Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Wrath of Frank

I've decided to go thematic this week. Yesterday I wrote about the passing of Kenneth Mars, a great comic actor I had worked with a long time ago. Today, we turn our attention to Ricardo Montleban (he's the one in the middle). I don't know the other two gents, but I believe one of them is an unknown Facebook friend (there's an oxymoron).

Before Fantasy Island and the iconic Star Trek movies, Mr. Montleban enjoyed huge commercial success as a spokesman for Chrysler. Most of you are too young to remember his days hawking "rich Corinthian leather" -- which by the way is pure Madison Avenue trickery. There never was a country of Corinthia, nor any cows endowed with buttery smooth hides.

Nevertheless, the Southern California Chrysler Dealers imagined translating that national acclaim into huge success at the retail level and signed Mr. Montleban on to pound some sheet metal for their cheesy tent sales. And I was the lucky young writer to make that magic happen.

Before any writing started, Ricardo and I went out to dinner. We lunched by his pool in Bel Air. And we bonded. Though I must say he was always more interested in our female producer than discussing any details of the campaign.

Of course, before any campaign gets committed to celluloid it has to get approved by the Dealer Council Board.

(Spoiler Alert -- I'm about to recount a story I've told on this forum before, but it's so indicative of the ad business today, as it was 20 years ago, it bears repeating)

Having written a slew of spots that answered all the dealers needs and incorporated Mr. Montleban's unique charming delivery it was time to present the work. 25 Chrysler Plymouth dealers from Ventura to San Diego gathered at the Downtown Athletic Club in Los Angeles. With storyboards in hand, the entire team from Bozell arrived to meet them. I was told to wear a suit. That never happens in advertising and gives you an idea of the crucial nature of this presentation.

I greeted these self-made millionaires, with their polyester jackets and their 9 AM bourbon breath, and assured them they were in for a treat. Then I calmed my nerves and single-handedly walked them through 5 campaigns of what I considered to be advertising gold.

When it was over, the room was silent. If you've ever sat in a room full of car dealers, you know that was quite an accomplishment. I figured I had put so much good work on the table they were simply awestruck and unable to choose one they liked more than the other.

Then Frank, a 50-ish year old man with a plaid jacket that matched the plaid complexion of his skin, stood up and turned to his colleagues, "I don't know about the rest of you assholes, but I'm not putting a dime of my money into any of this shit."

The room went silent again. But not for long. Before I could even recover from such a stinging indictment, the room erupted in a flurry of unfiltered, unabashed trashing of the work. As if the creator (me) were not even sitting there in a freshly pressed funeral/wedding/bar mitzvah suit.

Mr. Montleban called me later that afternoon.

R.M.: Are we shooting next Thursday?

Me: Maybe two months from Thursday.

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