What's so amazing about Rozanski? Nothing, really, once you get to know him. But until then, you have to get used to the fact that he has no hands. He lost them at the age of 11 in a fireworks accident. Not everyone is privy to the truth right away, however. Another former colleague, David Angelo, also at Freeman, recalls, "When I first met him, he told me he got his hands cut off by a bookie. He was playing the horses, he was in deep debt, that kind of thing. I was pretty gullible back then, and Gary's a real joker. I believed this for about a year."
Well, you've got to have a good sense of humor when you have no hands. All right, let's get it over with: You've got to have a disarming personality. "It's funny when people come up to you and say, 'You know, I used to go to school with this art director, and he was missing two toes,' " Rozanski chuckles. "And you want to say, 'Well, what the fuck does that have to do with me?' But I turn it into a joke. They're trying to be nice."
When he's at the computer, "I see people looking into the office and I say, 'Come in and watch, I know you want to see the way I hit the keys, it's OK.' "
Yes, Rozanski can handle a mouse and hunt and peck at the keyboard without the benefit of a prosthetic, but above all, he can draw. He can hold a pen in his stump (the wrist area bends), and moreover, "I have feeling in the ends of my arms, which is very important. I have a prosthetic on my hockey stick and my bat, but not my pen. I still like doing my own drawings and scanning them in."
The ability to draw is what got Rozanski, 40, into advertising in the first place. The Polish Catholic kid from Brooklyn wanted to be an illustrator, and he saw no reason to let his disability stand in the way. He went to New York's School of Visual Arts, put a book together and eventually got an internship at DDB in 1986, where he's been ever since.
Rozanski insists it wasn't difficult starting out. "There were no computers back then, and I could draw circles around everyone, so it was easy for me," he says. "Helmut Krone and Bob Gage used to want to know how I did things, and it was fun showing them, because these are mentors and greats and I'm showing them how I draw a straight fucking line. It's kind of neat when you're drawing Bob Gage's boards."
David Angelo joined DDB about three years after Rozanski and was immediately intrigued. "He cut mechanicals with an X-Acto knife held in his teeth," says Angelo. "I wanted to work with the guy. He had something to prove." They did a notable Crown Royal billboard campaign together, among other things. "He's passionate about his work. He's not a political player," Angelo adds. "He's just an honest, solid creative."
The fact is, in this line of work, he's not really handicapped at all, "but people put me on a pedestal just because I can do what they do, and sometimes I do it better," muses Rozanski.
"It works for me and against me. I haven't gone anywhere for another job, but if I do, people may hesitate to hire me because all they see is some freak with no hands."
However, his creative partner of six years, fellow Polish Catholic Thom Baginski, finds it "shocking how many people aren't shocked by him. We were at the New York Lottery office one time, and the guy who runs the concession stand is blind. Gary got coffee and this blind guy put the change in his stump and didn't register anything. Maybe he thought it was an elephant."
Yes, there's a lot of kidding around here, and it extends to the spots on Rozanski's reel. There's some New York Lottery work, of course, as well as a clever 1996 campaign for the Travel Channel, themed, "Don't be a tourist. Learn the local language," in which people recount situations where misinterpreted local gestures and expressions lead to sudden violence. It's his favorite among the work he was able to get produced.
On the print side, there's his remarkable United Way ad of about 10 years ago, starring himself. "It was 2 o'clock in the morning, I was just writing things down, and I realized, Wait a minute. I was helped out by Catholic charities, the Red Cross, all the blood I got. I was the ad."
Hence a photo of Rozanski in his office, stumps in plain view, and the headline, "If it weren't for the United Way, another art director would have done this ad."
Rozanski will be putting himself in more ads, be it literally or figuratively, when his fireworks safety public service campaign is finished. But it's not ready yet. "I'm very close to the subject, and it's got to be great, it can't be just good," he says. "It can't be, 'Don't let your kids play with fireworks,' because that's not what I did, I created a bomb." The work will have to "blow