Perelmans at War

Most families squabble, but few do it quite like Philadelphia’s Perelmans. In a legal clash that includes allegations of stealing and duplicity, son Jeffrey is pitted against his tycoon father Raymond and his starlet-marrying, headline-grabbing brother Ron. One thing’s for sure: Thanksgiving at the Perelman house will never be the same

TO UNDERSTAND HOW this could happen, how a family that in 1985 stood together posing for pictures at Ron’s marriage to gossip writer Claudia Cohen (that would be the same Claudia Cohen whose family estate Ron is now busy suing) — a wedding attended by Elizabeth Taylor — one has to understand what it means to be a Perelman.

Raymond Perelman was born in 1917, the son of Morris and Gennie Perelman, Lithuanian immigrants who came to America as teenagers and settled in Olney and Feltonville. Morris founded American Paper Products, which manufactured cardboard tubes, and with hard work, guile, and the help of his uncle and brother, brought it, thriving, through the Depression. It was while working for the business down in North Carolina that Raymond was invited to a dinner the night before Yom Kippur and met Ruth Caplan of New Haven, Connecticut, who was attending a women’s college in Greensboro. The pair later married, had two sons — Ronald and Jeffrey — and settled into a modest home in Elkins Park.

Raymond netted his first million by buying and then breaking apart the Esslinger’s brewery at 10th and Callowhill. Through his company, Bala Cynwyd based Belmont Holdings, Raymond would stick with manufacturing concerns, companies that did everything from make paper to install furnace linings. He burnished a reputation as a take charge ball buster in and out of the boardroom. He legendarily barked at employees, instituted a hostile takeover of General Refractories in 1985, approached Ed Rendell with the brash idea of moving the Barnes to the city in the early ’90s, and withdrew an offer of a $2 million endowment to what was then the Akiba Hebrew Academy in Merion in 1999 after its board refused to rename the school after him. He flew coach, ate fast food lunches, and relished his corporate image — his bio might be titled Nobody Loves Raymond — while simultaneously building a parallel identity as a philanthropist. “All successful people are risk takers,” he told Karen Heller of the Inquirer in a rare interview in 2007. “And I always wanted to be successful.”

He expected no less from his sons.

From the time they were boys, Ron and Jeffrey were hammered with the tenets of commerce (no Little League for them), and at a young age, each went to work in the family businesses, sweeping floors and doing menial jobs. Raymond set high standards and expected them to be met. And he yelled. A lot. “Raymond is loved, he’s respected, he’s part of this group of 100 people who have made 50 percent of the decisions in Philadelphia for the last 40 or 50 years,” says the businessman who grew up with Ron and Jeffrey. “But as a father, he was simply brutal.”