What is your full name?
Kamran (pronounced Kum-run) Elghanayan. Kamran is Iranian. I was born in Iran, and so was Henry. Henry’s name is actually Houchang (pronounced Who-shang).
Why don’t you go by your first name?
It’s just too big a handful — Kamran Elghanayan — you know, spelling it 30 times a day. Actually, I really got the name Tommy in grade school. My name was Kamran, and the short name for Kamran was Kammy (pronounced Commee) in Persian. And so there I was, I was going to school in Forest Hills in the early ’50s with the name Kammy, and all the kids used to make fun of me. That was when the whole Red Scare, Communist thing was going on. So my teacher said, ‘We’re not going to call you Kammy anymore, we’re going to call you Tommy,’ because it sounded like Kammy, and her husband’s name was Tommy.
What’s your birth date?
August 5, 1945.
How old are your siblings?
Fred is 58. Henry is like 66. Jeffrey is — I always think of him as being a baby — he’s like 52. I have a sister, Lili, who is — she wouldn’t want me to say this — one year older than me.
How old do you feel?
I feel like I’m 30. I work out a lot. I go at things with a lot of gusto. I work very hard. I play very hard. I just got divorced a couple of years ago, finalized in August of 2006.
That must have really changed your life.
It was a jarring experience. I was married for 29 years.
Do you have kids?
A daughter, who is 30, married, has a child, so I’m a grandfather. And I have a son who’s 24.
How old were you when you came to this country?
I was 4 years old. I have no memories of Iran at all.
Where did you grow up?
I’d have to say I grew up in Forest Hills, though I never felt part of Forest Hills. I went to grade school there at P.S. 101 until fifth or sixth grade. By the way, [we] lived on Rockrose Place in Forest Hills, Queens. That’s where the name Rockrose came from. Then I went to [the now-shuttered] Nyack Boys School, a boarding school; and then to Blair Academy, a boarding school in [Blairstown] New Jersey. So I was always sort of a transient.
Why’d you go to boarding school?
My father was traveling a lot, back and forth to Tehran [Iran]. I don’t think my mother could really cope. We were five kids.
What was the first job you ever had?
I was a camp counselor at a sleep-away camp.
Where do you live?
I live on 72nd and Madison in a co-op.
Do you have any other homes?
A house out in Southampton. I bought all these things [the homes in Manhattan and Southampton] since I got divorced. When I was married, I lived at Fifth Avenue in the 70s, and I had a house in East Hampton.
Do you feel like you’re American?
I’m American — 100 percent. Look, I relate to my father some, but he’s very Persian and has strong emotional ties to the place. But I think even that has weakened because when they had the revolution, they executed my uncle [Habib Elghanayan] when the ayatollah came to Iran. My uncle was the leader of the Jewish community in Iran.
What’s the best advice you received from your parents?
When I got married, my father took me for a walk around the block, and he said, ‘Kammy, I want to tell you three things that you should do when you’re married. First, you should always wear pajamas at night; second, always have a separate bathroom; third, never tell your wife anything about your business.’ Now, the last two things I can understand, and they turned out to be good advice. The first thing about the pajamas — I’m still a little puzzled about (laughs). I think what he may have meant — I should ask him before he dies — is that we have a lot of body hair, me and my brothers, and maybe he felt that that would frighten women.
How many times have you been married?
Once. I’m now engaged to a girl [Madeline Hult, 37, a sales director at Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group] I met subsequent to the divorce.
How did you meet?
She [was] a sales agent for a building at 165 Charles Street. I went down there to look around when I was looking for an apartment.
Have you ever lived in a Rockrose building?
Actually, I’ve had two stints at the Fairfax [at 201 East 69th Street and Third Avenue], first when I got divorced — when I was leaving the house — and then afterwards, after I bought the apartment that I’m living in now, when I was renovating it, for three or four months.
What was your rent?
I was paying, I think, $8,700.
Why wouldn’t you live there rent-free?
We have a rule here, me and my brothers, because we have lots of relatives, lots of friends, lots of kids: Everyone pays market rate, no matter what.
How do you travel to work?
By the subway, because the subway stops literally 20 feet from the entrance to my office on 22nd Street and Park Avenue South. Sometimes I drive or take a cab.
How do you measure success?
Whether you’ve lived according to your own ethical standard you’ve set yourself and also according to the absolute standard of the whole community.
Are you successful?
By that standard, yes. Just on a financial basis, I’d say I’m pretty successful, too. Have I been successful as a father and a husband and those other things? I think I’ve been successful as a father. I don’t think I was that great a husband.
Interview by Lauren Elkies