‘Man in Full’ Hits Home for Atlantans
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‘Man in Full’ Hits Home for Atlantans

Netflix’s release of the “Man in Full” series leaves us guessing about the real characters so beloved by Atlantans -- even if they were risk takers and “lived life large.”

After 37 years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now with the AJT, , Jaffe’s focus is lifestyle, art, dining, fashion, and community events with emphasis on Jewish movers and shakers.

Glowing at their wedding day, fourth wife, Joanne, shared some wild adventures with Charlie. Rabbi Phil Krantz performed the ceremony.
Glowing at their wedding day, fourth wife, Joanne, shared some wild adventures with Charlie. Rabbi Phil Krantz performed the ceremony.

Will the real Charlie Ackerman please stand up? In 1998, author Tom Wolfe had Southern drawls awaggin’ with the publication of 742-page novel, “Man in Full,” billed as Southern fiction.

With award-winning “Bonfire of the Vanities” behind him, and with his Jewish wife in tow, Wolfe stormed his way through Atlanta courting power brokers and modeling characters ranging from egotists, visionaries, politicians, and wheelers alongside a snapshot of race relations in the city labeled “too busy to hate.”

Twenty-six years later, Netflix premiered “Man in Full,” starring a crass desperate Jeff Daniels portraying Charlie “Crocker” … who is even more bizarre than the protagonist in the book. The bigger inner circle buzzing question … “Is Crocker, the real estate high roller, based on Temple Sinai and Berman Commons (and tons of others) benefactor, Charlie Ackerman?” and “Is Sam Massell the mayor?” Neither Wolfe, Ackerman, nor Massell is alive to deny; but with some snooping, the pieces don’t necessarily conform.

Netflix’s “Charlie” is unhinged as he fears forfeiting his properties back to the bank. He grabs rattlesnakes with bare hands, his language is foul, he’s dishonest and vindictive, yet he runs the show like he owns it. Inner circle friend of local Charles Ackerman, Freddie Halperin, said, “We had some wild times together buying a racehorse (winning by a nose at Kenland!), running the Peachtree Road Race then immediately heading out to the Isle of Rhodes. The problem was Charlie got in a fight with his date, and totally rerouted the yacht to arrange her ‘hasty’ exit. He could be mercurial, yes, he was a risk taker, but he was an honest businessman who traveled the world; and although properties went under, here and there, he never was desperate to the extent of Crocker in the series.”

Charlie Ackerman’s former wife, Joanne, still has the original “Man in Full” inscription by Tom Wolfe.

Perhaps the real truth teller is Ackerman’s fourth wife, Joanne, to whom he was married the longest (25 years). His first wife was a Cherokee Indian and now resides in Buckhead. She recalled when Tom Wolfe came to town, wined and dined the couple as “he was fascinated by Charlie. We went to Art Basel with them. The book’s character was a collection of many men, Tom Cousins, John Portman, Herman Russell, in addition to my Charlie … even Charles Loudermilk (Aaron Rents mogul). In the book, there’s one scene with the character looking out at the skyline, pointing and naming these various men.”

Upon Ackerman’s demise, Massell said, “As far as I’m concerned, Ackerman should be credited with creating the skyline of Buckhead.” He built Tower Place in what was at the time a residential area just a block from Peachtree and Piedmont. Similar to Crocker’s travails, Ackerman later lost the development to the bank.

Although they were divorced at the time of his death, Joanne states that she did not want the divorce and would have remained to care for him as his Parkinson’s progressed. Both strong personalities, she said, “Charlie knew he could not brow beat me. He was not vulgar like Crocker in Netflix, nor did he use foul language. I was warned when we were dating that ‘he was a snake in the grass.’ Oh. I could not stand Jeff Daniels’ fake accent. Nothing like Charlie.”

Labeling Ackerman as a genius, Joanne recalled that he was respected because in doing big deals, he did not take a “cut” off the top, as was/is common practice.

In this writer’s last interview with Mayor Sam Massell, when asked if he was featured in “Man in Full,” he responded “loosely.” More recently, son Steve Massell recalled, “All I know is dad did not like Tom Wolfe blowing into town all dressed up snooty and snazzy looking for material.”

Halperin said that Ackerman, during all his success here, went to Georgia State to earn a degree in anthropology. According to a reliable source, “What’s even more outrageous, Ackerman wanted to spend two months driving around India. So, he ran a countrywide ad for a female companion, got 1000 responses, and ended up selecting a local gal who was way younger. They just happened to fall in love, too. Actually, she showed up at his funeral.”

Joanne, who was 15 years Ackerman’s junior, said, “For our honeymoon, we went for three months to Africa. While climbing Mt. Kenya, Charlie left me (out of competitiveness). I got caught in a dense fog. I almost got lost but chose the correct path when put to the test. I was furious with him for putting me in danger. As his way of apologizing, he tried to buy me a 50-karat topaz gemstone, which I refused.”

But was she the blonde young Netflix wife? Joanne demurred, “Almost everyone had blonde wives.”

Ackerman died in 2017 at age 84. A native New Yorker, he picked Atlanta for its growth potential. Massell said, “I couldn’t imagine someone moving to a city, jumping into real estate without knowing the streets, restaurants or synagogues … but his decision was our good fortune.”

Netflix, “Shmetflix,” sometimes the truth is more “mercurial” than fiction, sans the vulgarity.

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