Bob & Jarl: A call to arms
With Bob Barrie and Jarl Olsen, the Hand showed up in a casting decision. It was the '80s, at Fallon McElligott. Art director Barrie and copywriter Olsen worked together on several campaigns, Hush Puppies and Jim Beam's "Back to Basics" being among the most memorable. This particular campaign was for a television station in Texas. Barrie and Olsen couldn't agree on the talent; in fact, they disagreed so vehemently that director Mark Story threw his hands up and walked away.
How to decide? Well, arm wrestle, of course. Barrie suggested it, "knowing Jarl could destroy me," he recalls. Mark Story ran for his videocam, and the two settled down on their elbows. The match lasted three minutes, and the outcome was a shocker.
"The hand of God came in and allowed me to win," reports Barrie. "The funny part is, I'm not exactly an athletic guy, and he's this big weightlifter. He's working out at the club all the time, and I don't even belong to a club." ('Twas fate, to be sure: the talent did four spots, which gave him a sore throat, which sent him to the doctor, who discovered throat cancer. It was fortuitously early; he's fine now.)
Refusing to get sidetracked by sentiment, Olsen, outwardly the team curmudgeon, is forthright. "I should say I let him win, but it really must have been God's hand. It was hysterically funny. And the spots are hysterically bad. The talent sucked."
Athletic competitiveness aside, Olsen and Barrie sound like a mutual admiration society. The two worked together, although not exclusively, from 1983 until 1991, when Olsen left Fallon to become a director. Barrie's very first ad at FM, a tiny newspaper ad for a restaurant called Davanni's, was also their first collaboration.
"He's one of the quirkiest guys I know, and also one of the most decent," Barrie says of Olsen. "He's one of the very few purists left in advertising. His decisions and motivations are as uninfluenced by monetary consideration as anybody I've ever met-money is about number 157 on his list. He's interested in good work."
The two have no working secrets; it's a simple matter of sitting across the table from each other and (verbally) mixing it up. Barrie says it's lucky for art directors everywhere that Olsen decided to become a copywriter; that way they can take credit for Olsen's great visual ideas. Olsen says he made his career selection after replacing Barrie, already a legacy at a tender age, as art director at The Minnesota Daily, the University of Minnesota student newspaper. Barrie had left the place sprinkled with memorable sketches. "I was being shown up by somebody who wasn't even there," Olsen complains. "He draws better than anyone I've ever worked with."
Barrie also writes, Olsen says, and "he's a Type O creative. He does great work with everybody." Both love doing ads, but Barrie manages to execute great ideas for years, while short-attention-span Olsen gets bored half an hour after the concept is created. Olsen characterizes himself as the sarcastic voice, the edgy one with the short fuse. Since Olsen left the agency, the two have not only remained friends, they still work together when opportunity permits. For this year's Minneapolis Star Tribune campaign, an elaborate effort that involved aliens landing in town and mingling with the citizens, Barrie convinced Olsen to take a hiatus from his then MTV position to direct five commercials.
The two have a "brutally honest, jesting relationship," as they mutually describe it, that often shocks other people in meetings, and that hasn't changed a bit. What did change was Olsen's organizational skills, previously undetected. "He actually had to show up on time for meetings," Barrie says.
Current plans call for Olsen to return to directing; look for these two to team up again.
Chris & Susan: Both sides now
Also reunited are Susan Westre and Chris Wall, the dream team from the early days of Apple advertising at BBDO/West. They've switched account allegiances; they're now on the IBM side, doing equally memorable IBM and Lotus work for O&M.
The two met in 1984 at Evans Weinberg, a small California agency of not much note. Westre had just moved from Wisconsin and found it tough to jump into a good job in L.A.; Wall, coming in from retail, found similar fences. They first collaborated on a cellular phone assignment and had such fun that they began consulting each other on the sly when they weren't assigned to the same project.
When Westre moved to W.B. Doner, Wall followed three months later. Their big break didn't come until 1987, when Steve Hayden, just installed at BBDO, looked at their book, which contained what they'd produced and what they wanted to produce. The latter sold him; they were hired.
They clicked quickly, producing a Claris campaign in 10 days. 'We were pretty adept and had a pretty high pain threshold," Wall remembers. What followed was eight years of Apple and working with a team that had learned to trust each other. It included not only creatives, but also agency management, media, account executives and filmmakers. All could speak their minds, and all did. "Pytka was merciless," says Wall, "but I'd rather be kicked by a genius than complimented by somebody not any smarter than I am."
What resulted was, among many, the "What's On Your Powerbook?" campaign, and memorable spots like "Diner," featuring a couple of guys trying to figure out their PC, which won a Gold Lion at Cannes. What also resulted was burnout, which in turn resulted in Wall's decision to follow their account guy to Wieden & Kennedy, where Microsoft had taken reign.
This did not make Westre happy, because he'd made the decision while on vacation, without discussing it with her. But his move gave her the impetus to take a senior partner position at O&M. It turns out that Wieden's mix-and-match method of creativity did not fit his druthers, so Westre, based in Paris, now hires Wall freelance; he keeps a suitcase packed.
"I've come to the conclusion that once you find people you connect with, you should keep working with those people," he says. "That way you build a network of people who complement and respect each other-who, when they talk, you listen." That kind of rapport can make quick work of complex tasks. When the agency won the Lotus account and was briefed on the same day, Sept. 30., Wall and Westre wrote the first campaign on the plane on the way home, presented it, and got it on the air by Nov. 11. "That's the kind of thing you can do when you have a familiar group," Wall says.
Lee & Tony: Magical moments
It was the night before the Subaru "Farm Boy" shoot. The idea-son shows up in new sporty brand of father's old trusty car, much to dad's surprise-was brilliant, and the client was destined to love it always. But Tony DeGregorio, Mr. Control Freak, was worried about letting Lee Garfinkel have the alarm clock so he could get up early for his shower. They were spending the night in DeGregorio's upstate New York home, and they had an early call.
Garfinkel got the clock but paid the price. At 3 a.m. it was still black outside, but DeGregorio raced into his bedroom, stark naked and shouting, afraid they'd missed the shoot. "I started to wonder about what kind of partner I had," laughs Garfinkel. The two spent about a decade at Levine Huntley Schmidt & Beaver, "having a ball together," he adds. "It was a father-and-son relationship. Tony was so much older than I was, when I was just a mere 29 year old. I was helping out his career."
Garfinkel claims he is a quiet type, except when DeGregorio is around; then jokes pour out. The two are very much alike, he adds, but it doesn't show much. DeGregorio is an immaculate dresser; Garfinkel wears T-shirts and jeans. DeGregorio has a clean office; Garfinkel's is a mess. "He's from the Bronx, I grew up in Brooklyn," DeGregorio adds. "It's a good dynamic. We complement each other. He's funny and entertaining, and I'm trying to do the human stuff."
The two split when DeGregorio left to head up Ogilvy's Chicago office. It was difficult to go, DeGregorio says-"We were definitely on a high when I left"-but he wanted the management opportunity, and it was time for young Garfinkel to spread his wings, too. Today DeGregorio is president/chief creative executive at Publicis/Bloom, while Garfinkel is at the creative helm of Lowe & Partners/SMS. The two remain good friends and manage to keep in touch-"miraculously," says DeGregorio-through their assistants and a litany of scheduled lunches, canceled lunches and squeezed-in lunches.
Garfinkel says he has had other excellent working relationships, but the one with DeGregorio was special. DeGregorio says it was hard to fill Garfinkel's shoes; in fact, he never hooked up with another partner like that again. As he puts it, "I think it was a magical moment."
John & Roy: The fun bug
For at least 10 years, from the mid-'60s to the mid-'70s, Roy Grace and John Noble lived what is still considered advertising's best life: they cared about the work most of all, they had a lot of fun doing it and they did it very well. The two were best known for their collaboration at Doyle Dane Bernbach on Volkswagen, the popular bug that the Fuhrer dubbed The People's Car and that surprised the bejesus out of Detroit. One particular spot, the hysterical "Funeral" commercial (in which a long line of sleazeball-carrying limousines follows a hearse as we hear the voiceover narration of the deceased reading his will), quickly comes to mind.
Noble was the youngster on the account; he had been at Campbell-Ewald on Chevrolet and, at 23, was hired at DDB, then advertising's mecca. Never mind that he had small children and had just bought a house in Bloomfield Hills; he had to go. Within six months he was working with Grace, who had picked up his VW savvy in Dusseldorf. The two shared a sense of humor and immediate chemistry, despite the fact that Noble felt like a misfit in the creative department.
"I'm a WASP from Rochester, and I came in from Michigan, where I'd gone to school," Noble explains. "He's Jewish, and the rest of them were mostly Italians from Brooklyn. It was like Whitetoast with the Goodfellas." But he and Grace started talking about things they had in common-like how they were raised by their mothers: "Mine was more Jewish than his was," Noble says.
They thought about advertising 24 hours a day. "It was fun," Grace says. "We used to work in bars a lot. On planes a lot. In the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills. By the pool in Beverly Hills. We were not in the office that much. And we laughed a lot."
They often switched roles, with art director Grace doing the words and Noble coming up with the visuals. "We weren't rigid in any way," Grace recalls. "We were totally flexible. But the most important part was that we really had fun." Yes, a familiar refrain.
According to Noble, he was the quiet one; Grace had the temper tantrums. "Funeral" began with storyboards hitting the walls, when the account executive refused to show them to the client. But the two stuck together, and when they believed in something, they wouldn't back down for anyone, including Bill Bernbach himself. "We were like brothers in a way," Noble said.
Most of the time they stayed simpatico. "Obviously there were bumps, rough spots," Grace says, "but somehow the work was always more important." Another abiding refrain: "We overcame all personal differences because we were interested in doing the best possible work we could do."
Finally burned out on Volkswagen, Grace moved on into management, becoming chairman of the board at DDB and eventually starting Grace & Rothschild, where he still holds forth with the likes of Land Rover, quite an upgrade from the Beetle. He has found other partners, as well.
Noble, too, got into management and ran his own agency in San Francisco for a while, but he tired of the politics and left the business two years ago. Never again did he find a partner with Grace's high standards, one who made him look forward to going to work in the morning so much for so long a time. The magic