Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Glamorous Life and Grisly Death of Ben Novack Jr.

A Rich and Powerful Legacy

Steven Gaines
Steven Gaines

In the book, Fool's Paradise, author Steven Gaines paints a vivid portrait of the Novack family. Ben Sr.'s first major foray in the hotel business, the Sans Souci, came at the beginning of his courtship to Bernice, a beautiful model whom he had met at the La Martinique nightclub. He pursued her relentlessly, hoping she, still married to a soldier, would say yes to dinner just once. Rebuffed numerous times he was finally able to get her attention in a way that only a rich man can.

Bernice flew to Cuba for a photo shoot, Gaines wrote, only to discover that it had been an elaborate ruse. There was no photo shoot. Though they were both married at the time, they eventually were able to marry each other: Ben got a divorce and her prior marriage was annulled. They were married in front of a judge in New York. Bernice and Ben moved into the upscale confines of the Sans Souci.

In 1952, the plans for the Fontainebleau were announced — backed by a host of investors, some in the liquor distribution business, another running a taxi and limo service. Despite a period of contention between the architect, Morris Lapidus, and the elder Novack, the Fontainebleau was ultimately a huge success after it opened on December 20, 1954. The behemoth sprawled over 85,000 square feet, boasting seven restaurants that could churn out over 2,000 meals a day. The pool itself was a massive attraction — and over the years, served as the backdrop in movies like Scarface and A Hole in the Head, featuring Frank Sinatra at the height of his rat-pack fame.


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