We'd all like to be millionaires, right? Well, maybe. The fantasy is certainly appealing, but big winners frequently learn that for every problem the money solves, another headache takes its place. Seven years after Connecticut instituted a state lottery for the first time in 1972, Connecticut Magazine staff writer and future editor Charles Monagan tracked down some of the state's first million-dollar prize winners to see how their lives had changed, for better or worse.
This article, from the January 1979 issue, is being posted in January 2020 as part of Connecticut Magazine's 50th anniversary year celebration.
Greetings to Michael J. Anthony across the mists of time. It's been ages since we last saw you on "The Millionaire," Mike, since you took the last cashier's check for a million dollars from your boss, John Beresford Tipton, smiled obsequiously, and strolled out to lay it into the palm of some poor, unsuspecting working stiff from Queens who really needed it. We miss you, Mike. And we want to tell you that things have changed a lot since you left. For one thing, that million isn't worth nearly what it used to be. All kinds of people seem to be falling into seven figures these days. A guy bats .180 and makes thirty errors at shortstop for the Texas Rangers—he's a millionaire. Another guy, acting on a barroom bet, sells something called a “Pet Rock" and makes a fortune. A third guy gets fired by the Ford Motor Company and, so he won't feel bad, they give him a million dollars as a going-away present. I mean, Mike, we now live in a world where Steve McQueen gets a million to tell the Japanese that their own product, the Honda, is a good deal. And these are merely examples of what's been going on. You might say that, lately, money's stopped talking and started screaming.
And, of course., some other things really haven't changed that much. The common folk still yearn for their own million, just like they used to in the late fifties on your TV screen. They still sit in lonely rooms and try to dream away their bills, hoping someone like you will come and save them. And, believe it or not, Mike, from time to time it actually happens—people, just plain old everyday Working people, get a million bucks dumped on them. Only it's not a nice rich man like Mr. Tipton who gives it to them. Nowadays the benefactor is—get this!—the government. In Connecticut, for instance, they have this thing called the State Lottery. All you have to do is buy tickets with numbers on them and then, if the people in charge draw your number, you win some money. Sometimes you don't win that much, but sometimes you win a lot, like $50,000 or $100,000 or $250,000. And in the last three years, six people have won the really big prize—either $50,000 a year for twenty years or $1,000 a week for life. Even you never gave away a grand a week for life, Mike. But I know you've always been interested in the effect that great sums of money have on people, the way you used to watch over your charges like a benign, very well dressed shepherd. So we tracked down Connecticut's lottery millionaires to see how life's been treating them lately. And just between you and me, Mike, sometimes it's good, but sometimes it's not so good.
Louise Torvinen was the first big winner. Back on October 29, 1975, someone pulled Number 8 out of a spinning barrel in the Plaza Room of the Hotel Sonesta in Hartford and it meant that Louise Torvinen had become a millionaire, that every year up until 1994 she would receive a check for $50,000. Torvinen is now thirty-two years old. She lives in Bristol with her husband Bill and two children in the same house they had before the big night in Hartford. The house is modest, set into a small corner lot on a snugly residential street. The garage door needs to be painted. Inside, Torvinen sits in her newly redecorated living room. The red rug is thick enough to lose things in. Some of the furniture is covered with that brushed material on which you can play tic-tac-toe with your index finger. Gleaming knickknacks abound. Torvinen is a nice young woman with short dark hair. She is wearing fashionable eyeglasses and a handsome beige pantsuit. She is talking about the week of October 29, 1975.
"I'd just started working at J.C. Penney," she says. "I'd won maybe four times with the instant lottery tickets and I turned them in like you're supposed to, but I never really gave it another thought. At the time, my husband was spending twenty dollars a week he had no business spending just on tickets and I was buying about two a week. Anyway, someone from the lottery called me one afternoon to tell me I was one of the twelve finalists for the million dollars. I was really rude to the man, because thought it was a joke. Then, slowly, as I kept talking to him I realized he was telling the truth.
"I was on Cloud Nine for the rest of the week. I knew that the worst I could do was come back home with a thousand dollars. It was a very strange situation to be in. Naturally I kept wondering what I'd do if I won. I spent a whole week trying not to think about a million dollars, but, still, I kept getting these flashes. Then the night came. My dream is to have a Lincoln Continental, the big one with the wheel on the back and everything. When my husband came by to pick us up to go to Hartford he told me he passed so many Lincoln Continentals along the way that it was like something was telling him I was going to win."
Later, with the television cameras rolling and the flashbulbs popping, Torvinen picked her number and sat down with the other eleven finalists.
"They announced the $50,000 winner first and I went, 'Aw, nuts.' I was really disappointed. It was a terrible thing, but I was really disappointed. You really get greedy at a time like that. So they announced him and he went up and got his check and sat back down. And then they announced the million-dollar winner and I just froze in my seat. I could not move. It was like when you're asleep and someone's calling you and you vaguely know they're calling you but it's really faint. It was like that. They were calling my name but it didn't seem like it was for real. They literally had to pull me out of my seat."
She was, however, in good enough condition to accept the check. Then, for a while, she was a celebrity. Back in Bristol, people who knew her or recognized her would say things like, "Let me touch you. Maybe some of it will rub off." Supposedly good friends would come over for dinner and then say things in a catty way, like, "Naturally we'd have shrimp at Louise's house." It was a bothersome time. And, though there is clearly something inside Louise Torvinen that is telling her to go out and go a little wild, she and her husband have resolved to take things easy.
"My husband—and I could wring his neck for it—was the one who said it's not going to happen overnight," she recalls. "He said it's going to take a good five years to get into a position where we can live really comfortably and do the things we want to do. The average person you meet up with will say, Oh, a million dollars! I'd buy a new car and a new house and I'd do this and I'd do that!" You can't. You don't have your hands on a million dollars, number one. Secondly, you still have to live. You have to plan beyond the twenty years. I was upset when my husband said that to me. People were telling me, 'You're supposed to be doing all these things with a million dollars. But I don't. I don't have anything different than I had before it happened."
So for now, the Torvinens are content to sit back, relax, let the money build up, and show everyone how normal they are. Some interesting things have happened along the way. Bill Torvinen was able to quit work, take a couple of months off, and then go back to work again as a carpet salesman. An ulcer he had been developing has disappeared. They were surprised to discover the second yearly check, and all those since, were only for $40,000. The Lottery, they learned, had begun taking out tax money up front, so the IRS would not be burned. Louise has enjoyed several shopping sprees, including a daring visit to Tiffany's in New York. ("That 'elite' stuff you hear is just a lot of bull. They have some stuff there that anyone can buy.") A man kept appearing at their front door, claiming to be a messenger from God in need of money. They finally had to have him arrested. The major expenses have been a trip to California and a down payment on a small summer cottage. Their accountant tried to talk them out of the cottage, saying they were now in a position to stay in hotels and motels and have people wait on them. But the Torvinens are not like that.
"We've always lived conservatively and we still do," Louise Torvinen says. "Eventually, I'd like to expand, get out of this house. Take a trip somewhere every year. That's about it." She pauses for a moment, shifts gears, then continues, "But at times there's a part of me that says, 'Just do it! Break loose! The heck with it all, just do it!" I mean, the average family today takes two or three vacations a year and money is no problem. I don't see how they do it, because even with this money we don't live like that." She laughs nervously. "I think we're doing something wrong," she says.
And she still doesn't have her Lincoln Continental.
"People we know wouldn't have accepted it if we did something like that right away. They would have said, 'the lottery made her do it.' "
The Torvinens, as it turns out, have adjusted quite well to their new riches. Others have not been so lucky. Two recent winners of $1,000 a week for life, Leota Mazzacane of Cheshire and Anthony Laudicina of East Haven, appear to have been made at least temporarily miserable by their good fortune.
[Of the three remaining million-dollar winners, one, J. Raymond LaBonte of Willimantic, died about a year after winning in the February, 1977, drawing. His heirs will split the remainder of his guaranteed money. Another winner, Adele Nelson of Branford, has evidently moved away and was not contacted for this article.]
When her number came up last January, Leota Mazzacane, forty-four, beamed for the cameras and spoke of her win in terms of a "Cinderella story." Now she's not so sure about that.
"At first we thought winning this was going to be great for us," she said in a brief telephone conversation, "but lately I don't know."
She said her lawyer had advised her not to grant a requested interview.
"There are a lot of kooks out there," she explained. "1 don't think it's a good idea to talk about my money when I'm afraid of having my grandchild kidnapped. We've had crank calls, a lot of strange contacts. I'm really worried about what can happen."
According to friends and people familiar with the situation, Mazzacane has been harassed by persons and organizations asking for handouts. She has been subjected to crank threats over the telephone. There is even a rumor that the town of Cheshire had asked her to help finance the construction of a public swimming pool. Late last sum mer her son was involved in a minor auto accident and the Waterbury Republican seized the opportunity to run the headline: "Millionaire's Son Arrested." This was not at all the type of life Leota Mazzacane had been looking forward to when she won the grand prize. Whether the cause be the town in which she lives, the inclinations of her friends, or the nature of the woman herself, Mazzacane does not sound like a happy millionaire.
Anthony Laudicina sounded equally distraught. In another brief telephone conversation, Laudicina, fifty-five, who won his million last August, described the experience thus far as a "hassle." "This whole thing has been too much for us," he said. "My wife's a nervous enough person as it is. We're not used to this. We weren't ready. We've just been bothered and worried ever since we won."
Indeed, friends of Laudicina report that he now wishes the reward for his luck had not been such a large amount of money. He would have been just as happy with something considerably less than a million.
Of course, these people are still new to big money: they're the ultimate nouveaux riches. The shock may not even have worn off yet. The chances remain good that somewhere down the line, as the checks keep rolling in week after week after week, the notoriety will wear off, the harassment will die down and the winner will adjust to the situation. They'll realize that it's not all that important to defend their positions fiercely, or to pretend that the money hasn't changed or corrupted them. And then they'll be able to get down to the serious pursuit of leisure.
The state of Connecticut has not suffered for a moment by the lottery. Since its inception in February, 1972, the lottery, in its daily, weekly, and instant formats, has grossed more than $358 million. Of this total, $155 million has gone into state coffers, $40 million has been used for lottery expenses, and the rest, or about 45 percent, has gone back to the public. In general, the games have been very successful and state officials are pleased.
"Everyone dreams of being a millionaire," says John Winchester, the lottery's executive director. "Everyone looks for pie in the sky, and that's the appeal of these games. The overwhelming majority of winners settle in very well with their money. At least I've never heard any complaints."
In speaking of the "instant millionaires," Winchester says it's understandable that some may have initial problems adjusting to both the wealth and the celebrity status.
"It's a lot of responsibility," he says. "Some can handle it and some can't, just like anything else. There are weaknesses in all of us and they are bound to come out in certain circumstances. It's just too bad you can't always make people happy with money. But I think that basically those who are distraught with the money would be distraught if they didn't have it, and well-adjusted people are well adjusted no matter what."
Winchester says his office, as well as the National Association of State Lotteries, is always studying the games, looking out for problems as they develop.
"We get letters from time to time from people who think the top prize is too big, that we should make more people happy with smaller prizes. But the psychology of the thing is that people fantasize about the million dollars. It's really an entertainment. Most people are losers. If they win a small prize like two dollars or ten dollars, they feel better. Meanwhile, they can dream about the million."
Elaine Bluss used to dream about winning a lot of money. Nothing obsessive, you understand, just a good healthy yearning like the rest of us have. Back in 1975, she bought about ten instant tickets, won on a couple of them, and fired the stubs off to the Big Barrel. After that, things broke nicely for her. She was contacted with the news that she'd made it into the final dozen for the December 12 drawing. In Hartford that night she was paired up with the Number 4. She says now she had a feeling she would win and that, indeed, she was almost positive of this fact before the number was called.
When they gave me my number it was on a piece of paper. I was nervous and I unconsciously rolled up the paper and squinched the bottom with my hand. When they pulled the winning number out of the barrel I recognized that it was mine even though they didn't show the number right away."
So Elaine Bluss won $50,000 a year for twenty years. She lives with her husband Ainars and a sixteen-year-old daughter in a pleasant blue-shuttered house near the Sound in Westbrook. They had owned the house before her win, but not the two new jeeps in the driveway, the car in the garage, or a lot of the house's furnishings. Bluss is a delightfully friendly woman with very blonde hair and an ingenue's giggle. She has adjusted extraordinarily well to her lightning stroke of luck.
"It took a good year to realize what happened," she explains. "I knew what I'd won, butI didn't really realize how much money that was. I couldn't sleep at all the first night after I won. I was up at 6 A.M. waiting for the stores to open so I could go Christmas shopping," she adds with a laugh. "We haven't really done that much in the three years since we won. We went to Las Vegas in April which was super. It was my first time flying. We raced the green jeep out there. Then we bought my daughter a jeep, that's the brown one. She just turned sixteen. And I got a new Trans Am. And of course we got a few things around the house. But as far as going on any super major trips or going crazy, we haven't really done anything."
After paying $17,000 in taxes on the $50,000 in the first year, Elaine Bluss consulted a financial adviser, invested in solid things, and has paid less in taxes each succeeding year. Just as important, she has not sensed any envy among her friends. Nor has she been bothered by strangers or cranks or overzealous salesmen.
"Our friends were simply very, very happy for us," she says. "I can't think of anyone who is a friend who was upset or envious. They probably thought we would change and become snobbish, but I'm pretty sure we haven't."
Her life has changed in other ways, however. She left her job at a Westbrook drugstore and doesn't particularly care if she ever works again. She bought a horse for herself and one for her daughter and she goes riding as often as she can. The family has learned how to ski. She readily admits the money has allowed them a more enjoyable lifestyle.
"We couldn't have afforded the motor to put into the jeep and we couldn't have afforded the jeeps. We couldn't afford to go on ski trips. We couldn't have afforded the horses or," she sweeps her arms around the room, "these couches or these drapes. I'm certainly not going to deny that we have a nicer life now."
Bluss has also been able to afford another luxury that she indulges in every once in a while—shopping.
"I love clothes," she admits. "I went to Kramers in New Haven. We spent the whole afternoon there. I had a marvelous time. It was really funny. You walk in there and you sit down and they give you a drink or coffee or whatever you wish. My husband walked in with dungarees and a shirt and a jacket and you could see they kind of frowned on that, as if we couldn't afford the things they had. So we started looking around and my husband dropped a few hints that I had won the million dollars and so forth. Well, instantly I had service at my feet. Money does talk, I guess. I bought myself a mink coat and three or four outfits. I had a good time that day. And now if I get bored I go out and buy something and then I feel better."
And, she says, there is still plenty left over for saving and investing, although she says, laughingly, of her husband, "I have to put a clamp on him every once in a while because he really loves his jeep and he's always buying tires or something, which can get expensive after a while."
Yes, Elaine Bluss is the happy lottery winner, the one you'd think you'd be if you won. And each day, after she ships her husband off to work at a nearby auto dealership, she has time, every once in a while, to consider her fate.
"I've always wished I could win the million dollars, just like everybody else does. Once I did win, we decided not to go crazy and spend, spend, spend. We just carry on. And if we want to go on a ski trip or something, we go. We don't go for a month, though. We go for three or four days and then come back. We just take each day as it comes. I can't see the point of going crazy or letting the whole thing drive you crazy. It's like this: you pay your bills, you take a trip and then you enjoy life as much as you can. That's what were doing. That makes sense, doesn't it?"
Six Things Every Millionaire Should Know
1. A million dollars in one dollar bills weighs 2,040 pounds.
2. At the current rate of inflation, the lottery jackpot of $1,000 a week for life would be worth $147 a week in twenty years.
3. H.L. Hunt made a million dollars a week for the last forty years of his life.
4. It costs the U.S. government $8,020 to print a million one dollar bills.
5. A common fact says that if you were given a billion dollars the day Christ was born and spent S1,000 a day, you would not yet have spent all your money. If, however, you were given only a million dollars, you would have been out of money by September 28 of the year 3.
6. A million dollars in stacked, new one dollar bills is 357 feet high, twice the height of Niagara Falls.