Join hosts Orlando Montoya and Peter Biello as they dive into the fascinating life of Asa 'Buddy' Candler Jr., the eccentric son of Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler, in this episode of Narrative Edge. Discover the bizarre yet captivating story of Buddy Candler, whose life of inherited wealth led to a series of spectacular ventures and notorious failures, from racing cars and airplanes to launching a prep school on a ship and contributing to Atlanta's major institutions. Sara Butler, author of Fortune and Folly: The Weird and Wonderful Life of an Eccentric Millionaire, shares insights into Buddy’s audacious ideas and the lasting impact of his unconventional legacy. 

Fortune and Folly: The Weird and Wonderful Life of an Eccentric Millionaire
Credit: University of Georgia Press


Orlando Montoya: Coming up in this episode. You know, he's again, this very bored rich man of The Great Gatsby era with a top hat and cigar.

Sara Butler: I think eccentric millionaires tap into a part of us that yearn to be able to take big risks without consequences.

Peter Biello: Everything watered by Coca Cola apparently.

Orlando Montoya: It's our holy water. May God bless you. This podcast from Georgia Public Broadcasting highlights books with Georgia Connections, hosted by two of your favorite public radio book nerds, who also happen to be your hosts of All Things Considered on GPB radio. I'm Orlando Montoya.

Peter Biello: And I'm Peter Biello. Thanks for joining us as we introduce you to authors, their writings, and the insights behind the stories mixed with our own thoughts and ideas on just what gives these works the Narrative Edge. All right, Orlando, tell me what you've been reading lately.

Orlando Montoya: Well, for this selection, I went into the biography section and I picked out a biography of a very rich man with a famous last name in Georgia. But this is not an ordinary rich man's story. It is a strange story. It's right there in the title of the book. It's called Fortune and Folly: The Weird and Wonderful Life of an Eccentric Millionaire by Sara Butler. And it's all about Asa Candler, Jr. Also known as Buddy Candler.

Peter Biello: Candler? Okay, of the Coca-Cola Candlers.

Orlando Montoya: This is the son of the Coca-Cola founder, okay, Asa Candler. So this is his son and namesake. And Asa Candler, the father. His is an All-American story, a farm boy with a firm work ethic, strong religious beliefs, a savvy businessman. He's a marketing mastermind, and he makes millions of millions of dollars. The son, however, Buddy, this is an American story, too. But it's sort of the story of what happens when you inherit wealth, what happens when you can do whatever you want. It's all about pomposity, narcissism, conspicuous consumption. But it's also where some great Atlanta institutions began.

Peter Biello: Oh, interesting. I have questions about parenting when it comes to inheritances like that, but I digress. I want to ask about the institutions. What institutions are you talking about?

Orlando Montoya: Well, in this book, we're going to get the origin stories of Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, Emory University, Fox Theater, Zoo Atlanta, West View Cemetery, and the Clermont Hotel, if I can remember those all. And oh, by the way, in this book, we also get cameo appearances and side stories about Harry Houdini, booze running from Haiti during prohibition, the Atlanta Crackers baseball team, and a murder suicide at Buddy's estate.

Peter Biello: That's cool. So for those who aren't from Atlanta, Orlando just named a lot of Atlanta things. If you're if you're curious, just go to the Atlanta Wikipedia page. I guess they'll all be there. The zoo, etc..

Orlando Montoya: He is the Atlanta thing.

Peter Biello: Everything watered by Coca-Cola. Apparently.

Orlando Montoya: It's our holy water. May God bless you.

Peter Biello: Well, where to even start with all this? Maybe. Is there a timeline? You mentioned prohibition. So are we talking about the 1920s and 1930s?

Orlando Montoya: Yeah, the 1920s and 1930s is sort of Buddy's high life, but the book goes back to his childhood. He was born in 1880. He was schooled at Emory when Emory wasn't located in Atlanta. It was located in Oxford, Georgia, east of Atlanta, and it follows his marriage, his growing family, his young, professional business life. And so by the time we get to the 1910s, he's 30 years old. And there are some clear indications at this time of his life that Buddy is not going to be like his father. He is not going to be a typical businessman. He's not going to have typical interests and pursuits. And Sara Butler just calls him at this point, weird.

Sara Butler: I like to tell my kids that weird changes the world, that anything that ever changed the world started out weird, big, audacious, and but he did that. He came up with ideas that, on the surface, were just weird. Right? When he came up with the idea for the Speedway, people weren't driving cars around here. Everybody thought that was a flash in the pan fad. Everything he did airplanes, he brought airplanes in when they were just a spectacle. Weird changes the world. He thought about big weird ideas, audacious ideas. And I think what we should learn from that is entertain those ideas, because sometimes big things come from them.

Peter Biello: So talking about the Atlanta Motor Speedway there.

Orlando Montoya: Not the Atlanta Motor Speedway. She's actually talking about Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, which started as a speedway. Okay. So what's now ATL, the world's busiest airport? That land was sold to the city to use as an airport after it was buddy's failed motor speedway venture. Now, a word you're going to hear me using a lot is failed. But he had a lot of failures. But he had a lot of successes, too, and he was fascinated with new technology, whether it be cars, whether it be airplanes. He had a bunch of big cars. You know, rich man got to have big cars.

Peter Biello: Yeah. For sure. Well, let me ask you too, because he had a lot of failures. He had a lot of successes, but he also had the leeway to try. Right? I mean, a guy with weird ideas is just a guy with weird ideas. Until you give him money.

Orlando Montoya: That's. Yeah, that's exactly what, Sara Butler says.

Sara Butler: I think eccentric millionaires tap into a part of us that yearn to be able to take big risks without consequences. We look at people who are eccentric and have the money to be able to do wild things. And there's a little bit of this living vicariously through it. I think it's one of the reasons for the, you know, popularity of flex culture and in social media for, you know, MTV cribs, even Willy Wonka is sort of a story of somebody eccentric doing something wild with money that none of us would ever be able to do. And I think that's attractive.

Peter Biello: And so he's Willy Wonka, he's of of bygone era.

Orlando Montoya: He's the Willy Wonka of Atlanta. He was strange, eccentric, millionaire. And well, there's so many stories, like you said, where do we start? I mean, why don't we start with the cars? Okay. Because we were on the motor Speedway. And he had all these cars, one of which was a 1910, 45 horsepower model H Lozier called Briarcliff.

Peter Biello: That's a familiar word for Atlantans. Okay.

Orlando Montoya: Yeah. So the name Briarcliff, we get Briarcliff Estate. He named his yacht Briarcliff. He named everything Briarcliff. And it all came from this car that he had. And he raced his cars. He hired racers to race his cars. He hired pilots to race his airplanes. But in 1909, he and his friends by land near Hapeville, south of Atlanta to build this huge racetrack and later promote a race there in 1909. This was supposed to be the biggest race, the best race ever. He got famous drivers at the time to come to the race, but it turned into big trouble.

Peter Biello: Trouble? How so?

Orlando Montoya: Well, there were wrecks for sure. Yeah, nice big fiery wrecks. But the races themselves were a success. But the bigger problem was more of the business aspect of it and the financial aspect of it. There was a falling out among the business partners in this speedway venture over petty, petty stuff. And this produced a lot of bad press for buddy. His name was dragged through the mud and there was a lot of debt left over. So with no big race to follow, the speedway was foreclosed upon. It became Candler Airfield. Which then became Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Peter Biello: And so was he into airplanes at that point as well, or.

Orlando Montoya: Yeah, whatever was new. He came along okay.

Peter Biello: He was one of the he was a gadget guy back in the day.

Orlando Montoya: He would have been a tech bro right now. So he had his personal pilot who would race his planes. But sort of turning point came in 1916 when the Candler children inherit Coca-Cola and the kids cash out, they become mega, mega rich, spreading their money around. And a few years later, Buddy approaches Alderman William Hartsfield in Atlanta about leasing and eventually buying Candler Field in terms favorable to the city. And that becomes ATL.

Peter Biello: So that was a flop that turned into something good. But I imagine he might have had some flops that were just flops, right? 

Orlando Montoya: A lot of failures, like I said. It's hard to imagine anyone but a son of the founder of Coca-Cola failing so much and still getting people to believe in his wild ideas. And one of my favorite stories is The Floating School.

Sara Butler: This audacious idea of buying a transport ship, naming it after himself, and launching a prep school for boys to sail around the world. He actually, got a lot of wealthy men in the Atlanta area on board with it, Cator Woolford being probably the most well known name of, he he, of course, started the company that eventually became Equifax. None of his family invested, I think is notable. He spent $250,000 of 1924 money to buy a U.S. Army transport ship, immediately renamed it the S.S. Candler, and sailed it over to Charleston to be refitted to become a school.

Orlando Montoya: But it eventually didn't pan out financially.

Sara Butler: I would say shorter, shorter span than even eventually. Very quickly, it didn't pan out. The financial model just didn't make sense. He advertised the tuition and the enrollment. And if you do the math, there's no way this thing was ever going to turn a profit. So within a year, maybe a year and a half, that he had the thing very quietly melted down for scrap.

Orlando Montoya: Would you want to attend a prep school on a ship that goes around the world?

Peter Biello: I mean, I don't wanna attend anything on boats. I've heard enough about plague barges and whatnot that I just don't want to get on them, so I just. But yeah, but I mean, there are worse things that you could do on a boat than go to school.

Orlando Montoya: It sounded like fun for the rich. Well, another favorite story of mine was the Fox Theater. And I don't know how much you know about the Fox.

Peter Biello: I know close to nothing.

Orlando Montoya: So if you don't know anything, check out GPB's very own special that we produced on the Fox Theater called The Fabulous Fox. You can watch it on YouTube, actually.

Peter Biello: But Candler had a role in creating it.

Orlando Montoya: Well, yeah. The theater started out in 1928 as a headquarters for the Shriners. Okay, so that's how it gets all that, like Egyptian, mosque, Middle Eastern theme. Okay. It was this. It was supposed to be this grand, grand thing.

Sara Butler: He, headed up the, financial planning committee. So he's the one that laid out all of the financial planning of how they were going to build it. It's one of the reasons that it was such a big plan, which is one of the reasons why ultimately the organization couldn't afford to finish it. So, yeah, I mean, he was directly involved, but he rallied people and raised a lot of money that ultimately still wasn't enough to complete the project.

Orlando Montoya: So it was sort of a flop because it didn't turn out to be a Shriners thing, but it actually turned into something good. You know, this is his whole life story. He wants everything to be the biggest, the best. He's this wild promoter. He couldn't have any venture or hobby without some kind of superlative. And all these tall tales about what this new venture is going to be. Even his farm was going to be the state of the art, a farm with cow drinking fountains, you know, automated, automated cow drinking fountains. And and he got into magic, too. And this, you know, we can go on and on about all these hobbies. But he got into magic and he claimed to have gotten tricks from Harry Houdini.

Peter Biello: So just to be clear, he's a guy who inherited a lot of money and is obsessed with having the biggest, the best, the largest crowds ever, perhaps. Yeah. Yeah, that sounds somewhat familiar that I can't quite place it.

Orlando Montoya: Well, the way the way the AJC put it was that he was a blowhard and a wastrel, and I, I don't know where they found those two words, but I like them. He was a liar and he was a failure, but people were just drawn to him.

Sara Butler: I think a lot of it had to do with him being a very charismatic person. Just reported from friends and family. He was just very likable, and I think he had a way of getting people excited and getting on board. I do want to say that, yes, he his legacy is marked by a lot of failure, but Atlanta's skyline is kind of shaped by his failure. There are a lot of institutions that we wouldn't have if he hadn't swung big and failed in the long run. We still have a lot of his ideas. We wouldn't have the airport. We wouldn't have the famous Clermont Hotel without him.

Peter Biello: Okay, Clermont Hotel, not the Clermont Lounge, which, Google if you're not at work, but Clermont Hotel in particular.

Orlando Montoya: Well, it's one building.

Peter Biello: That's one building.

Orlando Montoya: It started out as an apartment building in 1924, owned or managed by buddy's real estate company that later became a hotel and lounge. And, you know, I'll decline from talking further about Clermont Hotel and.

Peter Biello: Lounge, okay?

Orlando Montoya: For fear of talking about infamous strippers or something.

Peter Biello: There you go. Okay. Well, you mentioned that he had hobbies. Magic. We need to talk about this magic. So he like to say he was taught by Harry Houdini. Is that what you said?

Orlando Montoya: No. He. His company had an office in New York in which Harry Houdini was a tenant. And he quite possibly could have met Harry Houdini.

Peter Biello: Okay. Bumped into him in the hallway and suddenly knows magic.

Orlando Montoya: So there's there's no doubt that, you know, he met Harry Houdini at some point, but these tales of. Oh, Harry Houdini taught me this. You know his last trick. You know, it's crazy. But he had he had interest in baseball, pipe organs, exotic animals. He went on African safaris. You know, he's again, this very bored, rich man of the Great Gatsby era with a top hat and cigar. And what I like about Butler's treatment is that she goes into detail, meticulous research. I didn't tell you, but this is the first ever biography of Asa Candler Jr. And so there was a lot of living descendants. There's a lot of family lore out there, stories handed down from one person to another.

Sara Butler: But there was family lore, but a lot of what I was trying to unpack was what Atlanta remembers of him. So there were all of these rumors out there about how, you know, buddy's ghost haunts his mansion, and he would get drunk and glare at people. And, you know, he buried elephants all over Druid Hills. None of that was true. And so, teasing apart, what was myth versus reality was the main driver of this project. Originally, this wasn't going to be a book. All I wanted to do was know what was true.

Peter Biello: Is it not true or did we just not find the elephant? They're still out there? Yeah.

Orlando Montoya: There's some ground penetrating radar in Druid Hills.

Peter Biello: So. All right, so I know you were a tour guide in Savannah for many years, and a lot of what you're telling me. You know, the elephants, the Claremont Hotel stuff sounds like tour guide kind of stories. What do you make of her storytelling? Is it sort of in the genre of tour guide stuff?

Orlando Montoya: I think she's amazing because she debunks myths. You know, back in Savannah, I took great pleasure in debunking myths that were repeated.

Peter Biello: Oh, what a killjoy of a tour guide. You got to just elaborate on the myths and build them up.

Orlando Montoya: Well, she starts with facts. And when there's no evidence, she says there's no evidence. She gives an interpretation. She makes sure that everybody knows it's an interpretation. She offers alternative explanations. And she does this all in a very conversational style. It's fast moving. She's got these repeating themes that come up that I enjoy. And all the way to the end, there's a new chapter, there's something new, but always sort of repeating.

Peter Biello: So ultimately she'd say, that's what you want a biography to do. Not the crazy tour guide stuff I just mentioned. But, what, in your opinion, gives this book the narrative edge?

Orlando Montoya: All that stuff that I was just talking about. The great conversation, the the storytelling, the the facts. It's the way she tells the story and the story itself. I sort of got interested in I picked up the book because I had been on Cumberland Island. I know I had, I've been on the coast for many years, and I'd been to Cumberland Island, and the Candler family had property out there, which I had visited. Now, this was another branch of the Candler family. Buddy had never been to Cumberland Island, but that how? That's how it got me interested in the story. But, you know, there's all of these other eccentric millionaires that we hear stories about Howard Hughes. Let's name some more Richard Branson, Leona Helmsley, Elon Musk, you know, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leach. You know, we all want to stare at this lifestyle, even though they're crazy. They're lunatics. But, you know, we're just sort of drawn to them.

Peter Biello: I wanted to ask about the parenting that that he received when he was a kid. What was it like? Was he just completely indulged or ignored? And it seems like his whims were just allowed to develop where they where they would.

Orlando Montoya: Well, yeah. He had the support of his rich father, who gave him plum positions within the company. The companies, I should say it wasn't just Coca-Cola, but there was like a cotton mill and and other things. But as far as the childhood is concerned, a butler really goes into the difference between the two brothers, Howard and Asa junior, aka buddy, with the father always, you know, sort of making excuses for him. But Howard was more of the straight-and-narrow one. He was always trying to. Maybe I get the impression that he was always kind of trying to live up to the father and not really getting there.

Peter Biello: Well, fascinating story. The book is called Fortune and Folly: The Weird and Wonderful Life of an Eccentric Millionaire by Sarah Butler. Orlando, thanks for telling me about it.

Orlando Montoya: It's been a great pleasure. Thanks. Thanks for listening to Narrative Edge. We'll be back in two weeks with a brand-new episode. This podcast is a production of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Find us online at

Peter Biello: You can also catch us on the daily GPB News podcast Georgia Today for a concise update on the latest news in Georgia. For more on that and all of our podcasts, go to