At the annual Leveraged Finance Fights Melanoma benefit on Tuesday night, Leon Black told the crowd about when he first started working with Carl Icahn. It was the early 1980s, and “there were no other partners” at Drexel Burnham Lambert “that wanted to take the account. They all said he was smart, but he was extremely difficult and basically very unpredictable.”
The two managed well enough. “One of the first things we did is we came up with the ‘highly confident letter,’” Black said of a strategy that enabled corporate raider Icahn to attempt a leveraged buyout of Phillips Petroleum Co. without the debt component in place.
The letter stated Drexel’s confidence it would raise the debt in the required time. While Icahn didn’t end up taking control of Phillips, Drexel, a junk-bond pioneer, went on to use such letters dozens of times, according to Black.
“Carl is the smartest single investor I have ever met,” Black said.
The benefit for the Melanoma Research Alliance, which Black co-founded with his wife Debra, supports research into cancer that mostly originates from the skin. It raised $1.6 million with Jeff Rowbottom of Pontifax Ltd., Brendan Dillon of UBS, and Lee Grinberg of Elliott Management among the co-chairmen.
Icahn was the event’s featured speaker, a role occupied by Michael Milken last year. But rather than address his deals of the moment, like his investment in Lyft Inc., he told the audience about his childhood in Far Rockaway, attending a “very tough” high school.
His parents didn’t earn much -- but they “never spent any money” either, Icahn said, so he hoped he could “get out of the house” by going away to college. “My father said, ‘Son, if you get into Yale, Harvard or Princeton, we’ll pay for it.’ Ha ha ha, because nobody even applied from this high school.”
He got into Princeton. Then, following his mother’s orders, Icahn went to medical school, which didn’t take. He wound up on Wall Street.
“In 1961, the market was hot, like it is today, and I made a lot of money. But in ’62, I lost it all. I did learn one thing. It’s a great country. And it’s our duty to give something back.”
Sharing tips on sun protection seemed appropriate on a warm night at Rockefeller Center’s outdoor Summer Garden.
“A hat, suntan lotion, more suntan lotion, long-sleeved shirts, and a hat,” Dillon said. Jennifer Corwin of Morgan Stanley said she and her husband, event co-chairman Grinberg, use L’Oreal sunscreen because the company supports the Melanoma Research Alliance.
More skin-care advice was heard at the Drawing Center’s benefit at 25 Wall Street. Twin brothers and artists Ryan and Trevor Oakes know a lot about the subject, as they set up their easels outside for seven to eight hours at a time.
Trevor Oakes recommended Lavanila sunscreen, made with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. “It’s white pigment, like a tube of paint,” Oakes said. “There are other brands with these ingredients, but they’re chalky. This one goes on smooth.”
Oakes also wears a long-sleeved shirt by Arc’teryx, which was fashionable enough to wear to the benefit too.
Louis Bacon loves the outdoors and used to draw animals as a kid, but didn’t share his sunscreen brand; he was too busy praising his cousin, Frances Beatty Adler, one of the event’s honorees. “She’s got so much energy -- she’s the life of the party. She’s highly intelligent and beautiful.”
Beatty Adler is president of the gallery Richard L. Feigen & Co., and has been a leader on the board of the Drawing Center for several years.
The SoHo-based museum focused on drawing also honored artist Will Cotton and fashion designer Prabal Gurung, who had Nell Diamond, Mia Moretti and Broad City’s Ilana Glazer in tow.
During cocktail hour, Oakes, Cotton and others sketched models dressed in Prabal Gurung gowns, entertainment inspired in part by the life-drawing sessions Cotton hosts in his studio.
Ned Sadaka made a sketch he signed “Picasso.” His wife, Jane Sadaka, co-chairman of the Drawing Center, gave a nod of approval and said she wished she had more of her husband’s drawings.
“As a boy I drew cowboys and Indians, cops and firemen,” Ned Sadaka said. “When I grew up, I painted what I saw outside my window.”
The event raised $613,620. Also seen: artists Rashid Johnson, E.V. Day and Michele Oka Doner; Whitney Museum of American Art curator David Kiehl; and Eric Rudin, Stacey Goergen and Rhiannon Kubicka.