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Who's in the Video
George Lois is a pioneering advertising executive and designer best known for a series of covers he created for Esquire magazine between 1962 and 1972 (some of which were featured[…]

The ’60s “was the most heroic age in media communications since the twelve apostles,” but the AMC show doesn’t really get it.

Question: How did you get into advertising?

Georgern Lois: Well, I started in advertising, after the High School of rnMusic and Art, that was all, that was basically my graphic arts rntraining, as far as I'm concerned, it was, you know, it was four rnincredible years.  I then went to Pratt Institute and I met my future rnwife that first day of school, and I was nuts about her. And I realized rnafter one or two, after a week of Pratt that they weren't anywhere near rnas the High School of Music and Art, but I stuck it out, because I rnwasn't about to leave her.  And I went through the first year and then rnthe second year, I didn't quite know what to do, and I knew the school rnwas so awful.  But I went to my first classes at the second year, and rnagain, I ran into another great mentor, a teacher by the name of rnHerschel Levit, and he looked at my, and he saw what I did for him and rnhe said, "George, why are you, why are you in school?"  And I said, "I'mrn trying to make a living, you know?"  And he said, "No, no, get out of rnhere, you're not going to learn any more here," and he gave me a piece rnof paper with a woman's name—a woman art director, which was very uniquern back then—who had an art studio, and she sent me to him the next, and Irn went there the next morning and I left school in the, in my second, rnbefore my, actually my second year started.  And she did promotion and rnadvertising, et cetera, it was a great, great first job because she was arn superb designer. What happened was I lost my exemption in the army, it rnwas during the Korean War, and I got drafted and wound up going to rnKorea, came back alive... and she wanted me to be a partner with her, rnand I didn't want to.  And she said, "What do you want to do?"  "I rnreally want to work at CBS Television," because it was a really dynamic rntime in corporate imagery and corporate design with the great Bill rnGolden at the head of it, they had just done the CBS eye, et cetera.  Sorn I went in at CBS and it was incredible atelier of design and rnadvertising.  But somehow, it wasn't the big, it wasn't the big time rnadvertising, you know, worked on products, et cetera.

And from rnthere, and so I left there, you know, and Bill Golden said to me in '53 rnor '54, whatever it was, '54, "George, you can't go out there, it's a rnworld of, the ad world is terrible, they're all Philistines, they're allrn hacks."  And he was right, you know, he said, "You're not going to be rnhappy there, they're not going to appreciate your talent."  And I said, rn"Well, I," well, somehow, something drove me to do it, and ... the job Irn went to was pretty awful, and a lot of stories... seemingly apocryphal rnbut actually true... when I kind of acted up in my first agency and rnoverturned a desk, etc., did some kind of crazy stuff.

After thatrn I went, and I worked with some of the great, other great pioneers in rnadvertising, and advertising designer, Herb Lubalin and I worked, then Irn went to Doyle Dane Bernbach and worked for Bill Bernbach and Bob Gage. rn And again, I did something insane: I left Doyle Dane, I went to Bill rnBernbach and I told him I was leaving to start the second creative rnagency in the world, because Bill Bernbach had started the only creativern agency in the world.  And the reason he started it, it was based on thern fact that he had worked with Paul Rand early in his career and somehow rnhe understood that if you worked with good, terrific graphic designer, rnespecially one who was prolific and could write like Paul Rand, that yourn could do better advertising if you worked, if the art director could rnwork, could conceive advertising with the writer... up to that time, rnbasically all advertising was, the art director sat in his room with hisrn thumb up his ass and waited for the creative director, for the rncopywriter to come in and throw him a piece of paper and say, "Make a rnlayout."  You know, "Lay this out," and the layouts were, you know, rnthese typical, awful, you know, unambitious layouts.

So I left rnDoyle Dane Bernbach and when I left Doyle Dane Bernbach, Bill Bernbach rnsaid to me, "George, you don't know what's out there."  You know, the rnthey could, and he literally said that Doyle Dane Bernbach was basicallyrn a creative freak, that somehow they were miraculous, a group of people rnthat somehow together could forget a great advertising, and it couldn't rnhappen again, not in this Philistine world.  But I started an agency rncalled Papert, Koenig, Lois, with two writers actually, and we were rnsuccessful almost immediately, almost immediately.  And then after a rncouple, one, two, or three years, coming out of my agency were two otherrn agencies, you know, Carl Ally and a guy named [...] and then another rnguy left my agency and started, went into business with Mary Wells and rnstarted, Wells Rich Greene, and before you knew it, by the mid '60's, rnyou know, I realized that I had triggered, with starting that second rncreative agency, I had triggered something called the creative rnrevolution in advertising.  And it became the golden age of advertising,rn I mean, the '60's and '70's, basically was the golden age of rnadvertising, in advertising.

Question:  How true is thern show "Mad Men" to the atmosphere back then?

George Lois:rn The producers of "Mad Men," you know, think I hate their show, which isrn true.  You know, when they first started the show, before it premiered,rn I got a call from one of the producers and he said, "You know, we're rnlooking at, we're shooting, we're doing little spots with the people whorn were the original 'mad men,'" he said, "Of the period.  And, you know, rnwe're shooting it," and he named four, five, or six people. I had never rnheard of a couple of them.  "And whoever we talk to mentions your rnname."  I said, "Time out.  You're doing a show on the advertising of rnthe '60's and you never heard my name?"  He said, "Oh, no, we've heard rnyour name."  I said, "Bullshit, you never heard my name."  "Well, rnokay."  I said, "If you want to know what happened in the '60's, if you rnwant a real understanding of what happened in the '60's, I did a book inrn 1972 called 'George Be Careful.'" Which is basically, you know, my rnstory about growing up in New York and, you know, growing up in the New rnYork School of Design, I became one of the wunderkinds of the New York rnSchool of Design, and how I started, you know, the second creative rnagency in the world and how that became the creative... it's all about rnthe '60's, etc."  And I called it "George Be Careful" because when I wasrn a kid, you know, I remember the hand of God coming into my bedroom, yourn know, it was Michelangelo’s hand, and it said, "George, be careful," rnand my mother, my mother told me, that George, all my life, my mother rntold me "Be careful." My father, my sisters, my coaches in sports, you rnknow, my, when I went into the army they're telling me to be careful.  rnAnd then when you go into advertising, that's when everybody tells you rnto be careful, you know?  Anything, you know, anything unusual, anythingrn over the top, anything edgy, you can't do that.  So "George, Be rnCareful" was my anti-slogan.  "And if you wanted to know anything about rnthe advertising of the '60's and the advertising world of the '60's, rnread that book.  Goodbye."  You know, and was saying fuck you... and he rncalled me back a couple days later, I had told him to go get the book atrn Amazon because it was out of print.  He called me up a couple days rnlater and he says, "Oh, Jesus, wow, we could have done the show on rnthat!"  I said, "No, shit," you know, because that was the '60's, rnanybody who knows anything about the media world, anything, you know, rnanything about it, when you mention the '60's and you mention rnadvertising in the '60's, they don't think, now they think of "Mad Men,"rn of that dumb show.  Before that they thought of it as a heroic age, of rnreally, of the age that I was talking about, about... leaving Doyle Danern Bernbach was a giant part of it obviously, and then with another three rnor four agencies after that kind of came out of my agency, that was the rnmost heroic age in media communications since the twelve apostles.

Recorded April 5, 2010.