By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
His sense of humor may come from his mother, who once put her prodigious cooking talents to work making hors d'oeuvres out of dog food to serve to the ladies' club. When her husband brought the head of the Meat Institute home for lunch, she served him horse meat. All through the meal, he commented on the most marvelous steak he had ever eaten. The brothers attended Shadduck Saint Mary's military school in Faribault, Minnesota, as their father had before them. Geordie was a classmate of Marlon Brando, who was thrown out for going on a bender. Brother Thomas was thrown out, too, caught the first time he tried to sneak home for a weekend--something that Geordie pulled off regularly. Among the coffee-table oddities in Geordie's living room is a class picture from the school, taken with a motor-driven, panoramic camera. Geordie first stood on one side of the picture, then, when the gaze of the moving lens had passed over him, scooted around the assembled group so he would appear on both ends in the photograph. (He was caught and the photograph was reshot.)
In 1947, with money he had earned by working summers in the packing house, he shipped off to Occidental College in California. He seldom went to class, because he felt he knew everything, and before a year was out, he dropped out, bought an old, plywood airplane with the money he had left over, flew it cross-country and crashed it at home in Minnesota.
His father exiled him to a company packing plant in Nebraska to spend the next two years butchering and slaughtering and learning the business, with the understanding that he would be the third generation at the helm of the Hormel Company.
But then, as he says, "I had the problem of how not to go to Korea." He had graduated from military school as a lieutenant in the Army Reserve, a likely candidate for the Korean War. So he enlisted in the Coast Guard, assuming he'd stay home and protect the coastline. He was stationed near Los Angeles; on the day his ship was to leave port--to clear Korean beaches for troop landings--he fell down a ladder and ended up in the hospital with a sprained back. The Guard put him to work organizing a Coast Guard band. Shortly, every sad sack hoping to avoid combat was calling him for a spot in the band, whether he played an instrument or not.
Both of his brothers were in the Coast Guard, as well. Tom was seeing a ballerina in a French dance troupe, and through her, Geordie met Leslie Caron, who had just landed the female lead opposite Gene Kelly in the film An American in Paris. They married after their second date, though the marriage disintegrated after four years. She made more money than he did. Geordie was absorbed in his search for an identity other than that of heir to the Spam fortune.
@body:Once, during a radio interview in Milwaukee, an obsequious interrogator asked Geordie, "What's it like traveling all over the country and everywhere you go, people are eating your meat?"
The answer to the question the interviewer intended would be that it is not his meat, only his name. Geordie's father, Jay Hormel, and his grandfather, George A. Hormel, arranged that the family fortune be set in several trusts, administered by a foundation with five board members, to provide for their wives and sons and certain charities.
"My father had intended that my brothers and I sit on the board of the foundation and hold the majority vote," he says. But Jay Hormel died while Geordie was still in his early 20s, and Hormel Company management pulled a palace coup to ensure its own tenure, first expanding the board to seven trustees, and making sure that there was no room in the company for Jay Hormel's sons.
The foundation corpus is now worth $700 million, and the brothers receive the annual interest, which the foundation head claims amounts to more than $4 million per brother per year. Whether that is an astounding figure is a question of perspective.
"As far as fabulous wealth is concerned, you're talking to the wrong family," says brother Thomas. "When you're talking about billions of dollars of income, it's a whole different group of people."
Back in the early 1950s, when he claims his trust-fund income amounted to no more than $5,000, Geordie Hormel decided to get into the recording business. He hired studio musicians and produced a generic rock n' roll recording he called "Scooby Doo." It rose to No. 7 on American Bandstand; he still has a photograph of Dick Clark pointing it out on a list that includes Elvis' "Love Me Tender" and Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill." But one of the musicians he had hired was under contract to another record company, and Geordie was sued for everything he had.
While he was in the Coast Guard, he had written a movie score and had never done anything with it. A friend was going to the Netherlands to make some recordings with a symphony orchestra, and Geordie gave him the score so he could hear what it sounded like.