He told me how he first encountered the legendary art director. "In 1959, I came to New York to seek my fame and fortune as an advertising copywriter," Mike wrote me.
"I got a job offer the very first interview. The agency was Doyle Dane Bernbach. The account was Polaroid. The art director was Helmut Krone, who I never heard of. I accepted the offer."
Mike said Helmut-"a tough practitioner-had run through all the writers and there were Polaroid job orders piling up."
Mike was under the impression that copywriters wrote an ad, gave it a visual look, passed it on to a traffic guy who in turn presented it to an art director "to make it look good." So he did.
Mike said he finished the six ads in his first two days. He called the traffic man and said the ads were done and he could come get them.
"Has Helmut seen these?" the traffic man asked Mike. The answer was no. "I'll set up a meeting," the traffic man said.
The man called back to tell Mike that Mr. Krone would see him two days later.
At the appointed time Mike knocked on the door. "I entered, sat down. Mr. Krone was working over an ad. He never looked up. He was moving type back and forth, cutting, pasting, etc."
"How's this look?" he finally said.
"You'll have to write the copy for this. And be sure to do it exactly to my type count."
Mike said he did not know what "count" meant, but somehow felt it better not to ask.
"I finished the six ads that were due for Polaroid," Mike blurted. He handed Helmut the ads neatly typed on yellow paper.
Helmut didn't look at them. He simply tore them up, tore them in half, tore them in half again-then tossed them in the waste basket.
"Now we work," Helmut Krone said.
Mike said that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. "I learned more from Helmut than I knew was possible. He was a pure craftsman. To him, everything had a reason, a purpose! I could write a book of Helmut stories-and maybe I will."
Mike, to this day, feels bad about letting Helmut down. When Mike left DDB to join Julian Koenig and George Lois in their new agency, Helmut called him "the dumbest guy in the world to go to work for that Greek designer." Mike says that Helmut never forgave him; they always had a "cool and professional" relationship.
When I called Mike at his home, just 30 miles down the bay from San Francisco, he had mused that it might have been Helmut on the line, echoing those words that still haunt him, "Now we work."