Author, advertising and
publishing consultant, former
editor of Chicago and other
magazines, former creative
director of Campbell-Ewald and
other advertising agencies. For
more information, click here. Or
see Who's Who in America or
Consulting editor, historian, poet
and author of several books. For
more information, click here or
BLOGS and GLOBS: I have
been writing a blog since 1966,
only I didn't know it. In those
days, it came out in the form of a
newsletter on paper. Remember
paper? It never got lost in
cyberspace, although if it got wet
enough blog turned into glob. I
called it The Uncommentator,
and tried to make it amusing. To
read some of my favorites, see
Recent Books by the Frisbies.
A JURASSIC PERK
When we failed to unload everything we sent over to the neighbor's garage sale, my wife asked, "What'll we do with the junk nobody would buy?" I had an inspiration. "We'll start a Frisbie museum," I said. After all, there are hundreds of historical museums in small towns where anyone capable of doing anything worth memorializing got on a train or a Greyhound bus about age 18 and never went back. I've heard of a sports-fishing museum and a cuckoo-clock museum. There's even a Dan Quayle museum.
I began thinking about a Frisbie museum when David Halberstam published his book, The Fifties, which is full of material for museum captions. Many of the items I would put on display date from that era.
When the 1950s began, I was a reporter for the Chicago Daily News, pursuing many of the political figures Halberstam writes about. By the time the decade ended, I had moved to the more lucrative field of advertising. In his coverage of changes in the economy and the growth of television, Halberstam interviewed at least two of the advertising men I worked for.
I still have the tie I was wearing the night I covered a speech by General Eisenhower at the Medinah Temple. Afterwards, we went to dinner at a nearby restaurant. I sat with other reporters, but I was close enough to hear Ike talking to rich friends about their hunting lodges.
When it turned out that Ike was a Republican (I'd already guessed), the party abandoned Taft to give the 1952 nomination to a war hero almost certain to win. According to Halberstam, the vice presidential nomination had to go to Richard Nixon because he was the only man acceptable to various Republican factions. Henry Cabot Lodge, Ike's campaign manager, worked to keep the press away from Nixon to avoid a premature press conference.
But the Daily News city desk suspected what was up. I was dispatched to Nixon's hotel to get him out of a breakfast meeting and ask him whether it was true he was going to be nominated. He wouldn't say. The point of this otherwise insignificant story is that I was wearing the same tie. It had good Republican soup spots on it.
I know this because in those days I had only one tie that I was willing to wear to work. A general assignment reporter can't trust the city desk. If you think you're going to cover a speech at a downtown hotel, looking forward to prime rib at the press table, you're certain to wind up at a smoky oil fire.
From the 1952 Democratic convention, a Frisbie museum could exhibit my pass to the Dick Russell press room. A rich segregationist from the South, Senator Richard Russell had no chance of picking up support from Northern delegates. But his staff did their best to make friends with the press via a well-provisioned press room. The sandwiches were memorable.
I personally liked Estes Kefauver. Halberstam says Kefauver was a poor public speaker who had antagonized party bosses with his televised Senate hearings that revealed mob involvement in politics. My assignment was to follow Kefauver around and phone in everything he did or said. His brief talks to delegates, state by state, seemed low key and sincere to me. But it was a bit much that in public campaigning he would put on a coonskin hat and try to act like a Davy Crockett frontier bumpkin, when, in fact, he was a Yale Law School graduate from a prominent Tennessee
I also still have my press pass to the 1952 Democratic convention. There were several possible candidates that year. More than one President made use of the talents of Averill Harriman, but he was austere and cold in person, not the kind of man to appeal to voters. Harry Truman, annoyed by Adlai Stevenson, wound up supporting his vice president, Alben Barkley. I also liked the Veep, as Barkley was called. He was popular with the press because he seemed to remember every
Stevenson, who finally got the nomination without campaigning for it, was intelligent enough to have mixed feelings about being president. Halberstam says Stevenson was a bit of a snob. But in public he was charming and amusing. Once at a Cook County fund-raiser, he exclaimed: "Ah, the deep, rich smell of democracy in Cook County." In the campaign, most newspaper publishers opposed him. Stevenson responded, "Their job is to separate the wheat from the chaff and then print the chaff."
I missed the end of the Stevenson saga at the convention. While he was making his acceptance speech, my wife was deciding it was time to go the hospital for the birth of our second daughter. We can't put her on display at the museum; she's too busy to stay in one place. A wax effigy might do, but then all the other children would want one too, not to mention the grandchildren.
My old red hunting cap should certainly be in the museum. I used to wear it to work because otherwise my ears got cold at fires. My first steps toward a new career came at the beginning of 1953, when I was promoted to the feature department. One day in the elevator the managing editor, Everett Norlander, offered the opinion that in view of my new duties perhaps I should stop coming to work in the hunting cap.
I did not file a grievance with the Newspaper Guild. I had to admit he was right, since my new responsibilities included writing the weekly men's fashion column. I was amused when one of the paper's promotional ads described me as a "men's fashion arbiter." In later years when sensitive children objected to something I proposed to wear in their company, in front of their friends, I was able to draw myself up and remind them that they were talking to a certified fashion arbiter.
Now that I can no longer be cowed by anyone on the subject of what to wear, I own a number of hats with ear flaps. I could almost dedicate a wing of the museum to them. Unfortunately, my old red hunting cap was acquired by a collector (I won't say what kind) before I gave any thought to opening a museum.
As assistant feature editor, I discovered I had a knack for putting headlines and pictures together. After two years, I was lured away from journalism into advertising by a 50 percent increase in salary. That sort of thing happened in the 1950s. Eventually, I found myself working as Chicago creative director for Campbell-Ewald, the Detroit agency that handled the Chevrolet account. Tom Adams, our president, spent a lot of time with Chevrolet and General Motors executives. Halberstam interviewed him for his chapter on how General Motors launched the horsepower race by souping up the 1955 Chevy.
Adams used to go hunting with Ed Cole, the man who scored a big success with the '55 Chevy but wasn't able to do the Corvair right, although he tried to overcome the restraints of the GM bureaucracy. Cole was an intense man who did everything at full throttle. Halberstam says Adams once told Cole: "Ed, we don't really need the dogs when you hunt."
In 1957 Kensinger Jones moved from Leo Burnett to become TV creative director for Chevy, then the world's largest advertising account. Halberstam credits him with spearheading a new approach: let pictures tell the story. It was immensely successful until management types began to interfere, insisting on more narration.
The financial strategists were taking over GM and pushing out the engineers who knew how to make good cars. The stage was being set for loss of market share to German and Japanese autos. When I met Ken Jones, he was creative director for the whole agency. We used to gather in Detroit occasionally for management seminars. The Detroit people who worked on the Chevy account all got new Chevies every six months. I remember hearing them complain about the latest model. The side windows leaked rain so that water ran down the driver's left leg.
When Chevrolet wanted to start an auto rental division tied in with their dealers, they were afraid of anti-trust action by the government. So I prepared the initial "Chevway" advertising materials in Chicago, one way to distance the project from Detroit. In the end, worried also about the reaction of Hertz and other fleet customers, they scrapped the idea. But I think the Frisbie Museum curator
could still find the four-color magazine spread that was supposed to introduce Chevway car and truck rentals. It could go in the dinosaur wing along with my collection of relics from other mass extinctions.
The dinosaur wing will be put in the back of the museum, behind a large display demonstrating my personal techniques for survival on my own since 1966. I'll charge for admission.