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Stanley Slotkin; Began Abbey Rents

September 30, 1997|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stanley Slotkin, founder of Abbey Rents Inc., amateur archeologist and idiosyncratic philanthropist, died Monday.

Among other philanthropic endeavors, Slotkin, who was 92, gave antique Bibles to churches and new noses to people thwarted by their looks.

Slotkin died at his Beverly Hills home, said his daughter, Diane Keith.

Born in New York City to poor Russian immigrants and brought up in Kansas City, Slotkin in childhood became an entrepreneur who dealt in junk parts for skates and bicycles. The $15,000 he amassed financed Abbey Rents.

When he was 18, he observed neighbors struggling by his house with chairs borrowed from the local funeral home, and developed his original business concept--rent rather than sell equipment that people only needed temporarily.

Slotkin started offering chairs and tables, then added plates and silver. By the early 1930s he was able to open his first Abbey Rents store in St. Louis.

He moved the center of his operation to Los Angeles in 1937, and within three decades he owned more than 90 Abbey Rents stores across the country. The chain offered party supplies, from napkins to tents, and medical equipment, from wheelchairs to oxygen tanks.

Slotkin smuggled a four-cylinder Russian car from behind the Iron Curtain in 1952--the first brought out from the Soviet Union during the Cold War--and displayed it in his stores and at fund-raising events. Viewings of the car netted more than $200,000 for youth and charity groups.

"It's a funny thing, but you can inspect a car and see in it a country's whole economy and workmanship," he told The Times in 1959, explaining public interest in that foreign car and others he later made available for fund-raising events. "It's just like looking inside a country."

Slotkin made more than a dozen trips around the world, often collecting antique Bibles and music manuscripts as well as other books, which he donated to churches and museums. He collected a massive library relating to Charles Darwin and donated it to USC. He obtained stones from Israel's Cave of the Nativity and donated them to Loyola University in Westchester.

In the late 1950s, Slotkin became a pioneer recreational diver and a dedicated amateur archeologist, concentrating on ancient ships sunk in the Mediterranean.

Diving to a Phoenician ship off Italy in 1955, Slotkin recovered 39 amphorae, earthen jars used to store liquids. Scientists dated them to the 3rd or 4th century. Slotkin distributed them to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, UCLA and other museums and educational institutions around the country.

Slotkin maintained a lifelong interest in medical issues, studying multiple sclerosis, Chinese acupuncture and Asian treatments for paraplegics and quadriplegics. He founded the Pink Ladies of County-USC Medical Center and a work training program, EPIHAB, for epileptics.

Perhaps Slotkin's most unusual philanthropy involved cosmetic medicine. He had long been interested in helping poor people whose economic or social development was hampered by their physical appearance. His obsession began in 1945 when he asked his efficient but unattractive secretary what she most wanted for Christmas.

"A new nose," she said bluntly, and he gave it to her. The improvement prompted her to indulge in a new wardrobe, hairstyle and make-up.

"I couldn't believe the transformation," Slotkin told The Times in 1972. "Six months later, she got married, and I lost a good secretary.

"But I was so impressed with what cosmetic surgery could do to make a person's life better that I decided it was a worthwhile charity."

Enlisting cosmetic surgeons at UCLA and other Southern California medical institutions, and persuading them to cut their fees, Slotkin assisted more than 10,000 people over the years with new noses, faces, ears and even breasts.

He paid for transformations of several prison inmates, hoping the physical changes would give them a psychological boost that would turn them away from crime.

"Staking people to a better future, sometimes even giving them a new lease on life, is where the action is for me," Slotkin said.

Among other philanthropies, Slotkin created the first blood bank for Israel's war for independence in 1948.

In addition to his daughter, Slotkin is survived by a son, Mark, and three grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Beth Olam Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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