November 14, 2007 | 1:36 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
The religion angle here is tenuous—the subject once played on Pepperdine’s baseball team—but the Wall Street Journal has a story today about one of L.A.‘s most recognizable homeless men, John Wesley Jermyn. He’s known as the “Crazy Robertson,” and this year an overpriced clothing brand was created in his honor (that might not be the right word).
Among locals and online, there’s much speculation about Mr. Jermyn’s personal history, including one oft-repeated rumor that he’s a secretive millionaire.
In a plot twist worthy of Tinseltown, Mr. Jermyn now has a clothing label named after him. Since it was introduced last month, “The Crazy Robertson” brand of T-shirts and sweatshirts, created by a trio of 23-year-olds, has flown off the shelves at Kitson, a haunt of tabloid stars like Paris Hilton. The clothes feature stylized images of Mr. Jermyn, including one design—available on a $98 hoodie—that has a graphic of him dancing and the phrase “No Money, No Problems” on the back. At the largest of Kitson’s three boutiques on Robertson, shirts bearing Mr. Jermyn’s likeness are sold alongside $290 “Victoria Beckham” jeans and $50 baby shoes designed by pop star Gwen Stefani.
Mr. Jermyn’s slide into homelessness is a painful subject for his sister Beverly. And so is the clothing deal. She believes “The Crazy Robertson” founders are exploiting her brother’s condition to build their brand. “I think these guys saw an opportunity and they took it,” she says. “I am not happy with the arrangement.”
Ms. Jermyn, who lives close to the alley where Mr. Jermyn sleeps, says her brother has a form of schizophrenia. He refuses to take medication, she says, despite suffering from fits of shouting and cursing. In the years since his condition began deteriorating in the late 1970s, “he slipped through my fingers like sand,” says Ms. Jermyn, 64, who manages facilities for Oracle Corp.
In the late 1980s she testified in court in a proceeding to force her brother to seek help, but psychological evaluators found him “lucid and gracious,” according to Ms. Jermyn. She has made countless attempts to provide him with shelter and therapy, and she still visits him twice a week with food. She also pays for his cellphone and collects his Social Security checks on his behalf.
Mr. Jermyn was raised in Hancock Park, a historic L.A. neighborhood that’s home to some of the city’s wealthiest families. His father managed one of L.A.‘s largest Chevrolet dealerships.
A star athlete in high school, Mr. Jermyn was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 1969 Major League Baseball draft. He attended Pepperdine University and played a season for a Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor-league team in Bellingham, Wash. (He hit just .205 and made 12 errors in 63 games, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.)
Joel John Roberts, chief executive of People Assisting the Homeless, which provides shelters for L.A.‘s street residents, says the branding of Mr. Jermyn is “like designing a line of clothing patterned after Iraqi refugees fleeing the war.”
Here is a video of Jermyn’s dance-skating.
(Hat tip: LAObserved.)
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