Sunday, August 2, 2009

Skipping Trippingly Down Memory Lane

I was hired to work at the Chicago office of the J. Walter Thompson ad agency three different times. In the sixties. When the smell of ganja wafted down the halls. The seventies. When the daily sexual harassment of the sixties was finally illegal. And the eighties. When I had to raise my children by phone [No wonder they called it MA Bell].

In the mid-eighties, at its peak, J. Walter's Chicago office had grown to more than 750 people with hundreds of millions in billing. The New York office might have been JWT headquarters, but the Chicago office was its creative heart and soul.

So imagine how it felt when a press release was issued several weeks ago announcing that after more than 100 years, JWT Chicago was closing its doors. With only fifty people left and a declining economy, the decision was made to distribute what business remained to other JWT offices and shut the place down. [The reason there were only fifty people left is another story.]

Meanwhile, the day of the closing announcement, the Chicago office had just made a pitch for the Illinois Tourism business. It figures that the idiots who announced the office closing didn't know this was happening or didn't care.

The point is that, naturally, the Chicago office got a piece of new business the day after the announcement of the closing was made. Typical. So the office remained open.

But all anybody heard in the ad community was that the office was closed. It took weeks for the news that the office would still be open to trickle down.

By that time, the R.I.P. party for JWT Chicago had already been planned. And hundreds of people were coming. So at the end of the month, JWT alums are gathering to celebrate the demise [however premature] of the great Chicago office that once was.

Which brings me to my next point. During my first stint as a young copywriter, I was offered a chance to make a movie to entertain the 1969 Christmas party. The office had just moved from its longtime home in the Wrigley building to the John Hancock Center. And there were a lot of reasons to showcase the new digs.

So, in mock travelogue fashion, I wrote, narrated, produced, edited and starred in a tour of the new office. Complete with cheesy travel music. We shot it on a shoestring with 16 mm black and white film and tried to include as many people in the office as we could.

Usually party films have a very short life. Mostly they're good for a single showing at a company event, where they seem a lot funnier in hindsight because everybody was drunk or stoned.

But, for some reason the JWT Tour took on a life of its own. Instead of disappearing like it should have, it kept showing up in new business pitches and other presentations over the next twenty years. Until the agency moved to a different office building again.

Now there's a committee within the committee for the reunion that is putting together commercials to view at the party. And somebody said, "We've got to include the JWT Tour." I've been looking for my 3/4" copy of it. But I put it someplace for safekeeping so it can't be found. Fortunately, today a DVD of those halcyon days of yesteryear has surfaced.

This is good news and bad news. The good news is that there is a copy of it still around. The bad news is that I'm forty years older and the comparisons to Mrs. Linklater then and Mrs. Linklater now will not be pretty.

Also the legend surrounding THE TOUR has grown to the point that its quality can never live up to its hype. Not to mention that there will be those who will wonder why I haven't done anything better since.

Maybe I'll stay home.


emmapeelDallas said...

I had a friend who worked there as a secretary in the 60's, and I can remember her saying that the smell of ganja did indeed waft down the halls...

Remo said...

You know you're old when your original work product is used in a Retro introduction.

Just think how Bob Dylan feels.