Old Westbury tinkerer Marvin Middlemark invented the “rabbit ears” TV antenna in 1953, helping millions of Americans get the fuzz, or some of it, out of their pre-cable television reception. Though not completely original – the design was based on the dipole antenna invented by Heinrich Hertz in 1886 – the update made Middlemark a wealthy man.
Middlemark was awarded 62 patents in his lifetime, but his other inventions, including a water-powered potato peeler and a technique for resuscitating gone-soft tennis balls, didn’t muster the same commercial appeal. He sold his antenna company, All Channel Products Corp., in the mid-1960s, parked the proceeds in municipal bonds, and retired to his wooded 12-acre estate, where he kept miniature horses, collected stained glass windows and housed a pet chimpanzee named Josie who liked to finish unwary guests’ drinks.
Middlemark died in 1989, leaving behind a $5 million fortune and, inexplicably, 1,000 pairs of woolen gloves. His son, second wife and her son from another marriage fought over the will for years. Highlights: Planted drugs and weapons, death threats and at least one choking attempt. And all that was by the widow. The stepson, a prominent North Hempstead political operative, pleaded guilty to perjury and was sentenced to two years in jail.
“Every lawyer has read ‘Bleak House,’ ” Neal Johnston, an attorney for Middlemark’s son said at the time. “This is as close as I’ve come to living it.”
Fittingly, perhaps, Middlemark’s set-top antenna ultimately lost its market to the advances of another prominent Long Islander – cable pioneer Charles Dolan.