I Shut Down New York City

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Television commercials require quite a bit of planning to come in on-time and on-budget. Television commercials shot on location require even more planning. But, no matter how well one plans, anything that can go wrong…will.

The 1982 Honda Accord was restyled and featured some new technology. Accords were now being built in the U.S. Auto writers were calling it an engineering wonder. The decision was made to produce a TV commercial having Burgess Meredith discuss the Accord’s ad_honda_accord_hatchback_blue_1982engineering mastery while the vehicle was filmed cruising past notable U.S. engineering wonders: The Hoover Dam, The St. Louis Arch, The Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

The shoot would require precise planning as the film crew and the vehicle would move the shoot across the U.S. Time was money even back then. A small group of agency people would accompany the flying circus. We would shoot one location for a day. We’d then wrap the location and put the vehicle on a car prep truck to meet us at the next destination. The agency was represented by the writers and art directors who conceived the spot, an agency producer who had worked up the budget and schedule with production company, and an agency technical specialist who made sure that the vehicle was properly prepped for each shot. The producer and production company were also responsible for getting all the necessary permits from the local governments for shooting and traffic control. I went along as the “designated suit.”  This was an account person who would have the opportunity to fall on his career sword if anything went wrong.

We left Los Angeles and headed to Henderson, Nevada, full of optimism and high spirits. The Accord looked smashing as it drove across the top of the Hoover Dam. The footage was “in the can,” and after a brief cultural visit to Las Vegas, we set out for St. Louis.

White, puffy clouds greeted us in St. Louis. The helicopter camera caught great views of the car passing the St. Louis Arch. We wrapped and took off for New York City.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, it was named after Giovanni da Verrazzano who in 1524 became the first European to enter New York Harbor USS_Leyte_Gulf_(CG_55)_under_the_Verrazano_Narrows_Bridgeand the Hudson River. He discovered a narrow passage that carried him from the Atlantic Ocean into the harbor. And, no, that’s not a typo in his name. For some strange reason, when they named the narrows after him, map makers decided to leave out the extra “z” in his name. The bridge connects Staten Island to Brooklyn and the rest of Long Island.

We landed at JFK and settled into our hotel in Manhattan, not noticing the gathering storm clouds. Being the last location, we decided to find out whether they sold steaks and Irish whiskey at The Palm on 2nd Avenue.  They do!

Our call was for 6:00 AM on the Staten Island side of the bridge. The heavens had opened and were pouring sheets of rain and showers of lightning down upon us. Visibility was very poor. We were all there, setting up all the equipment. Well, almost all of us were there. The car wasn’t!  A quick call let us know that the car was stuck in Pennsylvania. A quick look let us know the the Port Authority Police were setting up roadblocks to stop traffic on the bridge’s upper level. The truck drivers whose trucks were now backed up for a mile were becoming a bit choleric. One of the production assistants told us that it would be at least another hour before the Accord arrived. The backup at the entrance to the bridge horrible-traffic-jam-picturesgrew. Truck drivers and commuters were getting angry. A police supervisor walked toward us and asked, “Who’s in charge here?” I suddenly felt sixteen fingers pointing at me. The police captain wanted to know why we weren’t filming anything. I explained that the car was delayed. A great idea came into my head.  “Why don’t we let these folks use the bridge until the car arrives?” The captain reached inside his trench coat and pulled out a very official looking document. He perused it for about 15 seconds and said, “Sorry, pal, no can do. It says right here that we have to close the upper level off from 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Youse guys still got five hours of closure.” I protested, but the policeman said, “Orders are orders,” as he walked away. What the public servant didn’t catch was that the permit allowed the bridge’s upper level be INTERMITTENTLY closed between those hours. Our producer ran into the Port Authority Maintenance building, which sat next to us, to make frantic calls to some nameless bureaucrat who was in charge of traffic pandemonium permits and have him call the police captain.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 9.26.04 AMNew York City was effectively shut down. Well at least Brooklyn and Queens. Unfortunately, Chris Christie was only 20 years old at this time. It would have been easier to blame this “Bridgegate” mess on him.

To deflect blame, I told the production assistants to start the rumor that the bridge was closed because a despondent Boston Red Sox fan was threatening to jump off the bridge. The boiling anger was lowered to a simmer.

Finally! The police captain was summoned to the phone inside the maintenance building and was told to open the bridge until the car got there.  He told his men to remove the barricades.  It was just then that the car prep truck carrying the Accord arrived.

We raced to unload it as traffic slowly began to move across the bridge again. The production company let us know that the helicopter with the cameraman was on its way. When it was ten minutes out, we closed the bridge again, further enraging the drivers who had been miles out in the back-up. The shot was to show the Accord driving across the bridge toward Brooklyn. The helicopter flew alongside the car and then pulled back when it reached the bridge’s midpoint to show the entire bridge and the Manhattan skyline in the background. Close the bridge. Shoot the car.  Open the bridge. Close the bridge. Shoot the car. Open the bridge. Repeat as necessary.

We were close to wrapping when something happened. Noon. It was time to feed our crew. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Union, to which all of our crew belonged, required that we feed them after specified periods of time. They had been working in the cold and rain for six hours. The catering people had been setting up tables and chairs for the lunch. On-location catered meals rival those of the finest restaurants. We were trying to squeeze in one more shot before breaking for lunch. Everyone was starving. Someone shouted, “Oh no!” I turned around to see hordes of Port Authority mobmaintenance workers pouring out of their building and racing toward the food. For some reason they figured that the food was for them. We shouted for an assistant to go tell them to back off. The assistant quickly returned, being told by the workers exactly what he should do to himself. This situation was getting worse. Our guys were still working. The maintenance guys were feeding.  Think school of piranha and a cow. I then thought of the only thing we could do. I would have to speak “unionese” with them.  It would be the only thing they would understand.

I trotted up the hill. I needed to know what union they were in so I could speak their dialect. Then I realized that we probably had a mix of IBEW, Teamsters, SEIU, and IABSORIW (steel workers) gorging themselves. I needed to use the Esperanto version of “unionese.” This dialect was universally understood. “Hey everyone, this is IATSE food. You wouldn’t want them to file a grievance with the AFL- CIO would you?” They all looked at me, Coquille St. Jacques dripping from their lips. They immediately realized that they were all committing a cardinal sin: You don’t eat another union’s food! They backed away from the table like roaches from Raid. “Thanks guys, you can have anything that’s left.” They were all smiles as they ambled back to their pens.

We finished the shoot. Wrapped everything up. Left the food in foil chafing dishes and raced across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I looked out the rear window of our car and saw every piece of the food being devoured.Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 7.42.51 PM

 

 

Next:  Terror In Tokyo

I Leave Home

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child walking along road

 

As in many other industries, ad agencies follow a certain protocol when poaching talent from another agency. Rather than use a “scorched earth” policy that leaves behind bad feelings, reputable agencies rely on oblique seduction.  Thus it was when I was approached about leaving the bosom of Foote, Cone & Belding/Honig. Bill Hagelstein of Needham, Harper & Stears, called me one sunny afternoon.  Bill was part of the original immigrant wave from Detroit who ventured to Southern California to make ads for Japanese cars. In fact, we had worked together on the Datsun (now Nissan) account at Parker Advertising…for about 15 minutes. Bill had been working there for some time.  Datsun fired Parker 15 minutes after I was hired. Fate was attempting again to bring us together.

One sunny May afternoon in 1982 I received a call from Bill. After we exchanged pleasantries, Bill asked mMouth at Phonee if I might be able to help him with a favor. I immediately agreed. The folks at Needham were looking for an account supervisor to work on Honda. Bill outlined the responsibilities, salary range, and benefits.  I told him that I would “make inquiries.” I sat at my desk, staring at the narcotics officers busting crack dealers in the park across the street. It was then that a thought crossed my mind.  “Why should I offer someone else for this plum job.  Why don’t I go for it?” I went home and discussed it with the family. I was going to go for it.

I called Bill early the next morning. Like two sand cranes performing a mating ritual, Bill and I danced around the issue for a few minutes.  Then I said, “Bill, I thought of someone who would be perfect for the job at Needham. Me.” He laughed and said, “I was hoping you’d say that. I couldn’t come right out and ask you.” Plausible deniability. By me asking him, Needham couldn’t be accused of poaching. The agencies and clients would be calm about it.

It was tough leaving FCB/H. They are the ones, after all, who had plucked me from the Slough of Despond. I felt a great deal of loyalty toward the co-workers who had taught me that Tanqueray  was a damn fine gin. But I had to face facts. I didn’t see much chance for imminent upward mobility. The client was struggling to find a new identity afteMoney Stackr being known for their rotary engines. At the time, Mazda was split into two American companies. One headquartered in Rancho Dominguez, CA., the other in Jacksonville, FL. Consensus on creative was often a rocky road. Oh, who am I kidding? I did it for the money.

Honda and NH&S were whole different worlds from where I was. Accords, Civics, and Preludes were flying out of dealer showrooms faster than the trucks could deliver them. It was like printing money.  Actually, a few years later something like that was going on. But enough has been written about that chapter that I don’t need to go there.

One of the first things I noticed in my new world was that American Honda actually
Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 9.20.03 AMmirrored what their advertising slogan was: Honda – We Make It Simple. No onorous creative and budget presentations to countless levels of committees . For major presentations we would be in front of four people: Joe Haight, the Honda Ad Manager, Tom Elliott , at that time the VP of Marketing, Cliff Schmillen, SVP of the automotive division, and Yoshihide Munekuni (known affectionately as “Moon”), the President of the automotive division.  Back then, Honda was using the avuncular, soothing tones of Burgess Meredith as the voice-over talent in the commercials. Once the storyboard had been presented, we would read the copy, starting with the words, “And then Burgess says…”

Honda also gave NH&S responsibilities that went beyond the “normal” client/agency relationship. Working with Porter/Novelli Public Relations, we put on their new product short-lead press previews. One of our account people was the “The Honda News Bureau.” We produced their major meetings, including their annual dealer meetings.

In previous posts I’ve gone on about how great it was to have a job that gave you a free car. This job went a step further. It allowed you to hobnob with the rich and famous. Honda was coming out with a completely new iteration of the Accord.  They wanted to dazzle their dealers at the dealer meeting where the car would be revealed. Honda asked us to handle the meeting. Honda knew that most of their dealers would attend with spouses and/or girlfriends in tow. Honda wanted to invite industry thought-leaders. J.D. Power (Dave Power) would attend with his Associates. I was glad Dave was coming because he loved cigars as much as I did. Honda Motor Ltd. executives from Tokyo would be there. A lot of people would be there. We needed a massive venue. Bob Welsh was the titular head of the Honda account at NH&S.  He also was the producer of the Honda meetings and shows. He put Sol Hurok to shame.

The first thing Bob did was to take over the Las Vegas Hilton. They could accommodate thehilton-las-vegas 2000+ rooms that would be needed. Then he booked a “surprise mystery guest,” to boost attendance. Then he used the leverage that comes with booking thousands of rooms to coerce the kitchen and chefs to do the near impossible. When I checked in three days before the event, I was told by reception that I only needed to provide ID. I said, “Don’t you need a credit card for incidentals?” I was told that wouldn’t be necessary as my entire stay was being comped.

Very impressive.  I immediately tried to determine how many pay-per-view movies I could watch during the six days I would be there. The new Accord presentation went off without a hitch. When the commercials were shown in the darkened ballroom, our agency plants in the audience were able to start the cheering and applauding. Almost as impressive as the show was the dinnerBobHope that night.  After a few words from Cliff Schmillen, dinner started.  The Hilton chefs had prepared Beef Wellingtons for 2,000, all of them served warm. Dessert was flaming Baked Alaska for 2,000, all of them done correctly. After dinner Cliff introduced the “surprise mystery guest” to the musical strains of “Thanks for The Memories.” Bob Hope walked
out to thunderous applause. Hope was great. A few hours before the dinner his people had asked for the names of the Honda president, the largest dealer, the worst golfer, the highest ranking executive from Japan, etc. He seamlessly worked all of them into his routine. After the dinner, several of us from the agency and Honda were told to be in the lobby the next morning by 9:00 AM. We were also told to bring swimsuits.

The next morning, six of us assembled in the lobby. The Hilton’s Director of Marketing came up to us and said, “Follow me.” We went out the front doors and were escorted into waiting limousines. I breathed a sigh of relief as the limos turned toward Lake Mead and were not heading out into the desert. We were’t going to be whacked! The Marketing VP Hilton Yachttold us that the Hilton Hotel wanted to thank us for our “hard work” over the last few days by letting us spend the day on Barron Hilton’s yacht. The crew saluted as we boarded. A light breakfast was laid out in one of the state rooms. The bartender was able to supply much needed Bloody Marys. I spotted a box of pampers, guessing that those were for baby Paris. We cruised to a small cove on the other side of the lake where the captain dropped anchor. A diving board was attached to the stern section of the upper deck. Lunch was served onshore. After an afternoon of Glennfiddich-fueled cannonball dives off of the diving board, the captain headed back to the marina where the waiting limos took us back to the hotel. Hmmmm. This Honda gig was pretty neat!

 

Next: I Shut Down New York City

 

 

 

 

 

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!!!

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Crowds flood Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans

New Orleans (every time you see this word in this post you should pronounce it in your head as Nawlins), the Big Easy, the Crescent City, was founded in 1718 by French settlers. It has become, for car guys, a Holy City demanding pilgrimages to its holy sites. Every four years the National AutomobilesuperDome_1700883c Dealers Association (NADA) convention is held here. Super Bowls are held here. It’s no coincidence that of the 48 Super Bowls held, almost 21% of them have been in New Orleans. Car companies hold their annual dealer meetings here. Auto dealers in New Orleans are probably visited by home office people more often than dealers in any other city. And, naturally, car ad guys, being the remoras to the car industry’s host animals, go along for the ride. Dear reader, I am going to break from the chronological order of previous posts to tell you about my experiences in this city all at once. To parse them out individually, over time, would lessen the awesome impact this city has had on roving bands of car guys.

Much of the mayhem occurs during the previously mentioned NADA conventions. They are usually held in late January, or early February. This timing often coincides with the annual Mardi Gras celebrations. There are many fine eating and drinking Hand Grenadeestablishments there willing to aid you on your trip to unconsciousness. One such place is Tropical Isle. Their famous signature drink is called the Hand Grenade. This green monster is a nasty combination of Midori, vodka, coconut rum, Bacardi 151, and pineapple juice. Each grenade is equal to 4.5 cocktails. Because this is the house specialty, it came as no surprise that the musicians could get away with some pretty raunchy lyrics. Two guys named Bill and Dave featured a song about a young man who, after a night of unusual lovemaking, woke to find something disgusting on a part of his body. The song was so ribald that the Tropical Isle had to close their doors which opened onto Bourbon Street, lest the lyrics thoroughly disgust passersby. 

To truly enjoy New Orleans, one must eschew good taste, common sense, and most of your reserves of human decency. I should add that it also helps to keep your wits about you and be aware of your surroundings. Case in point… One year during Mardi Gras, a Ford dealer friend and I were trying to work our way down Bourbon Street. The crowds were so thick, it was hard to move. It was impossible to stand without being pressed up against another reveler. I pointed out to my friend that this was a great bourbon-street-mardi-gras-2011-horizontaljpg-43b60d89613ad0b6opportunity for pickpockets.  The current trick was to use a razor to slit the bottom of a victim’s back pocket and let the wallet slide straight out. I told him that he should put his wallet in his front pocket as I had done.  He agreed. He reached back to get his wallet, only to feel the slit in his pants were the wallet used to be. Having already consumed several Hand Grenades, he seemed unfazed, telling me that he had a wad of cash in his front pocket. We continued, as flotsam, down the street.

This was my friend’s first trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. He noticed the people on balconies throwing strings of beads down to the mob in the street. He asked me, “How do you get them to throw beads to you?” I told him that there were several ways, but I counseled him to not try pulling his shirt up, as that might cause the balcony to collapse from people scrambling to get back inside the building. Suddenly, the human tsunami stopped in front of a balcony where a group of guys were holding strings of very large and expensive beads. Filming lights came on. The crowd starting howling. Videographers from “Girls Gone Wild” appeared from inside the building. The guys on the balcony started shouting, “Show ’em! Show ’em!” My Spidey-sense Mardi-Gras-flashstarted tingling. This was not going to end well. Just then I heard a young woman’s voice from right behind me squeal, “Let’s do it!” I turned around just as several young co-eds from Alabama pulled up their tops and let them all hang out. I turned to grab my friend and beat a hasty retreat. Nothing good could come from this. The revelers around me were already foaming at the mouth and panting heavily. As I turned, I saw him leap in the air. “They’re throwing them to me,” he exclaimed. Thinking that the rain of beads were for him, he jumped up, caught them all, and fell backwards into the sweet young ladies, knocking them over.

The first fists hit us about a nanosecond later. The women were screaming, the mob was howling, and my friend couldn’t understand why were were being set upon. mardigras09-27I explained to him the etiquette of street flashing for beads. If a lady wants to show them to the crowd, the beads belong to her. I apologized for my friend, gave the beads to the ladies, and quickly pushed our way forward toward the semi-sanity of Canal Street. To the crowd, we were old news. They were now ogling the next group of co-eds striving for “Girls Gone Wild” immortality. I just hoped that neither of us wound up in the video.

The parades are part of the pageantry that is Mardi Gras. Some are held at night, others during the day. One year, during an NADA/Mardi Gras eclipse, I was staying at the very stately Lafayette Hotel on St. Charles, just Lafayettewest of the French Quarter. My room had french doors that opened onto a small balcony overlooking the street. My day was filled with visits to the Desire Oyster Bar, Pat O’Brien’s, The Old Absinthe House, Commander’s Palace for dinner, back to Bourbon Street for more pub crawling and expense account abuse. At midnight, at bar called The Dungeon opened to serve its mind altering concoctions of Dragon’s Blood and Witch’s Brew…don’t ask. Heading on to Chris Owens’ Show Bar after Preservation Hall, I thought that the street lights were illuminating the night better than usual. It was then that I realized that the sun was coming up!

I hustled back to the hotel as fast as I could lurch. The day’s debauchery was already beginning to take its toll, manifesting itself as a throbbing headache and an extreme sensitivity to light. I stripped my clothes off and fell forward onto the bed. Shortly after, I began to hear music. Was I dreaming? I opened my eyes to pitch black darkness. Had I gone blind? It was then that I realized thatmardi-gras-float I had closed the blackout curtains over the french doors. The music got louder. A parade was coming down St. Charles. I whipped open the doors and went out on the balcony. The shocked look on the faces of the people lined up across the street alerted me to the fact that I hadn’t put any clothes back on. I didn’t want to miss the parade, so I threw on a white t-shirt, a pair of khakis, and some loafers and went down to the street to watch the parade, after buying a New Orleans power breakfast of a Lucky Dog sausage and a Cajun bloody mary from a street vendor.

I found a spot at the curb in front of the hotel, bloody mary in my right hand, left hand ready to catch the trinkets, coins, and beads that the krewes on each float would throw out to the crowd. As the first float passed, I caught several strings and put them around my neck. About a dozen guys from a Tulane fraternity were lined up behind me, jumping up with me trying to catch souvenirs. I noticed a young boy behind me trying, in vain, to catch something. We all agreed to place him right in front of me so I could catch some beads for him…without spilling a drop of my drink. From down the parade route we could hear a frenzied roar. Approaching us was a float whose members weren’t throwing beads, they were throwing ladies’ underpants. Before I knew it, Crowd with Arms Raisedthe float was in front of us, and a pair of lace panties were headed my way. A tidal wave of humanity pressed against me as hands reached out to catch them. I started to fall forward on the little boy. He turned to face me as I fell toward the street, terror on his face. As we came crashing down, two things crossed my mind. I didn’t want to crush him to death, and I didn’t want to spill my drink. I placed my elbows next to his ears and bent my knees to straddle his waist. About 2500 pounds of frat boys from Sigma Upsilon Kappa came crashing down on us. The boy and my drink, however, were safe. The underpants had somehow trickled through the pile and were now sitting on the street next to the boy. As people climbed off of us, he scuttled out from underneath me and ran away. I refused any help to get up as both knees and both elbows were now bleeding profusely. Fortunately, the bloody mary hadn’t spilled…and the boy had left the panties behind. The parade was over, people left. I slowly rolled over to one side, too sore to move.

I heard someone approach. I opened one eye to see a pair of feet clad in wingtip shoes. The man said, “Tom? Tom? Oh my god Linda, it’s Tom!” I had been discovered. I tried to look up and see who it was. The couple was backlit by the sun, so I could onlyDrunk Guy squint up at them and utter a grunt through the pain. Once they had helped me to my feet, I finished my drink and got a better look at them. They were friends I had gone to college with at MSU. He was now a big media muckety-muck in Detroit, here for the NADA Convention. They asked me how I had come to such a sorry state of being. My t-shirt was now filthy, my bloody pants were torn at the knees. I looked a mess. I decided that they weren’t going to believe the truth, so I told them that I was now living on the street in New Orleans and asked them not to tell anyone that they saw me in this condition. They wanted to give me money. I said that I couldn’t accept charity. I shoved the panties in my pocket, threw my now empty cup in the trash, and hobbled away, knowing that I would see them both at his company’s huge reception that evening.

We all had a good laugh when I told them the real story. It’s amazing how a nap, a shower, clean clothes, and several Wild Turkey sazeracs can improve one’s station in life.

Next: Hanging With The Rich And Famous 

Life Imitates Art!

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Softball

Advertising is stressful, competitive, daunting, draining, exciting, and stimulating. It also tests the limits of your endurance, and is always just a hair’s breadth away from erupting into violence. That’s why Foote, Cone & Belding/Honig had a co-ed softball team. We wanted to carry these life shortening characteristics into our evenings and weekends. We took it seriously.  This was not your fluffy “oops, let’s have a do-over” type of softball.  This was “take-no-prisoners” softball. We were L.A. advertising’s softball equivalent to Burt Reynolds’ convict team in The Longest Yard. Our 3rd baseman had been a star on the UCLA women’s softball team. Her throws to 1st base were measured in nano-seconds. Our left fielder carried, along with his glove, a six-pack of Pabst into left field with him every inning. Our 2nd baseman was able to schedule his psychotherapy sessions around our games andDrinking Team practices. And, like Pavlov’s dogs getting their treats for positive behaviors, we would retire to Sloan’s on Melrose to fuel our libidos. Alas, like the Tail O’the Cock, Sloan’s is long gone; given over to those who cater to glitterati and illiterati. 

The FCB team was a juggernaut of raging estrogen and testosterone. We would “juice” with our own proprietary concoction, testrogen,before each game. It was now 1980.  We were in the playoffs.  Our next opponent was William Esty, the agency for Datsun. We knew that no quarter would be given or sought. Nerves were on edge. We were all wound tighter than $5 Sears ukeleles. The game was close. The crowd was frenzied. then, it happened……. The Esty batter hit a slow grounder to 3rd base. Our star 3rd baseman charged it, and with one motion, picked it up with her hand and fired it to 1st base. Unfortunately, Patty Dryer, our crack 1st baseman, had her foot on the foul territory side of the bag, rather than on the 2nd base side. Because of this, her right leg 1st Baseand hip were directly over the base. The ball and the runner, who had his head down running as fast as he could to beat the throw, reached Patty at the same time. Because half of her body was across the base, the runner hit her like an Amtrak train hitting a small goat. She was out cold before she hit the ground.  The ball caromed off into right field.

Time was immediately called. Patty was carried off of the field and put underneath a shade tree. Her husband, a beefy ex-marine who ran his own collection agency, charged out of the stands and went after the Esty runner. It took five of us to drag Patty’s husband to the ground and explain that it was an accident.  The Esty runner was one of the nicest guys in LA advertising, and he didn’t mean it.  The collision was Patty’s fault. Cooler heads prevailed. For a while.

We were in the second to last inning, and had the game well in hand, when it became payback time.  Just like in Major League Baseball, “you hurt one of ours, we’ll hurt one of yours,” came into play. Except there was only one person on our team who felt this way…our left fielder who had already consumed six innings of Pabst six packs. He had advanced to 3rd base, when one of our folks hit a fly ball to left.  The Esty fielder caught it for the second out. Our guy on third base began to slowly walk down the line toward home plate, yelling at the left fielder to throw the ball to the catcher to tag him out. Oh no! He was going to take out the catcher! We all yelled at him to go back to third. The poor catcher, Home Platewho was only playing that position because he’d hurt his leg and couldn’t run, knew what was coming. He slowly moved to the side of home plate. The left fielder took the bait, threw the ball to the catcher, and our guy went into overdrive, going out of the base path to take out the catcher, who by now was fleeing toward the dugout. The collision set off car alarms for three square miles.

And just like the true sportsmen and sportswomen we all were, the benches emptied. Lots of pushing, shoving, groping, and cursing. We felt bad, because the Esty folks really hadn’t done anything wrong. But, true to our warrior code, BB fightwe had to watch each other’s backs. After a few minutes of jostling and bellowing, enough to satisfy the honor code, we all retired to our respective benches…except for our left fielder. He had been kicked out of the game.  This didn’t bother him too much, as he was able to make a quick beer run. We won the game and went on to win the West Coast Championship. After the game, we retired to Sloan’s to lie to each other about how great our advertising was. Patty was there, with her red badge of courage bandage over her eye. The Esty guy bought her drinks all night.

A few weeks later, the agency folks were in Las Vegas for the annual Mazda dealer show. This was going to be the first time the Mazda dealers would be seeing the new Mazda RX-7, the car that was to save the franchise. We were going to use a new, at that time, technology whereby the car would be revealed traveling through a tunnel of laser light out over the audience. This was going to be huge, the most expensive new model reveal in Mazda history. The night before the show saw us all trying to get everything ready. Top executives from Toyo Kogyo in Japan would be in attendance. It was now 1:00 AM and we noticed that the electricians rigging the lasers had stopped working and were sitting around smoking. I asked them why they had stopped working.  They gave me another life lesson.  “See that pipe up near the ceiling? We have to pass a cable over it.”   “So?” I asked. “Well, you see, we’re electricians, not plumbers.  That pipe carries water for the sprinkler system.  We can’t touch it. We’ve put out a call for a plumber.” Two agonizing hours later, a plumber walked in.  He was getting triple time as this was an “emergency” call. The plumber and an electrician rode a scissor-lift to the ceiling. The electrician handed the cable to the plumber, the plumber laid it over the pipe, and Violá, everything was back on schedule. The reveal went off without a hitch, and everyone was very happy. Including the plumber.

Laser Tunnel

Next: I Hang Out With Supermodels!

More Fine Dining

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A Roman Orgy

Almost as special and life enhancing as the free cars, were the free lunches…and dinners. You had the always popular media rep lunch, going to a fine restaurant that you would tell your in-laws about so they wouldn’t think their daughter had married a Philistine. There were the media rep dinners, where you would stock up on carbs, fats, proteins, and ethanols on the rocks to survive the nastiest winters. There were the incredible media “luncheons,” where you would feast on rare delicacies. All you had to do was eat while sitting with a Sports Illustrated Playboy+2013+Playmate+Year+Luncheon+Honoring+5PE7jqs4Pj8lSwimsuit Issue model, a Playmate of the Year, Mike Eruzione, Robin Williams, Terry Bradshaw, Gerald Ford, or Bob Hope and listen to a short sales pitch. And all of this was on top of the fine dining that was afforded by the T&E budget. “Hmmm, I’m hankerin’ for some Steak a la Palm. Hey, Sato-san. Would you and your wife like to go to dinner? Have you been to The Palm yet?”

Alas, many of the great places to eat in LA have gone the way of the large expense account. Please indulge me as I wax nostalgic:

tailothecockMcHenry’s Tail o’ the Cock on La Cienega. The all-male Milline Club used to meet there monthly. Their purpose seemed to be to keep dirty jokes and misogyny in the mainstream of American culture. Their annual “review” attracted hundreds to the musical show. Finally, good taste prevailed.

ma maison exteriorMa Maison…the hoitiest of toitiness. They had an unlisted phone number. So, if you told someone that you had called ahead for reservations, you were letting them know they you were one of the pauci selecti. The epitome of passive/aggressive behavior. My fondest memory of the place is when I tried to race a 400 pound Orson Welles inside and I got jammed in the front entryway with him.

Hollywood_Brown_Derby_1952The Brown Derby in Hollywood was a favorite…just so I could tell my college buddies back in Michigan that “I was a regular.” The first time I ever had a Cobb Salad was there. I’ll never forget the feeling of pieces of bleu cheese and bacon missing my mouth and falling into my lap as Susan Sarandon sashayed in.

Chasen'sAhhhh, Chasen’s.  My dear friend Dick Wanderer, formerly of Army/Navy Times, first introduced me to this place.  It later became the site for his legendary Christmas Parties. I will never forget my first meal there. Dick ordered  the Seafood Tower for us. If my memory serves me well, I remember it as being a four foot tower of crab, lobster, clams, oysters, crawfish, scallops, mussels, and lemon wedges. It was surrounded by a flotilla of butter boats. I would usually lose consciousness after the sixteenth lobster claw. 

Perino'sPerino’s!!!  They served me my first Steak Diane. Exquisitely done table side. The interior featured sets of circular banquettes that backed into each other, giving it a feel of a 1930’s nightclub. If you were going to have lunch at Perino’s, you told your secretary that you wouldn’t be returning as you had off-site meetings all afternoon.

Scandia1967001Scandia!!!! You cruel, cruel mistress. Home of gravlax, herring, hot rye bread, and gallons of aquavit. Every year, National Geographic would host a dinner in the Scandia Cellar, called the Viking Feast. I need not say more. Petersen Publishing used to be next door. Pete Petersen ate there all the time. He loved it so much, he bought the place for $2 million. As the sale was going through, he found out that he was buying the place…but not the name.  That cost him an additional $2 million! It didn’t do very well after that, and finally closed.  There are still rumors that ghosts of ad guys dressed only in animal skins wander the place eating raw goat meat from the bone while looting and pillaging imaginary coastal towns.

They, and many more like them, are all gone. As the ad biz in LA moved west toward the ocean, and south into Orange County, the old places began to fade like the smile on your boss’s face when he suddenly realizes that he had no idea that you were nuts. And now, I findPalm_Restaurant_West_Hollywood-300x199 out, The Palm on Santa Monica might be moving to make way for a “mixed-use” development on its current site. The rumors have been swirling for months. It’s going to take a lot of steam to get those caricatures off of the walls. I’ve spent many a fine afternoon there, feasting on a Gigi Salad and a blackened rib eye, with sides of a “half and half,” sautéed spinach, and decanters of Jameson’s. Is nothing sacred?????

Next: Life Imitates Art

We Go To The Mattresses

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Mattresses

Mid-summer, 1978, was approaching. Something unimaginable happened! A lowly account executive (me…or I, to use better grammar) was asked to help develop the upcoming year’s marketing strategy. People actually sat down and hammered these things out. Up until this point, I had always believed that new car model year marketing and creative strategies were left underneath the table of booth #3 at the London Chop House by the Strategy Fairy. The advertising agency scrutinized the documents, then instructed their account people to write creative planning requests, which the creative department dutifully turned into great advertising. In late June, Mazda give us a presentation outlining their objectives and strategies for the coming model year. We were briefed on the new models, and what competitive advantages they had. They told us their demographic targets. They then left the room with a hearty 頑張ってね! Bonne chance! Our keeping the Mazda account depended largely on how wonderful our presentation would be. The work on the 1979 Plan would begin in earnest. My guess is thatBoring Presentation we would commandeer one of the conference rooms, probably the main one, for the next month or so.  This would be the “War Room” my friends at other agencies had described to me. Sixteen-hour days going over data, looking at consumer trends, swilling coffee, ordering Big Macs, and wondering what daylight looked like. I was up for the challenge. Long, tedious hours that would test the mettle of any human. Would I be able to stand up to the challenge? I was soon to discover that I would, and enjoy it!

Denny Remsing, my boss, told me that we were NOT going to build a War Room in the main conference room. Instead, we would be “going to the mattresses.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, this was used by Mafia families when they wanted to hide out from the police, from other mob families gunning for them, or to just “disappear” for a while. Our purpose was the last one. Denny said, “Tom, we have to stay away from the distractions of the office, from telephone calls, from mundane meetings, from sales calls, and from the ‘pressures’ of an ordinary work environment.” Made sense to me. The next day, we took out adjoining lanai rooms at the Sheraton Town House. Since the agency was only about 200 yards away, assistants could run messages and mail over to us. Armed with briefcases full of data, legal sized notepads, pencils, changes of clothes, and our swim suits, we checked in. I Pooldid mention that the rooms were poolside, didn’t I? Room service sure beat Big Macs, and the margaritas beat cold coffee. I did, however, have to go buy some sunscreen. I planned on expensing it.

We worked slavishly away. After work, the secretaries and account assistants would selflessly drop by to help interpret the data, analyze trends, empty the mini-bars, and check the chlorine levels in the Town House pool. Denny and I were employing the FCB “Know The Consumer” process to develop the finished document. We would examine each aspect of the marketplace, distill the information to a key fact, then use the assembled key facts to develop objectives and strategies. We would also use distilled agave juice to help us arrive at an overall conclusion. Our work was so powerful, I think that Datsun and Toyota sent spies over to try and steal some of our insights. Whenever we had the account team over to help us _DSC3170 (Custom) (2)out by playing and dancing to “Hollywood Nights” by Bob Seger, Abba’s “Take A Chance on Me,” and the soundtrack to “Grease” while checking the chlorine levels in the pool, these spies, dressed as aluminum siding salesmen from Des Moines, would emerge from the bar in their cheesy suits, and just sit and stare at us for hours and hours.

July 11, 1978, a day that will live forever in the annals of women’s rights. I also remember that date as it was the day of the 49th annual MLB all-star Game, the broadcast of which is also part of this story. Denny and I finished the 1979 Marketing and Advertising Plan. We would, along with the Creative Director and the Associate Media Director, be presenting to Mazda at our offices. The Associate Media Director was presenting, even though the Geisha_Kyoto_Gionactual Media Director had put the media portion of the plan together, because he was a male and the Director was a woman. The erroneous prevailing thought back then was that, because Japanese women had no or little role in business in Japan, our Mazda client might be reluctant to deal with a woman. The Associate Media Director was put forward as the agency’s Mazda Media Man. Of course, this did not sit well with the Media Director. She sat in the back of the room for the presentation.  As the clients filed out to join us for lunch at the Wilshire Country Club, one of them asked the Media Director if she would be joining us.  She immediately said, “Yes!” A quick call to the club added another chair at the table. Everyone’s spirits were running high thanks to the cocktails, wine, and the excellent marketing plan Denny and I had written. The lunch was winding down, and the table talk was getting louder, when the EVP of Mazda asked our Media Director a question. “If you are the Media Director, why haven’t we seen at any meetings?” She had to almost shout across the table to him because of the other loud conversations. “It’s because management thinks I’ll say “sh%t” at a meeting.”  What she didn’t know was that all the Mazda clients had heard the question and they all stopped talking just in time to hear her answer. The last “t” of her response was still echoing through the room when our president looked across the table at her and said, “Yes, my dear, that’s exactly why we keep you away from our Mazda client.” This was followed by three seconds of awkward silence. Then all of the Mazda clients broke out laughing. “We think this is wonderful,” they said. “We don’t get to work with female executives in Japan.” These presentation lunches were always followed by golf or tennis.  “Are you going to play golf or tennis with us?” they asked. “Well,” she said, “I don’t play golf but I can run home and get my tennis stuff and meet you on the courts.”

The golf and tennis came off without a hitch. The golfers showered and changed for dinner at the club. The tennis courts were at the Sheraton Town House, so the tennis players used my lanai room to change and have some refreshments. A lot of refreshments. The Media Director showered and changed first, while the rest of us gathered around the television to watch the All-Star game. She soon joined us, as the next person went off to cleanse himself. I ordered more towels. The room had Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 10.23.24 PMbecome thick with cigar smoke and shower steam. The game was tied going into the bottom of the 9th. Goose Gossage was brought in to pitch for the AL. Steve Garvey led off with a triple, scoring on a Gossage wild pitch. A walk, and error, and three singles scored three more runs.  The NL fans in the room were going wild. Mazda’s Marketing Director, a rabid NL fan, was in the shower when the shouting started. Clutching a towel in front of himself, he came into the room to watch.  After about five minutes, he realized that he was standing behind our seated Media Director. So did everyone else. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I was raised with three brothers.  You don’t have anything I haven’t seen a lot of before.” From that day on, she attended every presentation.  

Next: T&E Heaven

I Learn About International Trade

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Glamor

MITI. Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry. They called the shots in Japan when it came to manufacturing and international trade. Truth be told, MITI was happy when the U.S. imposed import quotas on how many Japanese cars could be imported here. Once they had a finite quota number, they were able to parcel out allocations to the Japanese car manufacturers based on “what was hot.” Datsun was selling well, especially with the Z car.  Give them a bigger piece of the pie. Mazda was still reeling from their reliance on rotary engines, so they got a smaller piece, until they could prove otherwise to MITI. The Japanese imports fought desperately for market share. They were more willing to try unconventional media ideas than Detroit. One of these ideas, for Mazda, was to venture into the shadowy world of “skin magazines.” You have to remember, this was still the 70s, still no universal internet access to titillation. Playboy, still considered taboo by many, and Penthouse, considered taboo by almost everybody, had just about given up getting any automotiveLittle Boy Penthouse advertising. But then, sometimes the forbidden fruit is the sweetest. The decision was made that Mazda was going to advertise in both, as well as Oui, a Playboy spinoff. The client was quite adamant that “it made sense from a demographic point of view.” Well, yes, men in droves did read these magazines.

We inked the deal.  The magazines were so excited that they immediately asked us to provide them with a list of Mazda executives who should be put on the magazine “comp” list. Mazda came back to us with a list of about 20 people. Of Playboy_Penthousecourse, we couldn’t convince the magazines that there were 20 people at Mazda who had input on media decisions. The list was cut to 10. We received frequent phone calls asking us when the comp copies would start arriving. I should point out that Mazda was not alone in this quest. Many of the Japanese car companies started advertising in this category. Back then, Playboy was all about “the girl next door.” Even though the Playmates were anything but. Penthouse went for the “girl you’d pick up at a strip club and who might beat you up.” This was pretty accurate. There was a smattering of angry letters from religious organizations and irate parents in Texas. In general, however, Mazda weathered the tide. The comps started arriving, and all was right with Mazda. I did, however, notice a strange phenomenon. After several months, I still had not seen one of the magazines in any of the Mazda offices. Were they taking them home? Probably not.

In my post of 10/31/13, I discuss the concepts of tatemae and honne. I was soon to discover the honne of advertising in Playboy and Penthouse. Until recently, Japanese censors were pretty strict about what could andplayboy1 couldn’t be shown of the human body. Japanese-language editions of Playboy and Penthouse had the “naughty bits” blacked out. International mail was checked lest someone send an American edition back home. If discovered, the censors dutifully, and with great care, affixed stickers over the offending parts. Any attempt to remove the sticker would tear the page. Every piece of mail that came into the country had to go through a customs check. I Customspreviously mentioned the all-powerful MITI. They convinced the Japanese government that anything that slowed down international trade was bad for the country. That included business mail from the United States. I should also note that business was conducted differently in Japan. It was an expense account economy.

And, public officials were often given small presents to help them make decisions. I asked one of my Mazda clients about the vanishing magazines. He and I had advanced to a honne level of conversation.  He told me. “Tom,” he explained, “we can’t get American versions of Playboy and Penthouse in Japan. Censors find them in customs and place stickers on them. However, correspondence from the U.S. branches of Japanese companies is allowed to be sent in diplomatic pouches. This speeds their delivery. Every month, we 20100501-salary D-AR02-22 japan-photo.detake all 10 copies of each magazine and send them in the diplomatic pouch. They are very valuable in Japan.” I knew where this was going. “So,” I asked, “they become gifts for Mazda executives to give to the folks at MITI?” He nodded. I decided to call my friend, the rep from Psychology Today. “Joe,” I said, “if you want to get on the Mazda media schedule, next month’s issue has to have a foldout of Miss Nude Schizoaffective Disorder.”

But all did not stay peaceful in Licentiousland. The Penthouse rep contacted us about putting on a dinner for us and key Mazda clients. She hoped to seal the deal by telling us that two Penthouse Pets would be there. Everyone RSVP’d “Yes.” All of Mazda’s top management would attend. The dinner was held in a private room at a very nice LA restaurant. Cocktails flowed freely as we waited for our host and the “guests of honor” to arrive. Her assistant had put out copies of the magazines in which the ladies appeared. I don’t know how I would have reacted if, while eating dinner, the person next to me was going through a magazine full of pictures of me in my birthday suit. business_dinnerThe two Pets were polar opposites in looks, demeanor, and intelligence. Hildegard Grossebruste was from Hamburg, Germany. Brunette, with flawless English. Bambi Fay Culpepper was from Kermit, Texas. Blonde, with a hardscrabble look to her, she didn’t have flawless English. Hildegard was seated next to me at the long dinner table. Bambi Fay was across from me. Hildegard had married a GI to get in to the U.S. He left her and their daughter a few months after getting here. She admitted that she wasn’t very proud of her magazine layout, but she needed the $10,000 that it paid. She wanted to “become a movie star” but was worried that her appearance in Penthouse would ruin her chances. I said, “Hey, it didn’t stop Vanessa Williams.”

Bambi Fay was a different story.  I asked her whether Kermit was in West Texas. She said yes. I asked her if it was near Midland-Odessa.  She said, “I think so. On Saturday nights the boys put a couple of us girls in the back of a pickup truck and drive to Midland to party. It takes about half an hour, so I guess it’s nearby.” It soon became apparent that the only reason Bambi was here was for the opportunity to down vast amounts of Jack and Coke. Soon, to use a Texas term, she proceeded to get snot slinging drunk. She very loudly complained that she would rather be at the Whiskey a Go-Go, or The Troubadour, rather than at “a dinner with a bunch of foreigners.” Then she got sloppy, knocking over drinks. When our host admonished her, Bambi let fly with enough profanity to peel the paint off of an oil rig. She jumped to her feet and said, “You all can go frag (she didn’t actually say frag) yourselves. I’m out of here. Half you guys can’t even speak English good.” Hildegard jumped to her feet. “Bambi,” she said, “you are being very rude. You wouldn’t be in LA at a fabulous restaurant if it wasn’t for these nice gentlemen. Behave Women Fightingyourself and sit down!” Bambi wasn’t having any of this. She came around the table and took a swing at Hildie.  She missed and went flying into the dessert tray. She stood up, wiped the tiramisu off of her face, and stormed out. This pretty much ended the dinner. The Penthouse rep was horrified. On the verge of tears, she and Hildegard bade farewell to the Mazda clients…who had seen and heard quite enough. Penthouse was soon cut from the media schedule.

The next morning, Hildegarde showed up at the agency. One of our creative guys at the dinner said that he’d like to talk to her about putting her in TV commercials.

Next: We Go To The Mattresses