Walter and Me...Sketchy thoughts on my good friend and client of fifteen years.
This is a recommendation I wrote for Walt, May, 2009. I thought it was pretty darnclever of me. Had I known that he was going through such apparent turmoil, I mightnot have been so glib. But indeed, this perfectly illustrates how our relationshipactually worked.• It’s ten pm on no particular evening and it is Walt on the phone asking me to help him concoct anew, fresh idea he needs by the end of the day tomorrow.• "Hey Walt, it is ten pm man, this better be good!"• He retorts, "Sorry man, I just got this idea and it is better than anything I have so far...it is perfectand youre the only one I trust to pull this off, you know!"• I reply,"Yeh man, I appreciate the compliment, but geez, it is late and how much is this great, newidea gonna cost, man.• "Hey,” he says, "Dont worry bout it, I gotcha covered man, you know I do!"• I reply, "Okay, okay, man, fax me the script... Walt, you owe me big time... again!"• Thats Walt Harris. Intense, dedicated to providing the best solutions to a clients need. No matterwhat it takes. You just have to respect someone that goes that extra mile, pushes the envelope.Hes a talented designer, adept storyteller and a crafty salesman. Hell, he sells me into striving forthe impossible just about every time he calls... And, more often than not, those insane momentsturn into great commercials.• Id recommend him in a second. Walt, it has always been pleasure.
It is not my intention, now, to highlight myaccomplishments through all the great art directors Ihave had the privilege to work with. Originally, I wasgoing use the assembled work to promote my talents.It is a strange coincidence that Walt Harris was one ofthe first art directors I plan to incorporate for thatpurpose. Believe me when I say, I have almost everypitch I ever worked on with Walt, in some form oranother. To add any more than I am showing here trulywould be only self–serving.And that is not my intention…
It was called Dancer, Fitzgerald, Sample…When I first came to what would eventually be called Saatchi, Ishowed my student portfolio to Gale Napier and Ron Wolin.Barron Storey gave me a host of his contacts when we graduatedfrom Art Center. About a year later, Gale was the first person tohire me for a storyboard though I don’t remember the details. Ilater did some work for Ron, but I don’t think it went to well. Ronand illustrator, Larry Salk, were SILA members and that’s how Igot my foot in to that door. I once brought my five or six year oldson to deliver a job and crusty, but lovable Katherine Johnsontook a liking to him. Though the dates are quite fuzzy, I am surethat that’s how I was introduced to Walt… through KatherineJohnson. I rarely worked in-house at the agency and never didfor Walt. Reading between the lines, I now have a betterunderstanding why.
Walt like big bosomed women…I can’t tell how many times we went over this. One time, in the pre dawnhours, I delivered a board for him and he was not happy with it becausethe babes weren’t buxom enough. There were three or four frames thathe had me changed the women on. He must have known me well enoughto know I’d not appreciate his cut and paste approach to making a “C” cupa “D” cup on my art work because he gave me the option to fix it.
A really good idea, at the time, to show the goanywhere ruggedness of the FourRunner.
These hikers, bosoms aside, realize theFour Runner can go where only hikers can.Toyota
Walt also liked the cinematic approach…I sometimes think Walt really wanted to be a filmdirector because in many of the scripts he had mecreate the look of a film noir movie. Although Ialways complained when he’d ask me to render thatway, it was only because he squeezed me with thedeadline. Actually, I rather enjoyed the lookbecause my style of working was conducive to dark,moody forms that hid my line work.Here’s one of my better interpretations to thescript…
Italian mafiaso types were used to represent theEuropean car companies in this commercialwhich actually ran on tv. Walt and I had prettygood success on tv. Japan was always pittingtheir product against the BMW’s, Porsches,Mercedes, Jags and Ferrari’s. This edited framedboard was introducing the new Toyota Celicawhich was totally redesigned and hot…Walt relished the role of the underdog…
It was a rare event when Walt requiredtight sketches from me…It kind of went like this. Walt would call me in to view a bunch ofvids from the movies, or samples sent to him by varioussuppliers and we’d kick it around. I don’t remember having toomany writers in these meetings. It was usually just Walt and meand my sketchpad. Walt rarely sketched his ideas for me, butpreferred to talk it out with the script in hand as I scribbled outthumbnails for his approval. When he did require more detaileddrawings before going to final, I knew it was only because hisbosses were somehow calling him out. Maybe, it was for his styleof presenting or not presenting an idea to the higher ups! But Icould tell. His usual bravado was a bit turned down a fewnotches. It only drove me more to help “cover his back” … andmine!
Another Script... for Previa.I believe the Previa Mini Van debut in ‘90/91. I should remember because I was so busy illustrating from scriptsthat I started to employ other artists. Some of the titles included concepts about the car’s handling in “StuntDriver”, it’s performance as a family car, “Family Car”, it’s safety features in, “Unexpected”, it’s revolutionarydesign in, “New Job” and it’s versatility as in, ”New Addition.” These titles were just Walter’s, but I was alsoservicing other art directors and their many concepts.
More Tight Beauty Shots…I also did tight renderings for brochure designs as well as print ads and, as in thisillustration, a double 5x7 storyboard frame. This is taken from a color xerox, which, atthe time, was all the rage. If I did not shoot slides of the work in my studio, this is all I’dhave to show for my efforts.
The “RAV4” is a crossover compact “SUV” that debut here in America in 1996.This is one of many print campaign ideas touting the uniqueness of the carand its owners.
Walt, stop asking me to make this…the best thing I’ve ever done!There were times when both of us were pretty stressed out! I believe it was in the late nineties. Becauseof Walt’s personality, he never led on that he was not under control, but it seemed every time we beganworking together, he’d tell me over the phone that he needed this board to be the best thing I’ve everdone. Many times, he’d just give me scripts and let me run with it. We were a team, of sorts! It was notlike he only used my services to help him produce a winner. Walt, with the many writers he workedwith, was pretty prolific and even with my hiring artists to assist me, I could not always keep up withhim.Maybe, he was starting to feel the pressure of the inner office politics. If I asked him about his status atSaatchi, he’d blow me off. Computers made it easier to stay at home to work and then, just email thework to the agency. So it wasn’t always necessary to come in and see Walt. But whenever I came in tosee him, he just didn’t look healthy to me. Early in the nineties, Gale Napier past away from a heartattack. Walt started to remind me of Gale and it was around that time that we all lost Ron Wolin, May2000?I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me that art directors were human and were susceptible tothose normal human frailties like… sickness and death.And, I don’t know why, but late one night when he called me to work the weekend, I had to tell him tostop expecting a new impossibility from me. At this point, I was really starting to feel responsible if theconcept I was working on for him, didn’t sell. I really could not make the frames any more sensual andphotographic than I had been making them in the time frame I was being allowed.
Possibly the last board I created for Walt at Saatchi…Actually, there were a few more in-house jobs that I worked on, but I couldn’t useour style. Another storyboard company came in and basically took over the artworkwhich was all done in-house and the agency wanted all one unified look for thepresentation. Although most of the artists were very qualified, Walt had to workwithin the factory line style to get his ideas visualized. I don’t think that it reallymattered to him at this point of his career. Being expected to conform to the newway of working wasn’t what I was interested in doing. Walt had to play the game…and I didn’t!
Making the most out of technology. Here’s six of twelveframes for a storyboard entitled, ”Mower.”
Walt’s loyalty was something I knew I could alwayscount on…In 2001, my wife and I cashed out of Southern California. I wasquite ambivalent about the departure, but it seem the mostprudent thing to do at the time. Before I left, I called some of mybest and most loyal clients to alert them of my move. Thecomputer had created new opportunities while wrecking otherones and one of those advantages was that I could workanywhere I chose and still make good art while meeting mydeadlines. I suppose by that time, Walt was already through withSaatchi and had moved over to Y&R in Irvine. I had a pretty goodworking relationship there already. When I called Walt to let himknow, he wished me well in our move and promised to call whenhe got some interesting projects. I did not hear from him forabout a year or so…
This is one of the first boards I did for Walt at Y&R/Irvine sometime in 2002. Ididn’t feel that Walt ever felt comfortable here in Irvine although he told meit was closer to home than Del Amo square. Here we tried to interject thatcinematic feel, but by now, with tighter budgets and less patient clients,every board seem to have four frames of storyline and the rest of the eightframes were running shots of the vehicle plus a logo frame.
In the period of over a year, I had acquired a few reps to help me keepmy name out and about, so I wasn’t in dire need of work, but I didwonder about some of my loyal clients and wondered if “out of sight,out of mind” was a reality for me!
“Benny Boy, how‘d you like to work with me on someLincoln Aviator scripts?”“Me and Richard Pass have a bunch of work we need comped and we actually have sometime on these ideas to cherry it up!” These are some of those concepts we put together forpresentation.
How appropriate that this board featuring my hometown, New Orleans was boughtand shown on prime time television. He was excited at the prospect of gettingtogether on Bourbon Street, but somehow, it never happened!It felt great to be back in the saddle again…
Walt and I worked sporadically in 2003 on the Lincoln Towncar andsold a couple of ideas, one in particular highlighting Senator RobertDole. But, in 2004, we barely worked together at all.
A few months after Hurricane Katrina, I visited SoCal just to let people know Isurvived. I made a point to visit Richard Pass, Elayna Rocha, Carolyn Clare,John Doyle and most importantly, Walt at Y&R/ Irvine.As sadly, it often happens, no one was there that I knew except Elayna and Walt. He looked as forlorn as I have everseen him. I offered to take him to lunch, but he said he had two AD’s under him and he needed to be there in case theyneeded some help. So, he took his pack of ciggies and a cup of coffee as we exited for a walk on the agency grounds.“Ben, he said, I’ve got these two guys working for me, but I can tell I’m being put out to pasture.” Those two guys don’tneed me to oversee their work! Whenever HR or a big wig is in the vicinity, I hide in the bathroom!”“It is only a matter of time, but I can’t afford to lose my job right now!”“How can you tell, Walt,” I asked.“Easy,” he said. “Nobody’s bought any of my ideas and now, there are meetings that I’m no longer a part of.”“Kinda like Jim Doyle’s scene, huh?” I said, acting like I had all the poop on what happen to him at Saatchi.We continued our walk and talked about the whereabouts of all the folks I hadn’t seen in years. Apparently, he hadn’tseen anyone either. He mentioned seeing Sherry Datwyler, who now was a freelance art director and a mother.“She’s still as cute and as hot as she ever was,” he quipped!After about twenty more awkward minutes, we shook hands and as we parted ways, I said to tell Sherry hello for me!I never saw Walt, ever again though I did hear from him again just one more time.
I called Walt a couple more times when I returned toSoCal with the U. S. Air Force Art Program in 2008…I can’t even remember if I got a voicemail. I had Carolyn Clare’s number and spoke to her about Walt’swhereabouts, but she did not have any viable information. When I left him back in ‘06, his spirits were prettydown, but I had faith that he’d bounce back just one more time.Being a freelance “hired gun,” you never really get to know well all the great people you work for and with. Theyare the people you bust your ass with to reach a common goal but when those horrendous deadlines are met, theyand you are headed for home…till the next time! I knew he had triplets because he always made jokes about his“virility!” I don’t believe I’ve ever met Randaleigh, his wife, though I’ve seen pictures of her and the triplets in hisoffice! That’s pretty sad! There’s seldom any time to just chit-chat, so you really don’t get to know too well thepeople you share these stressful days with.I’ve worked with Walt for almost twenty years, off and on, and now I’m told that he is no longer with us here onearth. I found out about Walt’s passing about two weeks ago from Al Abbott, who is someone I’ve known foralmost as long as I knew Walt. Upon further investigation, I read that the last two years of his life was not verypleasant. I’ve yet to find out why his last years weren’t good for him, but regardless, there is a giant whole in myheart. I wish I could have been of some assistance or comfort for the big lug! I don’t know, had I known somethingwas wrong, I would have tried to fly back into SoCal ( I was just there at Christmas 2012! ) and spend some of thattime that was lost so long ago.The last time I spoke to Walt was in 2009. He called me to tell me that he was working at an agency in Detroit andwanted me to recommend him on Linkedin. I told him that I was flattered that he’d ask! I also teased him byasking, “More cars, dude? You still doing cars? Well, you know who’s the best “sheet metal “ guy around! Just callme if you need any help!”God, we were always so damn busy…
Just wanna say thanks to all my Saatchi friends.You will always be in my heart, mind and soul…Thanks to: Walt Harris, Terry Belagia, Jennifer Phillips, Virginia Witt, Al Abbott,Eric Gardner, Steve Wilson, Jim Doyle, Kevin Murphy, Sherry Datwyler, PatPellicano, Katherine Johnson, Eileen Turpin, Ron Wolin, Gale Napier, Doug VanAndel, Joe McDonagh, John Alexander, Dennis Millette, David Tanimoto, andLeo Circo, for being a part of my life.Those days and the people I’ve met and worked with during those years atSaatchi will always be special to me. Like Ron, Gale and Walt Harris, I maynever see any of these colleagues again, but I will always have thosememories: the good, the bad, the ugly, the funny, the crazy, the stressful andthe artistic.