Reference Entry

Zanders, Roosevelt Smith

Kenyatta D. Berry

in African American National Biography

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195301731
Zanders, Roosevelt Smith

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laborer, entrepreneur, and celebrity procurer was born in Valdosta, Georgia, the son of Reverend Arthur Zanders and Ethel Smith Zanders. His family relocated to Youngstown, Ohio, where he attended public school. In 1930, Zanders was employed as a locker room attendant at the Mahoning Valley Country Club. He roomed with Pink and Irene Ward, who also worked at the club as a steward and cook, respectively. In 1943, Zanders was working as a construction engineer on the Alcan Highway in Alaska when he developed the concept of offering combined limousine and concierge services. This idea was inspired by his difficulty in obtaining simple things that were not readily available.Zanders moved to New York in 1935. More than a chauffeur, Zanders ran a highly regarded concierge service that catered to local and visiting celebrities in New York City. He started Zanders Auto Rental Service in 1946 in Harlem when he borrowed $3,000 to buy his first Cadillac. He soon increased his fleet to 16 Cadillacs and one custom-made Rolls-Royce that he drove himself. Two years after starting his business, and ever with an eye to good publicity, he provided Nat King Cole and his new bride Maria Ellington (Maria Cole) free limousine service for their wedding in 1948. He later became well known in the celebrity arena when Gertrude Lawrence, the British actress, became his client. A maid for Lawrence's attorney was a neighbor of Zanders, and it was through this connection he was hired. Lawrence introduced him to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as well as other clients.According to a 1959 article by the journalist Gay Talese, Zander charged his clients $150 for an entire day of his services. This included not only chauffeur-driven Cadillacs but personal services such as arranging hotel and restaurant reservations, babysitters, dry cleaning, and banking, as well as obtaining theater tickets for his clients. Zanders was very successful and earned an annual salary of nearly $90,000 in 1960—a figure that was more than twenty times the American average and forty times the median salary of African American males. His services were used by diplomats, dignitaries, presidents, businessmen, actors, and actresses. His client list included Ethel Merman, Margot Fonteyn, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, William Holden, Red Skeleton, Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Danny Kaye, Eddie Fisher, Nat King Cole, and Aristotle Onassis.Some of his most famous requests include:•Sending 100 pounds of shrimp to John Wayne while he was in Paris•Delivering a special kind of shrimp to a yacht in Monte Carlo•Delivering $200,000 in cash to an apartment in the United Nations plaza for Aristotle Onassis in May 1968•Sending two tiger cubs to the president of Panama•Renting an entire hotel floor, hiring a maid and a butler, and buying all the food for a Christmas visit by the Gerber (baby food) family•Arranging for a log cabin from the Black Forest in Germany to be relocated to South America for use as a hunting lodge (When the client's workers could not read the assembly instructions, he had them translated into Spanish.)•Securing theater tickets for the Sadler's Wells Ballet for impresario Sol Hurok when he discovered Hurok had not reserved enough tickets for his own guestsIn 1961, Zanders traveled on a seven-week, thirteen-nation “goodwill tour,” during which he stopped in Ghana and was welcomed by president Kwame Nkrumah. The following year he was hired for a special luncheon in Hyde Park for one hundred top world figures during the wake for Eleanor Roosevelt. He could not find a glass when President Kennedy asked for a refreshment, so Zanders hurried to the home next door to secure stemware before he was even missed.Understanding the power of marketing, Zanders was featured in an October 1963 New York Life Insurance ad in Ebony magazine with the caption “Like my custom Rolls-Royce, my New York Life insurance is a wonderful investment.” He also befriended several stars, including John Wayne, who invited Zanders to visit him on location in Durango, Mexico, where he was filming The Sons of Katie Elder (1965). In 1976, he was interviewed by Lee Israel for a biography about American journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, who was one of Zanders's former clients. He revealed that he had driven her from New York to Washington, D.C., during a blizzard so she could report on the inauguration of President Kennedy. Immediately after the inauguration he drove her to a New York hospital. When asked if her condition was alcohol-related, he replied, with customary respect for his clients' reputations, “I don't say ‘drunk.’ One of the things that brought it about was having one or two drinks and not eating. Her system ran down that way.”According to Zanders's daughter Roxanne, he wrote an autobiography that was stolen from his home in Harlem before it could be sent to a publisher. He retired in 1985 and sold Zanders Auto Rental Service. Roosevelt Smith Zanders died on 20 May 1995 at the Jewish Home and Hospital in Manhattan.

Reference Entry.  885 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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