Though I cancelled my cable and haven’t parked myself before a TV for many years, occasionally I hear sound bites or follow the online chatter about the AMC cable show “Mad Men”.
I worked in an ad agency for 18 months after graduating from Wayne State University in June of 1978. The show “Mad Men” would have you believe that all ad men are ruthless and self-serving like Don Draper.
Having been immersed in the world of advertising for that year and a half, that’s not really a true statement … not for all ad men anyway. A couple of special ones stand out in my mind, but one in particular who held, and will always hold, a special place in my heart. He was a mentor to me and a friend as well.
Back in ’78, as a sentimental, stars-in-my-eyes recent college grad, I soon found that writers and art directors, even producers, were rather a transient bunch. While they seemed content on the outside, inwardly they were still seeking the ultimate arena in which to use and exhibit their creativity. They were wont to update their résumés and pack up their typewriters or easels and markers and take off in a heartbeat. I can’t tell you how many going-away luncheons I attended during the 18 months at Young & Rubicam as our 40-person department dwindled.
I wrote this post this morning as the rain incessantly pounded the windows and the wind blew gustily. A walk was out of the question for me. That’s okay because I had a story to tell anyway.
A blogging buddy in my Patch.com group recently wrote a poem and accompanying post on the topic of friendship. I read it, then commented about keeping in touch and renewing old friendships, even after decades had passed. Since joining Facebook back in 2009, I’ve reconnected with several high school friends after many of them were scattered to the four winds.
That impromptu online chatter with Jeanne Claire Probst got me thinking about the plethora of people that I’d lost touch with through the years. I jotted down a few of their names and told myself that when I got a chance, I would indeed see if these folks were on Facebook or Twitter, just to see what they were up to and possibly renew old ties.
Social media was not around for some of these old schoolmates, coworkers or travelling companions, and the letters and cards dwindled during the years, so I’d lost track of many people. So, it seemed like a good idea to reconnect with the past and let the decades just fall away in doing so.
However, treading onto the far reaches of the internet to make those connections ended up being a rather painful foray when I discovered that a beloved boss passed away on March 10th, a mere two weeks ago.
His name was Gerald M. Apoian, but he was just plain old Jerry to all who knew him.
He was the first person I considered my “boss” after I graduated from college and ventured out into the real world beyond the diner, where I worked while attending college. Hoping to rise through the ranks to a junior copywriter position someday, I joined the advertising agency Young & Rubicam in the Summer of 1978 as a secretary.
Technically, Jerry was not my only boss since I worked for a team of copywriters and art directors.
But he was my favorite of the bunch.
He and I had both graduated with degrees in Mass Communications. His was from Michigan State.
Only he had landed a job in that chosen field and I did not. But, it was not for lack of trying. There weren’t even opportunities after my WSU internship. I worked for a wire service writing “shorts” or little blurbs about Detroit for six weeks, which was required to graduate. Though I scoured the newspapers for a job, even as a stringer at $0.25 a line, I heard the same thing over and over: “the market is flooded with reporters due to the Watergate scandal – you’ll have to use your degree elsewhere” … sigh.
If I close my eyes, I can see Jerry in my mind just like it was yesterday, though it has been 35 long years. I see him hunkered in the corner of his office, hunched over the typewriter, his thoughts conveyed through those long, nimble fingers as he typed fast and furiously, the bell signifying the push to the carriage return was in order.
Jerry’s typewriter, a rickety old black Royal, was tucked in the far corner of his small office, right next to the window. He’d be banging away on that typewriter, with a cadence and speed that would just as easily match mine as I sat at my desk outside his office, my own fingers flying over the keyboard of my bright blue IBM Selectric typewriter.
Occasionally, I’d hear him ripping out a sheet of yellow foolscap paper from that Royal typewriter when a thought was aborted and soon that piece of paper was crumbled into a ball and tossed into the circular file, or sometimes littering the floor with others. Then he’d open the drawer for another sheet of paper which he’d quickly roll into the platen before the next thought escaped his mind; in seconds he’d be typing along at breakneck speed once again.
Soon, he’d run out of his office clutching his draft, eager to have me retype it on official bond Y&R script paper, to be presented to the creative group, and eventually the client.
He was a character and full of life and fun.
He had a wacky laugh, a long and loud howl that would erupt from that mustachioed mouth whenever he thought something was really funny. His laugh was infectious and could bring a smile to your face.
He had a shock of wavy auburn hair that he slicked back, but that was prone to frizzing out when it rained.
And then, there were those unusual-looking eyebrows that looked like two bristley caterpillars, half-hidden behind his horn-rimmed glasses.
He was a big guy, with admitted love handles that hung over the waist of his blue jeans, but were camouflaged by the beige safari-type shirts that he liked to wear.
His buddies called him “Large” but I called him “Grade A” to his face and laughingly suggested others use that moniker as well. I do believe I made him blush sometimes.
He didn’t just write the commercial scripts but went on scene with his sidekick, his art director, Larry Carroll. They would fly to California to oversee the shoots with the likes of Hal Linden touting the Newport, and who could forget Ricardo Montalban and his smooth voice as he caressed that Chrysler Cordoba’s Corinthian leather? It was Jerry who wrote the scripts for those commercials that were so well known in the late 70s. When the shoots were finished Jerry used to fly to New York to finalize and produce the commercials as well.
But things were not so rosy when Y&R lost the Chrysler account in 1979. It was a black day indeed as we were one of three advertising agencies that serviced Chrysler-Plymouth; one day President Lee Iacocca decided he wanted new blood creating ads for his products and he fired all three agencies.
We were several months without a major account before landing the plum Lincoln-Mercury business. But, as mentioned earlier, advertising folks are prone to bouncing around from one agency to the next, and the ranks of the Creative Department soon dwindled. Jerry stayed, but Larry strayed to another agency. Then Jerry was paired with a new art director named Dan Hughes. He was nice enough but the magic of the new duo’s relationship was not the same.
And other things were not the same. The new client wanted control of all the shoots and post-production taking most of the creative control away from Jerry.
There was a large lack of morale in the Creative Department and around the ad agency in general.
Before the loss of Chrysler, there were often long lunches with our whole department at “The Pontchartrain Wine Cellars” and ice cream Hummers at “The Chop House” to celebrate a completed ad or just for the heck of it.
There were impromptu guitar sessions where the creative honchos sat around collaborating on scripts and storyboards and playing their folk guitars … their version of “Classical Gas” was one of my favorites.
But, when there was work to be done we all hunkered down and did it.
To boost morale, Y&R formed a baseball team and we had that to occupy our minds and fill the voids for our friends who had left. Jerry told me to volunteer to be the editor of the new company newspaper. He worked tirelessly with me, shooting pictures, laying out the first issue and even going to the printer with me. He was somehow determined he should be my mentor and help me along up the corporate ladder to aspire to advance beyond the typist position that I currently had.
Then one day Jerry asked me to come into his office and announced he was going to J. Walter Thompson. Before I could interject “can I come too?” he said “no, I’m sorry, but I can’t take you along” … I was heartbroken and refused to go to Jerry’s going away party, knowing it would be too painful for me.
As friendships or relationship go, especially in the workplace – well you win some and you lose some. Sure we kept in touch for awhile. We talked a few times on the phone to catch up about business after he left, but this was long before social media keeps the world in touch at your fingertips or just a mouse click away. E-mail and cellphones were all non-existent back in 1979 – to ordinary people anyway.
After a year or two, even Jerry’s creative Christmas card which in the past featured his writing and Larry’s photos, failed to show up in my mailbox anymore. So much for Jerry’s description of a Summer sky as “marshmallow pies and blueberry skies” or Larry’s exquisite photos. Jerry moved to New York and I’m sure Linda Schaub became the furthest thing from his mind.
I’ve thought about contacting him through the years just to touch base and say “hey”, especially since having the World Wide Web at my disposal. Jerry got semi-famous and was “Google-able” with an e-mail address, but I resisted reaching out, thinking perhaps he would be disappointed that his mentoring had stopped dead in its tracks and I’d not pursued a writing career. I left Y&R a few months later and began a career in the legal field in February 1980.
So, I never tried to contact Jerry, but I thought about him through the years from time to time.
I know he went on to bigger and better things; he directed films – won some awards at Cannes Film Festival and worked tirelessly with a company named Advertising Production Resources, or APR, his last job. I read all these achievements last night.
The funny thing is, I was concerned that he would be disappointed in me and gave that more consideration than my parents who paid for my whole college education. Perhaps that is because my father often told me “I could have bought your mother a mink coat and myself a Cadillac or a T-bird with the money I spent on your college education” and every time my father said that, it hurt, but in the end I shrugged it off.
But, yet I didn’t want to disappoint Jerry.
Funny how your priorities get all screwed up like that sometimes.
So, last night I noodled around Facebook and Twitter looking to find Jerry and Larry and to catch up with them, if they were so inclined.
Jerry was not on Facebook, but on Twitter as my search revealed a memorial fund in his memory. A memorial fund?! I opened the link, and my eyes misted up and I am sure I must have said “oh my God – oh no” over and over while my brain processed that information.
I exited out of the article, as if that would make the story untrue.
Then I went back and re-Googled and re-read the story a few more times and an obituary notice as well. Yes, it gave his birthdate which I knew, and the picture above. Yes, it was so.
On Facebook the APR, which he was associated with, said his death was unexpected and left his colleagues reeling in disbelief.
I was in shock as well, decades after I’d wished him goodbye and good luck and he said “there is no good in goodbye” … well, 35 years later it is even more painful.
So, of course I wonder now why the h*ll I didn’t reach out and say “hi” before this?
Maybe I could have sent him the link to my blog and said “will this pass muster; will this do because it’s probably not what you hoped for, but it is me and my life and my meanderings?”
He might have laughed heartily at that question and said “you did okay kiddo – you’ll be fine” just like he told me so many times before.
(Image of Jerry Apoian from Snipview.com)