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Posts Tagged ‘advertising’

Shep and Dorothy

November 15, 2014 | by

A husband-and-wife team and their influential midcentury designs.

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From Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream.

Lucky is the designer who can see in both two and three dimensions. Luckier still is she or he to be married to someone with equal gifts—especially if that mate is a collaborator and not a competitor. So appears to have been the case with Dorothy and Otis Shepard, whose enviable creative lives have been captured in the absorbing, moving, and lushly illustrated new book Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream, by Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel.

Both Dorothy and Shep (his nickname since childhood) got their start as commercial artists during San Francisco’s billboard boom of the 1920s. The Federal Highway Act, signed in 1921, helped fund the expansion of U.S. roadways, and advertisers took the opportunity to reach audiences beyond the traditional black-and-white pages of mail catalogs by posting colorful advertisements along America’s highways. Shep, a veteran of World War I, was a man of great adventure, with a strong and lasting interest in the theater. He was well regarded as a commercial painter while employed as an art director at Foster & Kleiser Outdoor Advertising Company, a top Bay Area agency of the period. In 1927, he wisely hired the gifted and highly praised Dorothy Van Gorder straight out of the California School of Arts and Crafts, from which she had graduated in only three years, as valedictorian. According to family lore, Dorothy was unabashedly outspoken (and just plain unabashed—she was once evicted from an apartment for sunbathing nude on the roof), and it cost her the Foster & Kleiser job, but almost as soon as she was let go, she was rehired for her prized skills. Hathaway and Nadel write that either in spite of or because of Dorothy’s brashness, Shep, the “raconteur,” soon began courting the “young bon vivant.”

And so their joint artistic adventure began—most markedly with a honeymoon in 1929 to Paris, Venice, Zurich, and Vienna. While there, they purchased Bauhaus furniture and had the good fortune to meet the great modernist Joseph Binder, who was a leader in the European abstract graphic style. “Shep and Dorothy already wanted their work to convey meaning through compositional structure—instead of realism,” write Hathaway and Nadel, but Binder’s reduction of “an image to a series of shapes and forms and [integration of] typography into his pictures” helped refine their approach to design and illustration. Both Dorothy and Otis had been following the modernist movement with great interest back home, but seeing this work and the new techniques in person and to scale had a profound and lasting effect on them. Read More »

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Staff Picks: Thirteen Days, One Hundred Brothers, Five Cars

October 3, 2014 | by

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“We build excitement”: a still from an oddly captivating old Pontiac ad.

The latest issue of Guernica includes Richard Price’s tragic history of New York public housing; he begins in a state of noble objectivity and then goes brilliantly, subjectively off the rails, telling of his own childhood in the north Bronx’s Parkside Houses: “The women played gin rummy, mahjong, coming to each other’s apartments in quilted housecoats and curlers, clutching vinyl-covered packs of Newports and Winstons. Many a kid, myself included, fell asleep to the clack of ivory tiles or the riffle of cards, nodded off to a non-stop soundtrack of laughter, blue language, and hacking coughs coming from the game in the dinette, our bedrooms comfortingly wreathed in cigarette smoke.” From here, he tells what should be a familiar story uniquely well—how the projects, one of the early triumphs of city governance, went from having a waiting list of 160,000 families to serving as a symbol of “the truly hopeless and disenfranchised.” —Dan Piepenbring

Editors are often asked to describe, in a word or two, what kind of fiction they like. I’ve never known what to say—but “low concept” would be a start. The less describable a novel is, the less it depends on a premise, the more apt I am to like it. This makes it hard for me to recommend Donald Antrim’s 1997 novel The Hundred Brothers. It really is about one hundred brothers (Phil, Angus, Walter, Virgil, Barry, Seamus, Arthur, and ninety-three more) who gather in the vast library of a crumbling estate to work out their sibling rivalries and put their father’s memory to rest. The strange thing about the book, or really, one of the many strange things about it, is how cinematic it is. It’s incredible that dozens of middle-aged white guys making small talk and waiting for cocktails could leap so vividly to life, in just two hundred pages, or descend so concretely into mayhem.  —Lorin Stein

Once this unseasonably warm weather comes to an end, I look forward to using my oven again. Treacle tart in particular holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first dessert I ever baked—which is fitting, because “Treacle,” by the Liverpudlian Paul Farley, is the first poem in recent memory to stick solidly in my mind. Farley has gained a steady following in the UK, but remains virtually unknown in America, where only one volume of his work has been published. This will come as a surprise when you hear him read this haunting poem. His appropriately chewy diction leaves me awed and disturbed; he describes that chilling moment when you “lever the lid” of a tin of treacle and “it opens with a sigh / and you’re face-to-face with history.” —Charles Shafaieh
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Go to Work on an Egg

September 22, 2014 | by

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Before she made a living as a novelist, Fay Weldon, who’s eighty-three today, was a copywriter “at O&M, a copy group head in charge of the Little Lion egg account, first-generation IBM computers, and goodness knows what else.” As she tells it, her crowning achievement there was the slogan “Vodka makes you drunker quicker”: “It just seemed to me to be obvious that people who wanted to get drunk fast needed to know this.” Her superiors disagreed—god knows why—and the motto never saw the light of day.

What did see the light of day is “Go to Work on an Egg,” a masterly double entendre that served as the catchphrase for the aptly named British Egg Marketing Board. Weldon managed the ad team that coined the phrase, and proof of her handiwork abounds. On YouTube you can find a series of “Go to Work on an Egg” meta-advertisements in which an increasingly indignant Tony Hancock—a famous British radio and TV personality—bemoans that his career has come to this. “Ladies and gentlemen, owing to the present state of the theatrical profession, I have with great reluctance been forced to accept a job as a supporting actor to a lady doing a commercial for eggs.” Read More »

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The Tragic Diary of a Lunar Rover, and Other News

January 30, 2014 | by

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From a NASA presentation slide, 1963. Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • “My masters discovered something abnormal with my mechanical control system … I might not survive this lunar night … I am not fearful … Goodnight, Earth … Goodnight, humanity.” In the heartrending tradition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” a Chinese lunar rover has live-blogged its own death.
  • Meanwhile, in Russia, a man was stabbed to death for having declared, to a very fervid admirer of verse, that “the only real literature is prose.”
  • There now exists a digital version of the Gough map, “one of the earliest maps to show Britain in a geographically recognizable form.” It dates between 1355 and 1366, when roads were a novelty. (Not that they aren’t today.)
  • If you’d planned on watching the Super Bowl “just for the ads,” you might be able to skip the game entirely: you can watch many of the ads ahead of time, because Capitalism Cares™. Now get out there and shop!
  • Under the cobblestones, the beach. Under Versailles, some magnificent subterranean reservoirs.

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Death of a Salesman

October 9, 2013 | by

Cal Worthington

Once called the “friend of every insomniac in Southern California,” Cal Worthington haunted the nether regions of broadcast programming for more than sixty years. Judging by the frequency of his appearances, their consistency, and their longevity, Worthington might have been the biggest television star in the history of the West. That makes him as much a deity as anything California culture has seen in its short history. But he wasn’t an actor or a journalist or a politician. His church was a chain of car dealerships and his prophesies a series of madcap advertisements. For better or worse, everyone who lived in Southern California had to reckon with him.

Worthington’s long-running series of self-produced spots never deviated from a formula. The slender cowboy—six foot four in beaver-skin Stetsons and a custom Nudie suit—always preceded his hyperactive sales pitch with a gambol through the lot of his Dodge dealership, accompanied by an escalating succession of exotic animals. Originally it was an ape, then a tiger, an elephant, a black bear, and, finally, Shamu, the killer whale from SeaWorld—each of which was invariably introduced as Cal’s dog, Spot. Not once did he appear with a canine. The banjo-propelled jingle (set to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”) exhorted listeners to “Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal,” a catchphrase that became the basis for the most infamous mondegreen in Golden State history. To this day, Pussycow remains a nostalgic code word exchanged among Californians who came of age in the era before emissions standards. Read More »

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Don’t Do It

September 24, 2013 | by

This Dewar’s ad uses words (well, some of them) from Charles Bukowski’s “so you want to be a writer?” While it is all very sweeping and epic and generally the most movingly crass blend of commerce and poetry since Walt Whitman started shilling for Levi’s, the voice actor (cleverly identified by Open Culture as one Tom O’Bedlam) sounds approximately zero percent like Bukowski. But no one can fault the marriage of subject and product. 

 

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