I may be pushing the envelope here, especially since the previous post in this series failed to bring a symphony of pings, but I couldn’t put away those tear sheets of print ads, demonstrating skills no longer marketable because television has swept away the market, without at least one last fond glance of farewell. It’s a glance at a campaign I’d quite forgotten until it turned up in that stiffening black leather ad portfolio while I was gathering the illustrations for the five posts preceding this one.
I liked doing these particular ads then; having rediscovered them, I like looking at and reading them now. They gave the finger to all the fashion advertising that took itself so seriously and made my working life such hell — and got away with it. The client, Zero King coats and jackets for men, ran them for over a year, with apparent retail success. Which may just show it really didn’t matter what any of us in the “ad biz” were doing with or writing about ready-to-wear (except for getting Art Director Association awards, where it mattered too much), as long as the ad had a good clear photograph of the merchandise in it.
The campaign came about because Zero King brought an interesting request to Mervin & Jesse Levine, the agency where Jerry Fields landed me a job in June 1961. Could the agency do a campaign on the cheap using photographs already shot for next year’s in-house catalogue? No hiring fancy fashion photographers, no elaborate studio set-ups, no expensive team meetings to devise award-winning campaigns.
Never one to turn away a client, however small its contribution to the profit picture, Mervin handed this thorny problem to his art directors. (He had two, plus a Creative Director who’d been an art director himself. Careful readers of this blog with good memories may recall the second half of “Sex in the Office,” in which I exchanged longingly horny glances and some determinative dialogue with this very Creative Director.) Creative Director and numero uno art director were otherwise too occupied to mess around with stock photos of menswear; they had big profitable accounts, like Ship ‘n Shore, with which to wrestle. Stingy Zero King ended up on the second art director’s desk.
The second art director’s name — the newly legal name I knew him by — was Marty Scofield. He was in his late twenties, had blondish-brown straight hair that kept falling over his blue eyes, a light smattering of freckles on the bridge of his tip-tilted nose, and fresh rosy cheeks. From the look of him, you’d have sworn his parents came from England or Ireland. But as he confided later, he was really Martin Skolnick — or had been, until his last name kept him out of every big ad agency to which he’d applied after graduating with distinction from Pratt, the art school that hatched so many New York art directors.
At last someone in Personnel at J. Walter Thompson, who must have liked the look of him, suggested he lose the “Skolnick.” When he did, she hired him. He discovered he hated giant ad agency culture. So here he was, working for Mervin, who would not have minded a Skolnick on his premises, but it was too late to change back.
Marty wasn’t exactly thrilled with small ad agency culture either. (He was also gay, although well closeted, which may have contributed to his quietly jaundiced view of our nonsensical occupation.) It doesn’t take long for the disaffected to find each other. We were already lunchtime friends. Marty took one look at the Zero King photographs and called me up. (He could have walked around the office to where I sat, but then he would have had to walk back again. Better I should do the walking.) He had superimposed one of the photos on a blank piece of paper and drawn a cartoon figure of an admiring woman next to it. Wasn’t it one of the ten commandments of 1960’s fashion advertising that we should sell no garment without alluding to its sex appeal?
Marty’s cartoon was right up my alley. I could be nutsy too. We chuckled our way through a whole series. And what do you know? Zero King was perfectly happy. For the price of the magazine space and a small markup representing a tiny percentage of our salaries, they had a national campaign. Creative Director, who also had to sign off on it, lifted an eyebrow. Then he shrugged. Let’s run it up the flagpole, he said, with stunning lack of originality. (How could I have been eyeing him so lustfully?) As long as I worked in all the merchandise details and the price, it seemed we were okayed for take-off.
Success breeds intimacy. As Marty and I laughed together (not too loudly) we grew closer. By now I was divorced. One Sunday, he invited me up to Connecticut to see where he lived. He actually owned a whole house. In my limited experience, out-of-office socializing wasn’t much done between co-workers; I began to think I might have been wrong about him.
With savings from his J. Walter Thompson salary, he had bought an eighteenth-century farmhouse which had been much underpriced because it had a ghost. He was now slowly restoring it. By hand. With the help of his friend. He walked me from room to room, explaining what he’d already done and what he planned to do next. “A real ghost?” I asked. “Well, there are sure some strange noises in the attic at night,” he said. “And on the stairs.”
“Aren’t you scared to live in a house with a ghost?” (I would have been.) “He hasn’t done anything to us yet,” said Marty. He was thinking of the ghost as a “he.” I would have supposed an eighteenth-century ghost to be a lovelorn “she.” We left that one unexplored.
Following a very good dinner, which he had cooked ahead of time, we sat by the fire. His friend, who’d been away visiting his parents that weekend, would be back later that night. It became awkward. I knew he liked me. I liked him, too. He was a couple of years younger than I was, but under other circumstances we would have kissed. Instead, we looked into each other’s eyes for what seemed quite a while. Then he looked away. I said I’d better be going. He became solicitous about my driving back to the city in the dark. “I’ll be okay,” I said reassuringly, not meaning the driving. What had been such a lovely day had turned so sad. He looked sad too as I closed the car door and drove away.
Afterwards, I would ask how the house restoration was coming. We both also talked in a general way about my visiting a second time, on another Sunday. But he never specifically invited me and I never specifically suggested it. So I never saw what the house looked like when he and his friend finally finished it.
About a year after I left Mervin & Jesse Levine for more money at Altman Stoller & Chalk (another Jerry Fields placement), I received a letter from the Virgin Islands. It was from Marty. He had sold the fully restored eighteenth-century house in Connecticut, said goodbye to advertising, and with his equity bought a bed-and-breakfast in St. Thomas. He didn’t say whether or not his friend was still with him. He did invite me to come down on my next vacation. By then I had met the man who would become my second husband and the father of my two children. I suppose we could have gone down to St. Thomas together, except we’d already put a rental deposit on a Wellfleet bungalow. And the following summer we got married and went to Bermuda. I must have answered Marty’s letter but can’t remember what I said.
Now that it’s the twentieth-first century, I’ve been able to find almost everyone I worked with during my years in advertising on the Internet, usually through an obituary but not always. Marty’s the only one who’s disappeared. I’ve tried Skolnick and I’ve tried Scofield. Nothing. He’s gone to earth. All that’s left are his zany sketches for Zero King. (Another reason I like the ads so much?)
But Zero King — that’s another story: A man with a taste for vintage can still pick one up on e-Bay. Maybe not exactly a style I’ve just shown you. But something equally as appealing to the woman in your life.
In closing, let me add that if you should miraculously run across Marty, either digitally or in real life, do let me know. I’d love to hear how he’s doing.