Gurney's Inn
July 25, 2007

Jerry's Ink


Did you get a chance to see the first show of a new series about advertising on AMC? Matthew Weiner, who was a producer and writer on "The Sopranos," created it. It's called "Mad Men" and it's actually quite good.

The thing that the series hit home to me was how satisfying life was back in the days before lawyers, the human resource departments in every company and The New York Times decided we all should be politically correct.

In those days people could refuse to hire you and could tell you the real reason you didn't get the job.

It might have been for a disgusting reason but a least you knew where you really stood.

In 1960, I went to J. Walter Thompson to look for a job as a copywriter. I had been looking for a job in advertising as a copywriter from when I was 16. I held as many as 22 jobs in a year, mostly as a messenger and a shipping clerk. I was a one-man recession.

The gentlemen at J. Walter Thompson, with a name like Harley Upton III, who looked at my pathetic portfolio of ads was a super wasp. He looked at me, smiled a cynical smile and said, "You're not a bad writer, but I can't hire you for this job."

"Why?" I managed to ask.

"Because this job is to write sales promotion for The Ford Motor Company and, frankly, they wouldn't want your 'kind' working on their account."

So I left and it took me a couple of years to figure out what he meant by my "kind." I guess he meant Italians and Jews and other ethnics. Ten years later his "kind" were coming to my "kind" for jobs.

Back in those days woman were called girls.

African Americans were called blacks

Native Americans were called Indians.

Asians were called Orientals.

The only people who had tattoos were sailors and ex-convicts. But the good news is everybody smoked, everybody drank martinis and everybody screwed around.

In 1960 in advertising, sex was a forbidden subject – everybody did it and no one talked about it.

By 1970, thank the Lord, the sexual revolution was on and the advertising business went wild. The atmosphere was sexually charged at my agency. I encouraged it because nothing got people to come in early and leave late better than the prospect of a sexual adventure.

But then I decided one day that too many hours were being wasted by people lusting after each other. So I started The Agency Sex Contest, which was my feeble attempt to bring the lusting out in the open and keep it to one week at the end of the year. This was, until today, the best-kept secret in advertising. Thousands of people took part in the agency sex contest and kept it a secret.

The sex contest was everyone in the agency voting on a paper ballot anonymously for the three people they most wanted to go to bed with. They were also asked to vote on the person of the same sex they would consider going to bed with and, of course, there was the ménage a trois category in which they selected the two other people they wanted to go to bed with.

Sometimes as many as 200 votes were cast.

The walls of the agency were covered with people who were campaigning for themselves. One very shy, young girl in accounting got into the spirit of the contest and Xeroxed her breasts and hung pictures of them on the walls.

Another young account executive had her slogan: VOTE FOR AMANDA [not her real name]. LIKE BLOOMINGDALES, I'M OPEN AFTER 9 EVERY NIGHT.

Voting was on the up and up. One year I had our accounting firm tally up the ballots. You never saw so many accountants looking so amused and animated in your life.

First prize for the winning couple was a weekend at the Plaza Hotel paid for by my agency.

Second prize was a night at the Plaza.

Third prize was a night uninterrupted on the couch in my office.

Winners of the ménage a trois got dinner for three at The Four Seasons Restaurant.

Winners of the gay and lesbian part of the contest won a $100 gift certificate to The Pleasure Chest.

The results were announced at a party where as many as 300 of us would lock ourselves in a Mexican restaurant. At one party, I was concerned that the entire agency had imbibed too much cannabis and margaritas and the party was getting dangerously out of hand. One executive passed out and his head hit the table and the woman next to him shouted, "He's OK, the guacamole broke his fall."

An Oriental girl – change that for today's rules, a Chinese girl – change that – a Chinese women – change that – an Asian woman then jumped on to a table and started dancing with wild abandon and accidentally kicked one of my art directors in the head. I rushed to the restaurant's manager and asked him to tell his waiters and waitresses to cut down on the drinks. He smiled at me and said, "It's too late. My waiters are all stoned and they are in the middle of the party."

Was it sophomoric? You bet.

Was it politically incorrect? You bet.

But, oh, the memories.

Oh, those memories.

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