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Book Review: From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor: Front-Line Dispatches from the Advertising War by Jerry Della Femina, Edited by Charles Sopkin

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Likely due in great part to the success of AMC’s Mad Men, Jerry Della Femina’s 1970 best-selling book about Madison Avenue has been reprinted by Simon & Schuster and the publishing company is playing up the connection. There’s a quote from creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner on the back cover, GQ states it’s “one of the key texts for Mad Men” with the series title in a slightly larger font on the front to catch the eye, and the colors and style of the cover artwork are similar to the opening credit sequence.

Starting as “a sixteen-year-old mail boy at Ruthrauff & Ryan,” Femina went on to form his own agency in 1967. Since the book went to print in October 1969, he was involved with very popular ad campaigns involving Meow Mix’s Singing Cat, which debuted in the early ’70s, and Japanese automaker Isuzu in the late ’80s, featuring the fictional spokesman and pathological liar Joe Isuzu. The book’s title is a joke slogan Femina came up with while working on the Panasonic account and illustrates the sense of humor he brings to the book.

Femina tells a great many interesting stories (to ghostwriter New York Times journalist Charles Sopkin) about different aspects of the advertising business, during his time in the ’60s and from even earlier. He admits to using pseudonyms, but guarantees in the introduction that “99 44/100 per cent of the names, agencies and situations are real.” Not that it would matter much in 2010, but it may have been beneficial back then for people like Herb from the Delehanty agency. He asked for a raise so he could move his girlfriend in, who would wake him, ensuring he got to work on time. When Femina asked if he had ever heard of an alarm clock, a device a great many still use to this day to wake up, Herb responded, “Did you ever try to fuck an alarm clock?”

While those who have worked in an office setting as well as readers of Dilbert will recognize the archetypes of disconnected bosses, befuddled upper-management, and a myriad of co-workers who range from those clueless about their job to those cunning enough to do as little as possible and even some who appear a little bit crazy, what makes advertising such a fertile ground for conflict is the combination of left-brain, creative types working with right-brain, business types.

Femina’s From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor is a great time capsule and makes for an enjoyable read. It can be digested in small pieces or large chunks and never gets too “inside baseball” for those that don’t know the industry.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • Greg Barbrick

    I have been curious about this, gonna have to check it out.