Probably more than any other man of his time, Jake Ehrlich symbolized San Francisco.
The tough, outspoken little attorney with the snowy crest of linen issuing from his breast pocket, the baroque gold jewelry and the snub-nosed police special in a holster under his arm, was San Francisco in very special ways.
He was San Francisco just as were such men as Sunny Jim Rolph, racing’s Bill Kyne, banking’s Giannini, sportsman Lefty O’Doul and others back to James King of William; all of them sharers of the great gifts of spirit, flair, and that rare quality, class.
People will say when they hear of Jake’s death, "there goes the end of an era." They’ll be right.
In the new world of more lawyerly lawyers—where the dignity bag is concerned—Jake was becoming something of a pleasant, intransigent anachronism.
Fees to $100,000
How many attorneys do you know who would have the gall to ask a $100,000 fee, and get it, and go into court the next morning for free in the defense of a matter that fascinated him?
How many attorneys have you met lately who could keep a courtroom spellbound with wonderfully rococo and sometime valid logic, replete with sound Biblical references and mordant wit?
How many stuck to his convictions ("Help your friends, do it to your enemies") even when they became incongruous it terms of an honor-loaded attorney with paneled offices "in the high rent district" (in his words), and deep and intimate relationships with the good, great and gaudy of his day?
I have known Jake all my life.
As one of the dividends of newspaper work I’ve been with him, or around him, or in some position of privileged spectatorship during most of his best and worst moments.
I wasn’t far away when he his office light fixture had been bugged by the district attorney’s office, ran upstairs to where headphoned investigators listened, threw their electric equipment out the window, where it hung down the Market Street facade of the building until removed by sheepish police.
Then there were the days of the great murder defenses which put him in the money, turned him into the darling of the press and public, and led to national and international fame.
No bashful recluse, Jake loved it all, every minute of the passionately lived adventure that was his life.
Best of all, as he grew older and richer but never duller, he never lost the witty picaresque approach to his profession. The groovy gambit, as he said to me the other day.
As in the case of the young Mafia type charged with a North Beach killing during his salad days.
The number one item of evidence was a topcoat that had been left behind when the suspect took it on the Duffy. It lay on the district attorney’s desk at the adjournment of the preliminary hearing.
Jake casually told his client to "put your coat on, son; it’s cold outside," tucking the exhibition tag under the collar as he helped him on with it. Dismissal.
In bigger cases, in the years to come, he was to exhibit the same wit and flair. Only last week, at 71, he won another one with a series of ploys showing he was still—as he delighted roguishly in calling himself—The Master.
In all the other worldly, hedonistic ways, The Master’s career was passionately interwoven with the warp and woof of the San Francisco way of life; cafes, smart restaurants, the fights and race-track, and the cocktail route of the financial district and Nob Hill. He was no Puritan.
And yet he found time and inclination to draw aloof from both the law and the company of his peer group pf pleasure. A greater religion than his Judaism was his cult of family.
His non-Jewish wife, Marjorie, and he shared a love and understanding not always found among men of more orthodox attitudes. His son, Jake Ehrlich Jr., and he were fast and devoted friends. His daughter, Dora Jane, had his understanding.
The ripples caused by the news of Jake’s death will flow to far and varied places.
Lawyers in other cities throughout the nation will pause and ponder about their colleague’s strange imprint on his times, and maybe a little on their own morality.
Underworld types, and some who will get the news through the prison grapevine more quickly than through this article, will re-examine memories.
Cops and madams, learned judges, young lawyers led by the Ehrlich legend, and law school hacks who’ve been peddling it to their students for decades, will be reached by the ripples.
But none would appreciate the importance of this departure with as much understanding, and humor, and worldly wisdom as the Master himself.
It’s a shame that men can’t attend their own funerals as spectators. And listen to their own eulogies.
A week ago Friday Jake came out to see me. There were drinks, there was music and a lot of the admiring young ladies whom the dapper old attorney so well appreciated. There was also the kind of banter about serious things that are best discussed humorously.
"I’ll outlast you, pardner," he said, with a grin.
"No way, Master. I’ll write your obit."
He thought for a moment.
"In the remote event that you do. . . make it good, man; make it good!"