Rolling Coconuts and Footballs

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Deana Tiki

In addition to getting free cars, another great thing about being in advertising is the opportunity to meet fascinating people at free dinners in fancy hotels.  This was the case when an old friend of mine, George Burns (the mag rep, not the comedian), invited me to a David Gergendinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, located in Marina Del Rey, CA. George’s magazine, U.S. News & World Report, was always able to land some heavy-duty Washington, D.C., face to speak at their dinners. This year’s speaker was David Gergen. Gergen was considered to be an ultimate D.C. insider. He started out writing speeches for Nixon, and quickly became the head speech writer. He was Director of Communications for Ford and Reagan. After taking a few years off, he returned to Washington to become a key advisor to Bill Clinton. He is one of those people in Washington who knows where the bodies are buried.

 

Because the invitation was for two, I brought a longtime friend and former co-worker, Deana Linderholm. As we arrived that evening, I was immediately struck by two things. The first was that the hotel was populated by gargantuan men whoHigh Fashion Models were quite loud and had fingers that seemed to have been broken many times. A quick glance at the marquee explained it. The NFL and Fox Sports were having their annual Summer Meeting here. The other thing that struck me was that the lobby was jammed with very attractive women, wearing very expensive dresses, and ambulating easily on their very spikey high heels. The only other organisation mentioned on the marquee was the National Association of Kosher Butchers.  I had a hunch that these women were not part of that group.

We worked our way to the dining room that had been set aside for U.S. News. A number of familiar faces were already gathered at the bar. Another great thing about advertising was that you had the opportunity of drinking really great booze.

After all the booze was gone, we were asked to find our seats. I discovered, much to my surprise, that Deana and I had place cards on either side of Gergen!  I should point out that there is a great deal of stagecraft at work at any media event serving food.  The basic plan consists of four parts. #1: Serve booze before the dinner. This allows the mag rep and the magazine’s management to “work” the crowd.  #2: Sit down and greeting.  This is done to help the ad cattle-penpeople remember who is buying the booze and the food. #3: Follow the order. Make sure to have your guest speak, or pitch, or opine BEFORE you serve the meal. The ad people are only there for the free food and booze. Once they are done eating, they will stampede toward the exit.  #4: Serve dessert slowly. By doing this, the magazine is able to keep the ad people at their tables, waiting for the yellow sheet cake with white frosting.  This gives the magazine salespeople one last chance to work the room.

We sat down on either side of David Gergen.  I discovered him to be a very affable gentleman. He wanted to know what each of us did for a living. Each person around the table spoke in turn: Ad guy, ad guy, ad girl, spouse, ad guy, spouse, ad girl, ad guy. Perhaps to change things up a little, and because it was true, Deana said, “I teach Hawaiian and Polynesian dance.” This caught David’s attention. As this was the seventh dinner on his grueling cross country mag rep dinner circuit, he had become used to the litanies of “ad guy, ad girl, spouse.” “My, that’s an interesting occupation,” he said. “Did you ever have something embarrassing happen to you while you danced?” Interesting question.  Deana thoughthawaiian_hula_dancers_2_by_thetomatohead for a moment and said, “Well something happened to a friend of mine as we were in line doing a very spirited Tahitian dance. I heard her squeal, then heard a “clack” and saw half of a hollowed out coconut shell hit the stage and roll away. My friend had lost half of her top!”  David then asked, “Did anything ever happen to you?” She thought and then said, “One time, as we were exiting the dance floor, I passed too close to a candle on a table, and my grass skirt started to go up in flames. Fortunately, the dancer behind me saw it and immediately tore my skirt off.” There was stunned silence at the table.

It was time for David to speak. He opened his talk by saying, “Thank you very much for having me with you here tonight. Quite interestingly, I just met a woman who teaches Hawaiian dance. I’ve never met one before.  Deana can you stand up? (Polite applause) I thought MY job was exciting. Deana was dancing one time when half of her coconut shell bra fell off while she was dancing on stage. As she tried to run off, her grass skirt somehow caught fire, and she had to rip it off.” (Polite laughter) “Wow!” Deana slowly sat down.  After his speech, David came back and sat down at our table. When he was made aware of the factual mistakes in his story, he apologized profusely to Deana. I think that this may have been the reason http://www.factcheck.org was founded.

After the dessert had been consumed, George Burns came over and said, “Hey. Do you guys have to leave? Why don’t you meet me in the lounge for a nightcap?” Goodie, more free booze!  Just as we were being seated in the stock-footage-happy-attractive-woman-talking-on-cellphone-in-cafelounge, I noticed the gargantuan men had been seated on one end of the lounge, and the attractive women, who were not Kosher butchers,  were seated across the lounge from them. The only difference in their appearance was that now the ladies were all carrying their cell phones. As each one got a call, they would talk for about thirty seconds, write something down, then leave the table and saunter toward the guest elevators. Then it dawned on me! The NFL was here, and I was looking at the paid escort staging area!

After a few minutes, George departed, telling us that he had opened a tab for us in his name. More free booze.  About three drinks later,  Deana looked over my shoulder and shouted, “O my gosh!”  I asked, “What?” She whispered, “That’s Terry Bradshaw over there! My brother is a big fan of his and he’d kill me if I didn’t get his autograph.” She grabbed a pen and a cocktail napkin and went over to the table with Bradshaw and several other ex-NFL players. I ordered another drink. About fifteen minutes later, I realized that Deana had not returned.  I peered over the back of my chair and saw that Deana and the guys were having quite a good time telling stories and laughing. Oh well, that just means more bar nuts for me.

A few minutes later, two giant hands reached over the back of my chair and grabbed my shoulders.  I turned to see Terry Bradshaw smiling down at me.  “Hey hoss,” he said, “we’d like tuh apologize for keepin’ your lady friend so long.  Please come on over and join us.” I got up and followed him to his table.  I could feel the sixty eyes of the not-a-Kosher-butcher ladies boring into the back of my skull. In addition to Terry, I saw that Howie Long and Ronnie Lott were also sitting at the table.

Terry immediately asked, “Whatcha drinkin’?” Realizing that the NFL was buying drinks, I blurted out, “I’d like a triple Johnny Walker Blue Label…neat.”  Everyone was having a wonderful time. Terry was telling a lot of jokes. After one of them, he gasped and said, “Ronnie, was that joke offensive?”  Lott answered, “Of course it was Terry!”  Then everyone would break out in laughter.  I guess it was a shtick they did. More jokes followed.  Howie Long and I started some small talk about where we had grown up.  He in Boston, IHowie-Long-Terry-Bradshaw-Fox-Pregame-2-300x171 in Detroit. We talked about what it was like growing up in an Irish family, and how the family traditions carry on. I found out that his grandmother and my grandmother both had the same picture of Jesus over the fireplace mantle in the living room.  I had just finished reading “Angela’s Ashes.” I told Howie the story line.  We both laughed at how many things in the book were familiar to both of us. He took out a pad from his coat and had me write down the name of the book and the author.  He promised to read it when he got home.  While we were still reminiscing, two ladies from the staging area came up behind his chair and put their hands on his shoulders. Not missing a beat, Howie kept talking to me while he slowly raised the back of his left fist to the eye level of the ladies.  He then put his left thumb into the middle of his clenched fist and slowly pushed up his ring finger, revealing a very nice gold wedding band.  The ladies made a hasty retreat back to their staging area.  “Well done!” I said.  He chuckled and said, “I don’t like to talk to them, and the ring finger/wedding band thing keeps them away better than Deep Woods OFF.”  Soon, all the jokes and stories had been told.  Ronnie Lott said that it was late and their first meeting was at 8:00 the next morning.  Terry and Howie agreed. Hand shakes and hugs were exchanged with us before they walked off through an exit that didn’t go near the staging area.  These three guys were no longer knuckle dragging gargantuan men to me.

Within fifteen seconds, the recently vacated chairs were filled by three twenty-something FOX Sports production assistants.  They quickly affixed NFL lapel pins to their blue blazers.  The pins must have been laced with mating musk oxen pheromones, because 5 White-backed vultures at a carcass (note the yellow wing tags)about twenty of the not-kosher-butcher ladies were now stampeding toward us. I grabbed Deana’s wrist and screamed, “Run for the exit before it’s too late!!!” As we ran out into the lobby, I looked back. It was a terrifying sight. Oh well, at least I got a lot of free booze and food…and had met some very interesting people.  

 

 

 

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?????

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These Guys Are A Lot Different From GM!

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teaHippie

I landed at LAX at 3:30 PM, and it already felt different. This was to be my new home. There was no thought that someone would walk into my office and tell me that I was being transferred back to Detroit. I was filled with giddy anticipation, looking forward to working with new people, new clientsTown House  new cultures, and…a new FREE CAR! Even though it was a bottom-of-the food-chain Mazda GLC (the Great Little Car), it was free. FCB/H put me up at the Sheraton Town House Hotel. A beautiful, faded-glory hotel situated next to Lafayette Park, on Wilshire Blvd. The Town House was declared a historical landmark in 1993, and is now a low-income apartment building. Upon checking in, I received a note from FCB/H, welcoming me to LA. Classy! Having no idea where to grab a bite to eat, I ordered room service, kicked off my shoes and turned on KABC News and Jerry Dunphy. At this time, FCB was located at 2727 West 6th Street…right across Lafayette Park from the Sheraton Town House.  It is now the home of South Baylo University (not to be confused with the school in Waco, TX) a school teaching acupuncture. It was maybe two hundred yards away.  A simple walk, or so I thought. I would discover that getting across the park was a little more challenging than driving down Woodward Ave.

Dawn dawned. I was showered, shaved, and English Leathered. It was 8:45 AM when I strode out the door and into the park. I had to diagonally traverse the park to get to the front door of FCB. As I left the safety of the sidewalk, I immediately encountered three young men sitting on a picnic table, smiling at me.  Being a good son of Michigan, I smiled back. The largest of the three got up and approached me.  A lot of non-verbal cues told me that he was not part of the agency welcoming committee. He slowly opened his left hand to show me several one inch by one inch plastic packages that seemed to contain some kind of white powder. Sensing that it might not be Bromo-Seltzer, I quickly moved on. A few yards later I heard some shouting that seemed to be getting closer. A woman was screaming at a man who was carrying a purse while he ran away from her. Maybe he’d dropped his wallet.

Lafayette

I quickened my pace.  I could see the safety of the 6th Street sidewalk just steps away. I turned quickly and headed down the sidewalk for the crossing signal. An elderly lady approached me from the other direction. She stopped directly in front of me, screaming “You can go to Hell, Lewis!” She then moved her legs apart, bent her knees slightly, and relieved herself on the sidewalk and my new Thom McAns. She was definitely NOT from any welcoming committee.  I crossed the street and made my way toward the FCB front doors. There is a long hedge in front of the building. While passing it, I Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 12.07.16 AMheard a noise come from the bushes. I stopped, stupidly, to inspect it.  From within the bush came a voice, “Sir, keep moving. You’re interfering with an LAPD drug action.” Suddenly, his radio crackled…”It’s going down. Go! Go! Go!” The hedge gave birth to an LAPD undercover officer dressed as a homeless person. He raced across the street as other undercover officers emerged from trees, dumpsters, and out of cars. As they ran into the park, I could see that they were chasing the three young gentlemen selling Bromo-Seltzer. I’m going to love working here!

I entered the lobby and introduced myself. Denny Remsing came out, greeted me, and took me to my office…which had a glorious view of Lafayette Park. I told him about my park adventure. He said, “Stick to the sidewalks.” He then began to explain the Byzantine organization of our Mazda client. In the beginning, there was Toyo Kogyo of Hiroshima. They started out as a rock drill company at the start of the 20th Century, but began manufacturing motor vehicles. Toyo Kogyo came to North America riding on the success of rotary powered cars. In the U.S., they established three importing/distribution companies. One in Jacksonville, FL. One in Chicago. And one in Compton, CA. When the first gas crisis hit, the not so fuel efficient rotary engine cars suffered.  Toyo Kogyo was going broke. They sold the Jacksonville importing company to the C. Itoh Trading Company.  Toyo Kogyo’s bank, Sumitomo, took over Chicago. Toyo Kogyo held onto Compton. There was a slight gordian_knotproblem. C. Itoh and Sumitomo were major competitors. They had different ideas on how to package, price, and market Mazda vehicles. To compound the issue, Toyo Kogyo had to shut down their Compton operation, with Sumitomo taking it over, and moving the executives to Southern California from Chicago.  In the U.S. , Mazda was now really two companies: Mazda Motors of America – Central (Sumitomo decided not to change the name of the company when it moved to the West Coast); and Mazda Motors of America – East headquartered in Jacksonville and owned by C. Itoh. Toyo Kogyo still made the cars, but sold them to Sumitomo and C. Itoh to market in this country. MMA – C covered two-thirds of the country, MMA – E the East and South. 

Denny asked, “Are you still following me?” I lied and nodded my head. He continued on to explain that the two importers had different base prices and option packages. This pretty much eliminated any network television ads featuring price. Also, Toyo Kogyo, Sumitomo, and C. Itoh all contributed to the ad budget, requiring three separate sets of budgets. Ads had to be approved by representatives of each company, requiring frequent trips to the dank heat and humidity capitol of America, Jacksonville, FL.  I was also informed that I would be in charge of providing budget information to the clients. Yippee!!

Denny then asked me a question that would change my life. “It’s almost noon.  Do you like Mexican food?”

Next: Pink Margaritas in Beer Flutes

They Take My Free Car!!!

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Corvette 3 copy

The bomb had been dropped. I was being pulled back to Detroit. It was certainly the right thing to do as a career move. I was now “mainstream.” Close to the beating heart of GM. But, as a twenty-eight year old advertising naif, it was still hard to give up:

  • Pretty much being your own boss
  • Having a very generous expense account
  • Being the “go to” person for all of the local media reps
  • Travelling to exotic locations in your region
  • Working with a large number of Chevy clients
  • Not having to pay to go to Dodgers, Angels, or Rams games
  • Having a free car

When I returned from the Field Meeting, Bob Albright and I started “Tom’s Farewell Tour.”  We visited the San Diego and LA Zone offices as well as the key dealers throughout the region. Most of the people we met asked, “Are you crazy?  Why are you leaving Southern California to go back to Detroit and work in the GM Building?” They all laughed when I said, “I had no choice.”  They thought I was kidding.  I wasn’t.  I felt like the condemned KGB prisoner.  Not only is he going to take one in the back of the head, his family is forced to buy the bullets. The packers packed, the movers moved, we were on our way back to Detroit.  As our neighbors tearfully waved goodbye, I announced, “I shall return.” We’d decided Mapthat we’d drive back, figuring that we didn’t want to sit waiting for our furniture to arrive at our new house in Detroit. The new 55 MPH speed limit had been enacted for travel on U.S. Interstates. Being a law-abiding citizen, I told my new boss that I couldn’t drive over 55 MPH. So driving for eight hours would bring us 400+ miles a day closer to the GM Building. It’s 2,281.4 miles from LA to Detroit. The math dictated that I take 5.5 days to make the drive. The irony was not lost on me, I was going to be able to see the U.S.A. in my Chevrolet! I had made reservations for lodging along our way. We would drive to Las Vegas, then a short jump to St. George, Utah,  then to Grand Junction, Colorado, then Kansas City,  MO., on to Indianapolis, then into Detroit. Some stops were more than a day’s drive, but we were also sightseeing. I had everything planned down to the nth degree.  Except for one, teeny, tiny problem.  I would be driving across the country in La Bestia, my Chevy Monza with the 5.7 liter V-8 monster engine that was cooled by a tiny Vega-sized radiator. We left LA on a Monday morning, headed for Las Vegas. By the time we got Victorville, in the Mojave Desert, I noticed that the temperature gauge was going up. Determined to press on regardless through the blistering nothingness of the Mojave, I was only marginally concerned when the needle was firmly planted in the red zone of the temperature gauge. I was moved to somewhat concerned status when I saw steam coming out from under the hood. I arrived at critically concerned when the car stalled and OverheatSignwe coasted on to the shoulder of I-15. When it was safe, I opened the radiator cap and saw a bone-dry radiator. It was 109 in the desert that day, and the temperature in the passenger seat was rising even past that. After thirty minutes or so, a California Highway Patrol car pulled up behind us. After explaining my problem, he looked under the hood and laughed. “Buddy, when you dropped this monster engine into this car, you forgot to put in a radiator that can cool it. I’m surprised you got this far. Where are you headed?” When I told him, he slowly shook his head. He informed me that my car wouldn’t make it through the heat.  I said that I had to be in Detroit in five and a Red-Rock-Canyon-Las-Vegashalf days to become part of the Chevy Account Team. Surprisingly, he was unimpressed. We worked out a plan. He would fill my radiator with water.  I was to top the radiator off every sixty miles. I was only to drive at night to avoid the blistering heat of the day.  I was to drive with the a/c off! Already, my passenger was making plans to take a bus back to LA. We limped into Las Vegas at 10:45 PM. The heat wave in the Western U.S. was expected to last for another four days.

We decided to leave Las Vegas for St. George at 4:00 AM. The temperature had plummeted to 80 degrees.  Cool enough to drive without the a/c. There’s not much to see in the Nevada desert, there’s even less at night. We arrived in St. George in time for breakfast. Not quite ready to go to bed at 9 in the morning, we visited the Brigham Young Winter Home  and the Daughters of Utah Pioneer Museum.  Neither place appreciated my request for a cold beer.

We continued our nocturnal journey through Utah and Colorado.  Sleeping by day, enjoying the beautiful countryside by night. The only hitch came at the Loveland Pass.  This is where I-70 crosses the Continental Divide.  Gerald Ford had decided that he liked to vacation in Vail, about 38 miles west of the pass. In anticipation of the added traffic, I-70 was being widened on a stretch near the Eisenhower Tunnel, which cut through the pass. The elevation is about 12,000 feet. You can fool a tiny radiator into thinking it’s cool outside, but you can’t convince it that there’s air when there is none.  Traffic on I-70 was squeezed into one lane, and backed up for miles. Excavation equipment roared by our open windows. Steam began to wisp out from under the hood. A time and space warp enveloped the interior of my stalwart Chevy Monza. Hallucinations, screaming, flashes of lightning, curses shrieked in anger, talons ripping at flesh, and cries of banshees. We did, however, finally make it to Denver.

It was all downhill from Denver. In a good way, as we were on the downside of the Rockies. Kansas City and Indianapolis flew by.  We were now driving in daylight as we had the good fortune of being able to follow severe thunderstorms all the way to Michigan. We rolled into a Ramada Inn in Southfield, MI. This was just Arrowa few miles from the house we’d purchased in the Beverly Hills area of Royal Oak. I needed some remembrance of California.Our furniture arrived two days later.  We were fortunate.  Only about 20% of our stuff was destroyed. Our schnauzer particularly loved the house as he could easily squeeze under the under the redwood fence in the back yard and run away, I was able to quickly meet a lot of my neighbors by picking up schnauzer dootie in their yards. Monday morning arrived.  I showered, shaved, and put on my best grey flannel suit. I grabbed my empty briefcase and drove down my street to Woodward Avenue…the femoral artery of Detroit. Turn right on Woodward. Turn right on Grand Blvd. Turn right into parking lot behind Fisher Bldg. Go into Fisher Bldg. Take the underground concourse to the GM Bldg. Go to the 4th Floor. I was now in the belly of the beast.

detroit Map

Next:  I Am Shown To My New Office

The Bloom Starts To Come Off Of The Rose

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Wilted rose

Don’t get me wrong, I had the world’s greatest job. Lunches at Chasen’s and at the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel, dinners at Perino’s and The Brown Derby, Preferred “client” seating for tapings of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, and the Tonight Show. Visiting relatives thought I was a god. When things got slow in the office, I’d go make dealer calls in San Diego, Palm Springs, or Las Vegas. Sometimes I would go into our small projection room and watch old Chevy commercials that were in our TV vault.  The commercials, stored on tiny 16mm reels, were classic examples of the days when you didn’t have to talk about your latest lease deal, your MPG numbers, or let the public know that they were seeing “professional drivers on closed roads.” There was Dinah Shore telling me to “See the USA in my Chevrolet” because “America’s the greatest land of all…Mmmwahh!” Pat Boone, the teen heart-throb, pitching Chevys on the Pat Boone Chevy-Showroom. Doug Mahoney was one of our West Coast TV production people. He came in while I was watching the classic 1964 “Castle Rock” Chevy commercial where the agency had perched a Chevy and a very terrified model on the top of Castle Rock, 1500 feet above the Utah desert floor. Doug worked on the commercial.  As the helicopter flies over the top of the rock,

we see a model, Shirley Rumsey, smiling at the camera. The dulcet tones of Joel Aldrich, Chevy’s long time announcer, telling us that “Chevy stands alone.” What you don’t see are the high winds blowing around at that altitude (notice Shirley’s hair and her dress), the harness that Shirley wore under her dress which was bolted to the frame of the car (preventing her from being swept over the side), or Doug, hidden in the trunk with a walkie-talkie, holding on to her legs through a hole in the back seat. Shooting finished late in the afternoon.  The helicopter pilot said that the winds had picked up and flying Shirley and Doug off would be too dangerous.  His suggestion was that the two of them spend the night in the car.  Doug was all for that.  Shirley said that she’d rather jump over the side than spend the night in the trunk of a car with Doug. They brought them down. In college, I did a parody of this spot for a mattress company as part of an advertising assignment. The professor gave me a C-, saying that it was “utterly unbelievable.”

But everything wasn’t food, fun and games. GM, and the other Detroit car makers, were becoming slightly annoyed with what they thought was a passing fad…Japanese cars. After a bumpy start with the Datsun Bluebird, and the Toyota Toyopet, these companies, along with Honda, offered products that became hotBluebird sellers in California. Chevy’s response was the Vega. Instead of building a small car from scratch, take a big car and shrink it, they thought.  To stem what was being called the Japanese invasion, Chevy started the California Marketing Project. They assigned a department head level manager to run it out of the Regional office in San Francisco. In addition to my regular weekly report, I was assigned the responsibility of writing weekly reports for the California Project. What kind of ads were they running? How heavy was the media spend? Did their engines, like the Vega’s, blow up? I even mentioned a blatantly xenophobic memo that was now circulating in the West Coast zone offices, written by a Zone Manger in the Cincinnati Region. He sent it to all of his dealers, decrying the fact that even though America had won WWII, the Japanese were again attacking the good old USA by “lobbing thousands of tons of steel onto our cities.” I received a call from someone in Detroit.  “Knock it off!” I was told.  “Your reports are too negative and they are upsetting a lot of people back here. Can’t you talk about anything positive?” I was going to mention that new “import fighter,” the Chevy Monza, that couldn’t be designed and engineered for California without having to choose between the Vega engine, and a monster 350 cubic inch car-fire(5.7 liter) V-8 that was designed to go into cars weighing a ton more.  I loved LA restaurants too much to bring that up. Also, GM was getting bad press in Southern California.  To comply with California’s tough emission laws, GM’s post combustion catalytic converters would heat from 750 to 1000 degrees. This made parking your car in any dry grass during the SoCal brush fire season somewhat problematic. The late Kenny Hahn, an LA County Supervisor at the time, invited the press to a demonstration. A GM car was parked, with the engine running, near some dry grass. Within minutes, the reporters got their stories.

I’d write reports talking about the great price/value story the Imports had. I’d be scolded and told that their value story was only due to an undervalued yen. I would say that the mope from Culver City who’s shopping for the best deal doesn’t really care about the yen/dollar exchange rate. Detroit made a lot of money on option packages. They also offered a fistful of trim levels.  The dealer was quite happy if you drove away in a new Impala Luxus Elite Brougham Tourismo SS Squire Spyder Custom Towne Car.  The Imports were offering an average of three trim levels, all fairly well-equipped. Usually: L, S, and LS. I was smart enough to realize that, like a Great Lakes ore freighter, GM couldn’t turn around on a dime. The models coming out the next year had been decided upon almost three years earlier.

The ad agencies handling the Imports weren’t slouches either. When Chevy or Ford would drag their heels on renewing a California sports buy, the Imports, with fewer layers of people who could say “No” at the client, would pick them up.  The same was true when Chevy got out of outdoor.  All the franchise freeway and airport signs they had were picked up by Datsun and Toyota.

See-no-evil-hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil-monkeys-14750406-1600-1200When clients came out to the West Coast, they were surrounded by people who didn’t want them to think that anything was wrong.  Not all Regional and Zone people were like this, but the few who weren’t were easily shouted down. The general feeling was that consumers would come to their senses and return to the True Faith. Even if it meant playing the “Buy American” card.

Next: “You’re Here To Do What?????”