The Rocket Car

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Rocket

Here’s my story it’s sad but true, it’s about a car I once knew.  It took my love then ran around, through every light in town…Hayp, Hayp. Bumda hady hady hayp hayp… Well, most of you know the lyrics to the rest of the song.  This is the story of a car that was born too soon.  If Charles Dickens were to write a story about an orphan car, battered by cruel fate, and then cast aside, he would write about this car.  Except, in this story, there is no heroic redemption as in “Great Expectations.”  Our story begins in 1969 in the top floors of the GM Building. GM was looking for an alternative power plant to the internal combustion engine that would provide great low-end torque, and a true sporty car feel.  NSU, of Germany, had developed a rotary engine, the Wankel engine. Felix Wankel was a brilliant engineer.  He was also a high ranking SS officer during WWII. During the war he developed a revolutionary rotary 1974_GM_Rotory_engineengine.  After doing his prison time following the war, he went to work for NSU Motorenwerke AG. The modern Wankel was shown to the world in 1960.  Mazda, seeing its benefits, bought a license to manufacture it. GM saw that Mazda had a hot little number with the technology. In 1970, GM paid NSU $50 million to license the rotary engine.  They were going to put it in the Vega. BUT…the GM version had durability problems. They went back to the drawing boards and decided to use it in a model, still in development, to be launched in late 1974.  They went back to NSU and paid another $10 million to re-up the license.

The model in development was a sporty 2+2 hatchback based on a Vega frame. It was going to be called the Chevy Chaparral.  Jim Hall Racing of Midland , TX., had long partnered with Chevy to supply him with engines and parts.  Chevy made a deal with him to use his Chapparal name.  Then, two things happened that would doom the as yet unborn child.  GM couldn’t solve the durability problem with the Wankel, and the Arab oil crisis made the Wankel’s mediocre MPG numbers problematic.  GM dropped the Wankel. The other was that Jim Hall Racing decided that they wanted more money for their Chapparal name. GM had already spent more than $60 million on an engine they weren’t going to use, they weren’t going to spend more money on a name. Chevy needed a name. And it had to be about 5 inches long, as the dies for the sheet metal forms had already been made. Someone in Chevy Marketing suggested that they let customers name their purchase, providing them with sheets of stick-on letters. That idea died when management begin coming up with some of the possibilities. Then, someone realized that they still held a license for the Monza name.  Monza being a trim level name for the ill-fated Chevy Corvair.  The unborn child would be christened Monza.

Only one hurdle remained.  How would the child be powered? The base engine would be the Vega inline 4-cylinder aluminum block engine. The upgrade would be a V-6 that Buick offered.  There was one, teensy, tiny, microscopic, picayune problem with all of this.  California,car_exploding where GM was hoping to repulse the Japanese car invasion, had air quality requirements much more stringent than federal EPA standards.  At the time, GM’s solution was to strap on post-combustion air pollution devices.  This caused nasty back pressure problems.  The Vega for sale in California had a unique problem.  They tended to blow up. The aluminum block engine would heat up and expand, causing the cylinders to jam in the combustion chamber, causing the rods to bend and blow. Not good.  What about the V-6?  Again, Fate had dealt a cruel blow to young Pip.  The engine was “dirty” in the state of California, and couldn’t be sold there.  What was a mother to do? Again, American ingenuity came to the rescue. A GM engineer had measured the square foot area of the Monza’s engine well.  The GM plant in Tonawanda,NY., had excess capacity. They built the monster 5.7 Liter, 350 HP, V-8 engine that went into Corvettes and the Chevy Caprice.  The engine developed 250 HP. GM discovered that this engine (clean in California) would fit, just barely, into the Monza engine well. Chevy made it a California-only engine option.  There were a few problems to this, however.

The Monza had been designed to accommodate a much lighter Wankel engine. It could handle the inline Vega engine,35150-SuperTomcat.tif but the huge V-8 weighed hundreds of pounds more than the front end was designed to support. A Monza with the big engine looked like it was always driving downhill, as the weight forced the rear end into the air.  This was an engine that was built to power cars weighing almost one ton more than the Monza.  Because the car was so much lighter, it was only available with an automatic transmission. Revving it up with a stick, would have torn the gears apart. Being the savvy auto consumer that I was, I bought one!

What a car!! Pulling up to muscle cars at stop signs, knowing that I had a comparable engine, but weighed as much as a ton less, challenging them off the stop light was child’s play. I didn’t drive this car, I aimed it.  Being a rear wheel car with it’s butt up in the air was no handicap.  Pushing the accelerator sent 250 horses into the back seat. I was the King of the Road until one day I heard a fwap, fwap, fwap. TireThe front tire treads had been worn off on the inside, exposing the steel belts. The car had less than 10K miles on it.  The Firestone dealer honored the warranty and gave me new tires. Six thousand miles later, the same thing happened.  I went to a different Firestone dealer for new tires. I figured out what was going on.  Since the front suspension was burdened with hundreds of pounds of extra weight, it sagged and pushed the front tires into a bowed position.  I was only driving on the inner six inches of tread! No wonder the tires were failing so quickly. I also discovered that the engine’s radiator, designed to cool a much smaller engine, was the size of a small Frisbee.  Another vestige of an earlier incarnation.  Maybe Dickens shouldn’t have written the story of the Monza. Maybe Mary Shelley should have.

Next:  I Visit Sin City

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 

“Have You Met Any Movie Stars?”

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Cornell

Hollywood!  I was 26 years old and working in Hollywood.  I knew nothing about California except for what I saw out of the cab window on my way to start my first day of work.  Dick Byrne greeted me and took me back to his (soon to be mine) corner office.  He brought me up to date on what was going on in the two zones I would be covering.  He introduced me to everyone in the office.  I asked him about his retirement.  He was going to live in his condo in Apple Valley, near Victorville in the Mojave Desert.  His wife was already out there, and Dick was living in a motel for the next week until his retirement became official.  He couldn’t wait to start playing golf every day.  Dick then took me to lunch.  As we walked out onto sidewalk, I immediately realized that I was on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Treading lightly on the names of long-deceased celebs, we soon reached the Musso & Frank’s Grill.  I had never heard of it.  I will never forget it.  Opened in 1919, the dark interior features red leather and mahogany.  The waiters, many of whom have been there for years, sport red jackets and black ties. Faulkner used to go behind the bar to mix his own mint juleps, Fitzgerald would manny-aguirresit in a booth and review his writing.  Their nonpareil martinis are served in carafes.  Gore Vidal described the place, saying,  “Coming into Musso’s is like stepping into a warm bath.”  It was during lunch with Dick that I saw my first movie star: Cornell Wilde!  He was sitting alone at the next table, quietly eating his Shrimp Louie.  He was probably contemplating whether or not to appear on “Dean Martin Presents The Goldiggers.”

As our lunch was finishing, Dick asked me where I was planning on living.  I told him that since this was my first trip to LA, I didn’t have a clue.  He suggested the Park LaBrea complex.  “It’s very close to work. My wife and I lived there for 22 years. You should really consider it.”  I told him that I would. When we got back to the office, Dick went off to make some phone calls. Some of the other staffers also asked me where I was going to live.  I mentioned Park LaBrea. “Noooo!!,” they said as one. They explained that even though Dick and his wife had lived there for 22 years, when his lease term was up the first of April, he had to either renew for another year or move.  They didn’t allow month-to-month leases. They moved out, with Dick’s wife going to the desert condo, and Dick staying in a cheesy local motel.  On top of that, there was no central air conditioning at Park LaBrea, and window air conditioners were prohibited.  Since it was 102 that day, Park LaBrea was crossed off my list.  Just then, Dave Koontz, one of our TV producers came up with a suggestion. Dave’s wife, at the time, was Christina Crawford of “Mommy Dearest” fame.  “Hey man, do you have any kids?” We didn’t at the time.  “You should check out a place called Marina Del Rey.  It’s on the water, and it’s a non-stop party place.”  That sounded very good to me.

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 12.05.50 AMThe next day I drove to the Marina and visited one apartment complex: Mariner’s Village.  It was right on the main channel into the Marina. It truly was a village, or at least my imagery of one.  It even had its own on-site dry cleaners!!  The two bedroom unit they showed me was perfect.  The living room sliding glass door went out to a balcony with a breathtaking view of the water.  Sailboats slowly cruised by right on front of me.  “I want it,” I screamed. “I’ll be back in 48 hours with my wife to sign the lease.”  I ran to the nearest pay phone and called my wife in Kansas City. “I have found the promised land! It’s an apartment right on the water. I’m flying home tonight to start packing, and then we’ll fly back here tomorrow.  You’ll love it”

Timing is, truly, everything.  Bad Timing Item #1: When we got off the plane in LA, it was 104 degrees with a Stage 3 smog alert.  I think Stage 3 meant that your skin would start blistering if you were outside for more than ten minutes. My case for moving to LA wasn’t helped by the fact that my wife’sla-smog-jordansmall_462 eyes were burning and she had developed a nasty hacking cough in the last ten minutes.  Bad Timing Item #2: When we got to Mariner’s Village, I found out that my dream apartment had been leased to someone else that morning. “But I told you I was coming right back,” I sobbed. “Sir,” they officiously scoffed, “we don’t ‘hold’ units without a deposit.”  “Is there another one?”  “No, they said.  We have no more vacancies. We’d be happy to put your name on a waiting list.”  I stormed out.  There had to be other really cool Marina apartments for rent.  After driving around for three hours, I found that there weren’t.  We stopped for lunch.  My wife bought the current issue of Newsweek.  When I returned from the bathroom to join her at our table, she threw the magazine at me.  “Now I know why you want to move to LA!!!”

Bad Timing Item #3

Games 

The cover story of the current issue of Newsweek was an expose on the anything-goes, swinging sex scene lifestyle found in a place called Marina Del Rey.  To top it all off, the cover picture was taken at the pool at Mariner’s Village, the place I had been dying to make mine.  “You can move here if you want.  But I’m not coming with you.”  Hmmmm.  I realized that I had some selling to do.  And I only had 24 hours to do it. I desperately suggested, “Let’s drive around for a while. We might find something.”  I was clutching at straws. I managed to get lost as we drove in ever-widening arcs away from the Marina.  “Why don’t you give up?  We’re not going to find anything we like,” she said.  Just then, I saw it.  The sign that said “Luxury Apartments and Townhouses just ahead.”  Last chance.  I pulled into Raintree. It was just off Jefferson,east of Overland in Culver City.  MGM was selling off Raintreemany of their backlots.  Raintree was no exception.  Many of the exteriors from the Elizabeth Taylor movie, Raintree County were filmed on this lot.  MGM left the small lake which was now the centerpiece of the complex.  The units were brand new, unoccupied.  We could have our pick.  Once you passed the guard gate, the air was cooler, cleaner. Large willow trees shaded the walkways.  The resident managers were from Ohio, and spoke Midwestern.  They told us that Telly Savalas and Isabel Sanford (The Jeffersons) were residents in the townhouse section of Raintree. My wife said, “This will do.”

Next:  Chita Rivera Saves The Day  

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?”