Inspiration for Popular Children's Books now All Grown Up

His mother made him famous through her popular children's books. Now all grown up, Alex Viorst lives a less public life, making loans that help build city neighborhoods and passing on the tales of his youth to his own children.

By: Leslie Milk

Lifestyle editor Leslie Milk can be reached at lmilk@washingtonian.com.

Alexander has come a long way from his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Alex Viorst, whose mother, Judith Viorst, immortalized him in a series of children's books, is now 38, married, a banker, and about to become a father for the third time.

The real Alex grew up in DC's Cleveland Park, the youngest of three brothers. The trials and tribulations his mother describes in the best-selling Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday and other books were exaggerated to deliver the message that all children have mishaps, he says.

How does the adult Alex feel about being singled out? "My mother wrote about all of us," he says. "It was just my turn at the trough."

Nicholas Viorst, 42, is a lawyer living in New York and the star of his mother's books My Mama Says There Aren't Any Zombies, Ghosts, Vampires, Creatures, Demons, Monsters, Fiends, Goblins or Things and I'll Fix Anthony.

Anthony, 44, is also a lawyer; he lives in Denver and had a prominent role in several of his mother's books, including Sunday Morning.

But the star of Viorst's ensemble series is Alexander. The character's fame has always helped in job interviews, Alex admits. And given him a leg up on his older brothers.

"Now I'm a boxed set," he beams.

Alex Viorst went to Georgetown Day School and Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service with every intention of working for a government agency on international economic development. One summer interning on the Hill changed his mind.

Viorst moved his focus closer to home--he is now a specialist in community-development lending in low- to moderate-income city neighborhoods. He started in Chicago and moved back to Washington in 1999 to work for Bank of America. His job: to do deals in tough neighborhoods.

His first deal was for construction of condominiums on U Street. Then there was Woodmont Crossing, the first new apartment building in Anacostia in 37 years. Although he grew up in DC, Viorst had never been to Southeast. What he found was "a lot of good people working hard," he says. And Anacostia residents found a way to move up to better housing without having to move out of their neighborhood.

These weren't charity loans, Viorst stresses. His deals have always been successful the old-fashioned way--they made money.

Viorst recently left Bank of America for MMA Financial, where he still focuses on making loans that build city neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the fictional Alexander is going strong. By 1998, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day had sold more than 2 million copies. That's when composer Shelly Markham approached Judith Viorst about collaborating on a musical for children based on the book. It opened at Kennedy Center in November 1998 and has been produced around the country.

Alex Viorst does read the Alexander books to his daughter, Olivia. She has an Alexander doll--although her father likes to call it an "intimidating action figure."

He has only one quarrel with his writer mother. The Alexander she wrote about fell out of trees, broke his wrist, knocked out his front teeth, and generally seemed a little klutzy. The real-life Alex is an athlete who has competed in triathlons and mountain-bike races like the Shenandoah Mountain 100.

Judith Viorst recently told an interviewer that Alex took part in a "mini triathlon"--a nonexistent event that is an insult to a true competitor.

"I hate it when she gets that wrong," Alex says.