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A Kosynier in Hollywood. Part 3

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A Kosynier in Hollywood

By Dan Groya


Prohibition sharpened the American taste for vices of every flavor.  It was said that Al Capone smuggled enough alcohol from Canada in the 1920’s to fill Lake Michigan.  Chicago was drinking and smoking and snorting snuff like the party would never end.  Groya’s Kaszubska was popular and the business grew.  But the start of the Great Depression placed a last call on the revelers.  Those North Side boys were still addicted to their snuff, but sales were off and cash flow was getting tight.  Now in its second generation, the company was headed by Hermann’s son, Frederick.  He would many years later be known as “Pappy”, but in 1933 he was grooming his oldest son, Herman, to become his junior partner.

Named after his grandfather in the Prussian tradition, Herman Groya was my father.  Born in 1913, he was just 20 when his father began making plans for Groya Tobacco to transition into its third generation of ownership.  He had been working in the factory since graduating from high school.  He knew how to make snuff and was a whiz kid at the mathematics necessary to manage the business.  The family lore has it that one of those conversations turned ugly.  Herman and Pappy got into a brawl in the company warehouse, that came to a head when Herman picked-up a 50-pound keg of tobacco and threw it at his father.  Apparently, Pappy ducked.

The bad blood lasted for weeks, so Herman Groya decided to break out on his own.  He resigned from his own family business and went looking for work.  We are not sure whether this streak of stubbornness is endemic to Kashubians in general or Groyas in specific, but the decision to quit a good job in Chicago in 1933 demonstrated a willfulness that defied common sense.  The unemployment rate in America at that time was approaching 25%.  Hundreds of workers competed for a single job.  Thousands more were homeless.  But somehow, in this desolate circumstance, Groya talked his way into a job in the mailroom of Container Corporation of America, a manufacturer of folding cartons and shipping crates.  For the first time, he was free of the tobacco factory and on his own.