Recently we found, in our files, a letter that was an interview with Bea Seidler. She mentions times in San Francisco, before the city became a leader in commercial creativity. Her friend, Dean Smith, was a important designer at that time.
This, from Bea’s family, it tells a little about Bea arriving in San Francisco.
In 1942, Bea graduated from St. Francis High in Council Bluffs and earned her college degree from Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa in 1946. Bea started her professional career at Brandeis a department store in Omaha, Nebraska. She quickly became the lead copywriter for Brandeis, with particular focus on fashion shows and special events.
The next chapter of her life would unfold when a friend's mother asked Bea to deliver a Ford to her daughter in San Francisco. Seizing the opportunity for adventure, Bea invited fellow Brandeis colleague and friend Lou Jorjorian to join her saying, "Why don't you go with me to San Francisco and we can live there?" On Memorial Day Weekend 1954 they left Iowa. Upon arriving in San Francisco, Bea was told by many nay-sayers, that she would "never get a job in the big city." True to form, Bea listened to her own dreams and landed a copywriting job with McCann Erickson in San Francisco. Before long, she was their # 1 copywriter for 15 consecutive years, winning numerous awards and accolades. One of Bea's most popular works was the jingle for "Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat."
Bea also produced the Gump's catalog for years with a focus on designing and writing. In 1965 Bea published the book "Sybyll, The Dog Who Had All the Advantages" based on her then-constant companion, a basset hound. The book was targeted to ‘dog-lovers’.
Dick Moore Illustrated the 60 page book, currently on-line from $59.00 to $16.00.
Interview with Bea Seidler, 4 Aug. 1988 In this interview with Bea Seidler––“SR” is almost certainly Steve Reoutt, a professor of graphic design from CCA in Oakland and a book illustrator and painter, who at one point was planning to write a book about Dean Smith.
Bea: What I should start with , is that I came to McCann in 1954. Dean and I never really worked together on any accounts at McCann. I was involved with the food accounts: Diamond Walnuts, Del Monte and later on with Rice-a-Roni. Worked with other art directors. Anyway, Dean and I became fast friends.
It was as I say right at the time of the first electronics things going on down in San Jose. We were there when they started Ampex. We were there when they started Varian. We were there when they started Hewlett-Packard.
I remember one that we didn't have any faith in. Now what was it? Was it Xerox? No, I don't think it was Xerox. It was the thing where they make tapes and you press a little thing...Dymo! WE could have made a fortune on Dymo!
So, Dean and I became fast friends , but it was mostly on a social level than a working together level, at that time when he was at McCann. McCann had the Yosemite Park and Curry Co. as an account and I think they spent about $25,000 a year on advertising. Nobody wanted to be bothered with it. So, Dean set up his own design firm at that time. I think it was when he was still upstairs at 1l4 Sansome Street. Somebody at McCann asked him if he would like to do the advertising, This was in the early 60's. Anyway, that was when we started working together. I think it was the brochure for the Ahwanee, that we produced first. Dean became enchanted or delighted with Yosemite. The Park and Curry Company was a family run business. In fact old Mrs. Curry was still alive at that time. We became very good friends with the advertising manager of the Park. His name was Henry Berrey.
Finally, McCann didn't much care what we did, so the account became ours, We didn't really do any advertising, but we produced countless, countless brochures for them, This was not Dean's introduction to Ansel Adams. We had known Ansel Adams when he was a photographer, hawking his wares around McCann. He used to do stuff for Wells Fargo. I was always very surprised that he became an international celebrity. Not that I didn't, you know, recognize his talent, it was just that he was somebody we knew as a commercial photographer.
I think if I have any comment to make about Dean, it would be that everything he did was really quite different than what was going on locally. There was a, shall I say, a precision about his work. I think he was the first person I knew who started using Helvetica type.It was the early days of Helvetica. There was a certain precision, a meticulousness about what he did. There was enthusiasm.
In those days, San Francisco was a very strange town. I had stumbled into it in 1954 from Omaha and fell into a job at McCann. I had worked at an advertising department in a department store in Omaha and certainly had a good background as a writer and was fairly familiar, through friends, with the world of advertising.
San Francisco was very naive. It was, I don’t want to say the backwoods, because it sounds strange, but most of the businesses here at that time were family owned. The banks, the food businesses, the department stores, and there was a certain naivete about advertising. But the most exciting things in town were probably done by the stores, And that was probably J. Magnin with Betty Brader and Marget Larsen. they were doing wonderful things. Exciting things.
See: When Fashion Ads Were Illustrated
At McCann, it was like we were working in a bank. The “creative product” was not what they were particularly interested in. They were more interested in marketing. In the creative department we didn't see it that way. We saw it simply as a …that the accountants were running the place. The first “dashing people” were Guild, Bascomb & Bonfigli who took off and started doing other things.
McCann was a very conservative atmosphere, but it was a sign of the times. All the agencies in San Francisco were conservative.
Dean and Malcolm Gerbarg.—They were the ones who set up a whole group to work with Silicone Valley clients. ( Of course it wasn't called SV in those days.) They did work with Ampex. They set it up as a separate group. 'They were kind of off after their own clients. It was kind of a sub-agency. It was, I think, quite successful.
Certainly, the idea of design was not prevalent. I think probably that was why “young turks”, which I am certain they would have considered Dean and Malcolm, it was astonishing that McCann gave them this latitude to go out and seek out this electronic business. So i think that might have headed Dean off in the direction he took, There was no way he was ever going to be an art director at McCann for very long. It just wasn't in the cards.
The one thing that McCann did have was a solid research base. They were very much involved in research. Marion Harper who was then the head of McCann had come from a research background and so there was a lot of market research going on. And other kinds of research. Shall I tell you a curious story? I think it's relevant to San Francisco. As I said, I really felt the town was very naive.
Steve Reoutt: Coming from Omaha, that sounds strange.
Bea: Isn't that strange? I'Il tell you, I had run into a number of women executives in Omaha because in the department store business women had always had executive roles for reasons that I don't know although I'm sure there's some history to it. Anyway it [SF] was very backward in the early ‘ 50s. Those of us who were new at McCann , all had some other connection and certainly knew all about what was going on in New York. Anyway, I have no idea of the date of this, but there was an art directors's club and a copywriters' club that we formed in the late ’50s. The art directors club had already been going. Anyway, one night we had a joint meeting and the speaker was Ernest Dichter, he had written a book that was research oriented. His whole philosophy was very Freudian, and everything was based on, all design. all objects, all marketing, all sales, was based on sex. Some way or other. The most famous one was that men bought red convertibles because it reminded them of what it was like to have a mistress. Okay? So, all packaging had some kind of sexual orientation to it. He had gained great fame with this concept, in the early 50's. At the point he came to San Francisco to give his talk to this innocuous group, I think he was on the way down. People had begun to discount that or go on to something else, a little more lively.
Anyway, who should be sitting in the audience but Walter Landor. Now, Walter Landor had a little office across the street from McCann. It was a two-story building which was later torn down and that's where the Crown Zellerbach Building now stands. I think that he was still across the street. (The reason that I know so much about this is because George Sutton, who was a copywriter at McCann, his wife, Barbara, worked for Landor. She was his secretary.) I didn’t know Walter that that time except by reputation, that he was running this little design firm. He had 6 or 8 people working for him. While the rest of us young turks, or sophisticates, Omaha sophisticates, were discounting what Ernest Dichter said, right?, Walter was taking mental notes. Afterwards, he invited Dichter over to his office the next day and the two of them set up sort of a deal. I can't tell you what it was. It's lost in the annals of time, I'm sure. But that was really the start of Walter Landor's business.
Because Landor was the first one that went around and offered, now as I say McCann had all this research going on, but it wasn't the same thing. Landor was the first, that I know, who was offering focus groups, and so on. So he and Dr. Dichter made a fortune together, that was how Walter Landor got started. Don't quote me. But I was there the night it happened. While the rest of us were ho-hum, it only goes to show. I'm sure Dean was at the meeting.
Dean went on to do many things with many other clients. I was not terribly involved with any of them. We always kept in touch. Several months or a year might go by, but I always kept track of him. He got very involved with doing audio-visual presentations. In truth, I think he was one of the first, around San Francisco who started doing that on a major scale. I mean he didn't have two projectors, he'd have twenty, and they were doing various images. He was continually experimenting, interested, doing things like that. Always looking for something new.
I think his approach to corporate design work was that it had to be complete, the essence of the organization. I regret to say that a lot of the logos I see around are simply logos but it seems to me that he was able to capture truly the essence of things.
As an aside, I think Michael Vanderbyl does that. A lot of the young designers who worked for Dean, didn't stay very long because they , I think, were eager to go out on their own. And because Dean was a very hard task master also. He didn't mind working all night and he didn't see why everybody else should either.
He was a very difficult task master. He was precise himself. He was meticulous. In fact, that's a word that I would think would be very high in describing him.
But personally working with him I would say that he was more adamant with clients than he was with people working for him. At least that's my observation.
There was always a perfection in whatever accoutrements, that's the word, that he was using. He was the first one I ever knew, while the rest of us were using manual typewriters at McCann, he opened up his office and suddenly there was an electric IBM with the removable ball cartridge.
Well, that was a whole new world. He always had the newest, state-of-the-art equipment. What else can I tell you about him? I will never forget one time. Dean and his brother, Graham., were going off to some visual presentation. There was never any room for failure. They always had extra light bulbs, projectors and switches. Because for many years, and I think this is still true, I never went to an audio visual presentation without something going wrong. Askew. Seemed to be a law. Slides would get stuck or they'd be in backwards.
Not Dean's presentations. Everything had to be perfect. And the last thing that they put into this case that they were taking off with, were white gloves. And that was so that nothing, they wouldn't get any fingerprints on the slides or whatever. But anyway, I always thought of them as the white-gloved experts.
Steve Reoutt: My impression is that collateral material didn't get much attention from advertising agencies in the 1950s.
Bea: That's absolutely right. That's why they gave us the Yosemite account. They couldn't be bothered. There was no money in it. Agencies really didn't want to handle collateral material.
As a matter of fact, I don't remember doing any collateral pieces at all at McCann. And I don't think any of the agencies in the City were doing it. They were being handled a lot by the small design firms. Now, I'm not saying that that was Walter Landor. There were firms like Patterson & Hall. There was certainly a market for that. But they ended up looking quite different from the advertising.
I think that was one of the things that Dean wanted to do: to handle the whole application. He was the first person I heard of, who talked that way about doing the whole application.
We were happy to visit with Bea Seidler at the 2011 Geezer Gathering picnic.
Apart from family, Bea's passion was Sausalito, CA and all that went on there for over 50 years. Although Bea never held public office, she worked closely with those that did. She was actively engaged in the Sausalito Women's Club, the Sausalito Historical Society, the Sausalito Foundation, and the Sausalito Village. She twice served as the Grand Marshall in the Sausalito Fourth of July Parade. Bea had a deep, abiding love for Sausalito and its betterment.
Dick Moore knew Dean Smith and his family for many years. We were invited in the summer to visit their family at their cabin on a lake. Here you see two vacationers on a “Bus-Man’s Holiday”?
BTW: I found, on-line. that the term “young Turks”, besides its original 1920 definition, is often a complement on creativity.
A Young Turk is a young person who is impatient to bring about radical change, someone who has revolutionary, new ideas and is impatient to implement them. The term first appears as an idiom in American English during the 1920s to describe a particular class of American senators who challenged the establishment. grammarist.com
“The Young Turks” is a popular news and commentary program.