AD BIZ FOLLIES (#4)

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19th century Majarahah's bed of solid sterling silver.

19th century Majarahah’s bed of solid sterling silver.

[For earlier posts about my adventures in late 1950’s-early 1960’s advertising, see “How My Life as a Mad Woman Began,” and “Ad Biz Follies (#1), (#2) and (#3.)]

During the nearly three years Ed and I had been in New York, I had no discretionary money at all.  We did own a joint savings account, consisting mainly of the sale proceeds of my many college and graduate school books and also of the good used furniture my parents had given us for beginning married life. But we had agreed neither of us would touch that money.  Moreover, I wasn’t entirely sure where we had stashed the bankbook. As for my salary, once I began paid work at Gilbert Advertising in January 1958, I used to hand over all of it, less five dollars a week for transportation to and from work. At first it never occurred to me not to. After all, Ed had been managing the money and paying the bills since we married. And we barely squeaked by as it was.

In the beginning, of course, he’d been working too, so the money he managed came from both of us. But now, although I had become the only breadwinner, he remained the money manager. Every Saturday, he would hand back thirty dollars just before I trundled the shopping cart off to the A&P for the weekly marketing; unfortunately, it all went on necessities, almost down to the penny.

Then things at home became increasingly unpleasant.  (More detail might darken this light-hearted account of advertising nonsense were we to tiptoe down that path so we won’t, at least not here.)  I may still have clung to the belief marriage was supposed to be forever, but I did finally acknowledge to myself I needed some ready cash Ed didn’t know about.  Not necessarily to do anything with.  Just in case.  Unfortunately, my relaxed months at Harold M. Mitchell, Inc. Advertising for $6,500 a year (see #3 in this series) provided no wiggle room for putting something aside.

I was therefore pleased to receive a whispered call at work from an employment agent at Jerry Fields, the mega guru of “creative” placements in Madison Avenue’s ad world. (The term “creative” in the ad-speak of the time meant copywriters and art directors, and was not necessarily descriptive of the quality of their product.) The agent had heard of something for me at a place called Leber & Katz.  More later. “Heard of something?” What did that mean?

A second whispered call soon came from an excited Judy F., formerly with Jerry Fields but now branching out on her own. There was a perfect opening for me at Leber & Katz! She had Lester Leber on the other line and could she make an appointment for me to to interview with him that very evening? Innocent little girl.  (Me, not Judy F.)  Even if Lester Leber had turned me down, I would have been in trouble.  He didn’t. I lied about the salary Harold was paying me — I was beginning to learn how things were done — and Lester offered $8,500.  When could I start? How could I refuse?

You’d think I’d been Edward Snowden. Jerry Fields himself was on the line the very next day.  He didn’t whisper. How could I violate the basic rule of agency placements when he had been so good to me?  (I’d never met or spoken with him.)  He mentioned trust.  Honor.  Principle.  It didn’t quite get to “You’ll never work in this town again!” but came close. What he was really upset about, of course, was the commission for the placement.  Leber & Katz was going to pay Judy F. for sending me to them, even though their name had first been mentioned to me by a Jerry Fields agent.

I apologized. I pleaded. I said I was new to New York and its ways. I pointed out timidly that the Jerry Fields agent hadn’t actually gotten me an interview. I even asked if I should turn down the job offer.  No, no, he didn’t want that. (God forbid Leber & Katz should hear of behind-the-scenes scuffling by employment agents.)  The upshot was a stern warning. I must never, ever, do such a thing again. And then came what I didn’t realize might have been a warning of another kind:  Jerry Fields himself wished me good luck at L&K. Did he know something I didn’t?

What he knew, or suspected, was that Leber & Katz did not yet have any need for me at all.  Once I arrived at their (to me) sumptuous Madison Avenue premises in a building with a Longchamps restaurant on the ground floor, I too was at a loss as to why I had been hired.  Was it because they felt they should fill the one empty office remaining along the square perimeter surrounding a luxurious conference room and, on the other side, an impressive paste-up department?  Was it because they had grandiose plans for growth and needed to present themselves as a place with two art directors, two account executives and two copywriters, even though the second copywriter was simply waiting around for something substantive to do?  Or was it that Lester — the copywriter at the firm — had been to Columbia College and thought on meeting me that if all went well for the agency a well-educated young lady like me might be a good fit?

The firm certainly did go on to become very large indeed.  Shortly after we parted company, Lester and his partner Stanley Katz “exchanged” their third partner, the man who managed the office and who I knew as Norman, for Onofrio Paccione, a high-powered art person from Grey Advertising known throughout the industry as “Patch,” a tough guy to work for. They then became, for a time, Leber Katz Paccione.  Subsequently, as their billings grew (and Patch departed, perhaps for greener fields) — they were Leber Katz Partners, with billings reported to be as high as $550 million by 1986, at which time they merged with (or were gobbled up by) Foote Cone & Belding Communications in Chicago and were known thereafter as FCB/Leber Katz Partners.  Musical chairs on a multi-million-dollar scale. But I was not involved in any of that. Just thought you’d like to know where they were headed.

The fact is that when I arrived in late June 1960 I had nothing much to do in my new place of employment.  There was still some fashion copy to write for ads already photographed, freeing up Lester to join Stanley in chasing the big packaged goods accounts that would eventually disentangle them from fashion sold in department stores and enable profits to metastasize. But it didn’t take me long to produce the minimal verbiage required to accompany gorgeous photos or to explain, briefly, why a consumer should want to buy something for which she had no real need. As in:

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WHOEVER YOU ARE, be unscrupulous. Connive. Pretend to the wealth of a princess with Marvellissimo, Marvella’s precisely simulated pearls of genuine brilliance. Who’d suspect such cunning — from a lovely charmer like you? Triple-strand necklace, with stone-set clasp of semi-precious Carnelian, Lapis, or Jade Quartz, $22.50. Ta-da, ta-da, ta-da, etc. At the finest stores.

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I spent a lot of time trying to read Proust in the women’s bathroom with my feet up so no one looking for me could recognize my shoes by peering beneath the door of the toilet stall. That seemed better than sitting in my office with the door open doodling on a pad, or reading Proust openly, even with a pencil in my hand.

There was also some time-consuming flirting with Stanley.  He was then thirty-nine, a husband and father of three or four, and owner in fee simple of a nice suburban home in West Orange, New Jersey. He was also the partner who would invite me to sessions in the conference room to plan strategy for presentations to big-name potential clients. I had very little to contribute to these pow-wows, other than to look interested (and perhaps attractive to Stanley), take notes and pass the centerpiece platter of fruit around the table.

After one of these meetings, I found on my desk the next morning a line drawing in pencil, initialed SK, of a male figure reclining on a chaise longue with a female figure feeding him grapes from a bunch dangling from her hand over his mouth.  I knew the reclining figure was supposed to be Stanley by the round eyeglasses. Also it was slightly plump (as he was). The female figure wore a suit like mine the day before.  If I’d had more work to do, I might have tabled a response in favor of more pressing matters.  As it was, I impulsively scrawled, “Yes!” on the drawing, folded it into an envelope and, since he was out of the office, handed it back, sealed, to his secretary.

I still don’t know if she opened it before putting it on his desk. The next drawing that appeared in my office was of an open-mouthed baby’s face;  the baby had one tuft of hair coming up off its head, one tooth in its mouth, and one tear on its cheek.  Block-printed beneath the face was a single word, “Sorry.”  After that, Stanley scrupulously avoided me. No more invitations to strategy pow-wows. (Had I made him feel like such a baby?) And since we had no business reason to be together, I guess that pretty much took care of temptation for him. As for me, I hadn’t really been tempted in the first place, except that the flirting had been something interesting to do. Roundish, owl-eyed and with thinning yellow hair  — even if relatively powerful — wasn’t exactly my type. So you might say there was no harm done. You’d be wrong.

Popular wisdom to not mess around in the office wouldn’t have survived as long as it has if there weren’t more than a kernel of truth in it.  When Norman, the third partner, decided at the beginning of 1961 that I had not been a cost-effective investment since Lester didn’t really need me, only Stanley could have saved me.  Of course, he didn’t. But — as Parolles, the messenger, declared in All’s Well That Ends Well — I am there before my legs.

Despite such tomfoolery, my “employment” at Leber & Katz accomplished two very important things for me, neither connected with career advancement.

(1)  With my first L&K weekly pay envelope, I opened a savings account in my own name at a bank near the office. All it took was $25.  I could hide this much money from Ed by “explaining” that the rate of social security withholding was much higher at my new salary than it had been before. As he himself had never earned $8,500 a year, he believed me.  Thus, every week after that, while matters continued to go south at home, I was able to put away another $25.  By November of 1960, I would have $500 all my own.  Enough finally to flee.

(2) I met Serge, the manager of Christofle Silver, a new Leber & Katz account that arrived at the agency in August 1960. The Christofle showroom was on the third floor of a townhouse at 55 East 57th Street that already housed Limoges china on the ground floor and Porthault linens on the second. The company had therefore come to L&K on the recommendation of the manager of Limoges, for which Lester managed some minimal advertising.

Neither Stanley nor Lester spoke French.  I still could. (Much better than I do now.)  There was therefore no question in their minds that I should be at the initial meeting with the daughter and son of the owner, both soon to return to France, and with Serge, who would remain in New York. (This was before the line drawings of grapes and the one-tooth baby.) My presence probably wasn’t necessary as Serge, at least, was perfectly bilingual (with a charming French lilt), having recently acquired a degree from the London School of Economics.

Born in Paris and therefore thoroughly French, he nevertheless had Polish grandparents and was a Polish Baron, a title of absolutely no use anywhere except to get last minute reservations at posh New York restaurants. He was therefore a problem to the Leber & Katz guys from the start. Lester thoughtfully called him “Sergei,” in honor of his Polish ancestry.  Norman called him “Surge,” because Norman recognized no language but English.  I pronounced his name the French way and became his favorite. There was also a quasi-private exchange of Shakespeare quotations across the conference table that had nothing to do with what the others were discussing but indicated to each of us that (a) we were both better educated than the others and (b) we both thought advertising was pretty silly.  He insisted I be the copywriter on the account.

I’ve already written about Serge — although not extensively — as if he were fiction.  (He is Andre de Renski in “Those Were the Days,” which is listed on the Fiction Page to the left. I should probably write more about him; I remember enough for a novella.) Serge sometimes does seem like fiction when I think of him now, but he was quite real, and still is.  (According to Wikipedia, he remains alive and relatively well in France; he has written several French novels and now translates American he-man novels into French.)  But what was significant about him then in terms of this particular story is that based on his request, Lester and Stanley turned him over to me. An art director named Art Rothenberg and I handled all the Christofle advertising as long as I was at the agency, and I alone was able to extract from him the overdue checks for services rendered.  So in a way Serge kept me busy enough to prevent being let go by Norman until I had enough money to leave Ed — which was very important.  That he courted me and I thought he might serve as a temporary stepping stone between husbands was also a factor in  my decision to leave when I did, but is still another story.

So now we come to the bed at the top of the page.  It was a sterling silver bed made by Christofle for an Indian maharajah in the mid-nineteenth century. Both Serge and his employers back in France wanted it in their inaugural ad in America.  It was bad, bad American advertising (whatever its appeal had it run in France), but it was unusual.  In fact, Christofle liked it so much it continued to appear even after I had parted company with Lester and Stanley.  Here’s the ad, in all its glory, torn from the pages of the Times in 1961:

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A PLEASURE IN THE HOME

The prolix and troublingly coy copy read:

We trust you do not covet the unusual object below. It is not for sale. An Indian Maharajah commissioned it from us in the nineteenth century, and — as far as we know — passed it on to an heir. All that remains to us is its photograph, which we show you with some trepidation.

For, you see, we do not know you Americans very well, having arrived in your country only recently. In France we take such follies philosophically, with lifted eyebrow. But here, will you be shocked, or (as we hope) interested to learn that this so-called bed was wrought entirely of sterling silver.  One thousand pounds of it, including the ladies.

When one reposed upon it, the ladies waved their fans while a music box concealed beneath the springs released the latest Offenbach can-cans from Paris into the Eastern night. (Who could sleep with such distractions?)

As we say, however, to each man his pleasure. And, since 1839, Christofle has been giving unalloyed pleasure to maharajahs, emperors, kings and people who wish to feel like kings. If it is really your pleasure that we make you another such bed, we shall do so.

A last word about the bed. We do take a certain bizarre satisfaction in having created it. For one must admit that it is unique — until such time as somebody orders another. And to be unique is highly characteristic of Christofle.

Is Christofle only for those persons on a maharajah’s annual stipend? By no means. On the next page you see a recent creation in which we take genuine pride. It is called “Duo” and it was designed for us by the noted Finnish artist, Tapio Wirkala. The six pieces are all of heavy silver plate. (Actually they contain more silver than many settings of sterling silver.)

There is now in America hollowware and flatware by Christofle in vermeil, gilded, sterling, and heavy silver plate patterns — all within the reach of every purse. (See below for names of the purveyors.) These lovely things will not be one-of-a-klind, bed-type possessions. But they will be a peerless pleasure, none the less.

And that is because, among the foremost silversmiths of the world, the name of Christofle itself is renowned as one of a kind. Those beautiful objets d’art which proudly bear this name are without parallel, anywhere. They are, quite simply, beyond compare.

A brochure containing illustrations and descriptions of the complete Christofle collection is available on request. Please enclose 25 cents to cover mailing expenses. Christofle Silver, Inc., Ffty-Five East Fifty-Seventh Street, New York 22, N.Y.

CHRISTOFLE  Official Table Service to the Court of Kings

It goes without saying Art and I eventually talked Serge into doing something a bit more modern:

GOUT: the French word for taste

GOUT: the French word for taste

There was also a small space campaign for The New Yorker, captioned “eat, drink, and be very, very…with Christofle silver, official service to the courts of kings:”

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Art used to take me along on the photography shoots for this campaign, which helped kill even more time. One of these shoots involved a delicious-looking roast chicken on a Christofle silver platter.  To keep the chicken looking truly appetizing after its long hours under hot lights, it had been generously sprayed with lacquer and was therefore inedible.  You hang around, you learn.

In January 1961, Norman let me go.  (I had already left Ed in November, and was now on my own, with a legal separation to protect me from his appearing on my doorstep.) Norman said in my next job I should try to work harder.  Norman said I was being fired for cause, so I wouldn’t be able to collect unemployment insurance. (And the agency wouldn’t have to pay its share of it.)  I did try to defend myself; I’d done everything I’d been asked to do. Was it my fault all I’d been asked was to babysit Serge?

Spine stiffened by Stanley’s vote to get rid of me, Norman wasn’t buying any of that. He yielded just enough to concede they would give me good references if anyone asked.  Norman didn’t know it, but his head would soon roll too — because the renowned Paccione was about to join up as third partner.

Dear readers, surely you’ve had enough.  After I had spent four subsequent months at a stop-gap place much like Harold Mitchell, Inc. (but called Herrick Associates  — the associates being Mrs. Herrick, daughter Herrick and son Herrick), Jerry Fields himself rescued me.  By annoying him when I’d let Judy F. place me in a job, I had implanted myself firmly in his mind.  He personally found me the last two agency spots that concluded my “ad biz” career. I spent two and a half years at each of them, my salary slowly climbing with each jump, waddling out of the last job married again and eight months pregnant. So you could say all these follies you’ve been reading about had served a purpose (other than maybe moving merchandise), at least for me.

But I would be remiss to conclude this series without showing you how the Leber & Katz rise to riches began in 1961, soon after I left.  Unlike the ads for Serge, these print ads of theirs introducing Lowenbrau beer to the American public were really good examples of the genre. Although I wasn’t there to see for myself, I’m sure Lester and Stanley owed the successful Lowenbrau presentation and subsequent ad campaign to Patch.  There may have been some professional back-stabbing and blood-letting beforehand.  But hey, that’s how the ad-biz cookie crumbles. The rest was beer-advertising and Leber Katz Partners history:

WHEN THEY RUN OUT OF LOWENBRAU…ORDER CHAMPAGNE.

IF THEY RUN OUT OF LOWENBRAU…ORDER CHAMPAGNE.

NOW THAT YOU'VE SEEN THE LIGHT….TRY THE DARK

NOW THAT YOU’VE SEEN THE LIGHT….TRY THE DARK.

My song is sung.  Salut!

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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.

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.]

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.)

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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?

THOSE WERE THE DAYS

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[A story.]

 I’m quite certain Paul came with me to Andre de Renski’s housewarming party in October 1960 because back then I never went anywhere, except to work, without Paul. Although I have no specific recollection of whether or not he gave me a hard time about putting on his grey flannel suit (which I had bought for him back in our honeymoon days) in order to attend this event, he would have eventually agreed to come – preliminary objections or no — so as not to jeopardize my paycheck, which was, in a manner of speaking, our paycheck.

I do remember that it was Frauke, Andre’s nineteen-year-old German secretary and showroom receptionist, who came to the penthouse door to greet us when we stepped out of the elevator. She was looking delectable in an emerald green taffeta cocktail dress and high heels; the dress swished as she clicked her way across the polished wood parquet floor. She apparently had gone home to change after work; in the showroom, she always wore a slim skirt and cashmere sweater, with a string of pearls.

As we entered the living room, I introduced her to Paul; she then introduced us to her escort, who was sitting in a yellow brocade wing chair. A polite, neatly combed man in a dark suit. His name was Matthew Holmes (as he reminded me when we met again sometime afterwards). I found out later Frauke had already been living with him for at least a couple of months, although they were not officially a couple and gave no indication that his accompanying her to Andre’s party was anything other than a social accommodation. I probably offered him a civil smile. Then Andre hurried over and swept us away.

Andre was a new client of Pagel & Cohen, the ad agency where I had recently been hired to write copy. He had come from Paris in August to introduce a French silver company to the American market. Why he had invited me and Stan Epstein, the art director who was designing his advertising program, to his housewarming was not clear. Stan thought it might be only an outburst of youthful good spirits. However, Norm Pagel and Herb Cohen, who ran their eponymous agency together, decided it made good business sense for us go.

So there I was in my one really good dress, a black cashmere knit bought at a small intimidating shop on Madison Avenue during the previous post-Christmas sale. When I was well girdled, as now, it was very becoming; I felt chic and ready for anything. Unfortunately, Paul and I spent the whole evening talking to Stan. The other guests were all French businessmen and two Frenchwomen who did something for Vogue, a seemingly self-contained francophone group I didn’t feel sufficiently secure in spoken French to approach.

We left early. Paul and I hadn’t been getting along for some time, and I ‘d been looking forward to this Friday evening housewarming as a way to delay the onset of the weekend’s bickering. But there was just so much Stan and I could say to each other that we hadn’t already said in the office, and Paul wasn’t helping. As we stepped into the elevator, Andre rushed over again, this time clutching a bottle of Pommard, which he thrust into my hand. He said he was tellement desole, so very sorry, that we were leaving before we’d had a chance to chat, and that he wanted us to have something to enjoy over the weekend. He may not have meant both of us; the word you is singular as well as plural in English. He gave me what could have been a deeply sorrowful look. Although French, he had Slavic eyes. I didn’t thrust the bottle back, a serious mistake. The invitation to the housewarming had already sent up Paul’s antenna. We argued about what the Pommard meant, or didn’t mean, all the way home on the crosstown bus.

The Pommard may have meant what Paul suspected. During a meeting with Herb, Norm and Stan the following week, Andre pulled me to one side of the conference room on the pretext of showing me some ideas he had roughed out for future ads. “We must have lunch,” he whispered urgently.

“Didn’t you forget something?” I whispered back. “I’m married.”

His eyes looked tragic. “You can’t even have lunch?”

I consulted the Hungarian about this whispered invitation during my next visit to his office on East 86th Street. I had been seeing him two evenings a week for over a year.   He did have a proper name, clotted with linked consonants and therefore difficult to pronounce, but I found myself unable to use it except when writing out checks in payment for treatment. Naming him might have turned him into a regular human being who used branded toothpaste and wore pajamas and maybe even yelled at his wife now and then. If compelled to bring him into a conversation, as when explaining to Paul why I might be late getting home after work, I always sidestepped the linked consonants by referencing his nationality. And when I was by myself, he needed no name. Where in the Old Testament do you find the name of God?

The Hungarian did not disapprove of lunch with Andre, if it stayed lunch. However, he did believe the patient should make no major familial changes during treatment. He may also have had some reservations about the veracity of my accounts of unhappy married life; after all, it was Paul who had initially obtained his name from the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and insisted I go see him, to find out why I was evading my marital responsibilities by taking too many naps on weekend afternoons.

Ma, honeybunch,” he said to me now. The ma was not actually a Hungarian word. It had become part of his permanent vocabulary in Italy, after he climbed over an Alp to escape the Soviets when they invaded Hungary. (He had a romantic past.) “A little flirtation is not so terrible. It might cheer you up. Make your husband more attentive.”

My husband was attentive enough, actually. Although he refused to fritter away his creative years by earning a living (at thirty-eight he was still waiting to be discovered as a great playwright), I had no complaints about Paul’s horizontal skills. When we darkened the room so that I could pretend he was someone else, he brought me off regularly. Of course, I wished I didn’t have to pretend.

“More than lunch is not an issue,” I said, sidestepping further discussion of Paul’s amatory style with what I hoped was charm. “You think I’d risk losing my job by messing around with a client? Then I wouldn’t be able to pay you!”

My preparations for the approved lunch consisted of cashing a birthday check from my father and buying a fitted black wool boucle suit at Henri Bendel. Paul knew nothing about the check because it had been mailed to the office. He’d been without paid employment since we’d come to New York three years before, and my father was no dummy. I had never worn anything so expensive. Just buttoning the jacket cheered me up. Paul didn’t even notice the new suit.

Andre was double-parked in a bright red Alfa Romeo convertible in front of the building on Madison Avenue where Pagel & Cohen had its offices. There was a Longchamps in the lobby, but chain restaurants did not figure in Andre’s universe. Top down, we drove six blocks to The Brasserie, where he double-parked again.

“Won’t you get a ticket?” I asked.

With a delightful Gallic smile he opened the door on my side. “C’est la vie!” Then we dodged oncoming cars and circled the Alfa Romeo to the pavement. He took my arm to descend The Brasserie’s stairs. “Beautiful suit,” he said.

We had Beaujolais and steak tartare (a first for me), which the waiter prepared tableside with many flourishes.   Desultory chitchat about the silver campaign soon segued into more personal matters. He was twenty-seven (he said), divorced, a father; his little girl was in France with her mother. His English, underlaid with the merest soupcon of delicious French accent, was from England, where he had gone to school. He was delighted to learn my parents were Russian; he himself, though born in Paris, was the grandson of Polish aristocrats, ousted from their castles during some late nineteenth-century Polish brouhaha. We were therefore both of Slavic blood. I said my parents considered themselves Jewish. Aha! he exclaimed. We were more alike than I knew. He had a Jewish grandmother. He leaned towards me. “I find you fascinating,” he said softly. “Tell me who are you. I want to know everything.”

Tell me who are you. It had been such a long time since anyone wanted to know. I wasn’t used to wine at lunch. Whatever slid out of me, about myself and my ill-advised marriage, it must have been too much.

“You poor darling,” he murmured gently when our tiny espresso cups were empty. “You deserve so much better. I want to make it up to you.”

How does one respond to that?

He paid the bill. Outside in the bright fall sunshine, the Alfa Romeo sported a ticket on its jaunty windshield. I said I would walk back to the office. (I needed to cool my cheeks.) He nodded, deftly removed the offending ticket from view, and slid into the driver’s seat. “Be warned,” he said. “I am going to court you as no one has ever courted you.”

“Andre! Don’t be silly!”   I started to giggle.

He signaled and began to pull out into traffic. “Yes, and I will never know how many other men are courting you.” He looked back at me, we stared at each other for a moment and he added, “Of course, you will never know how many other women I am courting. It will be so-o-o exciting!”

I think he blew me a kiss, but it’s hard to be sure. My head was throbbing with wine and compliments and the noise of traffic. Then the little red Alfa Romeo was gone.

What nonsense, I thought as I wobbled the six blocks back to work. Who wants to be one of a gaggle of women being courted at once? Divorced or not divorced, I thought, he must not know anything about real life. All the same, it had certainly been fun. My life needed some fun. How I wished I were free to play!

Alas, I was not. Back at my desk and sober again, I did risk/benefit analysis. Andre was young — two and a half years younger than me — and probably undependable. He pleased; he diverted; he inspired no real desire. Then there was Paul’s temper. What if he found out? Would he hit me? Divorce me? Adultery was grounds in New York. Would I also lose the Hungarian if Norm and Herb found out and fired me? I didn’t have even emergency cash of my own. I was walking around with five dollars in my wallet for weekly subway money; all the rest of my pay went to Paul. Where would I be without a job and, worse, without the Hungarian?

The upshot of these ruminations was to table thoughts of Andre for now and do what I could safely do. The following Friday I used twenty-five dollars of the contents of my pay envelope to open a savings account in a bank near the office. I explained the shortfall in net salary to Paul as an increase in social security withholding. He didn’t like it, but since he didn’t get paid himself anymore he had no basis for questioning it. In the wrong things he trusted me. Although I no longer thought that marriage, especially a bad one, was necessarily forever, I wasn’t actually planning to leave him, especially given the Hungarian’s ground rules. On the other hand, how could it hurt to build myself a private little nest egg, just in case? After all I was the one who was doing the earning. I kept the bankbook deep in the zippered inner compartment of my handbag, below a thick wad of Kleenex.

It took what seemed a long time for my secret account to grow. In the meanwhile, I went on — more or less uncomplainingly — with my domestic weekend routine: cleaning our two-room apartment near Needle Park, dragging a shopping cart five blocks down Broadway to the A & P and then back again, cooking a week’s worth of the indigestible meals that Paul remembered from his mother’s kitchen and loved so well. (Kartoffelglossen was a particular favorite.) Paul did most of the talking when we were in the apartment together. If I ventured to disagree about something, his response was always, “I am King in this house!” That would have made me Queen, I guess. But if I had dared mention it, he would certainly have stalked, aggrieved, into the other room. On such occasions, I did fall back on pleasant reveries of Andre. He might not have been appropriate second husband material. But why not a sort of stepping stone to the next part of my permanent life? These were, of course, just reveries and could comfortably co-exist with making no major familial change. Understandably, I didn’t waste expensive therapeutic time discussing them with the Hungarian.

In any event Andre’s promised courtship was not really getting off the ground. His social recreation seemed for now to consist mainly of successful pursuit of the Four Hundred. You could read in Cholly Knickerbocker’s column about his many evenings out with young ladies bearing last names associated with banks, railroads and manufacturing empires owned by their fathers and uncles. Once he even showed up in Walter Winchell’s column as “that dashing young Frenchman who’s taking Café Society by storm.”

Nonetheless, it soon became apparent to Herb and Norm that he preferred dealing with them through me. When he didn’t pay his bill on time, which was more and more often, they began sending me over to the showroom to collect. “Hello, hello,” sunny blonde Frauke would sing out from under her impeccable beehive of hair as I stepped from the elevator. “How nice to see you!” She sat alone at a glass-topped reception desk, looking both friendly and gorgeous. Andre’s office was in the back. I never saw a customer at any time I was there, and sometimes wondered what the two of them might be up to by themselves all day long. I even chaffed Andre about it once, while he was writing out a long overdue check for three thousand dollars to Cohen & Nagel.

“With Frauke? That’s nonsense. She’s just a child.” He tore the signed check out of the ledger and handed it to me. “Besides,” he added, “she has a perfectly nice American boyfriend. Matthew I think his name is. He does law, doesn’t he? Why would I want to interfere with that?” Then he walked me to the door, his arm around my waist. “But how are you?” he asked. “Still with that awful husband, yes? You must come to a party anyway. Next week, without him.”

I knew from Frauke that Andre had begun to give many parties now that he had his penthouse tastefully decorated. So I didn’t take this invitation as a particularly personal gesture; he was simply being hospitable. But I decided to go anyway, if only to show I was still his friend despite his laissez faire attitude towards invoices. I told Paul that Herb and Norm wanted me there because it was good for client relations. Although Herb and Norm knew nothing about Andre’s invitation I was sure that if they had known, they would have wanted me to accept. Paul was not happy to dine alone on leftover sauerbraten, but if you’re going to set yourself up as King of the House, you deserve a certain amount of payback. Besides, it would be lovely to put on my good dress again and get out of the apartment for an evening.

There seemed fewer francophones in attendance at this party. Then I saw across the room, in the middle of the gold brocade sofa, a lady having her hand kissed by several gentlemen. I cornered Frauke, in some respects a fountain of information, and inquired. Frauke explained. The lady was a princesse de France. But France was a republic, wasn’t it?   “Oh, she lives in New York just like the rest of us,” added Frauke, who was in possession of the addresses and phone numbers of every guest. “It’s only her blood that’s royal. Two-hundred year old blood.” She was leaning against the mantelpiece, on which there were now two neat stacks of parking tickets. “Don’t laugh,” she cautioned. “Andre’s careful not to offend.”

Andre himself introduced me to the other guests: I was his lovely and brilliant copywriter, he said, and a very good friend.   I met a stout balding Zenith executive who told me, in slightly German-accented English, that I was extremely charming and he would like to do something for me if I would let him. I met the quite attractive personnel director of Equitable Life who put both his hands on my upper arms while confessing that his third marriage, to a French countess, was on the rocks but as he couldn’t afford to do anything about it they were chained together for eternity. I met an editor of Modern Bride, fortyish and redheaded, who said she was over the moon for Andre and wanted to know all about him; she seemed to think I was an authority. I went to an empty space near the drinks cart for a breather.

“Hello again,” said Matthew Holmes, who was standing there.

I must have looked blank.   “The housewarming? Frauke’s friend? I see I made a great impression.”

Ah, the polite male escort. “Yes of course! Please do forgive me.”

“Forgiven.” We exchanged names a second time. His gaze turned towards Frauke’s blonde beehive as it made its way from one group of Andre’s guests to another. Then he asked where Paul was. My own eyes were following slender graceful Andre as he glided here and there, bestowing and receiving cheek kisses; I wished he would glide in our direction. “Paul hates these things,” I said, finally. Matthew Holmes glanced back at me. “So do I.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Looking out for my interests.”

“Your interest looks as if she can take care of herself.”

“I’m sure she can. That’s what worries me.”

“Oh?”

He changed the subject. “Why are you?”

“Why am I what?”

“Here.”

“Work.” (The easiest answer.)

“This is work?”

“Norman Pagel thinks so.”

“Then I guess you could call it that.” He had a pleasantly normal sort of voice. I thought he was probably a native New Yorker. Like me.

“Tell me,” I asked suddenly. “Do some of these people strike you as weird? As if they’re living in some other world?”

“Ah, you’ve noticed.” Now he turned back in my direction.

“I don’t understand what Andre sees in them.”

“If Andre’s your client, I can’t tell you.”

“Andre’s Norm’s client.”

He shrugged. “Same difference.” After a moment’s thought he relented somewhat. “You see that?” He pointed to a small gold-framed photo of a young woman taken outdoors against a cloudless blue sky; it was on the end of the mantelpiece closest to us, away from the parking tickets.

“You mean his sister?” I said.

“Is that what Andre told you? He told Frauke she was his cousin, who died several years ago. Half an hour ago I heard him tell that redhead” — he lifted his chin in the direction of the editor of Modern Bride — “that she’s a married woman in France with whom he’s hopelessly in love.”

I didn’t like this information. Or that Andre was not coming over to the drinks cart. Didn’t he realize I couldn’t wait till the end of the party for him to have some time for me? My watch said 10:00. “I have to go,” I said. “There’s work tomorrow. Nice talking to you.”

“My pleasure.” He made no move to walk me to the door, and I didn’t expect him to. By the time the elevator reached the building lobby, I had stopped thinking about him. The woman in the gold-framed photo was another matter.

The next time I was sent to the showroom with an unpaid invoice, I tackled the question head on.

“Andre, do you really have a sister?”

He was having trouble finding the company checkbook ledger among all the papers on his desk. “A sister? Yes, of course. Why?”

“And a pretty cousin, who died?”

This question seemed to surprise him. “People talk too much.” Was he annoyed? He began pulling out drawers and rummaging in them briskly. Then he slammed them all shut without replying yes or no. “Listen, darling,” he said. “This is a bad time. How about you come back tomorrow and we take care of the tiresome money then?” He rose to walk me out without waiting for an answer — depriving me of an opening to inquire, coquettishly of course, if he were by any chance hopelessly in love. No great loss. I already suspected what I would hear: “Only with you, darling, only with you.”

The agency was going easy on Andre’s increasingly delinquent payment history. They had just nabbed a big new account which was occupying all their attention: a German beer about to invade the United States and Canada with a huge advertising budget. I wondered why two New Jersey guys named Cohen and Nagel who had been at least in their thirties during the height of the Third Reich and by now were certainly aware of what had gone on there, were so eager to do business with citizens of the German Republic who were once probably Nazi officers. But I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. Providentially, Herb decided he would do all the beer copy himself; he said he wanted to keep me free for “soft” products, of interest to women.

Then the Hungarian bought a house for his family (they had been renting in the Bronx) and moved his practice to an office with a separate entrance at the back of the house. The house and office, he said, were bullet-proof; they had been built by the Mafia. I never did understand his pride in this feature of the purchase, unless it had to do with his early days in Hungary during the war. All the same, I followed him without hesitation to his new fortress in Forest Hills. It meant riding the E or F train there and back, and not getting home again until well after 9 p.m. That was okay with me — it meant less time with Paul, more time to daydream on the long return ride two evenings a week.

It was not okay with Paul. He declared I had had enough therapy and raised a rolled newspaper at me. As if I were a bad dog, I thought. The following week, his frustration with my reluctance to give up the Hungarian took the form of shaking me very hard as I stood with my back to a kitchen wall. A can opener was mounted directly behind my head. He narrowly missed slamming me against it. What would come next? Slaps? Blows? That’s all I needed, I thought. This was real and it was happening to me. Whatever the Hungarian’s views on familial life changes during treatment, if I was ever going to get out and start over, I had better do it while I was still unbattered and had all my teeth.

I confided in Stan, the art director. He called his lawyer. I was soon in possession of the name of another lawyer, who specialized in divorce and was cheap. I.M. Reddy, Esq. Was the odd name of this person an omen? Heart in mouth, I telephoned for a lunch hour appointment. The address turned out to be a questionable-looking office up a tall flight of narrow musty stairs on West 42nd Street.

Attorney Reddy, by contrast, turned out to be astonishingly short. “Call me Irma,” she said reassuringly, extending her hand slightly upward to reach mine as I gasped for breath at her door. Despite her unimpressive appearance, Irma Reddy was masterful. After I had given her a hundred dollar retainer, prudently withdrawn in advance from my secret account, and then explained the facts of my domestic situation, she knew exactly how to proceed.

**************

You want to know what happened next, don’t you? Of course you do. Let me be brief: Seven months later, I was a genuine divorcee, thanks to a decree from Tijuana, Mexico, typed in two languages and embossed with two red wax seals, from which dangled two glossy red ribbons. Irma was subsequently reluctant to let me go; she proposed dinner and who knew what else afterwards, but I demurred, so what could she do?

Paul, my now former husband, borrowed some money from his mother in Rochester, New York, to pay Columbia University for accrediting him as a New York City high school teacher, after which he vanished into gainful employment in the bowels of Queens.

Andre was let go by his silver company before his promised courtship of me came to fruition but somehow talked himself into a much more exciting job for Philip Graham as a Washington Post correspondent covering events in French Indo-China (not yet Vietnam), perhaps because he was bilingual. He came back to New York briefly a year later. He had become deaf in one ear. (From gunfire?) He pronounced me a “pure” woman and proposed marriage in the subjunctive, conditional on my understanding he could never be faithful. This did not seem like a good idea. He agreed it was probably not in my best interests, and thereupon disappeared from my life forever, although he is apparently still alive as I write this, and can be found on Wikipedia, with photograph. He appears to have kept most of his hair but has lost two and a half years since we knew each other. He is now five years younger than I am.

It may come as no surprise that as soon as Frauke found herself a deeper pocket and moved out of Matthew’s apartment, he called me up. I’d like to tell you we had a happy ending together, but there were only about three dates before it went south.

Actually, we were all pretty much nuts, when you think about it. Except maybe the Hungarian. But he took early retirement about fifteen years later and moved to Clearwater Beach, Florida. His widow still lives there.