CA magazine 1970 V12 No.3
“We have two countries in California. I have good friends in southern California, but I don’t think I’d like to live there. It’s like women. There’s something here that keeps me sensually stimulated. L.A. is not my kind of chick:’New York offers a tremendous creative stimulation. Do you miss that here ?
“Creativity does have a lot to do with counteraction. Like you need a wall you can push against so you can make statements. Most Easterners would feel that we don’t have that wall. A New Yorker needs much more daily conflict than a creative person needs here. There’s another kind of element that exists here. Maybe it’s geographic. Most of the people here have come in the past twenty years. There’s the ocean, it’s as far as you can go. Something unique has happened. Just look at the influence we’ve had on the rest of the country, in living style, in the arts, in technology.”
San Francisco may be a great place to live, but it is not the land of opportunity for talent in design and advertising. The clients with the big bread are not here. Jobs are scarce and job seekers are plentiful, many with experienced portfolios. Many of the people I talked to have had to set up defensive systems, time periods or screening systems to protect their own time.
But there is a lot of ability and talent here. We have featured a few of these creative people in this issue, I wish that space permitted the inclusion of more.
Many of the best firms and individuals attract a major portion of their work from other parts of the country. Many have developed new directions and needs for their talents. Nick Sidjakov offered this comment : “Designers are not working in the city, they’re working on the city. They are doing more bars and great old buildings. The graphics on the buildings here are terrific. You don’t see that in Chicago or other cities. That’s really what’s happening here, the talent is channeled into these things.
“Barbara Stauffacher and Marget Larsen deserve much of the credit for giving this an impetus. They made the building owners, and bar and restaurant owners aware of what designers could do for them.”
You can’t talk about San Francisco, or advertising, without bringing up the name of Howard Gossage. He was very much in mind as I interviewed Marget Larsen and we looked at and talked about many of his great ads. Witty, persuasive ads.
Howard also gave great speeches. These, too, utilized wit and humor to sell ideas. Perceptive, imaginative ideas. He explained the process of problem solving with an example of “how to keep dogs from pissing on fireplugs :’ I wonder if anyone ever realized how much of himself he gave to these speeches. He estimated that each one took two weeks of his time.
It was a real belt to the gut when he told me he had leukemia.
Herb Caen, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a beautiful thing when Howard died. With his permission, we reprint it here :
A Singular Man
YESTERDAY I mentioned that Howard Gossage’s middle name was Luck, and that he’d need all of it he could get. Well, it ran out for him at 4 :30 a.m. yesterday in Presbyterian Hospital. He died of leukemia, a kidney infection and other complications, but mainly, I think, he died because he didn’t want to live as a vegetable, never having had any experience at it.
If there were any justice, the flags would be at halfstaff all over town, for he was one of the most valuable of San Franciscans. He would have understood why they aren’t, though. As he once said in that wild Irish way of his : “Of course there isn’t any justice, buddy, and isn’t that wonderful ? We’ll never run out of things to be angry about.”
Only, the buddy would have come out “b-b-buddf’ He had an ingratiating stammer, along with a dramatic appearance that made him an unforgettable figure around town : flowing white hair, a perpetually gaunt, drawn and handsome face, the sad-sweet smile that seems to be the signature of so many Irish philosophers.
NOMINALLY he was in advertising-he hated the business, incidentally-but realistically, he was the archetypical San Francisco Renaissance man. Like most of the best men I’ve met, he never haggled over a bill and overtipped recklessly. Money meant nothing to him and he probably died broke . But he knew more about classical music than most musicians, he was better-read than most critics and he composed more graceful prose than most writers. I never met a more unbigoted man, even about bigots ; the worst he would say about anybody was “Wen, I can H ake him or 1-leave him-not n-necessarily in that order.”
WHAT WAS important about Howard Gossage ? It’s a matter of style. There was nothing cheap or shoddy there, and his everyday presence made you feel that just being a San Franciscan was important. If a guy like Gossage picked this place over all others-in the face of constant offers from New York and Europe-then San Francisco had to be okay, b-b-buddy. Editors, authors, tycoons and advertising men were forever seeking his advice, and he’d say, “If they want to see me all that much, they’ll just have to come HERE’
And come here they did, to his firehouse on Pacific. Talk about style : he was the first to buy an abandoned old firehouse and convert it into offices that were the last word in cool modern elegance. His lunches there were legendary. He’d call up David’s Deli, order a ton of everything, ask you to drop in at the last minute, and you’d drop everything to be there.
You’d find yourself building a pastrami sandwich next to Dr. Benjamin Spock. Or pouring a beer for John Steinbeck. Or listening to Buckminster Fuller. Or laughing at the bad jokes of Marshall McLuhan. (Gossage, more than any other person, was responsible for the launching of McLuhan as a household name-a job he took on, like so many others, just for the hell of it, “let’s see if it works:’) Robert Manning, editor of Atlantic Monthly, was a Gossage luncheon regular. And writer Tom Wolfe, who invented a new style of reportage.
ALONG WITH Ogilvy and Doyle Dane Bernbach, Gossage was responsible for changing the whole concept of American advertising. Before they came along in the ‘50s. the approach was serious, heavy, bombastic. Gossage was the first to inject sophisticated humor and even-amid cries of “Sacrilege!”-the poking of fun at one’s own product. His first ads for Qantas, long ago, are still classics. For the then unknown airline, he devised a contest he headed : “Be the First Kid On Your Block to Own a Kangaroo!” And when a winner was finally selected, his headline read “Bronx Girl Wins Her First Kangaroo:’ The style” won the accolade of instant imitation.
DID I SAY he had no interest in money ? In ‘53, Volkswagen was ready to begin advertising heavily in the U.S., and narrowed the competition to Gossage and Doyle Dane. Howard’s final presentation to VW’s directors lost him the million-dollar job : “I’ve been driving your car for years, and it’s a great little product. I don’t think you NEED any advertising:’ Later he confided wryly : “ I’ve always hated automobile accounts-but wow, I had no idea they were going to advertise THAT much!”
I SAW Howard for the last time on Tuesday afternoon. He looked worn and dazed, but he was trying bravely to keep up the old style. Marshall McLuhan had phoned him long distance to say “I can’t send you flowers, you’ve read all the books, so I’ll give you a joke.” Then followed a typical McLuhan pun that made no sense. “For a genius, he sure tells lousy jokes,” Howard mumbled. A couple of hospital technicians wheeled in a complicated kidney gadget. “That’s okay, boys, you can have the machine tonight,” he grinned weakly. As I started to leave, I said “I’ll be back to see you tomorrow,” and he sighed “W-why would you w-want to do that?” And when I reached the door he called out “Hey, b-buddy, you’re not going to be m-mad at me, are you?”
IT JUST dawned on me that I don’t even know Howard’s age. I guess he was 50-something, but he never talked about it, as he never talked about his years as a Navy combat pilot in the South Pacific and a lot of other matters he considered trilling. But to answer his last question, yes, I’m mad that he died. Damn mad.