I Was A Mad Man: A Madison Avenue Memoir
Richard L. Gilbert
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When the Greatest Generation came marching home, they buckled right down to work. I WAS A MAD MAN is the story of one of those men.
Richard L. Gilbert, born in New York, devoted Giants fan in the cheap seats of Coogan's Bluff, CCNY grad, soldier, returned home in 1946. He needed a job. He found one in advertising. You don’t know his name (yet) but you'll recognize his work.
In a 40-year career Richard Gilbert and his intrepid staff of copywriters, designers and artists at Gilbert Advertising changed how Americans thought about fur coats, foreign languages, cars, perfume and the Vietnam War.
Gilbert Advertising wasn't the biggest shop on Madison Avenue but it was influential beyond its size. From encouraging the Metropolitan Opera to offer less than full season subscriptions (unheard of till 1971) in the Met's first ad campaign; to persuading people Renault had mended its ways (a Renault for the people who swore they’d never buy another); to tweaking the tail of the Russian Bear (Premier Kosygin, we'd like to give you a free tuxedo); London Fog rainwear; Berlitz Language school, and Club Med, Gilbert Advertising was the creator of iconic pop culture images that remain fresh and persuasive years later.
Along the way Richard Gilbert spearheaded the ad campaign that helped end the Vietnam War (The First American Ballot on the War; Some Toys Hate War) and helped litigate protection of commercial free speech. Armed only with a pencil, and the indomitable American can-do spirit, Richard Gilbert marched up Madison Avenue into history.
This is his story, and ours.
remarkable generosity, sent a deeply affectionate greeting. The personal history was a revelation. A big heart that belied professional avarice was beating under that peculiar white jacket. I took a nervous gamble. Perhaps some of that “sweet charity” might begin at home. “Jerry, I’m impressed with all that good work. I didn’t mean to take advantage. It was just an honest and unintentional mistake. I thought ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ was public property. Look, I’ll help design some
neighborhood ally must have done a good job of pre-selling because the Leifer partners were attentive and enthusiastic during the hiring interview. We were all on new ground. I didn’t have any clients (freelance didn’t count), and they had never worked with an advertising man or woman (at the time, the latter hardly ever advanced beyond reception). I was hired when I said I would personally handle the account (who else?) and assist with all store promotion. Now it would be incomprehensible
venture to rest. Five years later, in painful postscript, Annenberg Publishing in Philadelphia launched TV Guide, and the rest is history. Closing the page on publishing I read a piece in the trade journal Editor & Publisher on the anticipated growth of FM radio and talked myself into a job as a time salesman at WABF-FM. WABF was classical music station co-owned by Ira Hirschmann, an active community figure, and the Book-of-the-Month club. Ira was iron-willed and refractory when it came to
cancelled, because it featured an incredibly beautiful young model who died in Paris of a drug overdose. In the fall of 2002, the Metropolitan Museum of Art staged an Avedon retrospective that covered 180 images spread over twelve galleries. I congratulated Norma and she wrote, “Memories, memories, and Ritz a highlight.” At the end of 1973, Evan went back to free-lancing and his patented, dreamy driving. Roy and I stayed together for another six months, then separated. He joined Carl Ally
quizzical expressions. I had touched a nerve. I reviewed the presentation highlights. We replayed the musical theme building to a full-throated, up-volume, all-out finish. Then, borrowing from the creative, I said, “Bob, Buzz, Joe, Mike, Art—it’s your move.” A short time later, the paper did. Trade headlines announced, “N.Y. Daily News turns to Y&R.” The New York Times called me for a statement. It ran the following day. “There is no way a small agency, award and sales-winning it