J. Walter Thompson/San Francisco was located in the One Maritime Plaza building in 1977.
When I worked in Chicago, the local commercial film production studios had a tough time making ends meet. If it weren’t for advertising agencies such as Leo Burnett and J. Walter Thompson, who made a point of awarding some of their business to these studios, they could not have kept their doors open for long. Sure, one or two did very well. But, basically, if a production studio didn’t operate out of either New York or Los Angeles, the chances of really making it big were very slim.
When I came to the West Coast in 1976, I discovered that the San Francisco studios suffered from the Chicago syndrome, only worse. As far as I knew, the only really successful studio in town made more money renting their lighting, cameras and sound stage to visiting Hollywood movie companies than from shooting TV commercials.
There was one local commercial film director, however, who truly believed it was possible to live in San Francisco and operate successfully. His name was Randy Grochoske.
I met Randy at a screening of his director’s reel during my first few weeks at Botsford Ketchum Advertising. I stayed after to talk to him about a commercial I particularly liked.
I remember the commercial to this day. It starred four chimpanzees eating a formal dinner at a long table staged with white tablecloth, fine china, and candelabras. Two chimps were dressed in tuxedos, the others in long evening gowns and wigs. Obviously, the shots of the chimps eating and playing with their food were hilarious. It ends with the tuxedo-clad chimp at the head of table leaning back on his chair puffing away on a fat cigar, as if relaxing after a sizable meal. The commercial won Randy a number of advertising awards and kudos in the trade press.
The following year, after I joined J. Walter Thompson, Randy telephoned and asked me to arrange a screening of his commercials for the creative staff.
He had just hooked up with DeSort and Sam, a successful commercial film studio in Los Angeles. He was quite excited about this affiliation with a large production company and the prospects it presented for developing business from the San Francisco agencies.
I arranged a time for Randy to screen his reel. The screening ended. Randy left. And, yes, the monkey commercial was on his reel.
Before continuing, I should describe the Thompson offices located on the upper floors of the One Maritime Plaza building. The perimeter offices, except for the corners, had clear glass windows facing the hallway. Now with the hallway windows, the large windows facing outside and the white-painted walls, you had the distinct feeling you were sitting in a fish bowl. I worked in one of these offices.
It was about an hour after the screening. I was in my office with the door closed to get the full bowl effect. Suddenly I heard shouting and pounding on the hallway window. I turned from my typewriter (we did use those at one time) to see Stu Hyatt, the Creative Director, his face beet red, his mouth blaring indistinguishable words, using one hand to pound the window, and the other to shake his fist at me. I raised my hands palms up and shrugged my shoulders in the “What did I do?” motion.
He opened the door and began a tirade about my bringing Randy Grochoske into the agency behind his back and showing a DeSort and Sam reel.
He continued his ranting and raving, even threatening to fire me for pulling a stunt like that and saying he never wanted to hear the name DeSort and Sam again. When he stopped long enough to take a breath, I calmly protested that I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about and would he simply explain the problem. He stood there glaring at me, then turned abruptly and went back to his office. He never raised the subject again.
I finally pieced together the story over the next few days. It seems Stu had just finished filming a commercial with DeSort and Sam in Hollywood. There was some sort of disagreement during the filming that led to an argument between him and the director Jack DeSort and they left on bad terms. I can only guess that in Stu’s mind, I somehow should have known about this problem, which I didn’t, and therefore went behind his back by inviting Randy to the agency.
Because I don’t appreciate being blamed for something I know nothing about, I came up with what I considered the perfect “don’t get mad, just get even” scenario.
The yelling incident had taken place the beginning of December. So shortly before the office closed for the holidays, I bought a Christmas card, wrote a message, signed it, addressed it to Stu Hyatt, and mailed it.
What I would have given to see the expression on Stu’s face when he opened the card a couple days later and read, “Happy Holidays. Looking forward to working with you again. Your good friend, Jack DeSort.”
Feel free to add your story about the advertising business or the creative people you knew as a comment to this blog. I’d love to read them and share them with others. My only requests are that you sign it with your full name, agency affiliations and, though in some cases you may want to, try not to be nasty.