Despite 'Snobby' Image, Being Bred in Beverly Hills Has Perks
By WENDY J. MADNICK
Only one place in the world could afford the chance to baby-sit Monica Lewinsky and stage-manage a school play starring future "Friends" star David Schwimmer.
Such was the world of Todd Levin, Beverly Hills High Class of '87.
For Levin, now the 34-year-old owner of candy distributor Todd's Inc., growing up in Beverly Hills was marked as much by competitive pressure as privilege.
"I'm just an average everyday Joe who decided to put my neck out on the line and start a business," he says. "That's the only difference between me and the 30 people who work for me."
Though his father Henry was a self-made millionaire who earned his fortune in manufacturing and distribution enterprises like Triple L liquor supplies and Snak King, the tone at home was modest.
"The only stores I remember shopping at in Beverly Hills were Crown Books, Thrifty and maybe Stride Rite," Levin says. "But we would drive all the way out to Culver City and buy our shoes at the Surprise Store.
"It wasn't so much that my dad was being cheap, but he made millions by saving millions," Levin explains.
Levin, the rich kid turned adult, seems none the worse for wear. That's not always the case when a child of wealth grows up and must face the fundamental question about how much he will lean on his or her parents and how much they are willing to contribute.
Growing up wealthy is more than just dollars and cents. It's being raised in a climate of privilege that can sometimes skew perspectives about life.
Take bar mitzvahs.
The Levin family was not terribly religious, but they did belong to Sinai Temple and having a bar mitzvah was a requirement among his parents' milieu. While the post-ceremony parties in 1982 were not as elaborate as many are today, there were a few in those days that were over-the-top.
"I had one friend whose parents had a lot of money and everything they did was extremely lavish," Levin remembers. "He came riding in on a white elephant and the party had a big circus theme, with clowns and jugglers."
Absence and presence
Perhaps because of the hands-on nature of the senior Levin's manufacturing and distribution businesses, growing up was different for Todd than it was for his friends.
"My buddy Adam, his dad was a doctor as well as an attorney and a businessman, and he and another friend's dad were our Cub Scout troop leaders," he recalls. "They were busy doctors and always on call, but they were also real involved in what their kids were doing. But my father's drive was always to put food on the family table."
All of which came at a cost.
"I don't remember a lot of one-on-one time with my father during the week," he says. "There was no cuddling up in front of the TV. On the weekends, if it wasn't my sister in a dance recital or my brother in a baseball game it was me in karate, so I didn't really grow up hanging out with my dad."
While Henry Levin was devoted to business, Todd's mom, Judy, devoted herself to her children, primarily "schlepping my sister to ice skating practice and dance classes," Levin says. His older sister, Bridget Michele, was the Levin who lived the "Beverly Hills 90210" life, working as an actress in the mid-1980s.
It was an understandable path. Comedian Pauly Shore, whose parents, comedian Sammy and Mitzi Shore, started the Comedy Store, was a year or so ahead of him in school. And Levin was the set designer and stage manager for a Beverly Hills High production of "H.M.S. Pinafore" featuring Schwimmer.
Among his neighbors on North Hillcrest Road were Bernie and Marcia Lewinsky, whose daughter Monica ended up in the midst of a national scandal. "Her parents were friends with my parents," Levin says, "and if they went out on a Saturday night, I would baby-sit."
While Levin has been the beneficiary of the quality education afforded by the Beverly Hills public school system and by the wealth that allowed him to live in the district he still feels uncomfortable with the image it relates.
"Everybody thinks it's just like the television show, that we're a bunch of snobs," Levin says. "They think it's something special to go to Beverly Hills High, but the fact is the janitor's kid went to Beverly."
Nevertheless, growing up in an affluent household did have its advantages like helping Levin get started in business.
The senior Levin had consulted for an ailing snack food company where Todd worked during college. Henry helped restore the business to health, and in 1992, just before Todd's graduation from Cal State University, Northridge, the grateful owner offered Henry a chance to buy a 50 percent stake. The deal was about to be struck when Henry, then 70, said he planned to retire shortly and intended to hand his interest over to Todd. The price shot up and the deal fell apart.
"So we walked away and instead he helped me get Todd's started," Levin says.
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