are guns. Between the two of them, Gussie Busch and August Busch IV could have armed a small militia. And one of Gussie's sons, Peter Busch, shot and killed his friend in a bizarre "accident" inside the Grant's Farm mansion. What is this family's obsession with firearms?

It goes back all the way to Germany. They were a well-to-do family. Deer parks and hunting were a big deal. Adolphus, the founder, hunted up to the day before he died. They'd go duck hunting and kill a thousand ducks. Grant's Farm was originally a hunting place, and they had enough animals that they had to cull the herds. Every young Busch was taught how to handle firearms.

August IV, though, is different. He's not a big hunter, but he liked guns, and his love of guns was tied to his sense of security. The fear of kidnapping was very real for Busch children. Gussie was informed numerous times that his children were potential targets. That wasn't made-up. Dolph Orthwein, a grandchild of August A. Busch, was kidnapped at gunpoint on his way to Grant's Farm in 1930.

Another familiar pattern is the combative relationship between Busch sons and their fathers. At one point August III and Gussie didn't talk for ten years, and Gussie allegedly threatened to shoot August III on sight. Now August III and his son, August IV, don't communicate. How does this dynamic shape the family and the company?

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2 comments
kp.ryan
kp.ryan

Sounds like a great read.

pablop765
pablop765

GREAT HISTORY ABOUT THE BEER BARON'S OF ST LOUIS,

 
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