In retrospect, it surprises me that I thrived in a milieu to which I am ill suited. At the time, I was astonished to be earning a living by writing. I never wrote a word before I wrote professionally. I was paid for my first ad: ‘Serving You in Summer Too – Street washing’. It was on the sides of fuel oil trucks that washed streets during summers.
had done the oil truck sign as a freelancer. The creative director was impressed with the ‘laundry list’ of ideas, from which the ‘Serving You…’ was chosen. There was another freelance assignment for a Westinghouse Refrigerator ad. It was a full colour full-page ad in a weekend magazine section. A photo of a large refrigerator was provided. The fridge door was wide open, and the interior was stocked with goodies. I wrote: ‘Beat the rush at the supermarket – open your own’, followed by copy extolling the virtues of this massive, thirteen-square-foot interior Westinghouse fridge.
The milieu, the environment in which I was striving, was nothing like I was. I’m a guy from the ‘beat generation’ of Jack Kerouac and ‘On the Road’ or ‘The Subterraneans’. Here I was in the world of marketing and advertising where account executives were seen in white shirts, conservative ties, dark suits and carrying briefcases. I was there with a thick beard, long ponytail, ragged, wide-whale corduroy pants and many T-shirts with a variety of slogans and illustrations on them. I didn’t fit… except I was the best and fastest writer/illustrator in the place. I had no friends in the creative department, of course, but the account people and the clients loved my work, so I was there, but was also persona non grata.
So there I was, having a wonderful time, creating ads and commercials for Certs mints, Trident sugarless gum, Dentyne fresh breath gum, Hall’s cough drops, Rolaids anti-acid, and dozens of other major national brands… but the president and others hated me and feared my strength with the clients. So, as they usually do, I was fired while away on vacation. No problem – my talent was in demand.
The point I want to make is, when using my abilities to benefit my employers and co-workers, my creative energy was managed be me to meet their needs. Later, when I founded my own agency, the writing was incidental for me. I became the ‘outside guy’. I had meetings with clients and visits to suppliers and all that boring stuff. The nice part was that I had more freedom and didn’t work very hard, except for specific assignments where my producing and directing experience was required.
During that era, I also created a television series, using the experience I’d gained making commercials. Eventually, I retired, and that’s when writing became real fun. Even though I don’t expect anyone to ever see my stories, I don’t care. I’m not doing it to pay the mortgage. I have no mortgage.
I’m writing for myself. It’s my best work so far, and it’s just for fun. That’s the benefit of liberty. I think up my own assignment, and then I write it. I did the same with my TV series. I sold it to the network, and then wrote every episode, designed every character and setting and it was just fun.