Howard Gossage

CA maga­zine 1970 V12 No.3

Photo by Jack Allen

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.

DIDSAY 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.

I’d Rather be In San Francisco

In the early 60’s I was with McCann/SF and went to NYC for Lucky Lager to develop a musical theme. Got a inter­view with Jack Tinker Asso­ciates (in the Dorset Hotel pent­house) which in those bygone days was, along with DDB, the creative pinnacle. Lotsa money was waved in my face, but back then it meant I’d never afford to return to the West­coast where salaries were a third less than MadAve pay. But money couldn’t buy the bless­ings of San Fran­cisco & envi­rons. Later I learned that Mary Wells filled the slot, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Samm Coombs

Recollections from (Dee) Wayne White

I was art director at Albert Frank-Guenther Law for 20 years (195878) and at MacFar­land Adver­tising before that. From ’78 until retire­ment in ’88 I was art director at CRS Adver­tising, a Charles Schwab agency. I free lanced part time for about five years after retire­ment. Albert Frank-Guenther Law was a New York agency with five offices around the country. It was the second oldest ad agency in the U.S., founded in 1872, J. Walter Thompson being the oldest. AFGL no longer exists. Foote Cone & Belding bought the agency in 1977, closed the S.F. office in 1978, even­tu­ally selling it to former AFGL exec­u­tives, who later sold it to a British agency and after merging lost its iden­tity.

A few memo­ries from my years at AFGL: we were located at 425 Bush St. on the 3rd floor — we had most of the floor while a competitor, Doremas Adver­tising occu­pied the rest. P&H art was on the 4th floor and P&H typog­ra­phers were on the 5th as I recall. I worked frequently with Tom Hall and Chet Patterson and with their type shop. Our manager until the mid 60s was Lucrecia Kemper, an eccen­tric 62” lady who wore enor­mous hats and had a reserved table at the Palace Hotel, where she dined everyday with clients. During the holi­days she invited the staff to join her — what a treat! She had worked on the United Nations forma­tion in 1945, handling PR and knew every­body in town. She knew beans about adver­tising and once told Harvey Ward, a new client and amateur golf cham­pion, that he had to pay less atten­tion to golf and more to busi­ness (I was there and almost fell off my chair). Sadly she became senile and the two VPs took over manage­ment — Richard Cruik­shank and Richard Kreuzer. She kept her title, office and secre­tary for a few more years till she retired. In the early 60s AFGL was asked by Bank of America (a client) to put on our payroll a fellow from Cuba. Tony had been the ambas­sador to Spain under Batista and had fled during the revo­lu­tion; through contacts at the bank he went to work for us as a courier, sharing an office with me. He was the best dressed and best groomed employee in the office. Tony left us before we moved in 1968 to spiffier offices on Sutter St., in the remod­eled old White House building.

Before I joined the agency Dick Kreuzer was handling art and produc­tion and getting more involved in account handling. The agency hired Eulalie Fuller as produc­tion manager shortly before I joined. We had several copywriters/AEs over time — Eddy Bennett, Bob Connolly, Bob John­ston, Larry Larson, Ralph Grady and Bill Robin. Other produc­tion managers who came and went included: Alice Wells, Jane McKenzie, John Madden and Shawn Miller. I was the only art director. Some of the free lance artists and photog­ra­phers I worked with back then: Bob Thorsen, Bob Tamura, Ed Gross, Al Joe, Lon Fox, Lowell Herrero, Bayne Kihneman, Nick Carter, Ted Castle, and many I can’t remember. Our branch office usually employed about 20 – 24 people and when we closed there were about 15 of us.

In the early 70s we had a tiny client named Charles Schwab & Co. Mr. Cruik­shank who was by then sole manager advised Dick Kreuzer, the AE, to get rid of that client — it was too small and required too much time. He was right, but Dick K. was even more right — he saw the growth poten­tial. When Foote Cone closed the AFGL office in 1978 Chuck Schwab asked Dick K. to open an agency to serve his account, he did and asked me to join him, which I did. Boy, were we smart! It proved to be an exciting and rewarding 10 years. Dick Kreuzer moved to Oregon after he retired in 1987…my wife and I visited him and his wife there every year until his death in 2004. Dick Cruik­shank passed away a couple of years after that, he was a great guy to work for. After I retired I painted water­colors and showed my work in galleries and entered shows. I’m a member of the Cali­fornia Water­color Assoc. (along with Al Joe and David Broad) and served on its board for many years. I’m not active with the Asso­ci­a­tion anymore and don’t enter many shows, but I occa­sion­ally get a commis­sion to paint a land­scape or portrait. I enjoy painting plein air, espe­cially when trav­eling to Alaska and Wash­ington to visit two of my sons and grand­kids, or on vaca­tion trips. Last October I trav­eled with three sons (no wives) to France where I enjoyed painting in Honfleur on the Normandy coast.

I still keep in touch with Vicky Quattro and Eulalie Fuller Glaser from AFGL. On a personal note, in addi­tion to three sons I have one daughter and a five year old grandson living here in Walnut Creek. Two of my sons each have two chil­dren, ages 10 to 16. I don’t have any work samples handy from the AFGL days…some are prob­ably packed in the attic but I have no desire to get up there.

I’d never get a job in adver­tising these days, nor would I want one. Every­thing is so high tech now and from my “Old Geezer” point of view the quality of the ads do not compare with the golden days of adver­tising — the 1960s. I’ve never made the picnic because we’re either trav­eling or it’s my wife’s birthday, maybe I’ll make it this year. My regards to the Old Geezers who might remember me.

D. Wayne WhiteRegards, 

(Dee) Wayne White 2/1/12