If Wells, Rich, Greene was a hotbed of creative talent, it was also a volcano of raging hormones.
Everywhere you looked, there were beautiful people roaming the halls of our glamorous Billy Baldwin styled offices in the GM building overlooking Central Park.
You could hardly turn a corner at the agency without bumping into another sexual fantasy. The sweaters were tight and the miniskirts were so skimpy, if a secretary bent down, you could see all the way to Cleveland.
We were living in a very publicized age of sexual freedom. The Viet Nam war was in full swing and every young man had a number on his back.
If that number was called by the draft board, we could be plucked out of our careers and forced to fight, and possibly die, halfway around the world in an insane and senseless war. So, an attitude of “live for now because who knows if we’ll be here tomorrow” was pervasive.
Recreational drugs and alcohol helped fuel the new found feelings of freedom. Smoke a little grass, drink a little wine, feel a little creative, make a little love! And so, at Wells, Rich, Greene, lots of young single people were getting into some healthy sexual experimentation. And not to be denied, many of the married guys were letting their hair — and their wives — down, too.
Art directors and copywriters who came from humble beginnings in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and who had married their high school sweethearts, were suddenly immersed in the glamorous world of sexy models, out of town shoots and decadent film production parties into the wee hours of the morning.
As a result, there were bitter breakups. For awhile, I worked with an art director named Kenny who grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Over the course of a year, I saw him change from a nice mensch-y guy into a self-impressed ladies man who started to believe his own bullshit. He divorced his high school sweetheart and left her and his two little kids for a skinnyminny Ford model. “I can’t believe it, Howie, she’s gorgeous and she loves me!”
Six months later, she left him for a fashion photographer with a big studio, a large bank account and really good drugs. There were lots of guys like Kenny and they came from every side of the business.
As a friend said to me at the time, “Howie, everybody’s doing everybody.” Account executives were dating producers, copywriters were romancing secretaries, art directors were falling for media people, and then it was — everybody change partners and start all over again.
One of my friends at the agency was a talented copywriter named Timothy. He was a Brit — tall, dark and dapper — and he always dressed in sleek dark suits so he looked far more elegant than the rest of us who were growing our first beards and wearing clothes inspired by Sargent Pepper. Timothy had a thick English accent which was a real turn on for the ladies and which he played up for all it was worth. So, he always had plenty of women.
He also had a rule of never taking out any woman more than three times. The first time was all about wild passionate sex and the thrill of discovery. (In those days, everyone did it on the first date.) The second time was about experimentation and expanding your sexual horizons.
And the third time was the “je regret” moment when Timothy would present the lady with one perfect red rose as part of a sad and romantic farewell. Timothy was classy that way. I can assure you that no Jews or Italians from Brooklyn were giving girls roses.
One day, Timothy and I were having lunch and after about the third martini, he began to let his hair down. “You know I’ve been dating Linda” he said. “Yes, everybody knows” I said. “But did you know we’ve been seeing each other for three months?” “Really?” I said. “Wow, what happened to the three date rule?” “This is different.” he said. “Howie, I think I’m falling in love with her. Which is why I’m so upset.” “What do you mean?” I asked.
He said, “I thought Linda was different from the others, you know? I mean, she’s really smart, she’s great in bed, and she makes me laugh.” “Laughter is good.” I said, “Sex is easy, but a good laugh is hard to find. So what’s the problem?”
“Well, just when I was about to bare my soul to her, I found out she was screwing that guy Walter in the mail room!” “Walter?” I said. “The fat sweaty guy?” “Exactly” he said. “So what does that say about Linda…and what does that say about our relationship?” I was beginning to see his point.
“I don’t know what to do about it.” he said. “I’m good at sex, but I’m not very good at this love thing.” “Why don’t you have a long talk with her” I suggested. “Tell her how you really feel. Maybe she’s just screwing around because she thinks you’re not serious…like, your relationship won’t go anywhere, so she has to keep her options open.”
Timothy had a different approach. “I’m going to ask out her best friend Carla and “f” the crap out of her.” It’ll make Linda jealous as hell.”
“Timothy” I said, “That sounds like a really bad idea. I think you’re just going to drive her away. Don’t be an idiot!” But he was confident he had the right strategy. Piss her off to win her over. It was clear to me that his relationship with Linda was about to be history.
Meanwhile, the promiscuity at Wells, Rich, Greene was becoming common knowledge and the word had reached the highest levels. One day, a guy named Hank, who had a reputation for being an agency spy and a snitch with direct lines to Mary Wells, popped into my office. Bob Pasqualina and I were sitting there working on a new TV spot when Hank closed the door and pulled up a seat. We dropped what we were doing.
“Gentlemen” Hank said. (Did he say gentlemen? This must be really serious.) “I’m going from office to office. It’s going to take me all day and maybe all day tomorrow, too. But this is very serious. I’ve been asked to relay this message to everyone in the agency. It’s a personal message from Mary Wells herself, and I quote:
“Do not dip your quill in the company ink.”
It couldn’t have been more clear or more powerful. Screw around with agency people and you’re gone! Everyone got the message and, all of a sudden, everyone became more discreet. I know the sexual activity didn’t stop, but it definitely went underground. We no longer knew who was doing who, or where, or when, or how many times.
As for Timothy, he might have had the right strategy after all. That year, he married Linda.
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