By Lee Riney
When I came to San Francisco from the Midwest in the ‘60s, I didn’t know what an advertising agency was. Somehow, I’ve forgotten how, I ended up as a secretary at Foote Cone & Belding. It was my first job.
I soon discovered that my favorite office on the 18th floor of the Russ Building was Herb Briggs’ office. His walls were covered with sheets of illustrations tacked up willy nilly. The air smelled of fixative and chalk. It was a jumble of pencils, paint and paper. Herb could always be found there – crouched over his drawing board, pencil in hand. He could sketch anything in seconds, and the many storyboards tacked to his office walls were impressive, even to an untrained eye.
Herb was about 5’10”. He was unkempt – he needed to comb his hair and shave. Faded jeans, plaid flannel shirts and sneakers were his daily garb. Always friendly, he would growl at you in his rumbling low voice. I could understand only a few words, but didn’t bother to ask him to repeat himself. No one else could understand him either. He kept a small fridge filled with beer in his office, which was promptly opened and shared at 5PM every day.
When a client rejected a proposal, everyone was expected to stay at the office to rework all the art, all the copy. Herb didn’t go home at midnight along with the others. He took down the drapes in his office, found a couch, pulled the drapes over him and spent the night. In the morning, he looked just like he had the day before.
Everyone loved Herb. Not only because of his immense talent, but because he was so genuine – the agency staff, copywriters, account executives, media people, were indeed smart, witty, will – dressed and charming, but they never stopped trying to impress. Herb was just Herb.
His modest home in Mill Valley was a Sunday afternoon destination. His wife, Pat, would greet us at the door. His son, Dan, would be sprawled in front of the TV watching Star Trek. Agency people and their friends, lovers and wives came knowing there would be large jugs of cheap wine passed around, with maybe some popcorn or chips, and excellent company. People sat on the floor with Herb, or sprawled on the couch. There was spirited conversation on every possible subject except work. All arrived and left with little fuss, perhaps a “See you tomorrow”.
The creative section of the agency – the copywriters and artists – spent a great deal of time thinking up pranks. Any secretary who went down the hall to the creative department, always watched carefully before passing doorway. Fixative that could be lighted with a match and projected into the hall like a flamethrower was a favorite weapon to be use on passing secretaries. We hardly looked up from our typewriters when we heard screams. Herb never failed to call his good friend, Mik Kitagawa, on Pearl Harbor Day, rail at him about the Japanese attack, and hang up without identifying himself. One memorable day, several of the creative staff got together, duct taped Herb to a desk chair, rolled him to the elevator, left him inside to be seen by everyone, and pressed the “down” button. This lasted tor at least 10 minutes. We gathered around the elevator door, laughing and shouting encouragement to Herb when the elevator opened at our floor; waving when the doors closed.
Herb was a Scot, and once in a while, to everyone’s delight, he would put on his kilts and march thorough the office playing his bagpipe. If a client was visiting, so be it.
Later in his career, Herb worked for my husband, Hal Riney.
Hal Riney was renowned for never giving anyone a compliment of any kind. If Hal found work acceptable, the best anyone could hope for was a grunt and a nod. Herb had a framed storyboard hung in his den. At the bottom of the page Hal had written “Not Bad” and signed it. Anyone who knew them both, understood.
(Notes: Read more about Herb? Go to: The Prince Of Pranksters By Todd Miller
I could find no photos of Herb Briggs.
I received this, below, from Tim Price – that shows a Hal Riney Storyboard.
It’s a Xerox copy of one of the Riney Rulers. Hal didn’t do shooting boards, instead he drew out these exacting – to the second– graphs in which every scene, all dialogue is precisely laid out. I think that’s why Hal once told me, “We use Mr. Pytka (director) mainly as a cameraman.”
Yep, Herb worked for Hal at the same time I did, Botsford Ketchum days.
I knew Herb, got no photos.