Chita Rivera Saves the Day

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We bid a fond adieu to Kansas City.  We watched as the moving packers swept through our apartment like locusts on the Kansas plains.  The last thing to be loaded onto the moving van was our new 1973 Chevy Vega Kammback Wagon.  I was nothing if not a company man.  I gave the keys to my free KC car to my replacement. Dick Byrne was giving me his Impala company car. We landed at LAX and went directly to the Franklin Arms.  This was old Hollywood at its stylish.  The residents were all “entertainment people” who would rent a unit on a month-to-month basis. Lots of ice plant and palm trees. A large pool in the centre of the units provided ample tanning area for folks to maintain their healthy Hollywood patinas.  It was about a half a mile from my office.  Fortunately, each unit was air-conditioned, as it was 104 degrees when we arrived.  I told my wife to enjoy the pool as I went off to work. Our furniture wasn’t expected to arrive for another five days. After the first day of having nothing to do from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM but sit by the pool and read, she informed me that she was getting bored. Uh oh! I suggested that she walk down Hollywood Blvd, maybe visit Grauman’s Chinese Theater which was next to my office.  She wasn’t too keen on that as long as the temperature was above 100.  I told her that I’d try to come up with something for her to do all day.  

This all changed on the evening of the second day.  My wife had met a friend at the pool.  Chita Rivera!  Ms. Rivera was the first Anita in West Side Story on Broadway. Her show stopper was the song “America”…”I like to be in America, OK by me in America, Everything free in America.” She and my wife struck up a conversation and became pool buddies.  Whew!!  On the third morning, as I was checking for any mail, a French couple was checking in.  I don’t really recall what he looked like, but his wife/girlfriend/mistress/lover was striking.  Think of Catherine Deneuve with long dark hair.  Thatimages afternoon I received a call from my wife.  She was quite upset. “What kind of place is this?  Around noon, a French woman comes out and takes her top off and starts sunbathing in front of everyone!!!”  “No!!!,” I exclaimed.  “Tom, I want you to call the manager and complain.” I replied that I’d “get right on it.”  When I got to the apartment that night she asked if I had called the manager.  “He was out, so I left a message.”  The next day, at noon, I got another call.  “She’s back! This isn’t France. Call the manager”  About ten minutes later I surprised my wife by joining her at the pool.  “What are you doing here?” she asked.  “I brought you some lunch, Dear,” as I dropped an egg salad sandwich in her lap, while I frantically scoured the lounge chairs.  “Uhhh, where is that French trollop?”  “Oh, she left about ten minutes before you got here.” Hmmmm. The next day I brought a tuna salad sandwich…at 11:00.  No luck.  I guess someone else had called the manager.

Being the LA Field Guy was the greatest job in the world.  Even though I protested that I didn’t, all of the TV and radio stations, newspapers and outdoor companies in LA and San Diego thought I could help them get on a Chevrolet media buy. I quickly learned about Chasen’s, Perino’s, The Brown Derby, The Polo Lounge, Trader Vic’s, Tail O’ the Cock, and Scandia to name a few.  I learned that the big outdoor companies, Pacific Outdoor and Foster & Kleiser, would barter space with Las Vegas resorts and airlines to provide trips to clients.  I quickly realized  why Dick Byrne had refused to go work in Detroit and stayed in this job for 17 years.  If I played my cards right, I could stay in this job for at least 39 years.  I quickly became used to the lifestyle.  The one thing that I had yet to master, and found out that I should, was golf.  The landed gentry in England went fox-hunting, the Germans went boar-hunting, LA Ad Guys played golf. A wonderful man named Harley Humes “adopted us.”  He was a rep for Pacific Outdoor, and was already well into his sixties. My wife and I would often have dinner at his house in La Cañada. He was “old LA.” His father was one of the founding members of Wilshire Country Club in 1919. Harley came into my office one day and announced to me, “Tom, I’ve gotten you a membership in SCAGA!”  This was the Southern California Advertising Golf Association.  Rich ad guys who were good at golf.  “I’ve put you in our foursome for the next tournament at Lakeside County Club,” he said. Another old line club, a short distance from Warner Brothers in Burbank, Lakeside was founded in 1924 and had as it’s members Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, W.C. Fields, Oliver Hardy, Gene Autry, among others. On the day of the tournament, and with my Sears golf clubs, I arrived at the club. A man about the same age as my father 8893588_122902194863approached me and asked if I was Mr. Cavanagh. I was, I told him.  “Hi, sir.  I’m Sam. I’ll be your caddy today.  Why don’t you just give me those clubs and meet your friends in the grill.”  OK. Not too shabby.  I met Harley, who was sitting at a table with two other gentlemen. The first was introduced as Jim Davis, who owned a photography studio.  The other was introduced as Neal Reagan, Senior VP at McCann-LA.  I tried to lighten things up.  “Hey Neal,” I asked summoning all of my 26 year-old hubris, “you any relation to our actor-governor Ronald Reagan?”  “Why yes,” he intoned,”Ron is my brother.”  Uh oh!!  I felt retribution on its way.

As we walked toward the first tee, Harley pulled me aside and whispered, “We’re partners in this foursome. Don’t let Neal get under your skin. He’ll try to ride you, but he’s really a good guy. We’re not betting that much.”  If this hasn’t happened to you, you have NO idea the terror of being the new guy in a golf organization as you walk up to the first tee which is surrounded by golfers waiting to see what the “new kid” can do. I casually asked Sam for my driver and sauntered to the tee.  The quiet was deafening as I began my images (1)swing. Keep your head down!  Keep your head down! The ball left the tee with a mighty crack.  It was about 100 yards out when the ball’s right turn signal began flashing and it veered into some brush on the right side of the fairway.  Whew!! At least I got off the tee. “You’re OB, Tom!” Neal crowed.  “Tee it up again, you’re lying three!” Mortified, I walked over to Sam for my 3-wood.  Just hit it straight.  Again, the turn signal. This time the ball wasn’t as far right.  “OB again!!” Neal observed. “Tommy, you are now lying 6!!!!” I walked over to Sam and asked for my 9-iron. At least my slice would be limited. By this time the throng had dispersed, shaking their heads and chuckling to themselves.  My shot went all of 60 yards, but I was off the tee.

The rest of the round wasn’t too traumatic.  That evening at the awards dinner, Neal sat with me. The evening was kept buoyant by gallons of vodka martinis.  Well into the evening he turned to me and said, “You know Tom, you took my ribbing well. You’re a fine Irishman…like me. It’s a pleasure meeting you. Now I have to go the bathroom. I’ll be right back because I want to talk to you.”  He ambled off to the mens’ room.  After 30 minutes had gone by, Harley and I became alarmed.  We asked the waiter if he had seen Neal.  “Oh” he said, “Mr. Reagan got into his car about 30 minutes and drove home.” There were giants in those days.

Next:  The Case Of The Missing Cars 

Hills That Is. Swimmin’ Pools. Movie Stars!!!

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We had made it through the Field Meetings alive.  On my way through the 4th Floor Lobby, I stopped to admire the 4′ x 6′ display that had graced the lobby during the meetings.  It was a large map of the United States.  Across the top ran a banner “Our Men In The Field!”  Glued over each Campbell Ewald city containing a field office was a 6″ x 8″ photo of the field guy who was there.  Sure enough, smiling from the center of the United States, plastered on Kansas City, was my company mug shot. Oh, I thought, if only the kids from Emerson Jr. High could see me now.  This would partially make up for the time I stood up in 8th grade science class with my fly wide open.  Who’s laughing now, huh?

When I returned to Kansas City, for three weeks I was the Oracle of Delphi for the Chevrolet people in the Region.  “What does the new Monte Carlo look like?” “What Regional markets are on the spot market media buys?”  “Is it true that GM might come out with a vehicle powered by a Wankel engine?”  “Did you get to touch John DeLorean?”  My Midwestern acculturation had begun.  Life was good.  The people were very friendly.  Johhny Carson came on at 10:30.  The town was beautiful.  The food was incredible.  One of my favorite haunts was The Savoy Grill at 9th and Central.  Opened in 1903, it served incredibletornedos-rossini steaks (of course), and fantastic seafood (go figure).  They also served Tournedos Rossini.  If you haven’t had them, try to find a restaurant that does. They are exquisite! And there’s no truth to the rumor that Tournedos Rossini is French for Myocardial Infarction. What’s unhealthy about a beef filet sautéed in butter, on a large crouton, and topped with a hot slice of butter sautéed foie gras? Sprinkle on some black truffle and a Madeira demi-glace and you’re good to go. Viola! 

By the spring of 1973, I had been so inculcated with things Midwestern that I was now pronouncing the state properly…Mizzourah.  I even bought a light blue seersucker suit.  The only blip in my idyllic life was a decision to drive back to Michigan to see family.  It’s a twelve-hour drive.  Four to get to St. Louis, four to get to Kokomo, and four on up into Michigan.  Leave at 8:00 AM, arrive in Michigan at 9:00 PM, allowing for the time zone change.  For my recent birthday, my wife had purchased for me some Jockey cotton mesh underwear.  She told me it’s the brand Mark Spitz wears.  I all knew was that it made me look like Harry Reems getting ready for an audition.  My big mistake was deciding to wear it for the drive to Michigan, thinking that it would be “cooler.”  Somewhere between St. Louis and Indianapolis I became aware of a searing pain extending from the middle of the back of my thighs up to the small of my back.  Sciatica?  Probably not.  Couldn’t be fatigue.  The bucket seats in my car held you tightly like you were sitting in the palm of a giant.  As we got out of the car in Michigan, I hobbled up to meet the outstretched arms of family waiting to greet their successful son. I explained my agony as a possible pulled muscle.  I sought refuge in the nearest bathroom.  It now felt as though ten thousand needles had been placed into my backside.  As I dropped my pants, and turned to inspect the area, I was horrified!!  Note to self: Don’t wear cotton mesh briefs if Rumpyou’re going to sit on your rear for twelve hours.  I had to take them off.  It proved to be a tricky task, as the mesh had become one with my porcine behind.  It looked like a rolled rump roast. Unfortunately, much of the mesh had burrowed into my skin.  Taking off my briefs was very much like pulling the mesh off of a cooked rolled roast.  There was a distinct “popping” noise as each square of the mesh broke free.  I slept on my stomach that night. The return to Kansas City was uneventful.  I drove back sitting on a pillow.

People in the Midwest kept buying Chevys, and all was right with the heavens. The Region even got Ford to take their “This Is Ford Country” outdoor campaign down, as Chevy was outselling them.  When not out in the field, making sure that the world had a better way to see the USA, field guys were on the phone…with each other. If only one or two guys had heard a rumor about things happening in Detroit, it probably was a false alarm.  Three or four guys, the rumor deserved to be checked out.  A simple majority of the guys meant that a memo confirming it would probably arrive in the overnight pouch.  Thus it was that I found out that I was being transferred.  To where I did not know.  The usual tour of duty had you in the field for two to three years, then back in Detroit.  The rumor was that “someone” was being transferred.  But there were no openings in Detroit at the time.  Did that mean someone was being fired and that poor soul didn’t have a clue.  Then the rumor mill picked up on the fact that Dick Byrne was retiring after 17 years as the LA field guy. Maybe someone was going there.  Some new guy?  One of us?  Within days I discovered that I was one of two names being floated for LA.  Apparently, the other name said “No” as my name was the only one being mentioned.  My comrades asked if I had heard anything about it.  I said, “Hey, I get all my news from you guys.”  Two days later my boss called.  “Tom, I’ve got some exciting news for you.”  “I know,” I said, “I’m being transferred to LA.”  He was incredulous.  “How did you know?”  I told him, “It was in The Hollywood Reporter.”  I learned the talent of messing with people’s minds.

The more I discovered about the position, the more attractive it became.  Nice salary bump.  Only two zones to call on; LA and San Diego.  Larger staff.  I flew to LA to check it out. The LA office housed all of our network clearance people, an account executive who worked on Rockwell, some production people, a guy who was Hwoodin charge of the “Hollywood” fleet of Chevrolets (cars for use in TV production), and the West Coast head of Network Programming.  The programming guy was senior to me (a VP!) so I was officially the number two guy here.  No big deal.  I still had my private secretary, my corner office, and my free car. My office was in the southwest corner of the First Federal of Hollywood building at the corner of Hollywood and Highland. It was torn down to build the Kodak Center.  On clear days I had a view of the Pacific Ocean and the LA basin all the way to Palo Verdes.  On most days I had a clear view of brown air.  In the lobby of the office there were travel posters for UTA Airlines and the Tahitian Tourist Bureau.  I asked if these were Campbell-Ewald clients.  “They used to be,” I was told.  I was then told a story that would, years later, teach me a lot about how ad agencies, and executive management, could make a lot of money in the ad biz.  It seems that Campbell-Ewald, as many agencies did, wanted a larger presence in Southern California.  Building the business took too long.  It was easier to buy an existing LA agency.  So they did.  They bought a vibrant little LA agency called Dailey, for $2 million. By the early 70’s, Campbell-Ewald had decided they couldn’t make a go of it as a full-service West Coast agency and sold it back to Pete Dailey for less than $200,000.  Interpublic had acquired Campbell-Ewald  in 1972.  Twelve years later, Interpublic bought Dailey and Associates for $22.3 million.  The new California Gold Rush was on!!  It was time to say goodbye to Kansas City.  We were heading to LA!      

Next:  “Have You Met Any Movie Stars?”

 

Into The Belly Of The Beast

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Golddiggers

June 26, 1971, started as any other day except for one thing.  I was now an Ad Guy!!  I had relocated from Lansing to my grandmother’s house in Detroit several days earlier to be close to work.  I was to report to Personnel at 9:oo AM.  As I entered the lobby of the GM Building and made my way to the elevators, I noticed that I was now part of a sea of suits that was about to infest every corner of the building, making heavy decisions, determining the course of the U.S. economy, and just generally being brilliant.  After dropping my paperwork off, I was escorted to the main conference room.  Soon, the other four chosen ones came in.  My MSU college buddy, Ed Pietila, had made the cut. Tom Turner and Greg Stein, Vietnam vets, and Chuck Seibert, who had been a caddy at Oakland Hills C. C..

We had all been assigned to different departments to begin our instruction into the art, craft, science, and lifestyle choice that was advertising.  I grabbed my briefcase, that had nothing in it, and was taken to the Media Department.  The Media Department was not in the GM Building.  It was behind it on the 11th floor of the Argonaut Building.  To get there, you had to take a GM Bldg elevator to the 10th floor where a hallway led you to a skyway concourse that took you directly into the Media Department.  To this day I haven’t been able to figure out how one gained a floor by crossing Milwaukee Avenue a hundred feet in the air.

Bill Kennedy, VP – Media Director, greeted me and took me around to meet the group.  I’m sure that they had all been told to be nice to the “bag smasher” they were getting stuck with.  I was to be assigned to the Broadcast Group.  They were the ones who planned and bought the time for TV and radio commercials.  I instantly learned about “glom.”  Glom was the free tchotchkes you got from networks, stations, and reps.  I was immediately given a Mutual Broadcasting coffee mug, a CBS Spot Radio Sales notepad, and an NBC Sports ballpoint pen.  I was ready to start making a difference.

I was turned over to Mary George. Mary was the head of the Spot Buying Unit.  A very petite lady, she gave meaning to the adage “Hell hath no fury like a spot buyer scorned.”  On many occasions, I would hear Mary’s voice rise when a rep would tell her that he couldn’t deliver the ratings he had promised.  The walls would shake as she told the rep was about to happen to his career.  It was the only time in my career that I would see men run out of an office.  I crunched rating numbers for her.  One day I was standing behind her at her desk, going over a buy.  I noticed that she had a milk crate under her desk, upon which she had placed her feet.  I asked about it. Mary smiled.  “Tom, I’m so short that my feet don’t touch the ground when I sit in my desk chair.  If I didn’t have something to anchor my feet when I went to throw something at a rep, I would just spin in my chair.  That’s not a good image for engendering fear.”  That advice went into Tom’s Book of Advice to Never Forget.

A few weeks after I’d started, the FCC did something that almost caused me to reconsider my chosen vocation.  They came out with PTAR…the Prime Time Access Rule. It wasn’t so much the rule that almost sank me, it was what the rule brought about.  TV stations now were able to run their own local programming.  The hour from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM would no longer carry network programming.  The race was on!!!  Syndicators and advertisers went crazy coming up with shows to fill this vast wasteland…of time.  Chevy was no different.  The General Manager of Chevy was John Delorean.  John Z. had many Hollywood connections.  The agency was told that Chevy had purchased three barter syndication shows. Barter meant that Chevy would slug two commercials into the show, the station could run the program at no charge and sell the other two spots for their own profit.  They were:

  1. The Tom Brookshier Sports Illustrated Show – Ahead of it’s time.  Think of a kinder, gentler Bryant Gumbel’s Real Sports 
  2. Johnny Mann’s Stand Up and Cheer – Wholesome, clean-cut, mostly young, singers and dancers who always seemed to be wearing red, white, and blue spandex. Notable about the show were two of the singers.  Thurl Ravenscroft, who was 57 at the time.  He gave voice to many of the animatronics at Disneyland, but was most famous as the voice of Tony the Tiger.  The other was Ken Prymus. One of two African Americans in the group, Kennie is probably most famous for his role as PFC. Seidman in the movie version of MASH.  During the “Last Supper” scene, he sings the now iconic theme “Suicide is Painless.”  These were cool people to be around.
  3. Chevrolet Presents the Golddiggers – This was a dog’s breakfast of skits, unintentional bloopers, and going through the motions dance numbers.  For those of you who weren’t around, the Golddiggers were a group of lovely young women who were featured on the Dean Martin Show in the 70’s.  They would lounge around on couches, supporting Dean’s naughty boy image, while he delivered the opening monologue.  Someone had the brilliant idea to package the routines that weren’t good enough to air on NBC, and sell them to Chevy as a syndicated show.

Either because everyone else was too busy, or nobody wanted to be connected with this deal and get career-ending schmutz on them,  I was given the project.  My instructions were simple:

  • Clear the top 25 markets at all costs!
  • There are no demo tapes, “so they’ll just have to trust you that these are great shows.”
  • The MOST important thing was to clear a Detroit station.  There would be a lot of televisions in Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, and Grosse Pointe looking for them.
  • All of this had to be done in two weeks.

Armed with a station directory and my NBC Sports pen, I started cold calling station managers.  There were a few hurdles.  They had never heard of the shows (except they could name all of the Goldiggers), they wanted to see a demo before they committed to a program, and, of course, they had no idea who I was.  Within two weeks I had cleared 24 markets with at least one of the shows.  I couldn’t crack Detroit.  The folks in media told me to remind the local station managers that there was a huge Chevy Spot TV buy coming up.  Wink, Wink.  WWJ-TV, the Detroit NBC outlet relented.  They signed up for The Golddiggers.  The first show was to air the following Monday at 7:00 PM!  I told my co-workers, I told the client. I also told my friends and my family.  I wanted them all to see that I was now a powerful ad guy.

Monday arrived.  It was 4:30 PM.  My phone rang.  It was the Channel 4 station manager.  I couldn’t really tell what he was saying because of all the cursing and gagging. I finally got the gist of his call.  They had just received the tape for that evening’s show.  Not only was it a terribly edited piece of crap, the program, INCLUDING commercial slugs, was only seventeen minutes long.  Oooops!  I naively suggested that he pull the show and run a George Pierrott Travel Show repeat. Silence.  Then he said, “Don’t worry , Tom.  I’ll get even.”  Hmmmmmm. Something was going to happen tonight that might delay my getting my free car.

7:00 PM.  Judgement half-hour. The program came on.  Everything seemed to be OK. Sure, the production values were crappy, the lip synch was off, and the lighting was bad.  Big deal.  The PTAR was bound to cause a few hiccups.  Then, about ten minutes into the program, while the Golddiggers were singing “Let Me entertain You,” it happened.  The tape slowly ground to a halt.  …”let me make you smmmmm… The station then ran twelve minutes of the same Smokey the Bear commercial.  No big deal for WWJ.  They completed their monthly FCC mandated public service advertising duty in one night.  As Smokey faded out, they started the tape back up. “…smmmmmile. Let me do a few tricks, some old and some new tricks…”  My phone rang.  It was the Media Director.  “Tom, what happened?  Three clients have already called me at home!”  I told him what had happened.  How the syndicator had sent a bad show.  How sorry I was.  He simply and calmly said, “See me first thing tomorrow morning.”  I immediately showered and shaved. Put on my best suit, and sat in my car until the sun came up.

I walked into his office that morning looking like a whipped dog.  I was surprised to see him smiling.  “Thanks, Tom.  You did us all a great favor.  You’re going to go far in this business.”  Huh?  What was going on?  He explained to me that the agency had fought tooth and nail to distance themselves from the Golddiggers.  Since John Delorean had blessed the project, nobody could say No.”  Only by broadcasting one of the shows on a Detroit station could the voices of reason be heard.

I guess I took one for the team.  I learned that most good deeds never go unpunished.

Next:  “Get Out!  Get Out Now!