Paul Goldenberg avoided playgrounds and sports while he was growing up, because he lacked athletic prowess. He spent hours in the cool darkness of a movie house.
In the central Los Angeles of the '30s, where his parents had little money to spare, Goldenberg scrounged for pop bottles, collecting enough deposits to pay for weekend film marathons. From Friday to Sunday, he lived vicariously, absorbed in the characters portrayed by Clark Gable and Groucho Marx.
Several cousins also lived in his parents' modest home. Its backyard was shaded by fruit trees, enriched by a flock of 40 chickens. He was 16 when his father, Joe, a one-time attorney toiling as a shipyard accountant, died. While sitting shiva, nearly every man in the neighborhood shared an anecdote with the teenager about his father's open heart that freely dispensed advice or a sack of avocados.
Goldenberg's private passion for film would play a formative role in his later financial success as proprietor of Paul's TV and his alter-ego, "The King of Big Screen." But his father was equally influential in Goldenberg's evolution into one of the state's largest political contributors and as a major donor to numerous nonprofit groups.
On Sept. 10, the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA) in Reseda will honor Goldenberg at a gala, along with Lisa and Ernest Auerbach and Jerry Kayne. Goldenberg helped fund the home's newest $13 million building, its design reflecting the latest research on Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and pledged another $2 million toward a $52 million nursing-home expansion, which will trim the facility's 350-person waiting list by 40 percent.
"I can't think of anything more worthwhile than the home in Reseda," said Goldenberg, whose cousin, Israel Murstein, is a resident, as was another cousin, the late Betty Klein.
"It is nicer than any hotel you've ever been in," he said of the Alzheimer's home for 96 residents, known as the Goldenberg-Ziman Special Care Center.
"He gets it," said Molly Forrest, chief executive of the Jewish Home, which was singled out in March by state licensing authorities for its perfect certification survey. "The elderly in our community have to have a quality facility."
Goldenberg's gold mine is Paul's TV & Video in La Habra; far-better known throughout Southern California is Goldenberg's advertising boast as the self-proclaimed champion of big-screen television sales.
"I am the king," he declares in newspaper, billboard and radio spots that tout big-screen sales of more than 100,000 units.
For the 19th straight year, Japan's Mitsubishi Electric Corporation named Paul's as the biggest single-store seller of its big-screen TVs.
Goldenberg won't say how much business he does. The store's modest size and appearance often surprise first-time visitors. Equally surprising is its staffing. On a recent weekday, five salesmen manned a showroom smaller than the typical suburban home. To keep its pledge of four-hour delivery, Paul's maintains a 30-truck fleet for installers that travel from Ventura to Carlsbad.
"I'm very dedicated to the idea that customers should get what they pay for," Goldenberg said. "With a chain of five or 10 stores, it's very hard to know what's going on with customer satisfaction."
The late Jack Lawlor, who owned an advertising agency and believed Paul's could attain regional prominence, created the trumped-up title.
"He was like an Olympic coach who pushed me to go farther than I ever would have," said Goldenberg, who got his start by borrowing $1,000 from his cousins to open a TV repair shop in Los Angeles.
In 1979, when Mitsubishi introduced the first big-screen TVs, Paul's was one of the first takers, a confidence buoyed by Goldenberg's own love for cinema.
"I was among the first to recognize their potential for bringing a movie-like experience into the home," he said.
TVs aren't the only things on display at Paul's. Alongside the king's crown, under an acrylic cube, are photos of Goldenberg with former Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. It keeps company with the 138-page bound script for "Terminator 2," signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger; commemorative plaques for La Habra firefighters; a letter of thanks from Cardinal Roger Mahoney; and a signed Kobe Bryant jersey. More signed celebrity photos line two walls.
Goldenberg, 75, is divorced. His son, Doug, is a botanist-biologist for the federal Bureau of Land Management. If there is a Paul's succession plan, Goldenberg is unwilling to share it.
"I wouldn't have any challenger," he deadpanned.
"The store has allowed me to fulfill some of my dreams to help people who are less fortunate than I," said Goldenberg, who's also backed candidates with views similar to his own. (His personal self-indulgences include a red Ferrari and Dodger seats behind home plate.) He supports the California Highway Patrol 11-99 Foundation and chairs its scholarship committee, which awarded $1.2 million to 700 students this year.
"He has a big heart," said Pam Anspach Colletti, a counselor at La Habra's Sonora High School, where Goldenberg personally hands out $500 student scholarships. He's awarded 40 between two schools last spring. He also underwrites an annual trip for 10 students to Washington, D.C., from Los Angeles' Dorsey High, his alma mater.
"He has a wonderful spirit of giving in that he recognizes how blessed he is," said Juan M. Garcia, La Habra's mayor. "It makes him feel good. He has more than he'll ever need."
A recent recipient of Goldenberg's charity is Duarte's City of Hope, a cancer research and treatment center. Last year, Goldenberg observed the facility firsthand during a friend's illness.
"He stepped up to the plate and said he wanted to help," said Richard Leonard, a senior development officer at City of Hope, where Goldenberg is funding an elevated walkway. "He's got a sense of tzedakah; he knows what's just in his heart."
Though he considers himself Jewish, Goldenberg acknowledges his synagogue attendance is irregular.
"In Torah, it says God loves the just man. There's nothing about God loving the man who goes to synagogue. I've tried my best to be a just man."
For more information on Jewish Home for the Aging, call (818) 774-3000 or visit www.jha.org .