AD BIZ FOLLIES (#3)

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Getting paid as a copywriter by Harold M. Mitchell, of Harold M. Mitchell, Inc., was, metaphorically, a walk in the park. As the weather in the spring of 1960 improved, it was sometimes a real walk in the park as well — Bryant Park behind the main New York library on Fifth Avenue being a pleasant lunchtime destination.  Harold did not watch the clock, and there was never a whole lot for me to do.

In fact, it was hard to say Harold was in the ad business at all, at least as I had come to know it, although he was certainly in some kind of ad business, running advertisements of another kind entirely. Moreover, the business he had must have been profitable enough to fund his spacious operation on the third floor of a Fifth Avenue building between 39th and 40th Streets, convenient for forays to Lord & Taylor across Fifth when the weather prevented midday excursions to the park.

In fact, Harold had a whole roster of clients. They were drugstores, discount stores such as Klein’s, and auto supply stores, for which he bought space in newspapers and flyer inserts, then placed the weekly (and sometimes twice-weekly) all-print ads of twelve to twenty-four specials per page which alerted client customers to come hurrying in for mega savings.  For this he did not need a copywriter, as the clients provided the bare-bones copy themselves. (I never had anything to do with any client he already had.) But he did need an unambitious art director and a humble paste-up person. These two sat alone with lots of space around them in a cavernous, decently lit studio behind the two front offices.  There they bored themselves into somnolence fiddling with the innumerable full-page “Save! Save! Save!” ads that put  bread with butter on it on all our tables.

Neeedless to say, Harold had greater ambitions.  He wanted to place ads for prestige products (or at least products sold full price in department stores) in glossy magazines (or at least the Times Sunday Magazine section) — so that Harold M. Mitchell, Inc. could at last become a real Madison Avenue advertising agency. As far as I could see within a week of joining his enterprise to assist him, he had three strikes against him in realizing this goal:

(1) His art director, a charmingly exhausted-looking dark-haired fellow from France in his early forties whose name I’ve forgotten so let’s call him Jean-Pierre, lacked all awareness of the currently favored look of print ads at the Art Directors’ Association of New York. Moreover, during our long conversations when there was nothing to do (which was often), and after he had decided he could trust me, Jean-Pierre indicated he had life plans which did not include a career with Harold. These plans were temporarily on hold because they depended on the agreement of another.  This “other,” who would frequently emerge from the elevator around five o’clock to be taken out for a drink before dinner, was a Chinese youth who looked to be no more than twenty, spoke neither French nor English well enough for me to understand him, and always wore a sulky expression which did not bode well for “agreement.”  I suspected that for him Jean-Pierre was a deep-pocket meal ticket and that both of them were therefore going to be in for a big surprise.

That’s because Jean-Pierre had also shared with me his modus operandi when personal outgo exceeded personal income. You could delay payment of bills without injury to your credit rating by writing a check for what you owed Store 1, putting it in an envelope addressed to Store 2, and vice versa. That bought you a month’s grace at each store.  Of course, this was in the days before computers, when real people in real accounts-receivable departments opened real envelopes, looked at what was in them and called you up if you had made a “mistake.”  Alas for the Chinese youth if his meal ticket was juggling stores and checks like that. I foresaw heartbreak for Jean-Pierre and hours of mutual commiseration ahead if we were both still “working” for Harold that long.

(2) Harold had no portfolio of glossy ads to show potential clients of the sort he coveted.  All he had, now that he had me, was my portfolio of ads — unfortunately designed by the art director at The Gilbert Agency and not by Jean-Pierre. But he also had the gift of gab.  He certainly did talk our way through several brand-name company doors. And he was a cock-eyed optimist.  He could make advertising sound like the answer to any poor profit picture you could describe. Since he had to bring me along on these exploratory visits in order to display my portfolio, I needed better clothes.

Ed, my unemployed husband, thought the place for me to shop (if absolutely necessary) was in the Sears Roebuck catalogue, preferably for garments made of reprocessed wool because they were cheaper.  I was therefore still wearing, in rotation, three suits bought at J.W. Robinson in Los Angeles, on my mother’s employee discount, to teach college English five years before. (To some things — like reprocessed wool — I simply could not stoop.)  Without remorse, I had thus begun keeping from Ed my father’s birthday and Christmas checks, allegedly meant for both us.  I cashed them at the bank where we had our joint savings account and kept the proceeds at the bottom of my purse, from which the money could easily have been stolen, but wasn’t.

Since there was lots of leisure at Harold M. Mitchell, Inc. to check out the sales at Lord and Taylor, Peck & Peck and the boutiques a block away on Madison Avenue, I was able to seize the day if the price tag was right. Once I had smuggled a bargain home and squirreled it away in my closet, I was safe from inquiry. Ed never noticed — new, old — what I put on.  My prize acquisition during this period was a black cashmere knitted dress from Italy. European designer imports were still very new. The dress had been $150 at The Cashmere Shop but had dropped to $20 by April. So there to reprocessed wool!

(3) Harold had abiding faith in the power of the written word. The triumph of the visual in early 1960’s advertising had completely passed him by, just as it had Jean-Pierre.  Harold loved it that I had been an English major with an A.B.D. (all but dissertation).  He loved it that I had written drama criticism in Los Angeles for a monthly magazine called Frontier and wanted me to bring in whatever copies I had kept so he could read my columns.  He even asked if he could read my master’s thesis on Edmund Wilson, the literary critic.  I dissuaded him from including these accomplishments of mine among his talking points to, say, the manufacturers of Spotstik, the coverup for facial blemishes, whose offices we visited at some point that spring. But he did insist on my drafting pages of speculative copy for every presentation we made.  Secretly I believed pages of test campaign copy were the wrong approach, but who was I to argue? Besides, they were fun to do.

SPOTSTIK PRESENTATION: SMALL SPACE NEWSPAPER TEST CAMPAIGN #1.  Should Susan Eat the Strawberries?

SPOTSTIK PRESENTATION: SMALL SPACE NEWSPAPER TEST CAMPAIGN

I never learned the outcome of what I thought of as Harold’s doomed efforts at Spotstik since — spoiler alert! — I had moved on by the end of June.  But it’s barely possible that he actually did manage to prevail over company doubts and persuade someone somewhere at the company to try a small space test campaign.  If so, it would have had a tiny photograph of a Spotstik accompanying the following:

#1. SHOULD SUSAN EAT THE STRAWBERRIES? Probably not. She knows what will happen tomorrow. She’ll “break out.” That’s what. But who can be strong all the time? And there’s always Spotstik handy to efface the traces of Susan’s dietary fall from grace.

Spotstik really works, you know. No one has ever been able to duplicate the formula. Unlike ordinary make-ups in stick form, it’s simply marvelous at completely concealing annoying little facial disturbances. Such as? Morning-after shadows under the eyes, for instance. Freckles. Once-a-month blooms. Signs of minor sin like Susan’s.

Doctors recommend medicated Spotstik as important first aid to good grooming. Have it on hand. Fastidious women everywhere do. 1.50 plus tax, at drug and department stores. A Lydia O’Leary product.

There were more, many more.  To wit: “Cheer up, Cheryl — It Happens to the Best of Us!”  and “Sheila Should Have Danced All Night!” and “What Will Debby Do When They Pass the Chocolate Candy?” Plus nine others.  But I will spare you (unless someone really b-e-g-s to read them all.)  Let us hurry right along to my major accomplishment during the time I spent with Harold.

The Myrurgia Presentation.  Myrurgia was a Spanish perfume company then new to America and seeking to wedge itself onto upscale department store counters next to Chanel No 5, Arpege, Joy, Madame Rochas and the like.  Somehow Harold had made his way, alone, into its New York office, was invited to make a presentation and brought back a bottle of Maja by Myrurgia to inspire me.  The company was talking maybe full-page ads in the Sunday Times:  Harold’s dream come true.

We opened the bottle and each inhaled deeply.  “What do you think?” he asked, after recovering from the overpowering aroma emanating from the bottle.  Personally, I thought Maja by Myrurgia smelled the way a brothel might smell, had I ever visited a brothel, which of course I hadn’t, but could imagine. I was unable to divulge this opinion to Harold.  He was such a nice appreciative man, and had saved me from near-destitution and having to spend too much time in the company of my husband.

“Mm, earthy?” I suggested.

“I’m sure you can come up with something,” Harold said, hurrying away to his own office, which had a window one could open. He had such confidence in me.

I was twenty-nine, my marriage was a train-wreck and I was getting through as much of my life as I could with the help of daydreams, mostly of an erotic nature. Over the next two days, I wrote three pieces of Myrurgia copy slowly, by hand, savoring every word — with the explicit instruction at the top of each page when I finally typed them up that the illustration should be of a beautiful, tastefully naked woman in a seductive, reclining position, front or back view being up to Jean-Pierre. Did I get somewhat carried away?

The first:

This is the woman primeval in you…

In each woman there are many women. Maiden mother, helpmate, friend. And also, this elemental woman, who dwells eternally in man’s desire, where her every golden silence whispers yes. This is the woman in you who wears Maja perfume by Myrurgia. In those hushed and precious moments for which there are no words, you will want him to sense its intimate aura about you. Something without defense, without pretense, an exhalation of your very being that warms and welcomes him with your love. Maja perfume is made in Spain, where there is deep feeling for these tender mysteries. For many years, well-bred women over the world have made it their preference. You will understand their reasons once you have worn it. No other fragrance is even remotely the same… At finest stores.

The second:

The you that only he will ever know…

Each woman to the world plays many parts…friendly, helpful, charming, kind. But only in the shelter of a deep, abiding love does she reveal the trusting, most essential she by which man knows that she is ‘Woman.’ At such an hour as this you will wear Maja perfume by Myrurgia. In those unguarded moments when you become the only woman in the world, you will want it to whisper assent to his desire…an unspoken message in the silent language of the heart. Maja perfume comes from Spain, where these tender mysteries have long been understood. It has been the preference of cosmopolitan women the world over for half a century. Once you have worn it, you will know why. No other fragrance is even remotely the same.

A-n-d:

This is the you of his most deep desire…

Because you are a woman, you are many things to a man…mother, daughter, sister, friend. And also, this primeval woman, whose trusting eyes create for him a world of tender privacy, where the sought and precious only occupant is you.  It is this woman in you who will wear Maja perfume by Myrurgia. In those golden moments which transcend description, you will want him to sense its aura about you…a poignant murmur of response to his deep-felt desire. Maja perfume comes from Spain, where such fervent mysteries have long been revered. It has been the instinctive preference of gentlewomen the world over for many years. You will understand their reasons once you have worn it. No other fragrance is even remotely the same.

It was certainly a fact that no other fragrance was even remotely the same. But the only real mystery is how Harold ever sold this fervently heavy-breathing kerfuffle to a company hoping to make it in New York with well-bred cosmopolitan gentlewomen (to use the language of the ads). This stuff actually ran in the Sunday Times, not only the following fall, but also the year after.  It’s true Jean-Pierre had toned down my specified visuals.  No more naked Maja.  Instead we saw three well-bred-looking fully dressed models as far from my hot-blooded “woman primeval” as you could imagine. It must have been his Parisian aesthetic.

Woman primeval?

Woman primeval?

The trusting most essential she?

Trusting most essential she?

Trusting eyes creating a world of tender privacy?  (Well, maybe.)

Eyes creating a world of tender privacy? Well, maybe. Is that a blanket, or sand, she’s lying on?

Nevertheless, I tore each of these disappointing pages out of the Times to save for my portfolio in the event there was a cataclysmic revolution in tastes in advertising during my lifetime  — although by the time they appeared, an employment agent at Jerry Fields had already made good on her promise that something would come along for me.

But before we move on to this next chapter in my ad biz adventures, you may ask what ever became of Myrurgia after its god-awful entry into American merchandising as designed by Jean-Pierre and me.  I’m pretty sure Saks and Bergdorf’s never made room for it on their perfume counters. But believe it or not, it’s still around today.  Perfume.com offers the eau-de-toilette for 19.95.  This is part of what you can read about it there:

Create an alluring, tempting vibe wherever you go while you’re wearing this Maja fragrance for women. Released in 1921…this timeless and captivating scent by Myrurgia has been wowing the masses for the better part of a century.  It…lingers behind, even after you’ve left the room.”

Whether “wowing the masses” is a better inducement to purchase than “woman primeval” I leave to your discriminating judgment.  In the meanwhile, I shall pass on to the story of my first six months at an agency with a real Madison Avenue address. It was there I finally achieved a legal separation from Ed in my private life while professionally having to deal with a client proud of having made this:

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That should keep you hanging till next time.

AD BIZ FOLLIES (#2)

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[For earlier posts about my abbreviated life in advertising during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s,  see How My Life As A Mad Woman Began and Ad Biz Follies (#1).]

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(Liar, liar, tongue’s on fire.)

When Richard Gilbert, titular head and chief account executive of The Gilbert Agency, severed me from employment as his copywriter on January 2, 1960 because my presence on the premises gave his art director nosebleeds, I hadn’t yet learned the way to succeed in print advertising was to jump before being  pushed. At that time there was no such thing as copywriter job security unless you also owned the business. (Whether there’s such a thing now, in any line of paid endeavor, I also doubt. But that’s a whole other topic.) Sooner or later someone with more clout than you would not like you.  Moreover, copywriters who could turn out catchy little phrases to go with gorgeous photographs were a dime a dozen; New York was swarming with young college graduates who had majored in English and now needed to eat.

Another thing I should have already realized from my earlier job search experiences but had disregarded in the touching but misguided belief that if the agency owner liked you, you had nothing to fear from others who might not: it’s easier to get a better job (or any job) while you still have a job, since everyone likes to think they’re stealing someone valuable from a competitor.  On the other hand, if you present yourself as a writer unwanted at your last place of employment, why should the guys at the next place hire you?

Thus it was that I embarked on another two and a half months of outdoor unpaid work, also known as job search, in the chill of a New York winter — further embittered by weekly visits to the unemployment office at Broadway at 90th Street, which involved standing in long lines of New York’s downtrodden poor, a category apparently now including me, except I was somewhat better dressed and educated.  These visits were supposed to produce not only (in my case) $55 a week for six months but also some assistance in finding the next job. However, the unemployment agent to whom I had to demonstrate each time where I had looked for work in the preceding week confessed she would be unable to assist, since New York State knew of no openings for which I wasn’t highly overqualified and did I think I could find something on my own?

There was even more ignominy attached to my situation in that the ads in which I had had at least a small hand at Gilbert, all prepared well ahead of the dates on which they ran, now greeted me in the Sunday Times and in the copies of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar through which I leafed in various neighborhood public libraries to break up my unemployed trudge through dirty snow to the next employment agency.

For instance, the blatantly untrue ad for Promise high-top girdles by Poirette at the top of this post appeared in a March issue of the Sunday Times, by which time I had used up one-third of the unemployment benefits available to me.  Had I been less desperate to locate someone who would pay me to go on churning out such verbal chicanery, I might have smirked at the lovely young model thanking heaven she was now encased in Promise‘s exclusive “Biaband” control for magnificent unmistakeable smoothness of line and the most beautiful contour her curves could achieve, and at the implication anyone with a waistline up to 38″ in circumference could hope, by purchasing a Promise, to emulate such magnificence of curved contour herself.

(The folks at Poirette so much loved this photo of a sylph, who in her private life would not have gone near their cripplingly uncomfortable garment, that they used the same photo for a series of such ads, headlined by me with Poirette’s full approval:  “Why Do So Many Women Trust A Promise by Poirette?” and “The unseen power that shapes a world of women!” and “Why put off till tomorrow the lovely new figure you can put on today?” and “The unforgettable 2 1/2 ounce hi-waist you actually forget you have on!” For that last one, we should all have grown Pinocchio noses.)

So I suppose advertising was also teaching me that if you really need a job, professional ethics may be an unaffordable luxury.  As in this ad, which brought considerable praise from employment agents asking whose idea it was to show the tape measure and believing me when I claimed the credit.  (Although maybe that wasn’t such a white lie; I had just begun to grasp what Gilbert’s art director wanted from me when he ran out of patience.)

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Now fifty-five years later, I especially like the post-modern line offering the impossible — “Promise doesn’t just push unwanted flesh from spot to spot, either — its four-inch high waist molds you to supple smoothness from midriff down to mid-thigh” — and leaving unanswered the surreal unasked question, “Where does all that unwanted flesh go?”

Another thing I learned from this after-Gilbert job search was that my portfolio was as good — i.e., as interesting to potential employers — as the art work in it.  It didn’t really matter what I had written to go with the picture, because employment agents didn’t take the time to read anything except perhaps very large headlines.  If the ads looked good and I had been associated with them in some way, I looked good.  Thus I got kudos for:

"Rave notices for the breezy style of Kislav's supple-fingered virtuosos…"

“Rave notices for the breezy style of Kislav’s supple-fingered virtuosos…”

and for:

"A-mazing!…the way nothing phases those Kislavs!"

“A-mazing!…the way nothing phases those Kislavs!”

and for this one promoting Kislav’s cotton glove subsidiary, Gant Madeleine:

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“Signs of spring on every hand…Gant Madeleine’s fresh young gloves designed in France. Made of the finest imported cotton fabrics. Washable, color-fast, and non-shrinkable.”

In a way, they were right.  Print advertising has about two seconds to catch the eye before the consumer turns the page.  The copywriter who can inspire an art director to eye-catching feats on the page is the one who gets hired. So I was ahead with Gilbert’s ads in my new leather portfolio, even though they were the same ads his nosebleeding art director would have shown if he were looking for a job. (Except of course he wasn’t.)  In fact, a representative at Jerry Fields actually deigned to call me in from the outer room where I had filled out a preliminary card and sit me down at her desk while she looked at every eye-catching miracle the nose bleeder had wrought.

Jerry Fields was then the pre-eminent employment guy for ad agency jobs.  If one of his representatives smiled on you, it meant work was coming down the pike sooner or later.  The first time I knocked on his door two years before, I had got no farther than the outer room and “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”  This time, invited into the large inner sanctum where his representatives sat, it was “Stay in touch.  It may take a while, but something will almost certainly open up.”

What was I doing during that “while,” other than going through the motions of job searching to keep the unemployment office satisfied?  Experiencing a continued steady decline in marital satisfaction, that’s what. You may extrapolate from the following abbreviated summary of events something of what I was feeling.

(1)  After interviewing strippers didn’t work out as a professional way of life, Ed (my unemployed husband) bethought himself of the $900 his literary agent had never forwarded to him after finally selling a manuscript of his to a paperback publisher of juvenile delinquency novels.  He filed a pro se court complaint for recovery of this money and then persuaded me to act as the (free) process server. Reluctantly, I impersonated a girlish young thing seeking advice on writing a saleable novel and secured a rendezvous; once arrived at the literary agent’s door, I thrust the requisite papers into the hand he extended for my coat and declaimed (as I had been coached), “You have been served!” While he was still immobilized by surprise, I beat a hasty and terrified retreat.  Outcome: agent caved. $900 arrived a few days later.

Ed used the money — plus $1000 for his next juvenile delinquency paperback, received directly from the publisher  — for us to meet up with his four young children by his first marriage in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the following summer. It was during the two weeks their mother, his first wife, and her second husband, a Canadian army officer stationed in Medicine Hat, Alberta, used for a two-week vacation in, of all places, Spokane, Washington. (Don’t ask. That’s how it was.)

They were nice children, and the three younger ones soon had me beginning to yearn for at least one of my own. But — here I first admitted it to myself — not with Ed.  I would then  have had two children to take care of, and support.  In any event, Idaho was no vacation for me. I shopped for, cooked, and cleaned up after three meals a day for four young children, and also read stories aloud to the three youngest, who couldn’t yet read well for themselves. We went to a rodeo, and local playgrounds, and a lake, and I wiped noses and sometimes wiped away tears.  The oldest sulked the whole time.  He remembered when Ed had been at home with his mother and was angry, more at him than at me, for his not being there any more. Ed shrugged it off.  As for me, he said I’d already had my vacation during the time I was out of a job.

(2)  After the process serving, he talked West Side News, a weekly local newspaper, into appointing me their unpaid drama critic; I would do a weekly column of one-paragraph reviews of everything that opened on Broadway that week (even if it closed the next day).  In order for me to do this, Ed was then able to obtain two free second-night orchestra seats to everything I was going to review, including the clunkers.  The paper could subsequently sell ads to the theaters against my reviews.  I asked Ed why he couldn’t be the reviewer, since he was the one who was so interested in having the tickets and going to the theater, but he said he would be too busy with the third juvenile delinquency novel (“Go Man, Go!”), so we could have a second summer in Coeur d’Alene after the one coming up.

(3) During his stripper-interviewing period, Ed met a man who published illegal pornographic novels. He reported back to me that the man paid well.  As I wasn’t doing anything at the moment, why didn’t I try my hand at this new and challenging genre?  Well, he was still my husband.  Dutifully, I set to work and produced a typed page and half of the first chapter. As best I can now recall, what I wrote purported to be the beginning of the lost journals of George Gordon, Lord Byron (which Murray, Byron’s London publisher, is thought to have thrust into the fire, so inflammatory were their contents). My version of this lost work began in a brothel in Ravenna in 1818, where the lame and handsome Lord was disporting himself between luscious Italian mistresses. Older and wiser now, I will spare you the details on the page and a half. Suffice it to say that Ed hurried off to the law-flouting publisher with this incendiary phantasmagoria, delightedly counting chickens before they were hatched. And what do you know? The publisher reacted just as Murray in London had about 130 years before. Great writing, he told Ed. But too hot for him to handle.  How I would have gone on should he have said yes, yes, yes, I had no idea. God was merciful.

In any event, since calling Jerry Fields regularly did not seem to be making something “open up” soon enough for me, I finally fell back on the Sunday Times Classifieds — not really for a job in advertising, as I didn’t believe one could be found there, but just to find something that might pay at least $55 a week, and hopefully more, while getting me out of Ed’s sight before he developed any more bright ideas about what I could do.

Seek and ye shall find.  Unlikely as it seemed, it was through the Classifieds that I found Harold M. Mitchell, of Harold M. Mitchell, Inc. Advertising and he found me (without paying a commission). His was not exactly what one would call a Madison Avenue ad agency, but it was mysteriously solvent and welcoming.  Although he had had no copywriter till then, he felt it was time. He had a large empty office space next to his just waiting for me, he said, and even had boxes of special copywriter paper (which I had never seen before and never would again) — both top sheets and the onion skin sheets used for carbons embossed with the name of his operation at the upper right.

(Just waiting for me!)

(Just waiting for me!)

He thought $7,500 a year (what I had been earning at Gilbert) was a mite high to start, as what he would be doing with my help was pitching clients he didn’t yet have. But if I would consider $6,500, he would be happy to have such an educated and refined young woman in his employ.

Here, dear reader, we must leave me for now — not exactly as happy as my new employer (how could I be, given the state of the marriage?) but certainly relieved.  More about Harold, and his French art director, and what I wrote on his embossed Copy Department paper next time.

TIME MARCHES ON

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It’s tax time!  Yes, I know we (Americans) don’t have to file until April 15.  Nonetheless, our new accountant, who we inherited from the former one (now retired, having put his three sons through expensive colleges), wants his workbook filled out and essential documents assembled by March 21, or else he may have to file for extensions of time within which to file.  That would cost us not only the filing fee of $75 each right there, but the cost of his time and anything else he can find to bill us for.  Time, time, time. (Sigh.)

His cover letter does say “may.” But I think I better get going, even if I miss his deadline by a couple of days.   Coming up with more posts is certainly more fun than adding up medical expenses (deductible only if exceeding 7 1/2% of income). But life can’t be all fun, fun, fun, can it?

However, in looking through that portfolio of old print ads which amused some of us so much recently, I fortuitously came across another example of time marching on.   I have no memory of writing the following important message to store buyers of ladies’ foundation garments, or for which ad agency I wrote it.  So I can’t pinpoint the exact date of this great advance in the design of a support system then little spoken of in polite society but relied on by at least half the women in America. However, it was probably the spring of 1960, when I managed to become again employed after my abrupt dismissal from the Gilbert Agency.

Rest assured, most of us fashion-forward and relatively slender young un’s no longer wore such instruments of torture to hold up our stockings in 1960; we had moved on to panty hose. Unfortunately, the portly, lumpy or old-fashioned — who of course looked nothing like the sketches in the ad — had no such option.  But in view of the spirited discourse about undergarments of this period in the comment section of an earlier post, it could be both timely and relevant to fill you in on the inch-by-inch progress in this area of life being made at the time.  (And give you something new to look at while I toil away at our taxes.)

Men may choose to think of the ad below as educational.  Women should thank God time has indeed marched on. Alternatively, they can yawn or skip it entirely. Mea culpa for having written it in the first place.  Like MacArthur, I shall return — but only when I have won the annual battle with Form 1040.

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[Reading this is entirely optional.  It won’t be on the test.]

New phrases. New claims. A new product. You’ve listened. Perhaps you’re also one of the many who’ve already bought. If so, then you understand the importance of “proportioned” panty girdles to the foundations industry. But if you’re still hesitating, then you owe it to yourself and the future of your business to read this advertisement carefully.

“Proportioned Panty Girdles” by Scandale are completely different from any other panty girdle you’ve ever stocked. The significant way in which they differ is in their sizing. Every experienced corsetiere has always known that any two women who wear the same size (medium, let’s say) may differ considerably in their dimensions. These differences are not important in selling them a girdle. But correct fit in a panty girdle involves another body dimension: the customer’s waist-to-crotch length.

And no manufacturer until last fall had ever successfully incorporated this length dimension in his panty girdles. The waist-to-crotch (or torso-length) measurement of his garment was always that of the model on whom it had been originally designed.

That is why panty girdle fitting was such a hit-or-miss affair. A fitter had to remember that X’s garment tended to run long in the crotch, while Y’s was short. Then she had to match each customer to a panty from a different resource. If she couldn’t, the customer might complain about “tugging” or “riding up” — or refuse to buy a panty girdle at all! It was much like brassiere fitting before the introduction of A, B, and C cup sizes.

Scandale’s “Proportioned Panty Girdles” solve all these problems. They are the very first garments which have been scientifically and successfully sized in waist-to-crotch lengths. We call this torso dimension “SPAN.” Span A fits the woman with a short torso length. Span B is average in length.  And Span C is long. It has been our experience, during the two experimental years of measuring women from every walk of life, that 50% of your customers will wear Span B. 49% will need Span A or Span C. The other 1% is the one woman in a hundred whom we cannot custom fit. (You see, we’re honest.)

There are no shortcuts to this kind of sizing. “Adjustable” crotches or panels in one size that fit all torso lengths? Such panels or crotches cannot permanently and comfortably remain stretched a whole size larger. (Imagine a woman who needs a C cup brassiere trying to squeeze herself into one with an “adjustable” A cup!)

And there is no way of cutting down the somewhat added inventory which Scandale’s “Proportioned Panty Girdles” necessarily entail. (Except to cut down on inventory from other resources.)

On the other hand, there is no way of stopping progress either. “Proportioned Panty Girdles” are the sizing of the future. Would you really like to go back to the days of one-cup-brassieres?

I especially like the two experimental years of measuring women from every walk of life.  (Did wealth, or lack of it, really affect crotch size?) Now that  must have been an interesting job!

AD BIZ FOLLIES (#1)

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The offer of a first Madison Avenue agency job in September 1958 at $7,500 a year was cause for initial rejoicing. Compared to retail advertising, agency work had all the professional prestige. (Even if the agency hiring me was a block and a half west of Madison, on 55th Street.) And it paid $2,500 more than I had been happy to get just eight months before. I never thought to ask what had happened to the previous copywriter. How could I know it was an era when the agency art director was king and the copywriter chopped chicken liver?

To be entirely self-referential, it was unfortunate that about four years previous, three guys named Doyle, Dane, and Bernbach had gotten together to transform the industry.  Before then there had been heavy emphasis on what ads said (which was the client’s pitch on his product), the headline identifying what was being sold and the picture serving mainly to show what the product looked like.  The bright star in this universe of ad thinking was David Ogilvy, a man who brought great literacy as well as imagination to wordy ads.  He showed us a photograph of a Rolls Royce without the expected “Greatest car in the world” underneath.  Instead, his headline ran, “The only thing you hear at 60 miles an hour is the ticking of the electric clock.” This was followed by two columns of small print extolling the excellence of every detail of a Rolls, which you had to read if your own car was giving trouble, because what other vehicle could make that claim, even when new.

Alas for me, the times (as I said above) they were a’ changin,’ and Ogilvy’s agency — almost one of its kind — was very hard for copywriters to get into.  The change came with Bill Bernbach, whose new agency produced a stream of work that brought admiring “ah!”s from art directors throughout New York.  It was mostly picture, clever headline, very little text.  One famous example:  A subway billboard of a little Asian-American boy beaming as he bit into a large slice of rye bread. The headline?  “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.”  (Levy’s being the maker of the bread, natch.) Another was an ad featuring a photograph of the original Volkswagen — the bug — shot small against no-seam white paper.  The headline? “Lemon.”  (The copy went on to explain, briefly, that this particular car had failed Volkswagen’s exhaustive testing before release into the market.) My particular favorite was a full page picture of a cat’s face looking right at us in the New York Times. The headline? “I found out about Joan.” (Joan managed to afford all those designer clothes by shopping at Orbach’s, the discount store that was the client.)

Ads like these made art directors saddled with Seventh Avenue merchandise (dresses, pants, blouses, sweaters, coats) unhappy.  They tried to be clever. (See above, with the butterflies.) But the constraints of making the clothes look good enough to please their manufacturers defeated them every time.  No Art Directors Association awards for them. And guess who they blamed?

But I am there before my legs.  (To quote Shakespeare.)  The Gilbert Agency that had hired me consisted of its owner and principal, Richard Gilbert, a nice-looking man in his late thirties or early forties who sat in the only good office in the agency, the one fit for meeting clients because it had a window facing the street. It was Gilbert who brought in the business, with some help from his brother-in-law, an older gentleman with droopy cheeks.  There was also a lady of fifty or so — Bess, I think she was called — a relative of the brother-in-law, who kept the books in a nook behind the receptionist’s desk and tried to be friendly when she came out of her nook, but that wasn’t often. Myrna the receptionist, was nineteen and engaged; she seemed always preoccupied with her switchboard despite there being so few of us making or receiving calls, but that was all right with me because her mind, when not preoccupied, was on getting-married-related matters and I was disinclined to discuss my own marriage, with her or Bess or anyone.

The disinclination was perhaps understandable.  My husband Ed  — he of the MFA from Yale — had given up looking for a respectable job to write unsaleable novels. Now he had finally sold one, after agreeing to take out the tender, sensitive parts and put in some sex.  The publishers had also changed its title from “Rose on the Vine” to “The Fires of Youth.” It was to be marketed as one of a paperback genre then popular called “Juvenile Delinquency” and was dedicated to me. Unfortunately, the literary agent who had managed this feat of sales legerdemain after thirty rejections was not forking up our $900 of the $1,000 the publisher had paid. Perhaps he thought he had earned the whole thing. Undeterred, Ed was now at intermittent work on a second opus, to be called “The Young Wolves.” He had also recently connected with a man who managed strippers for clubs and burlesque houses and was planning to interview prospective strippers in our apartment. Only in the evenings of course, when I was home.

The rest of the agency was down a corridor away from the street and Myrna; it had two offices facing a dark narrow courtyard and a unisex bathroom at the end.  The first smaller office was for me; the second larger one was for the art director, who we shall call G.G.  G.G. and I were supposed to work together as a “creative” team — coming up with bright ideas that G.G. could translate into award-winning visuals without too much copy in them.  (You see how small the type of my job-winning copy is on the Aileen ad at the top of this post?)  This obligation did not at first seem an insuperable obstacle to job security because there were still a few more Aileen ads already photographed that required no colloquy with G.G. I only had to come up with copy for them.  Here’s a second one:

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Just in case you can’t read it because G.G. made the type so small, this is what it says:  “Angel! If you want to see something out of this world, keep an eye on the guy who eyes you in your heavenly cotton knit coordinates by Aileen!”  [Never mind the colors, sizes and “at fine stores everywhere” bits.]

Not so incidentally, we may be at a good place here for me to explain the difference between retail advertising (my last position at Lane Bryant, for instance) and agency advertising.  Retail, as its name implies, was designed to move a particular product out of a particular store or chain of stores right away. It ran in daily newspapers and was directed at the hoped-for consumer.  Agency advertising was intended to persuade retailers to acquire the branded product  by showing them it had appeared in various magazines and the Sunday Times Magazine section, where the ultimate consumer would see it and therefore be familiar with the brand name and want the item when the retailer ran its own ad.  That’s how agency art directors were able to squeeze words out of their ads so easily. All they absolutely needed to show was the product and the brand name. Therefore all they really wanted from the copywriter (unless the client insisted otherwise) was a headline that caught the eye,  just in case the merchandise failed to do so all by itself.

[Sometimes, however, agency ads ran directly in trade publications; when they did, the same strictures about relationship of visual to copy applied. Here, for instance, is an ad from Women’s Wear Daily, I think, inviting shoe buyers to see the fall line of Mannequin shoes showing at the New York sales office, and also to see Dick Nahouse at the Pittsburgh (Shoe) Show and Dave Spivack at the San Francisco (Shoe) Show the following weekend. Don’t ask me about Dick and Dave; I have no idea who they were.]

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But I digress.  Let us return our attention to Aileen, which I had to do more often than I would have liked.  Never a man for a word when a picture might do, G.G. soon “persuaded” me, in his monosyllabic way, that what this account needed was one short snappy line per ad and more photography — inspired by the short snappy line.  Who was I to protest? After a week or more of collegial distress, we moved on to:  “FUN IS MORE SO WITH AILEEN!”  and “A GIRL IS MORE SO WITH AILEEN!” Notice how this maneuver gave the photographer and the art director so much more leeway to push the merchandise off to the side and gambol through the ad with a camera, almost as if they were making a movie. Girl, boy, garment: who needs writers?  (They also pushed the sizes and colors off the page too.)

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I can’t remember what came next.  “Life is more so with Aileen?” “Love is more so with Aileen?”  Since we worked six months to a year ahead of publication date, I was out of there, not voluntarily, before later “More So with Aileen”s hit the newsstands.  So you will forgive me for failing you to fill you in on the continuation of this entirely forgettable campaign.

You think sitting around being half of a creative team with G.G. was easy?  It was a relationship made in hell.  This man who had somehow become my office husband literally couldn’t talk.  In sixteen months of cringing when he walked past my door or called for me from within his own office, I never learned much more about him other than that he was married, had a small son, deeply admired Bill Bernbach and hated the merchandise we had to work with. He was skinny and losing his hair, something he never mentioned, even in jest, and had absolutely no interest in me or my life before advertising.  When his unhappiness with work, or life, or the universe, reached some undefined nadir he developed nosebleeds and needed to retire to the unisex bathroom.  Gilbert thought the world of him.

One of our clients made French leather gloves, said to be washable. The brand name was Kislav. (Qui se lave: “that which washes itself.”)  Ads for Kislav were nightmares.  We sat together in G.G.’s office in miserable silence, me doodling on a pad and hoping for a a drop of blood from his nose that might permit retreat to my own office for a while, he arranging the sample gloves in various configurations on his drawing board and probably hoping a hole would open in the floor and swallow me.  Once, after a week of agony, he brought in some of his little boy’s toys, from which I squeezed a drop of inspiration (“child’s play”) and the following finally emerged:

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CASTING A SPELL IS CHILD’S PLAY WITH KISLAV…THE LOVELIEST YOUNG GLOVES IN THE WORLD. Made of famed French kid…delectably fitted, delightfully washable.

Don’t miss the ungloved little hand coming in from the right:  G.G.’s idea.  For once, he seemed not unhappy with me.  A temporary triumph over adversity.

I spent nearly every lunchtime in the public library on West 53rd Street just off Fifth, as far away from merchandise and advertising as I could get for an hour.  My preference there was biographies of mistresses of poets of the early nineteenth century, when women were taken care of and didn’t have to work if they picked the right poet.  But I didn’t see how I could really leave my life.  I suppose I could have abandoned both job and Ed and fled west again to my parents, who might have sheltered and fed me while I tackled the dissertation that would have enabled me to take up an academic career. [I was toying with this dissertation some evenings, after making supper and cleaning up, but it was barely budging. I was always tired and cross and often didn’t give a damn any more about placing Edmund Wilson, my dissertation subject, among other mid-twentieth-century literary critics, especially since it required reading William Empson’s Seven Levels of Ambiguity first.]  But I didn’t have any savings with which to buy a train or plane ticket. And more to the point, I did still think marriage was forever, so that I had either to make this one work or endure it as it was.

By now Ed was indeed interviewing strippers in the evening.  I sat on a kitchen chair and watched when I wasn’t running the sound:  we used “Let Me Entertain You,” from the record of the musical Gypsy.  One candidate had a monkey, who had been trained to undress her garment by garment.  Another had no gimmicks, not even underwear.  I had to loan her a pair of my underpants for her eventually to take off.  When she gave them back after her audition, they had blood stains on them.  She had got her period. She didn’t even apologize. Ed said I should try to wash them, but I threw them out.  There were certain depths to which I couldn’t sink.

I have no idea how I lasted sixteen months with G.G.  I know he complained about me, because Gilbert called me in and said he knew G.G. was difficult but could I please try to humor him because he was a very good art director.  My education did kick in to help with ads for the Great Lakes Mink Association — Ranchers and Producers of North American Natural Dark Ranch Mink. That may have prolonged my stay. We didn’t have to show mink coats, thank God, and by now well steeped in early nineteenth-century poets, I became irreverent. “Earth has not anything to show more fair!” I declared.  “What?” G.G. demanded, not believing his ears. “It’s Wordsworth,” I said. “But he wasn’t talking about mink coats.”  G.G. didn’t care. I had served my purpose. He was happy all week:

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All the world over, the letter and spirit of fashion finds its finest expression in North American mink.”  Ta-da, ta-da, ta-da.

I was also reasonably conversant in French.  Once G.G. grasped the idea that “American” could be said in other languages, his dour face lit up. With help from the language section of the closest bookstore, he was on his way:

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“French, English, Swedish, Italian…whatever her native tongue may be, the wise woman of fashion asks for North American mink!” [Followed by much use of other adjectives — such as “fine,” “superb,” “superior,” “superlative,” and “treasured.” What can you do? The client asks, the client gets.

But my days were numbered.  Ed and I spent Christmas 1959 in Rochester, New York visiting his parents and aunt.  We drove up with a shelter German Shepherd, his no-cost present to them.  The dog loved hard boiled eggs, and consumed a dozen of them which I had pre-prepared to keep him occupied while we packed for the trip. (I didn’t yet know much about dogs.) He was so eager for more he swallowed the last six whole.  Somewhere near Albany, the last six eggs came up, unchewed, in the same condition in which they had gone down. That’s about all I remember of that Christmas. When I got back to work on January 2, there was no more work.  With some expressed regret from Gilbert, I was let go. Two weeks severance pay.  I did not bid G.G. farewell.  Who ever said life on Madison Avenue was glamorous?

[More to come on request.  If you’ve had enough, give a shout out and we’ll go back to cats.]

THE THINGS WE TRY NOT TO THINK ABOUT

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A member of a book group of which I am a desultory member circulated by email yesterday a paragraph for group members to consider discussing when next they meet.  It’s from Middlemarch, by George Eliot (Mary Ann Cross).  In case you are unfamiliar with the novel, Middlemarch is a town in mid-nineteenth century England and Dorothea, mentioned at the beginning of the quoted paragraph, is an idealistic young woman who wants more than a conventional married woman’s life and has therefore married Causaubon, a dry scholar many years her senior, thinking she will find intellectual and personal fulfillment in helping him write a great book.  Mind you, marriage was permanent in that place at that time.  No “Oops! I made a mistake! I want out!”

A truly bad marriage today may not be, for most people,  as irreparable as it was for Dorothea.  But almost all of us have confronted a “new real future” which replaces “the imaginary.” What do you think of the paragraph, especially the part I’ve put in bold?

Not that this inward amazement of Dorothea’s was anything very exceptional; many souls in their young nudity are tumbled out among incongruities and left to ‘find their feet’ among them, while their elders go about their business. Nor can I suppose that when Mrs. Causaubon is discovered in a fit of weeping six weeks after her wedding, the situation will be regarded as tragic.  Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual, and we do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual.  That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”

Having been blogging and reading blogs for a year and a half now, I am more and more aware that under the torrents of words on the screen, some apparently quite personal (and often beautifully written), there are great silences. That’s certainly true of my own.  And even in the non-digital space of private life, much remains unsaid.  What’s more, do any of us let ourselves hear that roar on the other side of the silence? Don’t we wad our inner ears against it?  Could we bear it if we didn’t?

Or is that too serious a question for a blog?

HOW MY LIFE AS A MAD WOMAN BEGAN

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Print Ad Portfolio.

Portfolio, circa 1967.

I have been asked about the ten years of my life I spent in advertising. The question is almost always driven by curiosity about the alleged glamour of life on Madison Avenue, as seen sixty or so years later on television:

Is it true we wore pantyhose and white gloves (except in winter) and sometimes hats, and smoked a lot?  The answers to the first three parts of this easy and unimportant question are yes, yes and yes. (As for smoking a lot, it was optional but widely practiced.)  Nothing glamorous about it, though. Just what one did in the business world in those days, if one were female. We wore slips too, but you don’t see those on television, unless the characters are immorally disrobing.  Also it was best to keep the white gloves in your purse until entering the building of your employment or desired employment; if not, they might get grimy from touching newspapers or subway poles or the other dirty surfaces that tend to contaminate real life.

However, almost no one has ever asked the important question about that part of my life:

Why does a smart girl (aka young woman) who has already taught three years of Freshman English at the University of Southern California while earning an MA and an ABD (all but dissertation) in English and American Literature come to New York to seek employment for her well-trained mind and fine language skills as a mouthpiece for manufacturers of products best left unbought?  Maybe no one asks because the answer isn’t so fun.  She — that is, I — came to New York because First Husband, whose real name was Edward and who everyone called Ed, wanted to. He had been let go (aka fired) from teaching television production courses at that same university because he had only an MFA and not a Ph.D. Now he was going to show them. He would make it big time in the Big Apple as a director of hour-long tele-dramas. And before that happened (he conceded it might take some time), we were both going to look for whatever jobs were out there in our respective so-called “fields.”

How do you get the experience required for a job requiring some experience — if no one will hire you without that experience? Good question.  And one confronting almost every young person starting out in life without familial help. (When asked, “What can you do?” — “Anything” is not a good answer.)  In this instance, I did have some experience at something, and Columbia University soon offered me $3,000 a year to teach Freshman English in their extension division.  Alas, mere survival in New York cost more.  And Ed?  It seemed teaching television production counted for nothing in actual television production. He was a beginner all over again — at thirty-five!  “Only $125 a week?  Were they kidding or what?” He soon busied himself writing unsaleable novels in the bedroom.

So who was going to pay the rent on our second-floor rear one-bedroom apartment on West 71st Street near Needle Park (where druggies traded needles) and enable me to go shopping with a grocery cart at the A&P on Broadway and 68th Street once a week?  Another good question, especially for those emerging from their education in hopes of “following their bliss.”  Fortunately, I hadn’t thrown away the tear sheets of newspaper ads I had written for Los Angeles department store ladies’  fashions during the nine disconsolate months between college and graduate school. Perhaps they too could count as some kind of experience.

We are talking autumn 1957 here.  It took me three months of pounding the pavement (as they say), with long stops for ten-cent cups of coffee at coffee shops in between fruitless visits to employment agencies and department store advertising departments.  Once I got so discouraged, I bought three plump cheese danish from a bakery on Broadway in the middle of the morning and walked down to a bench on Riverside Drive facing the Hudson River to console myself by eating them right out of the bag, even though crumbs fell all over my best interview suit (left over from teaching days) and my fingers became too sticky to wipe the crumbs off afterwards. (I eventually used the closed paper bag as a brush.)  There was no one else around at that time of day to spy on me except for one dark-clad figure three benches away who was safely hunched over something he carefully unwrapped and put in his mouth. I thought it might be a caramel. (Another unhappy soul.)  Later, with more sophistication, I realized it had been hash.

What seemed to be the problem?  It was a variant of the no-job-without experience-no-experience-without-having-had-a-job conundrum.  Space in Los Angeles newspapers was much cheaper than space in New York newspapers, so the ads in my scrapbook (I didn’t know from portfolios yet) were larger than any New York department store could afford to run.  What that had to do with my skill as a copywriter I cannot tell you, and probably all those folks who smiled and said “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” wouldn’t have been able to either, if pressed.  It’s just that my ads looked wrong to them.  Which meant thank you and goodbye.  (It would be something of the same story later, after I had finally crossed the great divide between retail and agency advertising:  if you had only written about butter for butter accounts you couldn’t possibly know how to write about bread for bread accounts.  But we’re not there yet.)

Is it always darkest before the dawn? Oh, yes.  (And there is a Santa Claus, Virginia.)  The cold came, the rain turned to snow, I was still unemployed, and without a warm winter coat. (Cue: tears). It was the day before Christmas Eve  — I’m not making this up — when I finally stumbled into the office of nice Mary A., head fashion copywriter for Allied Stores’ New York buying office.  Mary A. understood everything. She herself had come up from Georgia nine or ten years before without even a scrapbook;  innocent l’il Southern gal, she had carried her Atlanta department store tear sheets around in a large paper bag. She hired me on the spot — for $5,000 a year and apologies it couldn’t be more but they had put her on a budget.  Ed might have been too good for $125 a week (you do the math), but believe you me he was mighty happy I was going to be earning slightly under $100.  We could go on eating.

Was I now able to buy a warm winter coat?  What a considerate question!  Yes, I did get a coat and didn’t even have to buy it.  Now assured of a modest income stream, Ed and I went shopping in the classifieds for used furniture. We needed something to sit on in our main room, other than kitchen chairs.  Not surprisingly, we got taken.  A well-heeled lady on the Upper West Side who was moving to Florida unloaded an attractive Regency sofa in blue brocade on us for $100. Very soon after it arrived in our room, it developed a horizontal rip from lower arm to lower arm right across the front below the cushions. By then the lady was in Florida.  And it was an “as is” sale anyway. I sewed a long black velvet ribbon over the rip and tried to think of the sofa as being in mourning for the death of George III.

Before that happened, though, and while the well-heeled lady was taking our thin coats from her coat closet to get us out before we changed our minds, she tactfully asked if I could use a three-quarter sheared beaver she would have no more opportunity to wear.  She had already given her two full-length minks to her two daughters and neither of them wanted another fur coat.  She waved away timid questions of “How much?”  No, no, she wanted me to have it.  Free.  (Might she have had a guilty conscience about the sofa?)

It was heavy on the shoulders, but silky and warm.  Unlike the sofa, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. (No, I did not yet have ethical feelings about wearing dead animals, and no one else back then did either. All of that came several decades later.)  I loved that coat. When I had it on, I felt somewhat above the sludge and drudgery of my life. Unfortunately, Ed declared it wasn’t necessary to put it in cold storage over the summer, and since I didn’t know he was wrong I didn’t object.  Within three years it had dried out and split.  Of course, within three years I had split, too.  However, by telling you that I am well ahead of myself.  Let us return to the subject at hand.

What was a “buying office?”  Allied Stores, my new employer, was a corporation owning middle-market department stores in forty-nine or fifty-one United States cities. (I forget the exact number. Allied was always buying or trading stores.)  Rather than buyers from all these stores converging on New York umpteen times a year to replenish stock, the Allied buying office replenished it for them, selecting what was thought saleable in various regions of the country.  Not only that, the office thoughtfully provided a retail ad for each piece of merchandise, which could be run in local newspapers or not, as each buyer deemed best.

Now that I was employed, I sat in a dark windowless cubicle with Carol S., a recent graduate from Connecticut College, where we both churned out three to four pieces of fashion copy each per day. Sometimes we saw the garment in question, sometimes had only a scrawled description from the buyer or a drawing from the art department.  It didn’t require much.  A catchy lead-in and then the facts: colors, sizes, price.  Examples:  “Dotty Duo” for a polka-dot cotton skirt and blouse.  Or, “Don’t Be Blue — Be Navy Blue!” for anything navy blue.  Mary A. approved everything.  “No one’s going to use these anyway,” she always said. “I have no idea why we go through the motions.”

I’m not sure how Mary A. spent her working time other than approving our eight pieces of daily copy and reminiscing with us about her time as a Georgia gal. (I learned about ammonia cokes for summer breakfast from her.)  I think she was working her way up and out of copy into buying office administration, but I wasn’t there long enough to see it happen.  When she was away from her desk, Carol S., who was four years younger than I was and still unmarried, filled me in on how the young cook for themselves on a hotplate.  This was her recipe for chile:  one pound any kind of ground beef, one chopped onion, one can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, undiluted.  Crumble and brown the meat and chopped onion in big saucepan, add soup, salt, pepper, chile powder to taste. Simmer twenty minutes.  Eat with friend or save half for next day.  Adding a can of rinsed beans was optional.  Minute rice cooked in another pan on the other hotplate burner — five minutes from start to finish — was a good accompaniment. Fifty-seven years later I still remember.

Wasn’t it boring? Sure, although the office was a block away from the Morgan Library, at that time free. I would spend the entire lunch hour there, and then pick up a small container of cottage cheese and an apple at the takeout deli on the corner to eat while creating “Dotty Duo” and its ilk.  I was also saving tear sheets which were small, and therefore suitable for a New York portfolio.   Even if the job had paid better than it did  — although why should it have, considering what we were doing? — it was not yet “New York advertising,” not even the retail variety.  Nothing I had a hand in actually ran in New York.  I needed a job in a real New York store.

Five months later, it came.  An employment agency sent me over on my lunch hour to Lane Bryant, the Fifth Avenue store renowned for “fat lady” clothes.  (It also sold maternity wear, and extra-tall fashions, but the “fat lady” part of the business had come first and left its mark on the minds of the public and me.)  The man who ran the advertising department had also been an English major, twenty years before.  We talked about Byron, Keats and Shelley for half an hour, which he seemed to enjoy very much.  He hired me on the spot at $6,500 a year without even looking at the Allied tear sheets.  All that mattered was that I was working in New York, so that he was stealing me away from someone else.  Again Mary A. understood everything.  “Of course you have to leave,” she said.  “What else is this buying office job good for?”  (I told you she was nice.)

When do we get to the Madison Avenue part?  It’s coming, it’s coming.  Working at Lane Bryant was not so different from working for Mary A., except now I got to meet the buyer of the featured merchandise, and I had to be less “catchy” because the overweight don’t care about “cute.” What they want to know from an ad (true or not) is whether a garment will be flattering.  I did my best, which must have been more than good enough; my boss began to sing my praises to his neighbor on Fire Island.  (We’re now in August 1958, and both men had summer houses there.)  This was not wise. The neighbor, who owned Gilbert Advertising, a small fashion ad agency just off Fifth Avenue, was in need of a copywriter and called me up while my boss was on vacation.  If I was interested, I could stop by after work to pick up a chrome of a prospective ad for cotton knit sportswear from a manufacturer called “Aileen,” and see what I could do with it. Bring it back when I was ready.  No rush.

It was a test.  I was not sanguine. How many other applicants was I competing with?  I almost didn’t stop by after work.  But that would have been like shooting myself in the foot.  Here’s a print of the chrome I retrieved from his office.  What in the world could I write about it? What would you have written about it? (Remember, it’s the clothes that were for sale, not the butterflies.)

IMG_1389

I should probably stop right here and leave you hanging till next time.  But that would be dirty pool when you’ve played along with me this far.  After some diddling at my Lane Bryant desk, this is what I wrote (on Lane Bryant time):

“Social butterflies agree–the best way to make a good catch is to have the catch catch you, wearing Aileen’s two-piece cotton knit dresses!”

Reader, he loved it!  He loved it $7,500 worth a year!

When could I start?