I am the luckiest person
“I am the luckiest person in this ride called life.”
Life has been incredibly kind to me. Early in my life I was lucky to be on the right high school baseball team that won the championship for the state of California. Lucky to quarterback the Pasadena Junior College football team in the Rose Bowl. Lucky to be chosen by the creative director at Young & Rubicam Advertising, New York, to be his assistant. To also have lived in The City by the bay during the 60’s.
None of this was because I deserved anything on merit. It was simply because I had blind assed luck. To be at the right place at the right time.
Example : When I came out from New York to Art Direct for Foote, Cone and Belding, San Francisco, I wound up editing the newsletter for the Artist and Art Director’s Club of San Francisco.
I decided to get designers to design each issue. And who would I start with ?
Marget Larsen, of course.
Marget was the hottest designer in town and the hottest woman on the planet. I was hopelessly in love with her but about 347th in line.
Marget designed our first issue and I gulped at the price tag attached, (With Marget design always trumped cost.) We set out to produce it anyway. We wound up silk screening it on the floor of the agency at night and begging printing from a friendly printer then hand folding 500 copies to the membership.
I wished I had saved the issue but you can imagine it was not to be topped. Such was working with Marget. She always shot for the stars and if you wanted to be lucky, you hitched a ride. God, I loved her. She was like many of the designers SF boasted of. Nick Sidjakov, Tom Kamafuji, Bruce Butte, Lowell Hererro, Jerry Berman to name just a very few. Follow them around and hope they dropped a few crumbs.
Luckily, they were generous as well as great.
Here’s the skinny.
Well, OK. Here’s the skinny.
In the evenings I was teaching Advertising Design at the Academy of Art on Sutter Street. During the day I was Executive Art Director at Young & Rubicam. A big time advertising agency now swallowed up into a bunch of letters.
Always looking out for young talent, I barely noticed Dave Sanchez and Mick Kitagawa in my class. Raw, eager young kids with a modicum of talent. Slowly I molded them into potential fodder for the advertising industry.
Our largest account at Y&R was Kaiser Industries. And aside from “Mavrick” (our #1 hit starring James Garner), Kaiser had a long list of industrial products. Each of these products needed many trade ads and programs to help sell them. Perfect for raw,eager, young stupid kids. Bingo. What an opportunity. What a chance to fill their little heads with the glory of working for a big time advertising agency. And right out of school too ! I decided to give them their BIG break. I based their salaries on how long they had been out of diapers times two and added carfare. Dangling the bait in front of their starry eyes, I signed them up before their mouths closed. I gave them accounts the day they walked in the door and worked their little pink asses day and night until I walked out the door to become a photographer a few years later. Now, there are insinuations that I paid them “two for the price of one”.
These are scurrilous lies. I took them off the street and put them into an exciting world. I set their names in lights.
The ungrateful curs.
Dave would have wound up selling ladies shoes if I hadn’t saved him and Mick was doomed for “B” movies every time a new one was shot in town. If there are any medals to be given they should be on my chest for paying more than they deserved. Hah ! Two for one indeed.
by Tom Watson
We all have heard the Greek mythological story of “Achilles Heel”. This is the story of “Tom’s Thumb,” however this story is not mythology, it is very true.
Once upon a time in the year of of our Lord 1965, there was a fledging young illustrator from the Valley of Napa„ far away from the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco. His name was Tom. After studying at Art Center School, Tom had worked for a full‐service studio in the Hamlet of Oakland for two years, where he learned about the practical side of the business of illustration and graphic design. After two years of diverse experience, Tom wanted to try his hand in the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco. So, he left the studio in the Hamlet of Oakland and began looking for larger dragons to slay across the Bay, in the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco. One day, Tom received word from Sir Norman Nicholson of the Magical Kingdom, requesting that Tom accompany him to slay some large fierce dragons roaming the Magical Land. Sir Norman, an experienced and well respected Knight of the Round Table (Society of Illustrators), was one of Tom’s instructors at the Academy of Art in the year of our Lord 1959. Sir Norman had been helpful with advice and moral support in the past, and Tom was very grateful for his noble acts of kindness.
Sir Norman had received several storyboards to slay for the Milk Advisory Board. He offered to split the work with Tom, but typically the AD was in a rush and wanted them finished and on his desk the following morning.
With assignment in hand, Tom anxiously traveled to his distant lair in the Valley of Napa, with ideas racing through his mind. On his arrival, he burst through the door and told his wife, the fair Lady Joan, that he would be at battle all the night and into the next morning, to slay this large dragon. While lady Joan prepared supper, he worked feverishly to do all the pencil roughs before supper, but his mind was moving faster than his hand, and he was drawing faster than he had ever drawn before. While traveling to his lair, Tom determined that even with only one break for supper, he would barely have enough time to finish the job of slaying the dragon, and deliver it back to the agency in the Kingdom of San Francisco. Surely, a daunting task for young Tom.
As Tom drew faster and faster, his hand became a blur and his mind was racing frantically, making one decision after another. Then, the unthinkable happened ! Tom’s right thumb began to cramp and soon it became useless. A wounded warrior, he could not hold his pencil any longer to draw. No matter how he tried to overcome it, it was to no avail. Tom thought this is the end ! He would miss his deadline, let down and disappoint his friend Sir Norman, and miss an opportunity to earn his knighthood in the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco. Tom was mortified. Could a stiff thumb end his career ? How could he tell Sir Norman that his thumb stopped working, stiffened up and died ? It would never be believed by anyone ! After taking a short break, he tried once again, but Tom’s thumb cramped again and the more he tried the worse it got. Tom had to inform Sir Norman, for it was the only thing he could do. In receiving the bad news, Sir Norman chuckled and assured Tom that it was only a temporary reaction to his understandable anxiety and nervous tension, and it would probably go away after he had his supper. Sir Norman calmed the dejected and near panicky Tom, and told him not to worry, that it wasn’t life or death, and to call him if it continued. Tom felt cautiously better, while eating his supper. After supper, Lady Joan massaged his taut neck, back and arms, which helped him relax before he had to return to his fate. It was now or never, Tom or the dragon ?
The next morning Tom walked to his coach, and taking a long breath of early morning air, he was off for the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco. He felt elated and greatly relieved that he had completed the job, killed the fierce dragon, and felt confident that the AD would be pleased with the results. Tom traveled directly to the chambers of the agency that initiated the assignment, as Sir Norman had instructed him to do. Tom proudly displayed the numerous colored storyboard frames to the AD, who was smiling and nodding his head up and down. He then, turned to Tom, shook his hand and exclaimed, “Good job, Tom, I’ll have a purchase order typed up for you before you leave”. That was music to Tom’s ears, and the beginning of many, many more storyboard and illustration assignments in the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco, including special effects conceptual boards for the movie industry throughout the 1990s’.
Sir Norman and Tom remained good friends throughout their career, and to this day, they look back and have a good laugh about their many escapades together in those early days of the Magical Kingdom of San Francisco.
It was the mid ‘50s when I joined BBDO/SF as a copywriter, junior grade. Juniors were relegated to industrial/Ag accounts, in my case Northrup‐King Feed & Seed and U.S. Steel. Both accounts featured Case History ads and I was sent hither and thither around the 11 Western States seeking unusual applications of the clients’ products. Hither, if not thither, often involved out of the way locations inaccessible to commercial aircraft and competent photographers. So I enlisted San Francisco’s Bob Skelton/Skelton Studios (still Geezering amongst us) who had recently (very recently) obtained his pilot’s license. And away we went into the wild blue yonder, to logging camps, mine shafts, irrigation districts, Indian Reservations, wild horse round‐ups and the edge of the Grand Canyon, where USS Wire Rope was employed for a tramway hauling bat guano from distant caves to the terminus officially designated, complete with a small U.S. Post Office, Batcit, Arizona.
Our aircraft was a Cessna 172, a 4‐seater all of which were occupied on this trip. Besides myself and Skelton, there was my client, Fran Allen (later of Allen‐Dorward Agency fame) and a U.S. Steel sales rep who was our entrée to the site. The landing strip was a rutted dirt construction road that lead to the canyon’s brink. And a brink it was, with a direct fall off to the canyon floor several thousand feet below. Incidentally this permitted a 4 hole outhouse to be cantilevered out beyond the canyon edge thus avoiding disposal exigencies ! (Constipation was never a problem here ; all one needed do to loosen the bowels was look down an adjacent hole.)
After gathering my case history facts and photographs it was well into the afternoon with the mercury hovering around 100‐degrees. Well, if you know anything about flying, you know the hotter it is, the less lift there is. Adding to the lack of lift was an overloaded, unsupercharged aircraft. Besides 4 people, there were 4 people’s luggage. O’, did I mention that due to wind direction, we had to take off towards the canyon ! And, as noted, our runway was a rutted dirt road.
Our intrepid pilot acknowledged there was no way we could reach take‐off speed given the described conditions. But not to worry, he said. We’d have a safety margin of some 2000 feet ; that being the airspace in the canyon below. He figured once over the edge we’d have time to gather enough airspeed to gain control. It didn’t do a lot for our peace of mind that several construction workers lined the ‘runway’ with kodaks poised.
I was in the front seat opposite Skelton with several suitcases stacked on my lap to give the tricycle landing gear additional traction on the dirt road. It was just as well, as I had no interest in being able observe our sudden descent. And descend we did and continued to do and continued to do until leveling off a few hundred feet (I was told) above the Colorado River. It took us some 15 minutes of climbing/turning, climbing/turning to regain the top of the canyon, our take‐off point, and head for the nearest paved landing strip to change our pants.
A visit to Albert Dorne
This story ran originally in Todays Inspiration.
This experience occurred around 1946 – 47‐I was just back from the Army in Europe and enrolled at Pratt Institute. I had the chutzpah to call Albert Dorne to request a visit. He was very kind and invited me to his studio located in mid town Manhattan. It boggled my mind and though I can’t remember the details I shall never forget upon entering the studio, in the foyer were dozens of beautiful framed works of many of the famous artists of the time. The actual studio was huge and luxurious with a large skylight, more framed pictures, a pool table, a large tabouret and drawing board. He was extremely gracious and kind when I showed him my portfolio and generous in his criticism and advice. At one point a gorgeous blonde lady came in and he introduced her to me. I can’t remember if she was his wife, friend or model. All I could think was that this was the life ! (I learned recently that she was a good friend who handled his financial affairs). Mr Dorne was a giant in the industry and a wonderful person to take the time for a youngster.