Everyone (ok, maybe not everybody) knows Don Draper, Pete Campbell, and Roger Sterling of “Mad Men” fame. They represent many of the Ad men of the 50’s through 70s. Rolling Stone Magazine described them in a May 11, 2015 article By Rob Sheffield as “depraved rogues…with so few moral standards.” http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/lists/50-best-mad-men-characters-20150511
Harry never saw the show. I assume he would have silently thought as George Lois, a huge Madison Avenue figure thought, “The more I think and write about Mad Men, the more I take the show as a personal insult. So fuck you, Mad Men, you phony grey-flannel-suit, male-chauvinist, no-talent, Wasp, white-shirted, racist, anti-Semitic Republican SOBs!” “George’s and [probably Harry’s] issue with Mad Men was, I think, that it was all too real – and it reminded them of everything they hated about the business as they had found it.” (Andrew Cracknell, author of The Real Mad Men.) George felt insulted, but in fact it was all too real.
Alen Sands York and Sandy Teller were real 1960’s Ad men that were depicted on the hit TV show ‘Mad Men.’ Here is their take. The cigarette haze? True. The three-martini buzz? True. The interoffice intrigue? True. Alen York ran a Manhattan ad agency through much of the decade. He remembered, “Impeccably dressed, impressively paid, mostly white men convinced a nation to buy whatever they were selling. And yes, the ad agency ethos included plenty of nicotine, booze and dips in the steno pool. It was the Wild West. Yes, there were beautiful women around. And there was a certain glamour from the outside to the industry – maybe more than it deserved.”
“Rose Mendicino, a secretary at Ketchum, MacLeod & Grove is convinced some of the “’Mad Men’ plots came directly from the agency’s creative department.” “Big, tall, (Harry was 5’6”) suited, good-looking – well, some were good looking.” “Definitely predators. Married or not.”
She says the women in the agency generally knew – and readily accepted – their subservient status. “All the account executives, all the art directors, all the copywriters – no matter how dumb – were men,” she recalls. “I don’t even know if the women even thought about it that much. “A lot of them were looking for husbands.” A 1967 survey of Ketchum employees reported: Three-quarters of the secretaries polled said they would marry an ad man if given the chance.
Sandy Teller, head of Sanford Teller Communications remembers the broader, racier picture. “There was a great sense of power and prestige,” Teller says the attitude was one of, “I’m an advertising executive. And you’re (long, disdainful pause) … an accountant?”
Drinking was a way of life, in and out of the office. York remembers that any important business was handled before lunch. “We always knew that after lunch, you may as well forget about doing anything,” he says. “Clients, customers, three-martini lunches. They were finished for the afternoon.” Standing tall at the bar was part of the macho culture that dominated the industry. “In many cases, there was great admiration for the guys who could drink more, as if it was a great skill or talent.”
Little of that sounds like the Harry Greissman his family knew and loved. However, as a man of the times he had to go along to get along. He loved his work, and maybe those “3 martini lunches” witnessed by his oldest son Richard, but it is hard to believe he was like those Mad Men. His daughter Jamie recalls sometimes going to work with Harry when she didn’t have school. While there, she didn’t see “Mad Men”.
To her Harry was very proud to both show them (including brother Richard) off to his co-workers and show off his work to them. She would clean up his usually messy desk and dine at the “luxurious” “Horn and Hardart.” None of this sounds very “Mad Man” like. Richard would go to Harry’s office on school holidays. After Harry would very proudly introduce him to everybody in the office Richard would go to the art department where he would visit with Harry’s best friend, art director, Paul Zangas. Paul would give Richard colored pencils and paper and when older, let him use an intriguing wonderful machine: a light table and magnifier that would allow the user to sketch a larger version of a design. Richard would design cough drop boxes. He remembers Harry laughing heartily when Richard proudly displayed a design with a misspelled “cough dorps” –“I came in when someone was with him, the friend noticed it and they both laughed and I was embarrassed.”
Harry first worked at Morse International, one of the oldest ad agencies in the country. During the 1950’s Morse became the in house ad agency for Vick International Chemical company to market various home remedies, including what would become the world famous “Vicks Vapo Rub”. Harry was involved with the advertising for many of their products, and made sure his household had plenty. For 39 years everyone in the family had a lifetime supply of VapoRub, Lavoris, Cepacol, Oil of Olay, and during those trying teenage years, Clearasil.
It seems he followed the David Ogilvy occupational mobility mantra as depicted in his famous 1963 book, “Confessions of an Advertising Man”. Whether Ogilvy knew it or not, what he described was not just fitting for his industry, his descriptions of the maturation of “Every Industry Man” was almost universal in how it fit men of Harry’s generation. Ogilvy stressed youth in th “creatives” of his industry and that after a while they run out of ideas and no longer do well for the company. He simply noted that if they were good loyal employees they would get kicked upstairs as did so many men of that generation. That was Harry. If not, or if they were more ambitious, they would look for work elsewhere. According to Ogilvy, an executive responsible for keeping clients had to be stable and easy to get along with. That also was Harry.
Harry went from being a “creative” (the ad maker), to a creative director (the boss of the ad makers) to an international marketing executive (the seller of ads internationally). His company, kept him on for 39 years. Harry was good, loyal, and in search more for security than ambitious job changes. He was, after all, that universal depression child of the Greatest Generation for whom security and safety were mantras. Perhaps he played along to fit in, or perhaps Harry had a totally different persona at work than at home. Or perhaps being Jewish left him on the outside looking in. After all, his friendship with Ben McClure was out of work sight.
Harry did rise through the ranks. In time, as a result of his fluency in so many languages, he became important to a company who did so much increasing business overseas. In the 1950s US companies extended operations into Latin America. Vicks opened a plant in Mexico. They sold heavily in many Latin countries such as Venezuela where forty per cent of imported consumer goods came from the United States. Proctor & Gamble eventually purchased Richardson-Vick in 1985 because they wanted to grow their overseas markets in Japan and Latin America. Vicks products were a huge part of that expansion. Harry became their lead man there. It led to the growth of rebel groups and resulted in Vice President Richard Nixon being attacked with stones when he visited Venezuela on May1958. Was Harry in danger as well?
Unfortunately, the company for whom Harry would work for 40 years was also involved in the most horrible consumer issues in American History: Thalidomide. Harry clearly was a company man. After all, he worked at the same place for almost 40 years. Once at the dinner table, Richard said, “Look at what happened when a drug company manufactured a drug to help women to deal with pregnancy issues – Thalidomide – and how horrific that was.” Harry threw down his napkin and said that was his company. Upset and angry, he left the table. By the late 1960s he was climbing towards his professional peak.
Two decades later, he would be “retired”. The 1960s looked like a very good decade for Harry. In 1964 he attended a “Voyage to India” reception featuring a designer fashion show of Indian inspired creations in honor of Mrs. B.K. Nehru, wife of the Indian Ambassador to the Unites States hosted by McCall’s Magazine. In 1968, Lew Zale, the Executive Vice President of the Zale Corporation, thanked Harry for notifying him of the CLIO award won at The American and Radio Television Festival. By March 1970, he had become Director of Creative Services for Vick International and was a member of the Executive Board of the annual Advertising Club of NY ANDY Awards Competition that had been founded in 1964. Later that year, as reported by Advertising Age, he was promoted to Director of Marketing Services.
David Ogilvy states that anyone who wants to rise to the top in advertising must be ambitious.
“A person can get by just being the go between men, but in order to gain power, you have to have more aspirations.” Harry was not the ambitious type. As someone whose formative years took place during the depression, he was more concerned with stability and security rather than ambition that might require switching or losing jobs. He always had a job that paid decently, but never was he a top paid guy. He was safe. His family was secure. That was what mattered.
It had taken him 20 some odd years to get to this point. Another “unspoken” reason a man with Harry’s talents did not rise through the ranks faster or higher was anti-Semitism. In non-Jewish owned firms, like Vick International, Jews were relegated to “creative positions” during the ‘50s and early 60s and not allowed into management ranks for years. Even “Mad Men” showed this.
In 1975, Richardson Vick moved from the Chanin Building, a roughly 50 minutes commute by train, to a brand new facility built on a densely wooded site in Wilton Connecticut, a drive of approximately the same length. The problem with this move, besides changing a routine Harry had been used to for approximately 25 years, was that to everyone’s worry, Harry now had to drive a car to work. Harry and Iris finally needed a second car. What did Iris buy for Harry? An AMC Hornet nicknamed the ”Green Hornet.” It was short, stocky, and cheap, in case he wrecked it.
Nine years after the company moved, Harry moved closer to work, to Yorktown Heights. Originally, their plan was to sell it and move nearer work. However, Allan was just about to start high school, so Harry sacrificed. Despite him being a horrible driver, he commuted each day to the office. At that point in time he did not look like a man still enjoying his job. Perhaps it was the driving. Perhaps it was being one of the oldest on staff. Perhaps it was a feeling that he was not as essential as he once was. Sixty plus year old Ad Men, unless a partner or top executive, were usually eased out of work and prepared for the exit door. Finally, after “14,080 days around the world”, Harry bid farewell to his career.