Thursday, January 26, 2012
Bruce Lee and how I got my start in advertising
Last week the trailer for an upcoming movie called I Am Bruce Lee hit the Internet with all its fury. Seeing the trailer reminded me how Bruce Lee played an instrumental part in my career.
The year was...let's just say it was long time ago.
I was working as a short order cook at a cafe that was inside a health club on Overland Ave. As health clubs go, it was pretty swanky. It had an outdoor pool, 8 tennis courts and its very own restaurant. It also had a very affluent clientele.
During my much more social youth I would easily strike up a conversation with anybody. And so it was I got to know Michael Allin, a fellow New Yorker who had transplanted himself on the West Coast and was making a living as a screenwriter. In fact, he is the writer given sole credit on the now-iconic film, Enter the Dragon.
You can imagine how excited I, a newly-minted college graduate, was to meet a real live screenwriter.
Moreover Michael was a real nice fellow, void of any Hollywood pretension. He could see that I was underemployed and encouraged me with my writing pursuits. In fact, he said, his wife was once married to Mel Newhoff, President of Abert, Newhoff & Burr, a very successful ad agency in Century City. Michael offered to set up a meeting.
Within days -- you have to remember this was time before cell phones and emails -- I had an interview set up the Creative Director. Of course, like an idiot I showed up without a portfolio in hand. But the former Mrs. Newhoff had good taste in men, and Mel was a sweetheart. He told me how and what I'd have to do to get a job as a young copywriter.
A few years after that interview, Mel actually hired me.
My first office looked like a set from Mad Men. I literally thought the HR people had made a mistake. It had a big wooden desk. A new typewriter. A couch and a coffee table. Plus floor-to-ceiling windows that looked west from 18 stories high, giving me a five star view of the Santa Monica Bay.
Sadly, not unlike Bruce Lee's life, the era of lavish living for agency creatives ended way too soon. My next office was half the size and had a view of the parking lot.
It's been windowless interior offices and Initech-like cubicles ever since.