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THE CATHERINE TERRIBLE

She was going to be the biggest thing since Ramses. Instead, Catherine the Great was cursed with bad luck-and a leaky roof that almost destroyed her treasures, Now she’s gone, and the red ink is deeper than most people know.
By Rob Allyn |

HER APPROACH WAS HERALDED WITH ALL THE fanfare Dallas could muster. Like Ramses before her, Catherine was everywhere. All last summer and last fall, he bejeweled empress gazed down haughtily at commuters on Central Expressway. Costumed Catherines roamed Irving Mall. TV documentarie ; showed us both the fabulous golden egg that to d Catherine the time and the nobles who dueled to be her lover. Radio commercials blared from country and western stations: ’Tapestries the size of houses…All at Fair Park, for only 8 bucks!”

Above all , there was the show-stopper: Catherine’s fabulous coronation coach. “On July 4, her 2-ton, 2’, -foot golden carriage rolled into Dallas,” said the ads. “If you thought Cinderella had a nice ride to the ball, just wait until you see this!”

Six months later, Catherine’s golden coach turned into a pumpkin.

The exhibit, Catherine the Great: Treasures of Imperial Russia, was great-a glitzy, royal ball that hauled in 503,000 visitors and $40 million in economic benefits for Dallas during a run that lasted from July 4, 1992, to January 3, 1993. But by the time the clock struck 12 and her carriage rolled aboard a Lufthansa jet bound for St. Petersburg, Russia, the Dallas Historical Society knew that its blind date with the monarch had been a financial disaster. Thanks to disappointing ticket sales, a leaky roof that sent local officials scrambling to dry out the artifacts so that the Russians wouldn’t yank the show and a management team mat insiders say “just didn’t know how to run a business,” Catherine the Great left Dallas nearly a million dollars in the red.

In her wake, the empress trailed $900,000 in unpaid debts. The Russians got stuck with a bill for $197,000, sources claim. Creditors threatened lawsuits. The city’s business establishment was forced to bail out Catherine the Great after receiving letters demanding payment of a $550,000 delinquent loan at NationsBank. Corporate underwriters were left holding the bag for (hat loan, the residue of a $770,000 line of credit negotiated last spring when the exhibit was strapped for cash-money that was supposed to fee paid back out of ticket sales and gift shop revenues.

Meanwhile, the district attorney’s office is investigating a complicated rip-off of the exhibit’s box office, where a group of ticket clerks allegedly skimmed up to $40,000 out of the| cash drawers. The scheme unraveled when young part-time cashiers began flashing $4,000 rolls of bills in high schools around Fair Park. But the supervisor accused of running the scam, an Afri-can-American, told Channel 5 news in April that “rich white people” were pinning the blame on him because of his race.

One corporate underwriter agrees. “I’m very concerned about the Historical Society’s attempt to highlight the ticket fraud,” says a sen or executive at one of the many corporations who saw their $25,000 loan guarantees turn into surprise contributions. “With what’s going on in this city right now, I’d hate to see them try to pin this on a group of kids from an ethnic minority.”

Whatever the outcome of the DA’s investigation, even Historical Society personnel acknowledge that the ticket scam was only a small part of a big problem.

Behind polite smiles, loan guarantors and city officials began asking hard questions-arid getting few answers. The exhibit had seemed like a golden goose, shiny with million-dollar expectations, gilt-edged critical acclaim, starry-eyed crowds. How could Catherine have laid an egg?

Intriguing like courtiers in Catherine’s palace, civic leaders, consultants, volunteers and staffers haggled over who was to blame. In the end, the project’s chief, DHS executive director Dr. Peter Mooz, was beheaded by his board-a final sacrifice to the woman who. according to legend, murdered her husband, Czar Peter 1H, in 1762 so she could seize the throne as empress of all the Russias. “Finances were not his talent,” one Historical Society official says of Mooz, whose allegedly imperious ways led staffers to dub him “Czar Peter” and, inevitably,] “Peter the Great”

Historical Society President Robert Thomas, a silver-haired attorney who was the exhibit’s top volunteer, explained the board’s decision not to renew Mooz’s contract: “It may not always seem fair, but that’s the way things have to work.”

“The captain is responsible,” says Thomas, an old Navy man, “when the ship runs aground.”



JANUARY 3, 1993: CATHERINE’S FINAL day in Dallas. It was bleak and rainy, a Russian day. Weary volunteers pleaded with the last of half a million visitors to surrender their umbrellas and anything else sharp enough to harm the 300 treasures on loan from the Hermitage museum. “I’ll be gawd-damned if 1 understand.” fumed one old boy, “why they got to take away my bowie knife.”

Mayor Steve Bartlett was there, at ease in shirt sleeves, getting in one last look with his wife and daughter. The place was packed: well-scrubbed children from Piano, house guests in town for the holidays, visitors from Fort Worth.

All of them gawked, as instructed, at Catherine’s golden carriage and the other riches that had delighted Dallas for six months. For three bucks extra, British actor Roger Moore spoke to the exhibit’s visitors of Catherine’s life via a pair of headphones. Murder, conquest, jewelry, sex: The narrative was spellbinding. So was David Gibson’s brooding exhibit design, and the collection of golden icons, diamond-studded snuffboxes and marble busts.

Catherine the Great did everything a blockbuster museum exhibit is supposed to do: wow the masses; satisfy the art snobs; transport both to a lime and place that would never be again.

There was even a St. Petersburg street scene, conceived by Peter Mooz during his trip to negotiate the Catherine contract at the Hermitage museum. “It was my last day in Russia, very bleak and snowy, and I saw this park with these bleak white trees,” recalls Mooz, “I thought, This is Russia. This is what we have to capture in the exhibit.”

But behind the opulent red corridors masking the Centennial Building’s walls were cracks. A myriad of tiny fault lines ran beneath the silken finish of what was supposed to be another seamless Dallas triumph. By closing day, January 3, those cracks were about to burst wide open.

Ticket sales had lagged for months. The building wouldn’t seal properly, and temperature and humidity control were impossible. The roof leaked and leaked, dripping on priceless Catherine treasures until the Russians were ready to close down the exhibit and take the empress home.

’These people had no luck,” says one museum curator, “They just couldn’t catch a break.”

Things had gotten so bad that in the middle of Catherine’s run, in October ’92, Thomas and another top volunteer, Historical Society Chairman Louise Caldwell, took Mooz to breakfast at the Dallas Country Club and pulled him off the project. But as one of the exhibit’s consultants put it, “Peter is a smart man. He knew he was in trouble from Day One.”

DAY ONE WAS IN APRIL 1991. WHEN an article in Connoisseur Magazine caught the eye of former Dallas Historical Society president Lindalyn Adams. The Wonders Exhibitions organization in Memphis, which pioneered the Ramses show that so delighted Dallas in 1989, was hosting another of what the museum trade calls “blockbusters”-a Catherine the Great exhibit that eventually would draw more than 600,000 visitors to the Tennessee city. Adams contacted her successor at the DHS. Louise Caldwell, and Society President Robert Thomas, to form the volunteer troika that would steer the Catherine effort in Dallas.

At the first of many breakfasts, me three dispatched DHS Executive Director, Dr. Peter Mooz, to Memphis. There, Mooz got a last-minute look at the Catherine exhibit before it decamped to what had been intended as its final US slop, the Armand Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

“Two things struck me.” says Mooz. who had spent 25 years running art museums and teaching art history at East Coast universities. “One, this was a very powerful show, with very wonderful things. And two, it was a history show, not an art show. There was extraordinary art, like the Kazan Madonna, but the general thrust was biographical and historical.”

That seemed to open the door for the Dallas Historical Society, a rather musty but highly respectable old group housed since 1938 in the basement of Fair Park’s Hall of State. Before Catherine, the DHS took care of the Hall of State, published books about Dallas history and harbored dreams of grander things: a Museum of Dallas History to showcase the Society’s two million Dallas artifacts, maps, rare books, costumes and archives.

Voters had approved a bond issue for a Dallas History Museum in 1985. But artists’ renderings were gathering dust. City Hall had raided the bond funds to pay for asbestos removal in the Hall of State. Perhaps, said the three DHS leaders, prof-its from a successful Catherine show could jump-start their stalled museum project.

The DHS was encouraged by the example of Fair Park’s Museum of Natural History, which had just pulled off the Ramses exhibit. Ramses was a vast financial and cultural coup, attracting 1,178,000 visitors and netting S3 million in cash. “Ramses had been such a great success,” sighs Adams.

Caldwell, like Adams a veteran historical preservationist, explains, “Here you had the Natural History, which is a small museum with no big outreach program, and yet they were able to pull it off. We went straight to the Natural History people, and they were wonderful, gave us lots of good advice.”

A partner in a large, downtown law firm, Robert Thomas, like Adams and Caldwell, knew how these things were done in Dallas-he’d led the Bar Association’s restoration of the Belo Mansion in the late ’70’s. With the two women, Thomas spent the winter of 1991-92 doing what lawyers call “due diligence.”

“We made the rounds, tested the waters,” Thomas recalls, shaking his head as though he still can’t believe things turned out this way. ’There was this great initial reaction to our fund raising. We went to corporations, foundations, the Chamber, Citizens Council, the mayor. They said, ’We’re with you. Go for it.’ “

No wonder. Flush with the success of Ramses, Dallas leaders knew how much a blockbuster exhibit like Catherine could mean for the city. DHS officials waved all the right banners to enlist the Establishment to their cause. There would be fat profits for the Dallas History Museum project-at least half of the $2.5 million Catherine netted for her sponsors in Memphis. Another $60 to $80 million in economic benefits for Fair Park and the city’s hospitality industry. Contracts for minority-owned businesses. Jobs for the unemployed. Culture for the masses, education for the children, all at no cost to the taxpayer: peace, land, bread. By February of 1992, armed with support from Mayor Bartlett, a promotional arsenal promised by The Dallas Morning News and a $250,000 commitment from the Meadows Foundation, the troika was ready to march on the Winter Palace and stage its coup.

Time was running out. Catherine was already in Los Angeles. In three months, the exhibit would head home to its owner, the Hermitage museum, commissioned by Catherine herself in 1764. If Dallas really wanted the empress, a suitor would have to go to St. Petersburg and beg for her hand.

“You have to understand that we intercepted this exhibit on its way from California to Russia,” Thomas explains. “We didn’t have the lead time that Ramses had. Also, we were led to believe that another city here in the States would pick up the exhibit after Dallas and take on the cost of shipping the collection back to Russia.”

Mooz puts that cost at $84,300. Thomas says it was more like $150,000, once they paid for the shipping crates. Regardless, getting Catherine home originally had been the duty of Memphis, which passed it on to LA when the Armand Hammer Museum decided to take on the show. When Mooz went to Russia in February 1992 to strike a deal with the Russians, Dallas accepted responsibility for returning Catherine-hoping to pass it on to St. Petersburg, Florida, which was courting the Hermitage for a Catherine show after Dallas.

But Catherine would never make it to Florida. Much later, in June of ’92, just before the show opened at Fair Park, a Russian curator came to town to check the exhibit. He announced that the “artifacts were getting tired.” After her stop in Dallas, Catherine would indeed go to St. Petersburg-the one in Russia.

“If I had one thing to do over again,” Thomas says, “I would have insisted that all three cities share equally in the cost of shipping the exhibit back to Russia.”

When it comes to the air freight bill, Thomas admits, “We ended up the last guy with the hot potato.”



BUT BACK IN EARLY 1992, SHIPPING bills were not the main concern. Getting the exhibit was. When Peter Mooz arrived in Russia in February of that year, it was 17 degrees below zero. “At the hotel, they said they were having a warm spell,” he says. The anti-Gorbachev coup had failed the summer before. Leningrad had been renamed St. Petersburg.

At 10 the first morning, Mooz met with Dr. Vitaly Suslov, director general of the Hermitage museum, a massive storehouse of art, jewels and antiquities that covers three blocks. Suslov spoke little English. “He played his cards very close to the vest,” says Mooz, who was told to come back again at 10 the next morning.

“We didn’t even talk about the show,” says Mooz. “I wondered, Are we going to get this thing?” Mooz had brought along an old friend from California, Frederick Schmid, who was running the Catherine show in LA, and who had agreed to help Peter negotiate the deal for Dallas. “Fred told me that, in Russia, if they don’t say no, then you probably have a deal.” The two Americans came back as instructed. This time they were joined by the chief curator of the Hermitage gems, who spoke English. She grilled Mooz about temperature control in the Centennial Building.

“I had brought pictures of this big air conditioner, and she thought it was really terrific,” Mooz said. “Things started to move very quickly. We were told to come back the next day at 10, then we signed an agreement.”

To celebrate, Mooz took pictures in the park. He later gave the snapshots to David Gibson in Dallas and told the famed exhibit designer to recreate a little corner of St. Petersburg in Dallas.



THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY’S BOARD approved the Russian deal in March 1992. Catherine was set to open July 4, which left barely four months to raise the $2 million DHS needed to build the exhibit, set up the business operation and promote the show. Virtually everyone connected with Catherine agrees that the time crunch lay behind nearly all of the exhibit’s financial problems.

“I told them it was impossible to get the million people that Ramses drew in the time we had left,” says Becky Powell, a Dallas public relations consultant who handled the Ramses exhibit and helped get Catherine off the ground. “Ramses had five months. They only had three.”

But Thomas, Caldwell and Adams had not been idle. The three volunteers single-handedly raised nearly a million dollars in contributions in less than six weeks, including the $250,000 from Meadows and $100,000 from EDS.

Mayor Bartlett recalls the advice he gave the trio when they came to see him. “Don’t go to these corporations with a tin cup seeking a charitable contribution,” he counseled. “Raise your money from paying customers going through the gate. That’s why Ramses worked.”

Informed that the project required $2 million in up-front money, Bartlett suggested that DHS contact Roger Hirl, the CEO of Occidental Chemical (OxyChem), a subsidiary of the giant Occidental Petroleum corporation headed by the late Armand Hammer. “It was a natural,” said Bartlett. “They were good corporate citizens in Dallas, a corporation with historic ties to Russia.”

As it happens, Hirl was one of the few Dallas CEOs who had actually seen the exhibit-at LA’s Armand Hammer Museum. The OxyChem president, also a board member of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, had spoken up in favor of the project when Thomas pitched it at the Chamber earlier that year.

“The mayor called and asked me to take on the corporate fund raising,” Hirl says. “It was my opinion, based on the projections that were presented, that this stood a very good chance of being a success.” But, he adds in hindsight, “the financial projections were not well managed.”

By early March, Mooz was trying to get the exhibit built-a process roughly equivalent to building 10 3,000-square-foot houses in less than four months. To pay the bills, Thomas set up a separate corporation called Historical Inquiry, Inc., a reminder of the passage in the DHS bylaws that allows the Society to pursue “historical inquiry” wherever it leads-even, they maintained, to Russia.

It was then that Catherine’s gold-plated ride into Dallas hit its first visible bump in the road; Dallas Museum of Art Director Rick Brettell, who was telling anyone who would listen that there wasn’t enough money in Dallas to fund this project. As D reported at he time, “when he heard the DHS was bringing Catherine to Pair Park. Brettell told Peter Mooz, DHS executive director, that the Society had invaded sacred turf. Only the DMA had the expertise to put on such a major art/history exhibit, he fumed.”

“We had the nicest lunch,” Mooz says now. “Later. Rick called me and said when he got back to his office, he became very upset that We were doing this big show.”

Brettell mailed letters to heavy hitters who served on the boards of both the DMA and the Historical Society, expressing his “alarm” over the Society’s plans. “Such exhibitions,” Brettell wrote, “fall outside the missions” of groups like DHS, the Science Place or the Natural History museum, “and are mounted purely for financial and PR reasons.” Arguing that there simply wasn’t enough money to go around, Brettell questioned “both the viability and the wisdom of a large, temporary exhibition program that would compete for funding and audience with that of the Dallas Museum of Art.”

“I saw that letter, and ] didn’t buy his argument.”says Mayor Bartlett. Neither did the leaders of the Historical Society. A DHS official claims that Brettell and the DMA had considered Catherine but rejected it “because it was historical and not fine art…Rick was merely jealous because we were making it happen.”

“The negative reaction from DMA really hurt us financially,” says another DHS hoard member who was out raising funds for Catherine that spring. “Major sponsors of the DMA refused to consider backing Catherine Everywhere we went they asked, ’What is this feud between you and the DMA?’”

Ironically, within a year both directors were out on the street. Mooz., one supporter maintain;, was fired as “a scapegoat for Catherine try a board that tried to run this thing like a tea party, and second-guessed and micromanaged Peter every step of the way.” Brett ill resigned after a highly publicized arrest on a public lewdness charge in Reverchon Park. He is not returning phone calls regarding Catherine the Great.



By May. scurrying to con-struct David Gibson’s grand design, strapped for the cash to pay for it and just six weeks away from the show’s July 4 opening, Historical Inquiry negotiated a six-figure line of credit at NationsBank, and hired he Establishment’s favorite fund-raiser Carol Reed. Letters went out over the signatures of Roger Hirl and the city’s business titans, touting the $14 million in revenues hauled in by Ramses in Dallas-and the $2.5 million profil netted by Catherine in Memphis. Projecting a $1.6 million profit lor Catherine’s stay in Dallas, the letters urged members of the Citizens Council and Chamber to sign loan guarantees of $25,000 each, with the idea that the bank would be paid back out of ticket and gift shop revenues.

“Shortness of time was the key element” in the decision to seek loan guarantees, says Hirl. “The information we had received led me to conclude that the guarantees would not be called upon.”

“I never thought we’d have to call on these people for checks,” confirms Thomas. “After all, Ramses also had used a line of credit.”

The signatures flowed in. Texas Commerce Bank. Southwestern Bell and Fina each guaranteed $25,000. Texas Instruments, Hunt Petroleum, Acers & Halliday and Bank One did $50,000 each. Prominent physician Suzanne Ahn guaranteed $25,000 personally. Others signed up for $5,000 or $15,000. Soon, Catherine was good for up to $770,000 at NationsBank, her loan co-signed by the city’s business community. With what Hirl and the DHS bad raised, Catherine had enough to finish the exhibit, crank up the promotional machine and put the tickets on sale.

Then the Russians arrived, and the wheels came off.



LOUISE CALDWELL’S PHONE RANG at 6:30 one June morning shortly before the exhibit was to open. It had rained all night. The roof in the Centennial Building, which had been leaking for weeks, was now dribbling water onto the Catherine collection. “They were mopping floors up until the day the Russians got here,” says one Fair Park insider.

That morning’s leak nearly spelled disaster. Water had broken through the aging building, damaging an irreplaceable set of drawings. The Russians had just arrived to supervise the unpacking of the exhibit. They were not amused.

Caldwell went into action. The wet, wrinkled drawings were whisked to Fort Worth’s Kimbell Museum, whose renowned expert in document preservation dried the Catherine items and restored them to something resembling their original condition.

Also anointed by the rain, says one source close to the exhibit, was the huge silk tent given Catherine by Turkey’s Sultan Selim III in 1793. Catherine’s treasures were insured by her Dallas hosts for $53 million, but money could never replace their historical value. To keep the Russians from packing up and going home, Historical Inquiry sprang for an interior roof above the exhibit. Cost: $40,000.

“The city gave them a building that was a dog,” charges one consultant. “They lied to them about it having a new roof. The staff was there all night on overtime pay with buckets in their hands. It was only by the grace of God that the rain missed the carriage.”

Fair Park’s general manager, Eddie Hueston, says the roof was “repaired in 1991 by the Stale Fair of Texas.” He admits there were “minor leaks during the exhibit,” but that “in each case, the company who had done the roof repair was there the very next day and made repairs.”

Temperature and humidity inside the Centennial Building were impossible to control, forcing Historical Inquiry to lease a massive array of dehumidifying equipment. Cost: $60,000.

Then the building’s front doors wouldn’t seal properly, which sent Catherine’s utility bills skyrocketing. “The city was supposed to install new doors, but never did. We spent the summer,” says Thomas, “air-conditioning South Dallas.”



THE EXHIBIT COULD HAVE SURVIVED the cost surprises of early summer. Mooz kept a tight rein on his expense budget. “We absorbed $400,000 in unforeseen costs and still came within 2 percent of our expense budget,” he says, a fact verified by DHS board members.

The disaster, everyone agrees, came on the revenue side.

First, DHS lost either $100,000 or S200,0()0 on parking revenues, depending on who’s talking-the board or Mooz. Surprisingly, no one involved seemed to know that that money belonged to the city.

Then there was the alleged ticket scam. Channel 5 news originally reported that the box office thefts may have put Catherine “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in the red. A source inside the DA’s office puts the figure closer to $40,000. But Ted Steinke, chief of the DA’s Specialized Crimes Division, acknowledges, ’’When you’re dealing with cash that never makes it into the register, it’s difficult to say how much is really missing.” Investigators have subpoenaed suspects’ bank accounts; they expect to file charges on the Catherine theft ring sometime this summer.

Half a million people came to see the show, but after all the freebies and discounts, paid attendance was just 450,000. That was 50,000 below the break-even point-without the surprise expenses encountered in May and June.

Above all, sponsors say, Catherine lacked the time that Ramses had. Time to strike promotional deals with, say, McDonald’s or American Airlines. Time to attract kids during the school year, so they could bring their parents back in the summer.

“With Ramses, we started marketing in October for a March 1 opening, which then gave us three months for an educational program in schools,” says Becky Powell, who quit the Catherine exhibit early on after disagreements over money, management style and marketing direction. “Catherine didn’t have that luxury.”

Catherine planners had “utterly unrealistic expectations,” says one consultant. “The board would say again and again, ’Ramses did a million visitors. So can we.’ At one point, they were talking about two or three million. Their intentions were admirable, but they lived in great denial of signs along the way that this wasn’t going to be what they expected it to be.”

Mooz and his consultants were critical of the advertising, blaming it for sluggish ticket sales in August and September. At one meeting, Mooz claims that one of the exhibit’s top professionals broke down in tears over his critique, a charge which the woman in question denies. “Peter screamed at me,” she says, “and I screamed back.”

One night, burglars broke into the Centennial Building, stealing $6,000 worth of reproduction souvenirs. They got away with two big Fabergé eggs, a dozen Fabergé charms and a golden cross, all fakes, plus 36 T-shirts, 24 polo shirts and some amber jewelry. Police told The Dallas Morning News that the thieves may have hidden in the lobby until closing time; Historical Inquiry brought in guard dogs and more security guards.

Then autumn came. The State Fair opened. Catherine’s backers waited for the anticipated gush of ticket sales from the more than three million people that pour into Fair Park every fall.

They were wrong. Fairgoers wanted Big Tex and the bumper cars, not Catherine and her carriage. Worse yet, those who were interested in culture had their choice of the Etruscan exhibit at The Science Place or Sharks at Fair Park’s Natural History museum-both of which were free. “The Fair,” says Thomas, “was a killer for us.”

Ticket sales plummeted. Tempers ran high. Even people outside the organization began calling DHS the “Dallas Hysterical Society.”

“I just don’t know if they were ready for this or not,” says Idelle Rabin, a former DHS board member who chairs the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission. “This is what happens when you bite off more than you can chew.”

“They never knew where their market was,” says one consultant. ’’It was in the bedroom communities, Garland, Farmers Branch. They couldn’t make this work [solely] with their friends in Highland Park.”

Others say the ads were simply too one-note. “They rode one horse into town, and it was the carriage,” says a source. ’They never grasped that this wasn’t a charity ball, but a $9 million business that opens and closes in 12 months.”

Rita Cox, whose PR firm replaced Becky Powell’s, defends Catherine’s $1.3 million promotional blitz, which earned top awards from the Texas Public Relations Society. “It’s easy to fixate on something visible like advertising,” notes Cox. “But the fact is, Catherine was everywhere. We had 100 percent awareness, according to the surveys.”

Worse than the disappointing ticket sales were the gift kiosks. “We had to cut $485,000 from the gift shop budget,” says Mooz. That left no money for the inventory of T-shirts, coffee mugs and trinkets that were supposed to put Catherine in the black. Instead of building a traditional museum gift shop, Historical Inquiry sold off the rights to vend gifts from carts like those at D/FW Airport. The exhibit then used the cash raised from the sale of vending rights to manufacture the Catherine souvenirs for the kiosks.

“They needed a Stanley Marcus,” says Rabin. “There was no real promotion of the items. It was like a flea market.”



BY OCTOBER. PETER MOOZ KNEW he was finished at the Dallas Historical Society. Over breakfast at the country club, Thomas and Caldwell ordered Mooz to “back off the Catherine exhibit and devote all of his resources to what they called “life after Catherine.”

By late October, with the air cooler and the State Fair only a bad memory (the fair closed October 25), ticket sales rallied somewhat. With only a month to go until the announced closing date of November 29, DHS officers began to breathe a little easier. As late as November 19, the show’s accountant was still projecting a modest profit of $93,000. On November 26, DHS officials celebrated what they thought was “break-even day.”

With crowds good and Catherine no longer bound for Florida, board members voted to extend the show to January 3. The extension did well, turning a small profit during the holiday season.

In early December, “we started to repay our line of credit,” says Thomas. “We’d made a couple of payments, brought it down by $220,000, and had a signed check ready for another $100,000.” A letter was sent to the loan guarantors, telling them the good news that the debt was about to be retired.

“I felt they might fall a little short, but never to the extent we face now,” says Hirl, whose company, OxyChem. was in for $75,000 in contributions and loans. “I would have felt confident at any point in telling those who were guaranteeing the loan that they would not be called upon. Thank God I didn’t tell the Citizens Council or Chamber board that.”



ON JANUARY 26, 1993, THREE WEEKS after the extended Catherine show closed, the underwriters got their demand letter. Signed by Mooz. Thomas, Caldwell and Adams, the letter promised “a final accounting in February,” but admitted that “it looks as if the loss will exceed $900,000.” (Thomas later told the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission and The Dallas Morning News that the loss was less than $500,000.) Interestingly, the letter never apologizes for what it admits is “a substantial loss.” asking each guarantor to send a check for their guaranteed amount to NationsBank.

Most underwriters refuse to comment on Catherine. Others are blasé. “I’m disappointed, but I’m not especially surprised,” says former Chamber chairman Jan Collmer, whose privately held Collmer Semiconductor guaranteed $5,000 of the exhibit’s debt. “It’s hard to make these things pay. It was great for the city, and I just look at it as good corporate citizenship. The truth is,” he adds with a laugh, “I’ve contributed to lots of worse deals.”

Southwestern Bell officials weren’t laughing. Bell was on the hook for $25.000. The company’s Texas president, William Dreyer, fired back what insiders called a “blistering” letter that sent DHS board members scrambling to his doorstep to explain the shortfall. Apparently, Robert Thomas and his delegation mollified Dreyer. “We did express our disappointment,” says Bell spokesman Stephen Seewoester, “but we are now satisfied.”

The Russians, apparently, are not. As of press time, Historical Inquiry was still at least $150,000 short of the amount it had promised to pay the Hermitage for rental of the Catherine show. One insider pegs Historical Inquiry’s debt to the Russians at $197,000. Caldwell and Thomas dispute that figure. “Morally, we believe we’ve done right by the Hermitage. As far as I’m concerned we don’t owe them a thing.” says Thomas. “We paid them $250,000 cash, which is a ton of rubles. We brought 10 Russians here at our expense and paid them a per diem that in their eyes made them rich, and we also paid $150,000 to ship the show back to Russia, an expense we weren’t counting on. Remember, they pulled the rug out from under us.”

Others tell a different story. “You have to understand that the Hermitage is a museum which finds a way to pay 3,000 curators in a country where it takes a week’s salary to buy a pound of chicken,” says one source who is familiar with Catherine’s guardians in St. Petersburg. “They won’t say anything in public. But yes, they want their goddamn money.”



SO DO THE EXHIBIT’S CREDITORS. They also got a letter from Catherine, offering 25 cents on the dollar. One small businessman who is owed several thousand dollars fumes, “I’m filing a lawsuit just as soon as I get me time to call my lawyer.”

Thomas emphasizes, “This is not going to be a disastrous situation for the Dallas Historical Society. We can settle with our vendors, and because we only used $550,000 of the $770,000 line of credit, we’ll be able to give our loan guarantors 20 or 25 cents back as a dividend on every dollar they’re out.”

By April of this year, the audit promised by February to the loan guarantors-and the DA’s office-still had not arrived. “I don’t have an accounting yet,” says Hirl, the man who was asked to solicit those guarantors. “I feel very badly about the fact that what I represented to be a good community investment did not turn out that way.” Hirl is careful not to blame Thomas. But he doe? say, “Those who expect an accounting deserve to get it.”

One of those people is Steve Bartlett. No city funds were used for the exhibit, but the mayor says he’s “not happy” about not getting a report. “The bottom line is, when you put 500 000 people through an exhibit, you should 1 be able to make a profit. On the whole, it made money for Dallas. But it lost money for the underwriters, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow.”

What does Catherine’s shortfall bode for future blockbusters? “Clearly, this won’t help,” says Hirl, who’s now raising money for a charity ball. “Hopefully, my name won’t be associated with this.”

Dr. Charles Tandy, outgoing head of the City Council’s Arts Committee, calls Catherine “a hush-hush deal.”

“Nobody wants to talk about it,” Tandy says. “They just say, ’We’ll get back to you.’ But it sounds to me like we’ve got a problem…People who have to come up with a check in the future will be that much more skeptical.”

Dallas has already lost the Splendors of the Ottoman Sultans exhibit that could have premiered here this spring. DHS had promised Memphis and Los Angeles that it would share the cost of bringing over the Turkish exhibit. According to officials in Dallas and Memphis, DHS even booked the Centennial Building from March 26 to May 1-then backed out when Catherine ran into trouble, angering the Wonders organization in Memphis. There are also no signs of Dallas pursuing the highly touted Napoleon exhibit which the Wonders brought to Memphis this spring.

“Catherine has clearly lost a million dollars, and it’s pretty awkward,” says arts supporter Mary Ellen Degnan. “I don’t have any doubt that this will cause added reflection on the part of corporations and foundations. But I still think, at day’s end, it provided great value for the city.”

On this point, everyone seems to agree. “From Fair Park’s perspective, Catherine was great,” says Craig Holcomb, director of the Friends of Fair Park. “There were schoolchildren everywhere”-at least 45,000 of them, according to the exhibit’s sponsors.

“That’s what we want,” says Holcomb, He, like Thomas, points to a New York Times article that says that most museum blockbusters operate in the red. And in Los Angeles, a spokeswoman for the Armand Hammer Museum admits that their Catherine exhibit lost “a substantial amount” of money, drawing just 220,000 visitors-less than half of what Dallas got.

But for Dallas, a city that measures suc cess by the weight of one’s wallet. Catherine’s financial woes provide an uncomfortable reminder that some things can’t be done with the wave of a fairy god mother’s magic wand. The next time Dallas dresses up and rushes off to the royal ball, someone may want to check to make sure that Cinderella has the cab fare to get home.

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