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.  

 

 

 

I Am Driven Happy

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After surviving MPG-gate, life rolled on as I toiled in the Sales Promotion and Merchandising vineyards. The Chevrolet Merchandising and Sales Promotion Department was a Byzantine organization of small fiefdoms. My client for the Chevy Small Car Guide was a high-energy young fellow who would soon leave SoapBoxDerbyChevrolet and become a successful car dealer. Others, like Mason Bell, handled projects for years because there was nobody at GM who could do it better. Chevrolet sponsored the Soap Box Derby from 1934 to 1972, Mason was in charge for most of those years. He was also my client for Chevy’s sponsorship of the AAU’s Junior Olympics.  Then there were those who supervised a dog’s breakfast of projects. One of these clients decided to make the best of this situation. The Normandie was a great bar and restaurant across 2nd Ave. from the NormandieGM building. My client would call one of the Campbell-Ewald account men up around 11:30 and tell him that he was going to buy lunch “for the client” at the Normandie at noon. I learned not to answer my phone between 11:30 and noon. He usually held court in a corner booth with his girlfriend, who lived a few blocks away, near another GM watering hole called Bonaparte’s. One day, the Director of Merchandising and Sales Promotion had seen enough.  It was now 2:00 and he knew that his employee was probably having a high time at the Normandie. “I’m going over there to fire him right now,” he said as he left for the Normandie. That’s when my client’s Early Warning System went into effect. As soon as the Director had left the area, a secretary speed-dialed the Normandie to a phone behind the bar. “Code Red, Code Red!” the bartender yelled across the room to my client. My client bolted up, kissed his mistress, and ran to the back of the restaurant, where a small door exited onto 2nd Ave. He could look up to the second floor of the GM Bldg. Running Manand see his office window and his secretary looking down on the street. As soon as she saw the Director charge through the front door, she gave him the signal to bolt across the street and into the 2nd Ave. entrance to the GM Bldg. The Director stopped in the middle of the restaurant and scanned the room.  “Where is he?” he demanded. “Nobody’s seen him since last week,” the bartender said…not realizing that the Director had not mentioned a specific name. The Director ran back to his office, and found my client at his desk, talking on the phone with a Chevy dealer. This round went to my client.

Not all of the rounds went to him, however. I can deal with a great amount of crude behavior, but when it impacts my career, it’s time to act. This client lived with his wife and family in Farmington, MI. I don’t know if the wife knew about the “friend” he saw every day at work. On several occasions, when we were going out of town together, the client would ask me to drive him to the airport.  I would drive from Royal Oak, out to Farmington, and back down to Detroit Metro.  The trip would be repeated when we returned to Detroit. I thought this was client service. Due to my naiveté, I didn’t know that he was turning in his own expenses for mileage and airport parking to Chevy. We went to Florida to show some layouts to a sports marketing partner.  The client had approved the layouts.  The sports marketing partner went nuts when he saw them, saying, “This isn’t what we wanted!  Where are the finished posters?” My client, climbing behind the wheel of the bus that was about to run me over, said, “Tom, I told you that this stuff wasn’t right.” I went back to Detroit alone to “fix” things. My client stayed Lady_Justice_Sky.262223325_stdbehind to play a few more days of golf. That evening a call from one of the other Account Men.  I was being taken off of the project, and he was being put on it. This client’s Waterloo came when he forced me to buy him lunch, then forced another Account Man to buy dinner for him. When both of our expense accounts hit management desks for approval, a flag went up. We were called into a meeting with my boss’s boss, and the Director of Merchandising and Sales Promotion. Apparently, Chevy had been building a case against this guy for a while. Still smarting from the bus tire tracks on my back, I turned state’s evidence. My client was transferred to Chevy’s Vladivostok Zone.

In spite of my turbulent times in Merchandising, management felt that my California time had deluded me enough to think that big cars weren’t coming back, and promoted me to National Small Car Advertising Account Executive. “Small Cars” included any vehicle with a 100″ wheelbase or less.  This included the Vega, Chevette, Monza, and, surprisingly, the Corvette which had a wheelbase of 98″. Perhaps because they felt pity for me, I was also assigned the Camaro (108″) and the Nova (111″). The Big Car account executive handled Chevelle (Malibu and Laguna), Chevy Caprice, and Chevy Impala. Chevy trucks were handled by the strange guys down the hall.

Campbell-Ewald’s slogan at the time was “Advertising Well-Directed.” The logo featured a writing quill hitting the bull’s-eye of a target. Pretty succinct. Shortly after I assumed my new duties, I was given the chance to to do some well-directed advertising.  I was being sent to New York City to supervise a Chevy Chevette commercial. I had no idea what an AE was supposed to do at a shoot, other than to look after the client’s interests. The Chevette’s new theme was “Chevy Chevette. It Will Drive You Happy.” Building on the popularity of David Naughton’sdr-pepper-ad-1970s performance in the classic “I’m A Pepper  Wouldn’t You Like To Be A Pepper Too?” Dr. Pepper spot, we developed a commercial for Naughton with him singing the Chevy Chevette theme (complete with singers and dancers) as he skipped around a Chevette while a giant matrix lightbox behind him flashed pictures of standard features. It was going to be done in one complete take. I arrived in NYC the day before the shoot and met with the agency creative people attending the shoot. The call was for 6 AM the next morning. The creative folk told me that I didn’t have to be there until 9 AM. The next morning, dressed in my best suit and carrying my new briefcase, I hailed a cab in front of the hotel. I read him the address of the sound stage. It was on 125th St. and 2nd Ave. “Nope,” the cabbie said. I ain’t going there.” This was my first trip to NYC,and unaccustomed to local folkways and mores, I got out and hailed another cab. This time the cabbie said, “Why do you want to go to Harlem?” I told him what I was doing.  He said, “Whatevvuh, but I don’t think there’s any movie studios up there.” He dropped me at the corner and sped away. I found the address over a very heavy iron door. I knocked and was let in. Singers and dancers were practicing, David Naughton was going over the staging with our art director. A lot of people were just standing around, drinking coffee and Film-Directorand eating doughnuts. After an hour, the decision was made to start shooting. Surely they didn’t send me out here to do nothing. I wanted to make some type of contribution.  The director shouted, “Action!” David and the chorus came out singing and dancing. The giant matrix was flashing.  David approached the car.  The camera began to back up. I realized that the camera was going to back up over a wayward cable on the floor. It would ruin the whole take!! I finally could be of some worth.  I picked up the cable and moved it about three feet out of the way. The director got the take and said, “Cut!” I had been able to do something for the commercial and was feeling quite proud…until a very large hand grabbed my shoulder and turned me around. “Who are you and what the hell are you doing?” the hand asked. “Sir, I’m Tom Cavanagh, Campbell-Ewald’s National Account Executive and I’m here to represent Chevrolet’s interests.” The hand said, “Big whoop!” and walked over to our agency producer. After a brief conversation, he came back with a director’s chair. “Mr. Cavanagh, this chair is just for you.  Why don’t you sit here, and if you see something that needs to be done, you tell me or Sal over there.” Then it hit me. Unions!!!!! I had broken a cardinal rule by doing something that someone else was getting paid to do…even though they hadn’t done it. I learned that on a shoot, the AE’s place was next to the Craft Services table.

Next: Adventures In Creativity  

Behind The Green Curtain

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the-great-and-powerful-oz-revealed-4 pay no attention to that man behind the curtain

Nothing takes the chill of a cold Memphis night out of your bones quicker than a glass or two of sour mash bourbon. I found a large booth in the hotel bar and started my de-icing process. Moose Krause and Steve Niehaus soon joined me. We discussed the game. I also informed them that as a staunch MSU Spartan, I shouldn’t be seen in public fraternizing with any Fighting Irish, let alone their Athletic Director and All-American Defenseman. But as a goodwill gesture, drinks would be on me. Well, on Chevrolet. Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 12.10.16 PMMoose had driven from South Bend to Cincinnati to pick Steve up at the Niehaus home, and then drove the two of them to Memphis. This was a trip of over 700 miles, and it took almost twelve hours to drive! Moose explained that he drove down to Cincinnati on 12/21, spent the night in a motel, then picked Steve up for the long drive to Memphis. I asked him why drive when we would have flown both of them. His response was, “I wanted to stop in and say ‘Hi’ to the Niehaus family. They’re really wonderful people.”

A few minutes later, we were joined by Miss America. Except now, she was Tawny Godin from Portland, Maine. “Where is Frau Blücher this evening?” I asked. Tawny said, “She went to bed. I’m free and clear for a while, but can’t stay out too late as we have adjoining rooms and she can tell when I get in.” The three guys in the booth then began to pepper her with Miss America questions that she’d probably been asked thousands of times before. I decided to change the subject. “Tawny, what do you think of this new comedy show on NBC called jimlampleySaturday Night Live?  Do you think it has a chance?” Before she had a chance to answer,we were joined by Jim Lampley.  Jim had been hired by ABC the previous year to become one of the first “sideline reporters.” ABC wanted to attract a younger demographic for the NCAA games.  They felt that having a young, attractive person giving quick reports from the sideline would perk things up a bit.  Jim’s youth and director Andy Sidaris’ “honey shots” of cheerleaders and women in the stands, had turned the football games into a ratings powerhouse. Little did I know at the time that 40% of the people sitting at the table with me that night would go on to become news anchors for TV stations in LA.  Tawny, as Tawny Little, for KABC and others, and Jim, on KCBS. He is now doing boxing on HBO. Moose Krause, who played football at Notre Dame under Knute Rockne, would be elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame. Steve Niehaus was a consensus first string All-American pick in 1975. He would be the first person ever drafted by the Seattle Seahawks a few weeks later. Ironically, they chose him over Chuck Muncie. He was the 1976 NFL Rookie Defenseman of the Year, and holds the Seahawks record for most sacks in a single season.

Me? I was still trying to figure out how to get my free car back.

As the evening wore on, our ranks began to thin. Moose Krause was the first to fold. As he got up, he asked if he could speak to me for a moment. The two of us moved to a nearby empty booth. “Tom,” he said, ‘this is rather embarrassing. As you know, Steve and I drove down here. On the night of 12/21, I stayed in a motel outside of Cincinnati before picking Steve up at his parent’s house the next day.” Where was he going with this, I thought? Moose reached inside his suit coat pocket, pulled out a crumpled piece of paper, and handed it to me. “It’s the motel bill for the night I stayed in Cincinnati, he said. “Do you think I could get reimbursed for this? I paid for it out of my own pocket.” The bill was from a Motel 6 for $38.00. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that we’d spent $7800 flying the Cal Berkeley guys in.  “Of course we’ll reimburse you,” I said. Just send me an invoice Motel 6and I’ll be sure that it’s billed through on the job.” His eyes fell.  “How long do you thing that will take?” he asked. I knew where this was going. “Here, Moose, let me pay you now for it, and I’ll turn it in with my expenses.” I handed him $40. He bade me goodnight and told me to look him up on my next trip to Notre Dame.

Shortly after I got back to our booth, Miss America said that she’d better get back to her room before the clock struck twelve. We all stood and waved her off. A few minutes later, Jim Lampley excused himself. Steve Niehaus and I ordered more distilled corn by-product. Steve kept looking around furtively. “Did Coach Krause really go back to his room?” I assured him that he had. “Whew!” Steve said, as he pulled a rumpled pack of Winstons out of his hip pocket. “I thought he’d never leave.” The mangled cigarette was quickly lit, half of it disappearing as Steve inhaled. “You smoke?” I asked. “Like a chimney,” Steve said. “I was worried that my hands shaking would give it away. Coach Krause would kill me if he knew I smoked.” Interesting comment from a man whose Notre Dame playing days were over, and who was about to become a millionaire in the NFL. We talked for a while about our backgrounds and hobbies.  John BoehnerHe mentioned that he’d attended Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati. Moeller was a perennial football powerhouse, providing the NFL with a lot of players. One of their notable alums who didn’t go into the NFL is former football center John Boehner. Moeller was also a fertile recruiting field for…Notre Dame! A small light began to flicker on in my head. I asked Steve how he got the news about his Chevy scholarship award. He told me that Moose Krause called him with the news. “Did he tell you that we were willing to fly you to Memphis?” I asked.  Steve said that he had, but Moose told him that he espnhs_st_ignatius_football_576x324was “going to be in Cincinnati anyway” and that it would be easy for them to drive to Memphis together. That crafty old codger! He was going to Cincinnati anyway to recruit talent for Notre Dame, and I had helped him by subsidizing his trip!!  It’s as though I had made a direct contribution to their football fund. It has taken me almost 38 years to deal with this guilt and publicly admit it for the first time today.

Next: “What Do You Mean We Printed The Wrong MPG Numbers?”

I Am Shown To My New Office

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Young Turk

I knew that I had to first see John Bluth, VP-Account Supervisor. John would be my boss. The Campbell Ewald Chevy Merchandising group was located in a hallway just to the right of the elevators. On either side of the hallway were doors framing translucent glass that led to the secretarial areas. Off of this area were the doors leading to the individual offices. I tried my luck with the door that said John Bluth. John was a great guy. If something hit the fan, he would work with you to fix it. John outlined my duties.  I was to be the Chevrolet Sports Marketing Account Executive. Chevy was neck deep with sponsorships of NCAA, Major League Baseball, the AAU, the Soap Box Derby, and the Chevrolet Super Sports (SS) Team which was comprised of sports celebrity endorsors. Not too shabby! John took me across the hall to meet his boss, Chuck McLaughlin, Sr. VP-Management Supervisor. If Ricardo Montalban and a leprechaun were to have a child, it would have been Chuck.  Stylish, genteel, sophisticated, with a quick wit, devilish sense of humor, and a twinkle in his eye. After meeting with Chuck, I was shown to my office. Each office had at least one window, and a Frigidaire window-mounted air conditioner.  From the air, the old GM building looked like conjoined Hs, thedet01 verticals connected by a long horizontal member. My windows looked across to the next wing, and down to the GM waste removal area. I’m quite sure that my window air conditioner was powered by a Pratt and Whitney 2500HP engine, the same engine that powered  the WWII P-47 Thunderbolt. If I wanted to talk on the phone, or have a meeting in my office, the a/c had to be shut off.

On my desk I had a phone and a Dictaphone recording device. I was told that it was faster to just write my memos out in longhand and give them to my secretary. There was a wooden coat rack in the corner, and two chairs in front of my desk. The filing cabinets behind me were empty…except for an unused condom that was caught in one of the file rollers.  Probably left over from the Christmas party of 1971.  I asked for some Lysol and paper towels to clean my desktop. John came in and dropped about sixty pounds of files on my desk. “Familiarize yourself with these. It will give  you a good idea of what you will be doing. And, call the travel office and have them book you a ticket for LA. You’re going there on Thursday.” Whahhhh??  As the sports merchandising guy, i would be attending each week’s NCAA UCLAFootball game on ABC. UCLA was playing Ohio State in LA on Saturday.  This was the drill: Thursday fly to location city, ABC booked my room; Friday attend pre-production meeting with ABC  technical people, handle any ticket requests local Zone people had; Saturday go to the game (with my all-access ABC credential) and make sure Chevy display near end zone was visible, make sure Chevy guy presenting Scholarship Award check knew how to pronounce the players’ names, then attend post game party; Saturday go home.

I was fortunate that my first game was a night game. Most games were played on Saturday afternoon. This triggered the Chevrolet Sun-visor Program. In concept, it was very clever. Produce cardboard sun-visors in the home team’s school colors, with a very large Chevy bowtie logo on the top of the visor, and the team’s football schedule on the underside of the visor.  They would be distributed free at the gate, with the expectation that the ABC cameras would broadcast a sea of Chevy logos as they panned the packed stadium. On Monday of the week of the game, ABC would call and tell me who the teams for Saturday would be…this was before the era of “regional” games. I would whip out my College Sports Information Director’s Handbook and find out the school’s colors, the capacity of the stadium, their current season’s football schedule, and the name of their Sports Information Director. I would call the SID and tell him that Chevy was donating $500 to their booster club if they would distribute the visors at the game. By noon, I had contacted the printer with the quantity (basically, the capacity divided by two because half of the stadium was in the shade), the school colors, the schedule, and a shipping address and a local contact to confirm delivery.  The completed visors were toTexas arrive by Thursday afternoon.  My first “visor game” was Texas – Oklahoma. The visors had arrived, Jim Bob Gullickson of the Hook-Em Horns Boosters called to confirm.  We were ready to rock and roll. I dutifully sent out a memo telling everyone to watch the game. Gameday arrived. The cameras panned the vast stadium crowd. Nobody was wearing a visor!!!!!

What had gone wrong?  They got there in time.  Jim Bob seemed to be a man of his word. Then the the glaring flaw in the program hit me. Most college teams make the visiting fans sit in the sun, the home team season ticket holders get to sit in the shade and don’t need a sun-visor.  No Oklahoma fan would be caught dead wearing Texas colors. Students don’t wear visors, they wear horns, or beaver hats, or gator heads, or Spartan helmets. I offered a solution that I knew would keep the multi-billion dollar General Motors Corporation solvent. Reversible sun visors! We lost the schedule, and printed the school colors of both schools, one per side. The next week at the Alabama – LSU game, the Chevy bowtie ruled the day.

For a while we had convinced ABC to mount their sideline cameras in the beds of Chevy Luv trucks. As the play on the field moved back and forth, you could see cameramen clutching their cameras as the trucks lumbered up and down the field. The clarity and stability of the shot relied on the acceleration and braking skills of the driver.

mrcoffeeI was settling into the routine of an ad guy…well, at least a sports promotions guy. A quick breakfast, the long commute down Woodward, lunch with the other account men in the GM cafeteria, the long commute up Woodward, dinner and bed. To break up the day, I decided to try a new beverage that had just been invented: coffee. There was no coffee room or break room.  Someone in our group brought in a nifty thing called a Mr. Coffee. The secretaries were in charge of the “Coffee Club.” For $5 a week, you had unlimited access to the coffee. Not being an addict yet, I opted for the 25 cents per cup plan. The NCAA football season was winding down. Visors were printed, car displays were arranged, cue cards were made, pre-production meetings  were attended. We were preparing ourselves for the ultimate football game, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Chevy’s Offensive and Defensive Players of the year would each receive $10,000 scholarship checks for their schools during the halftime ceremonies. The teams were set: USC vs Texas A&M. I was told that I would go to the game and manage the Chevy halftime festivities.  I told all my friends and family to tune in.  It would be monumental.

75liberty-lg

Next: Miss America Shows Me Her Undies

The Case Of The Missing Cars

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The answer is: McCloud (Dennis Weaver), McMillan and Wife (Rock Hudson and Susan St. James), and Columbo (Peter Falk).  The year is 1973. A few years earlier, NBC and Universal signed a multi-year deal to develop feature length mysteries for television.  The “wheel” format was born.  Sensing a winner, Campbell-Ewald inked a deal making Chevrolet the “presenting sponsor” of the Sunday Night Mystery Movie, as well as giving Chevrolet automotive exclusivity in the program. “Exclusivity” is an arcane term used years ago when a sponsor could purchase an exclusive sponsorship to lock out category competitors.  Today a sponsor can’t even get the fall-back “ten minute separation” cushion.  This was also back in the era when clients had some control over the programming. Before each episode was shot, we received a script to make sure there was nothing “objectionable” in the show. Also,angels no Chevrolet could be used depicting the commission of a crime, or in any other negative light.  Chevy wasn’t the only one doing this. Did you ever notice that every car parked outside of Charlie’s office in “Charlie’s Angels” was a Ford?

To sweeten the deal, Chevrolet agreed to provide 40 loaner cars made up of different Chevrolet models.  They were to be used as cars for the filming of the shows.  They were generously sprinkled throughout each exterior scene.  Everyone was happy. Until the start of the 1974 model year.  Chevy was anxious for us to recall the current fleet and replace them with 1974 models.  I was tasked with calling our Universal contact to arrange for the fleet to be returned to Chevy’s LA Zone Office.  I was told that they would all be returned by the end of the following week.  I informed Chevy. On the appointed day, I called Universal and was told that the cars had been returned. Late that afternoon, I was informed by the Zone that only 26 cars had been returned.  I called Universal, and left a message for my contact.  The following Monday I called him again. “Uhhhh, Mike, you only brought 26 back.  We’re missing 14 vehicles.”  Mike actually seemed surprised.  “Tom, that was all of them.  There aren’t anymore in our garage.”  Hmmmm.  “Mike, we’re missing 14 cars.”  “Tom,” he said, “what’s the big deal?  GM is a big company.  What’s 14 stupid cars?”  I instantly knew where they were.  Universal heavy-breathers had gone to the production vehicle candy store and were personally driving the missing units.  I’ll get back to you, Mike.”  I called the Zone.  They said that they would “handle it.”  Two hours later, I received, via fax, a copy of a letter messengered to Mike at Universal.  The letter listed the 1012or_11_+1973_chevy_blazer+right_side_viewVINs (Vehicle Identification Numbers) of the missing cars.  It also listed the model, color, and option package of each one.  They were all Chevy Blazer 4X4s and Corvettes.  Surprise, surprise, surprise!!!  The letter went on to state that at 12:01 AM the following Wednesday, these units were being reported to the California Highway Patrol as stolen vehicles. Less than an hour later, I got a frantic call from Mike. The Universal lawyers were apoplectic. The missing cars had to be found.  They couldn’t have some big exec arrested for driving a stolen vehicle.

The next day 12 of the missing 14 were turned in.  We were still missing a Blazer and a Corvette.  The Blazer was located at the Napa vineyard a Universal director. It was being put on a truck and shipped to the LA Zone.  One to go.  A fully-loaded 1973 orange Corvette.  “Mike, GM’s gonna find it.” He was terrified.  The next morning I got a call from a famous producer with the motion picture division of Universal. He had given the Corvette to his girlfriend as a “gift.”  He explained that he couldn’t give itCorvette back as it was a gift to her. If he took it back, his girlfriend might do something crazy…like tell his wife! I explained to him how you can’t give things away that don’t belong to you. He then said that he’d pay for it. The Zone came up with a price…well above MSRP. The next day a cashier’s check was delivered to the Zone.

The bloom was now off the rose.  Chevy was starting to put more money into sports programs like NCAA Football and NFL Monday Night Football, both on ABC.  One of the nails in the Sunday Mystery Movie coffin came on january 27, 1974. That night’s episode of McMillan and Wife was about Rock Hudson’s character attending a reunion of his college football team. One by one, the attendees were being murdered. In buddy-mcmillan&wifeone scene, an attendee is crossing the street when, suddenly, a car races around the corner and accelerates straight toward him.  As the car approaches the poor soul, the Chevy bow tie logo is clearly scene on the grill of the advancing car. It was a 1974 Chevy Caprice.  The murderer used it to run the man down.  SPOILER ALERT!!!….the murderer turned out to be that legendary screen villain and evil-doer, Buddy Hackett.  The following Monday morning was highlighted by many angry calls from GM and Chevy, as well as a lot of professional grade ass covering.  The hit and run scene was in the script.  Universal knew the rule about not using Chevy products with bad guys driving them. They had always obliged by having the villains drive Fords.  Someone at Universal was getting even for the stolen car fiasco!  Chevy did not renew their sponsorship of the Sunday Mystery Movie.

This did not, however, mean that Chevy was done loaning out cars.  They became the “Official Vehicle” for the Glenn Campbell LA Open…now known as the Northern Trust Open.  Several weeks after Buddy Hackettgate, I was told that some gentlemen from the LA Junior Chamber of Commerce were in the lobby to see me.  Sensing the opportunity for a possible free lunch, I had them sent to my office.  I was surprised by their mission.  Apparently, someone in Detroit had given them my name as the LA Open contact.  The Junior Chamber was the service organization handling the staging of the tournament. They presented me with a list of vehicle needs for the tournament. I had been told that we only needed one vehicle which was to be parked in front of the clubhouse.  Not so.  To get the “Official Vehicle” honor Chevy had to provide,in addition to a boatload of cash, 20 vehicles for “tournament officials” to use as courtesy vehicles.  Here we go again!  We scrambled to find 20 cars to loan them. I reminded them that Chevy kept records of the VIN numbers on each car.

The tournament went off without  a hitch. Nineteen of the cars were returned within two days of the tournament’s finish. On Wednesday morning I received a call from the Chamber member who had given me the list.  “Hey Tom,” he said, “uhhh, we want to bring the Chevy Caprice back, but there’s a slight problem.”  Uh oh.  “Last night we were kind of celebrating, and, uh, we were looking for a place to have dinner.  We pulled up in front of The Palm and told the valet guy we didn’t have reservations and were going to just run in and check it out.”  “And…..?” I queried. “Well, you see, we were in such a hurry, and we’d already stopped at a few places, that we all jumped out of the car and accidentally locked the keys in the ignition.”  This wasn’t going to end well. “You see, the valet guys were getting mad because we were blocking the driveway, and we’d left the engine running. So we, so we found a rock and smashed out the driver’s side window to get back in the car.  The door frame got dinged a little too. We’ll pay for all the damages.  Sorry.” I told him that I’d call him right back and phoned our show car manager. “Don, we’ve got a slight problem.  The Chamber guys smashed out the driver’s sidelets-make-a-deal-doors window of the burgundy Caprice Classic with the white vinyl roof.” “Oh shark” (he really didn’t say shark), he screamed. I borrowed that car from Let’s Make A Deal.  That’s the grand prize behind Door #2!  They tape in three hours.  We can’t have the door open up on an empty turntable.”  There was no time to fix the car.  I told the Chamber guy to deliver the car directly to the studio.  We explained our predicament to their production people. Our solution was to have one of the models sit behind the wheel with her forearm resting on the doorframe…which had been cleared of glass, smiling broadly at the camera. If this didn’t work, I was sure that I was going to be saddled with the blame. The moment of truth arrived. Mrs. Fendeker, from Ottumwa Iowa, and dressed as an ear of corn, had to choose.  “Don’t pick Door #2, don’t pick 2,” I prayed.  She picked Door #3 and was on her way to Hawaii.

Next:  “Baseball, Something, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet” 

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