Stanley Marcus was the intellectual P.T. Barnum of retail who took a dusty, conservative city named Dallas and spit-shined its image for the world. He boldly led a single local store to become a global arbiter of taste. Having a love for international travel, he turned his curiosity about art, food, and culture into the legendary Neiman Marcus Fortnights, building cultural bridges through commerce. Mr. Stanley, as everyone called him, lured queens, princesses, and international celebrities to the store, all while theatrically selling Dallas to the world.
His experience with anti-Semitism in Dallas and at Amherst College informed many of his more notable actions. After the JFK assassination, he took out a full-page newspaper ad, penning a letter to Dallas titled “What’s Right With Dallas.” He asked North Texas residents to show “toleration of differing points of view for the health of the community” and to reject “the spirit of absolutism for which our community has suffered.”
He was inclusive while selling to an exclusive mindset, being the first of the downtown Dallas merchants to allow African-American shoppers to try on clothing before purchasing. He guided and cajoled Dallas into thinking broadly.
To celebrate his 80th birthday, he fulfilled a lifelong dream of performing as a clown in a circus. In a 1985 New York Times interview, he said, “Friends asked me why I’d go out and make a damn fool of myself. I told them I wasn’t going to make a damn fool of myself. I’m curious. I have an insatiable desire to learn. Life’s too much fun to get off the merry-go-round.’’