The Prince Of Pranksters
One of the finest people, (not just a rapid-fire, right-on Art Director) — but a real “people”, was named Herb Briggs.
He was working at BBD &O when I fist met him. I was a curious young-punk Junior Writer back then and Herb was nice to me.
An unusual event for that agency. Herb Briggs was Hal Riney’s go-to man when Hal needed a fist full of rapid designs to show an existing client, or to pitch a new one. Because of all the Riney pressure (and anyone who worked for Hal knows what I mean), Herb drank a bit (Harrington’s Bar usually). That’s where I’d spot him on my way to work.
But, the story I’d like to tell is about Herb’s time at Y & R in the early 60s. That’s when he was the consumate “practical joker” (please kids, don’t try any of these without parental supervision). Herb was about 5 foot 8 and he probably weighed about 180, but he was incredibably powerful. His ultimate gambit was to quickly run up behind someone much bigger than he was who might be standing next to a large Mat Room waste basket and fold them in half and put them butt-first into the waste basket. He could do this so fast the other person didn’t have time to put up a struggle. It was all done in the time it would later take Herb to devise 5 roughs for a Riney presentation. That’s fast.
Another wondrous moment devised by the Master, was to watch him walk into another art director’s office, holding an unseen can of rubber cement remover at his side. He would leave a film of the stuff streaking the floor beside the unweary Art Director. Then Herb would mumble about looking for something, and quickly leave the victim’s office. Once out of sight, he would light a match and listen to the scream as the rubber cement remover burned (like gunpowder)…leaving a large puff of smoke and instant fire next to the unsuspecting victim’s desk.
But, the thing that caught the entire Creative Department’s notice, was when Herb hung someone out the window by his feet (I told you Herb was strong). No he didn’t’t drop the person and gently pulled him back into the office and that was the final straw.
The next time, Herb came to work, the Creative Staff grabbed him, put him into a rolling office chair and completely immobilized him by covering him with masking tape.…head to toe and taping him to the rolling chair. They put a cardboard Derby hat on his head, taped a cigar into his mouth and wheeled him onto the elevator. Then they pressed every button on every floor.
Needless to say, that day ended the immortal Herb Briggs pranks.
Within a year or two of the event and moving over to BBD&O, The Master stopped drinking, rode his bicycle to work and was a very warm, friendly person to be around. Over those years, Herb helped me find work at many agencies, with a simple phone call. Everyone knew Mr. Briggs.
And, although, this story may seem an embarrassment to my friend, it is meant to honor him. He was a Master. He was the unwitting role model for the crazed, beatnik-hippie-pot-smoking-destroy-the-art-room-destroy-Jack Tormey’s antique liquor cabinet looking for another bottle of Inglenook (my event) times that followed.
Mr. Herb Briggs was the ultimate, and one of the first of the real Mad Men. I truly miss him.