The advertising show, Mad Men, has captured the imagination of the world.
“Was it like that?” is a question I’m asked just about every day. The answer is no—it was far wilder and a lot more fun.
We were a bunch of wild kids, Jewish and Italian, who suddenly realized that we were going to be paid more money every year, just for writing and art-directing ads and commercials, than we had ever dreamed we would make in a lifetime.
It was winter 1962. The advertising agency was Daniel & Charles. It was about 10 p.m. (the middle of the day for our creative department). A bunch of us in our early twenties who had never really gone away to college had turned the agency into a frat house. There was Burt Klein (who was far more handsome than Don Draper), Bill Arzonetti, Evan Stark, Bob Tore, Mike Lawlor and I, and we were pretending to work because for various and sundry reasons none of us wanted to go home.
We would sit and talk about advertising. We would come up with ads for accounts we never would have. We would talk about winning awards for ads we never would do. We laughed a lot. The only person who wasn’t an art director or a copywriter whom we would allow into the group was a scrawny dark Italian kid who worked in the studio.
His name was Julio DiIorio. Why did we accept Julio? Fear! For one thing, he was Italian, and he used a razor blade to cut boards in the bullpen as though he was born with it in his hands. He was funny and fearless and, yes, he was very talented. I once said that if Julio didn’t OD or wind up with cirrhosis of the liver by the age of 25 he was going to be one hell of an art director.
One night we got into a water fight, which was an adolescent thing to do, except being an adolescent is a step up when the world considers you a baby. After the water fight, I went into one of the offices and locked the door and proceeded to call a friend of mine, when suddenly there was an incredible banging on the door. “Who’s there?” I called out.
“Julio! Let me in.”
Since Julio was the last guy I hit with a cup full of water before I had locked myself in the office, my answer was, “No way!”
“I’m coming in. Your water just ruined an ad I was working on for the last two hours,” was Julio’s response. This called for some delicate handling on my part.
“Screw you,” I called out. (That’s not actually what I called out, but it will have to do for this family newspaper.)
“I’m coming in!” Julio laughed that maniacal laugh of his. Never at a loss for words, I said, “Screw you” again.
“Okay,” Julio replied, “this is war.”
Being very clever with words (I’m a copywriter, you know), I once again said, “Screw you.”
Julio was gone for 10 minutes. When he returned to the door, he yelled, “Are you going to let me in?” You can imagine my answer. Suddenly a heavy stream of water came in from under the door and started to drench the floor of the tiny office.
“What are you going to do – drown me?” I laughed. The water was now running over my shoes so I lifted my feet. There was a funny smell in the room.
“This is your last chance!” he yelled.
“Then what?” I laughed.
“Then this,” he said. Well, you might have guessed that the water wasn’t water. It was flammable rubber cement thinner.
Julio lit the thinner on his side of the door and the flame came under the door and into the room in a flash. All of a sudden I was surrounded by fire. I jumped straight up into the air. I looked like the Road Runner cartoon.
The door was opened in a half-second, and I came out with my shoes smoking and my cuffs singed. Julio was laughing hysterically. I started to laugh, too. You’ve got to love a guy who knows you never make a point with water when fire will do.
I got my revenge a few years later. No one dressed worse than Julio, with the possible exception of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. Julio always looked like he was put together by the fashion editor of Field and Stream. I have seen derelicts fishing in garbage bins for empty Pepsi cans who looked like the model of sartorial splendor compared to Julio.
I hadn’t seen Julio for a few years when I was walking on Madison Avenue one day and I spotted him walking towards me. He was about 50 feet away. When he saw me, he stopped in his tracks, smiled, and put out his hand as I approached him. Without missing a step, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a quarter. When I got to Julio, I dropped the quarter into his outstretched hand and kept walking past him. I was 10 feet away when I heard Julio call after me, “God bless you, sir.” I kept going and laughed for the next three blocks.
Sadly, Julio is gone. So is Burt Klein and Bill Arzonetti. There’s a great funny movie or a television series about our old gang.
Someday I plan to write it.
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