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|May 25, 2015
Moments in ArtAfter the Big Tuna Beat Him
by Lawrence Jeppson
One of my earliest columns recounted the adventure of young artist Gene Galasso, who worked off-season on a Cape Cod tuna fishing boat. A greenhorn fisher, Gene hooked a tuna that was so big and powerful that it jerked him right out of his boots and into the roiling ocean.
After studying art in Washington, D.C., young Gene went to Cape Cod to paint. The tuna job was a godsend, even though it did give him an unexpected baptism. Rescued from the Atlantic, he needed considerable shore time recuperating. That did not keep him from painting.
In 1957, I decided to leave my secure job as director of public relations for the National Institute of Rug Cleaning in Bethesda and open Lawrence Jeppson Associates Public Relations on K Street in downtown Washington, D.C., and Service Industries Agency, a separate ad agency.
For the latter I needed an art director. I placed help wanted ads in the Washington Post and Washington Evening Star.
Gene was among many who applied. He worked for a Washington manufacturer of printing inks. In my new businesses he was my first hire — and the best hire I ever made.
I hired two account executives. I poached Jane Braley from another ad agency, and a bit later I hired Harry David, who had been an editor of Town Journal, a twin publication to Farm Journal, both news magazines. Unlike the then common practice of paying women less than men, I paid them both equally. (I paid Galasso somewhat more.)
Jane was a terrific copywriter. She and Harry — and Gene — worked well with clients. Harry was a bit older and behaved a little like an undercover agent and adroitly never discussed his ethnicity. He had escaped Nazi Germany, fleeing to South America, where he claimed he became involved in some clandestine enterprise.
He admitted he spoke “a kind of off-beat German” — which of course meant Yiddish. In time he found his way to America.
Because of my four years at NIRC we had rug cleaner, laundry operator, rug and carpet dealer, and moving and storage clients from coast to coast. We developed newspaper ads they could adapt to their own localities, wrote radio jingles and pitches that could be similarly adapted, created direct mail pieces, some quite striking. In time, we produced several million pieces of printed material.
Doing graphic arts in those days was a great deal more complicated than today’s era of computers and desktop software. Jane, Harry, and I would write the words, but Gene would create their visual setting.
This involved more than visual creativity. After typeface and size had been determined, the copy had to be sent out to a type company. In earlier days this would have meant sending to a Linotype company for casting in hot lead. Illustrations would be turned into zinc cuts (engravings), and the components would be locked up together.
Fortunately we had entered the age of offset lithography. The typesetter would provide typeset on transparent sheets, which could be cut up and pasted down with the illustrations. Gene could use or compose headlines by using sheets of individual letters, skipping the expense of an outside service. Of course, this would never do for body copy.
All of this work required exactness, skill, and patience.
When I was with NIRC the American Carpet Institute ran full-page ads in the big shelter magazines extolling the benefits of carpet, e.g., a woman with a baby on a broad expanse of carpet and an illustration referring to a woman in love with a much-younger man. The large illustrations were the best Madison Avenue could produce.
I obtained color plate proofs from the Institute, and Gene adapted them to promotional pieces we did for individual rug cleaners and carpet retailers.
One of my best friends became Herb Beshar of the famous Oriental rug dealer A. Beshar and Company, located in mid-town Manhattan. We placed Beshar’s ads in the New Yorker. Herb, and another close friend, Bill Schafer, a moving and storage operator in Stamford, Connecticut, were both a generation older.
Bruce Holman, of a moving and storage firm in Rutherford, New Jersey, and I become close. He and I would later work together in the development of Art Circuit Services.
Gene was the design heart of all this.
We wrote, designed, and produced (pro bono) the first fund raising pieces for Project Hope. We did the same thing — for money this time — for the Community Antenna Television Association, the struggling forerunner to the entire cable industry.
We created slide presentations for the National Lumber Manufacturers Association and for many other trade associations, who became our main clients.
We did a great deal of promotional and informational work for Association of Institutional Distributors (the people who supply food and stuff to restaurants, hospitals, schools), National Association of Refrigerated Warehouses, the American Nursing Home Association, including efforts to raise money for a research center, and the American Society of Association Executives, a professional group of association executives.
Gene was in the middle of all these activities.
On the strictly public relations side I was counsel to Forbes Marketing Research, a Manhattan branch of the famed Forbes financial companies. Our job was to get publicity for the company and the research they were doing without revealing what that research was revealing. We saw the secret research that from the start guided the American invasion by Japanese makers of automobiles and motorcycles.
Among our clients was Racine Industrial Plant (Wisconsin). Its owners, Harry Rench and his son Fritz, had developed Host, a combination of carpet dry-cleaning compounds and machines that could be used commercially or could be rented out. With my background, I was able to help them set up a strong national chain of franchises. Gene, Jane, and I developed advertising for the franchises, and Gene designed Host’s packaging.
Ever looking for ways to publicize, I arranged for Host to clean the American Pavilion at the Bruxelles World’s Fair. The Renches then found a rug cleaner in Bruxelles to do the work. I went off to Bruxelles, with Frances, to get appropriate photographs.
The carpets in the American Pavilion did not really give us very dramatic settings. Frances and I spent two weeks visiting every Pavilion in the Fair. We found one carpeted setting that was genuinely fabulous: the British. But, alas, we were without leverage to work that out.
I had timed our trip to coincide with an international meeting of public relations executives. I was already a member of the Public Relations Society of America, and I would become one of the participants in the creation of the International Public Relations Society.
A celebratory banquet was held in the city hall. By good fortune we were seated next to a delegation from Great Britain. I explained that the carpet in the glorious main room of their pavilion had been tread on by millions of feet. I would arrange to get it cleaned without charge in exchange for permission to take pictures we could use back home for publicity and advertising.
This was a touchy proposal. Higher authorities must be consulted. Permission came back, with the limitation that the pictures could not be used in the U.K.
When we got home, Gene and Jane went to work.
There is another episode to this story that I cannot skip.
After Bruxelles, Frances and I spent time in Paris. I learned that there was an exhibition of modern French tapestries in the Museum of Decorative Arts, which occupies a portion of the Louvre Palace.
I had fallen in love with the art form during my mission nine years earlier. “We must see this.”
At the show I met the people who had set it up. They invited me to visit with them at La Demeure gallery, which represented the artists. That meeting changed the course of my life bigtime, took me into art promotion, curating, writing, collecting. Ultimately, to these columns.
The Bruxelles Worlds Fair was the climax of a dozen years of Post-WWII rebuilding. Every participating country was putting its best foot forward, was inventing ways to sell its message. It was a visual and psychological gold mine. That was something I had to share, something my two agencies had to profit from.
I sent Gene off to Bruxelles with the instructions to see everything, photograph everything, learn everything he could. That included painting some of the things he encountered, not necessarily the pavilions but the streets and villages outside the fair, anything that caught his eye.
After Belgium he went to Paris to photograph La Demeure’s tapestry stock.
The trip to the World’s Fair and Paris was also reward for all the good work he had done.
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