Thursday, July 16, 2015

Frank Furlong: "... the most fulfilling work of my time in commercial art."

Frank Furlong was a young illustrator in Detroit during the mid-20th century when that city, fueled on high-octane auto industry dollars, was as much an epicenter of advertising art as New York. Previously Frank described his departure from Detroit and what came next. Today, the conclusion of the story... ~ Leif Peng

Frank writes...

"Word got around and an old rep from Detroit called from L.A. wanting my reel as old clients from Detroit had moved on to various cities and expressed an interest in what I was doing. So work started coming from L.A. and I started flying back and forth, still getting work in Dallas. I landed a 20 minute film for the Southern Baptists of "David and Goliath." This was major work in that market and gave me a chance to use Jack Unruh as a stylist. Turned out the Baptists didn't want me playing fast and loose with their idea of the showdown. No suspense, no drama. It was pretty... but dull. Fortunately I still have one of Jack's BGs... magnificent. It was about this time that Peggy Lee was singing "Is that all there is?" - and I felt the same. So we moved on again."


"Feel free to envy me in that for a couple years Tex Avery and I were the animation department for a commercial production house here in L.A."


"Tex's hands were pretty much crippled by arthritis so he was more a teacher than anything else. At meetings with clients he came up with gloriously funny bits but unfortunately most all of them wanted harder sell so I wound up directing the commercials, with Tex as an adviser. Thank God."


"I fear most of the animation I see where people are trying to emulate Tex really misses the point. He wasn't just speed, he was timing and humor. I remember one such attempt with the resultant comment from Tex that he didn't mind people stealing his stuff, he just wished they'd get it right."


"Tex never understood his place on the Pantheon and was stumped when fans from all over the world showed up wanting to meet him. One of my favorite memories in this end of the biz was directing a spot that called for a female shopper walking away from the camera at it's end. I was not an animator (I kinda backed into it from designing characters and BGs) but, with Tex at hand, I knew what I wanted and was unable to get it from a couple really good people so I tried my hand. When I showed Tex the pencil test his reaction was "Furlong, that's the worst animation I've ever seen. I love it!"


"To Tex it was the gag uber alles. Different from Disney he couldn't have been."


"I worked animation for almost 40 years and I've got to admit it was the most fulfilling work of my time in commercial art, but I never again found the atmosphere I enjoyed with other artists that makes Detroit's glory days unforgettable. Before I wrap up I want to make sure I didn't leave the wrong impression, by maybe concentrating on the fun and love of my time. It was work. And it was hard work. It was frustrating and fulfilling. I feel privileged to have been part of it."

To see Frank's recent work, please visit

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Frank Furlong: "Goodbye Lions and Hello Cowboys."

Frank Furlong was a young illustrator in Detroit during the mid-20th century when that city, feuled on high-octane auto industry dollars, was as much an epicenter of advertising art as New York. Previously Frank talked about the illustrator's life in Detroit, including freelancing, studios and art reps. The story continues... ~ Leif Peng

Frank writes...

"After we had become parents my wife and I decided to take a break and go off to Toronto. Far away places with strange sounding names. We were nothin' if not adventurous. But while we were still in the planning stage my car was totalled while parked. So needing a new car and now being a family man I bought a station wagon and it being air conditioned it made little sense to drive a car with AC north. So we headed south."


"I wanted to stop at Contemporary Cards in Kansas City and for reasons I still can't fathom I had representation in Oklahoma City so the trip that far was a business trip. We were curious as to what Texas was like and I wanted to meet Jack Unruh and Tom Bailey, whose work I had seen in the Illustrator's Annuals, so further south we went."

(Above: a Jack Unruh illustration for Ling-Temco-Vaught Inc, reprinted in Illustrators 10, 1968)

"I had brought along my samples so they wouldn't think I was just some yahoo, but a bona fide working yahoo (speaking of bona fides I hope you've looked up Frank to see I'm not just some long winded wannabe) and in lunches and drinks and such with them and Bart Forbes I was encouraged to show my wares to a film studio there in Dallas that wanted to branch out to print work. Keitz and Herndon offered me a pretty good raise but I didn't jump at it 'cause Detroit was my hometown, my home, my town."

Larry Herndon (l.) and Rod Keitz
(Above: Larry Herndon (L) and Rod Keitz) © Amid Amidi

My first job back was for an Art Director named Dallas Goes (really) and one night I got a call from K&H telling me I had to see a film by Saul Bass, "Why Man Creates" and, and this is gospel truth, sitting down to watch PBS with my wife on comes "Why Man Creates."

Okay God, I got the word. So the house goes up for sale and it was Goodbye Lions and Hello Cowboys.

"You asked for a chronology of time working in Detroit, and as best I can remember it was sorta like this:

I hit the bricks from school in the summer of '56 so let's give the first year to MDM and Allied Artists, both shorter than I'd hoped for.
So that puts me with Ivan T. Smith for two years, let's say '57 to '59 and Fairchild/Groeneveld for "59 to '61, New Center Studios from '61 to '64 and finally, Advertising Illustration from some time in '64 to my exit late in '68. And you can see how important I was to the biz 'cause shortly after I left, Detroit went to hell in a handbasket."


"Dallas was a pretty good time but the print work didn't really happen to the extent I had hoped for, but... K&H put me to work doing a lot of BGs and doing character design and eventually I even directed a couple lesser commercials."

"One thing led to another and it all led to me breaking off on my own, with a couple clients. One of them had Rice-A-Roni as his client and I wound up doing a couple cartoon opera commercials for Golden Grain spaghetti, still among my favorite jobs."

"An animator, a new friend, saw those thru production and he came in more than handy real quick. An agency in town wanted me to design 12 spots in 12 different styles. Now all that experimenting with styles paid off and I was one happy man. After I designed them the AD asked if I could produce them and I, in total ignorance, said sure. Now that new friend and his friends really saved my hide. As a result I had an education and a reel."

Concluded tomorrow.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Frank Furlong on Fuchs, Freelancing, Reps and the Detroit Graphic Artists Guild

Frank Furlong was a young illustrator in Detroit during the mid-20th century when that city, fueled on high-octane auto industry dollars, was as much an epicenter of advertising art as New York. Yesterday we heard about how Frank began establishing his career, and the camaraderie among Detroit's illustration community. The story continues... ~ Leif Peng


Frank writes...

"If it weren't for Ardy [Kazarozian] trying to convince me I'm not sure I would have believed there really was a Bernie Fuchs. I was a believer that he was just a boogyman created by clients to scare us all. As my other reports have said we were a pretty social bunch in Detroit. But I never met, never even saw a Bernie Fuchs. He was always 23 years old, was missing more and more fingers and was faster than a speeding bullet, never had a job bounce. Gimme a break!"


"Unknowns who deserve credit for so much great art were the 'pencilers'. Photos of the cars would come in the door and the penciler would start his magic, cutting apart stats and reconstructing the car to be lower and longer, then scoring his reworked car onto illustration board with a 9h pencil, so the man who painted the car (a different artist than the one who did the figures and backgrounds) could actually feel the drawing with his brush. This drawing had to not just pass muster with the AD but also with persnickety engineers at the client car company. And just how fussy they were staggers the mind. But none of the ads, wonderful as they were, would have made it to the printer but for The Unknown Penciler. And don't you dare put a figure in front of their work!"


"Freelance work in Detroit was called "sore legging', and my guess is because you had to do all your own running around involved in getting, producing and delivering work. And as for competing with reps -- it couldn't be done. They had persistence and expense accounts. My last boss, a rep, had a reputation that when he asked a client out for a meal they packed a bag. His theory was that every rep took his clients to the same expensive restaurants where they'd see just about every other rep and would never remember who took them there last. So he'd hire a small plane and fly his clients off to wondrous locales. He didn't do it often but when you were asked out for a meal you'd remember it. We had one free lancer in town, a pretty well known guy named Art Radebaugh, who had his studio in a van-type vehicle and he'd bring his studio to the client. But most everybody found it so much easier and more profitable to align with a studio."


"One thing I've been remiss in not mentioning before, and it was a really important thing in the history of the biz. The Detroit Graphic Artist's Guild. The artists had decided that it was true "workers wise unionize". I'm more than a little proud that I was one of the original signers on. But then Button Gwinnett was one of the signers of the Declaration Of Independence and who remembers him? JOHN HANCOCK, sure. But old Button? Nehhh."


"One of the things I feel honored by was that the first anniversary edition of our magazine had the cover art done by your's truly and I had an article inside, along with three or four cartoon spots.(okay, so I'm bragging)"


"The idea of a union came about because the end of the stick the artists were getting grew shorter and shorter. The budgets got smaller and smaller and "90 days same as cash" became the standard. But I think the bit that stopped the stampede of the lemmings was "spec', everybody expected to contribute art for free. As I mentioned before I was happy doing KMAs (pro bono?) and had found a studio that paid me whether or not they were paid for my work. So 'spec' didn't affect me outside of feeling this was a con job most of the time."


"The agencies seemed to have come up with the notion that all would be willing to contribute art for their bids for new campaigns or new clients by "If you do this one for free you'll get the entire campaign", an idea that's hard to sell after a few times. I was not alone in loving the chance to do artwork but there comes a time when you feel you're being had. And too many had come to that feeling and, as we were a pretty social set, the feeling gained momentum and VOILA! The GAG!"


To be continued...

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

"We're selling Fords, not Furlongs."

Frank Furlong was a young illustrator in Detroit during the mid-20th century when that city, fueled on high-octane auto industry dollars, was as much an epicenter of advertising art as New York.


Yesterday Frank recounted his earliest experiences as an apprentice at a couple of different art studios. The story continues... ~ Leif Peng

Frank writes...

"At this point I was blessed with one of the advantages of Detroit in that my next employer was, like so many studio heads,almost as interested in nurturing young artists as in making money. Ivan Smith had a couple of us aspiring guys learning and earning slowly, doing comps, spots and experimenting. He was the man I mentioned before who gave Ardy space and supplies. Without studio owners like this us guppies wouldn't have been able to cope with the competition of commercial art."


"Don't misunderstand, none of this was a free ride. There were dues to be paid. We learned it was a tuff, demanding business and if you weren't willing to give it your all, nights, weekends, whatever, you weren't going to last. There was a term a bunch of us bandied about: "hacks," a term of endearment not derision. One of the proudly proclaimed hacks was Ed Fella, who has become a world renowned designer who publicizes himself at talks world round as "Currently a former Detroit commercial artist."

Detroit Art Studios, 1963

"It was at this stage that I learned just how important I was. I did a piece for JWT that I was proud of, so I signed it only to have it bounce back quickly to have me paint out my name, with the comment "We're selling Fords, not Furlongs."


"Then I joined the game trying to find the artist's name in ads, hidden away in store names, street names and initials on the license plates. Maybe not the same as finding Ninas in Hirchfield drawings but a challenge none the less. Later in my career GMC asked that I sign my work. I think they felt I'd put more into the work if my compadres were to judge me on it. And that brings up one of my favorite events..."


"The artists had a show with no judges, jury or input by anybody but the artists. As I remember we each entered two pieces, guaranteed to be hung. A show that said plain and simple "This is what I do" or maybe "This is what I'm proud of." A show by the artists, for the artists and of the artists."


"As I've said before Detroit's artists were a pretty fraternal sort and so we had frat houses, or club houses, or whatever. Okay, so they were a couple bars, near where we parked our cars. Wonderful places to wait while traffic cleared, around 10 at night, since that was the usual end of a working day. Not so bad considering that the day most always started around lunch time. I think the odd hours were dictated by the agencies being unwilling to let go of their input and needing the work done NOW. Because of this we got to know each other and catch up on the latest gossip. My time in Dallas taught me this should be called "drinkin' mash and talkin' trash." It was a comfortable situation and no less a personage than Coby Whitmore thought this was great fun. It was, and part of the comfort was that this time was just about exclusively the artists. Okay, we shared some of it with late working construction workers, but no reps and no clients. And the show let us see what everybody was doing."


"I'm going to take a break here but first a sidebar: A couple months before his death I had a phone conversation with Bob Heindel and he talked of how he missed the time spent mixing with artists in Detroit, saying he "really hated this famous shit."

(Above, a Robert Heindel brochure illustration from 1966)

To be continued...

Monday, July 06, 2015

Frank Furlong on Guppies, Whales... and Koi.

Thanks to the show Madmen, even those who've never had a passing connection to the industry now get the gist of the day-to-day workings of a New York City advertising agency during the mid-20th century. Less well known (and much less documented) is what life was like for the creative class working in the high performance, turbo-charged combustion engine that was Detroit during that same era.


Frank Furlong was there, along-side Harry Borgman, Bernie Fuchs and other "whales," as Frank calls them (see below). Frank's recollections are fascinating and entertaining - you're going to love the stories you'll read this week. The only problem is... not a stitch of his work from that period has survived. That makes it challenging for a blog devoted to mid-20th century illustration to 'illustrate' this week's posts. Happily, some years back Harry Borgman gifted me a couple of Detroit Art Director's Annuals from the early '60s. Along with some artifacts I've collected on my own, I'll attempt to give you a sense of the art of Detroit - even if it can't specifically be Frank's art - during the period in which he was there. So, with great anticipation, let's begin. ~ Leif Peng

Frank Furlong writes...

"... happy to send on some memories of Detroit's wonderful glory days, from my point of view. I gotta warn ya it'll be a bit different from Borgman's Detroit. He was one of the whales, I was one of the guppies. But there was a mess of us guppies and some of them became quite famous."


"Actually, let me reclassify people: 'Guppies' seems too insignificant for anybody not a whale. Let's call most of the artists as porpoises; intelligent, beautiful and impressive. I'm going to raise my class to koi. No more guppies."


"I've always drawn and for a while it was my safe place because of a gruesome stammer. With a lot of help I overcame that problem but I never shook the delight in drawing. Detroit was my home and on the GI bill I attended what was to become the Center for Creative Studies, at that time a wonderfully funky pile of bricks in one of the lesser parts of town. After a year there my two commercial teachers encouraged me to go out and try my hand at commercial art. Years later I found out from one of them that they sent me off so I'd learn I was not really an artist and could go on engineering or law or some such before it was too late."


"I never did catch on. Thankfully."

"What a privilege it was to work in Detroit in commercial art's glory days. Great opportunities, great people and great fun. The thing I have missed most, and from what I've seen only existed then and there was the camaraderie of people who were in essence competing with each other. Maybe because the reps were the ones competing for us. The only thing I've seen anything like it were army buddies. Whatever it was, and admittedly booze came into the picture reasonably often, it was a pleasure to be riding that rollercoaster never quite sure what would happen next."

Detroit Art Studios, 1962b

"At that time there were a couple hundred artists and who knows how many studios. But most of the action was in two sections of the city, Downtown and the New Center area. The largest studio was New Center Studios and naturally they were Downtown. Of course. And kinda like a pinball machine artists bounced from one studio to the next. I was there fifteen years and worked at six studios, changing four of them by choice."

New Center01

"It was the first two studios that ended without my planning it and both look like I was belatedly stalking Harry Borgman. The first was MDM who hired me as an apprentice. Using my great talent to wash brushes, palettes, change water bowls and matte outgoing artwork. "Yours not to reason why, yours but to do or die. Tissue and flap and let 'em fly!"


"About six months in I got sprung from the matte room by painting in the local colors from drawings for a slide film. Before I had a chance to celebrate my success, the cops seized the studio and my heroes, the principals, wound up in fist fights. Talk about an exciting business! I WAS HOOKED! On the recommendation of one of the stars I was hired by Allied Artists. I think they thought they were getting someone a bit more ready 'cause I wasn't there long before they invited me to leave."


"But at least now I had more impressive samples and I was off and running."

To be continued...

Friday, July 03, 2015

Frank Furlong on Ardy Kazarozian, "the least commercial artist I've met."

It started with a comment on an old post I'd written about a series of 1960 Dodge truck ads that stood apart from the vast majority of car illustrations of the time. My friend Harry Borgman determined these beautiful stylizations were the work of Charles Wysocki. But then someone named Frank Furlong added a comment to that post that intrigued me... so I went looking for him on the internet, found his website and contacted him. Frank soon replied, and so began a most remarkable correspondence. I'll share much more with you next week, but for today, here's a little teaser from Frank Furlong. ~ Leif Peng


"I'm a great fan of Wysocki's Detroit days. Given I, of course am an admirer of his New England stuff, having most of his books, feel his work prior to that deserves more attention."


"When Wysocki left his Detroit studio I was hired to fill his spot. For very good reason I don't say 'replace him'. Seeing as [Bernie] Fuchs was the dominant illustrator in town I was trying to come close to what he was doing. But when I saw what Wysocki was doing I made a complete u-turn and gave up what was an uncomfortable quest, needless to say an impossible one.


"I guess the studio wasn't too disturbed by my switch as they kept me on as my work got more and more decorative and eventually whimsical."


"I'll start recollections as they meander thru my mind but first off I want to enter my theory that involves Detroit's Unknown Artist. I was working at a studio that hired(?) Ardy Kazarozian. I say hired(?) because they offered him no money, just a place to work and supplies. Ardy was the least commercial artist I've met but WOW! what an artist he was."


"The only real success he seems to have had were some jobs for Playboy but he was hired away from this studio by Art Group, Fuch's home. Maybe it's a coincidence but I'm convinced that the fact that Fuch's work steered away from his Austin Brigg's-type stuff to the more experimental pieces that brought him such deserved fame came shortly after Ardy joined his small studio."


"Ardy himself moved on to N.Y. and seems to have disappeared but it was a great pleasure to share space with him and call him a friend."

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Leonard Starr, and the Ultimate Cool

By Thomas B. Sawyer

In the wake of the recent death of my closest friend and longtime studio-mate during my illustrator-career, artist/writer Leonard Starr, an unforgettable, eminently character-defining anecdote comes to mind.

Back around 1971, Leonard Starr, moved from Manhattan to suburban Westport, Connecticut. There, he and his wife had purchased a home which like so many others in that artist-colony town sat amid several acres of woods. Woods so dense that, often, houses on adjoining properties were not visible.

Such was the case with Leonard’s handsome two-story place, and that of his immediate neighbors, whom he’d not met: movie megastar Paul Newman and his lovely actress-wife, Joanne Woodward.

And less than a week after moving in, there was a knock on Leonard’s front door. Leonard opened it and found himself facing Paul Newman, there to welcome his new fellow-Westporter.

In a phone conversation with Leonard a few days later, he described the encounter, which had struck him as an amusing incident. For me, however, his description of what followed was, and will, I have zero-doubt, remain the totally coolest conversational response I have ever heard or read about. A level of Cool to which we all aspire, but of which almost none of us are capable. A degree of Cool that nails so eloquently the very core of who Leonard Starr was.


As Leonard swung the door open, Paul Newman grinned: “Hi. I’m Paul Newman.”

Leonard smiled back, and without hesitation said: “No shit?”

Understandably, Newman cracked up.

I mean – wouldn’t you?

~ Thomas B. Sawyer

* Read an excerpt from Thomas B. Sawyer's memoirs on his first meeting with Leonard Starr in the 1950s, as well as some personal anecdotes from Starr, shared by David Apatoff. Click here

* David Apatoff's post on the death of his friend, Leonard Starr. Click here

* Mike Lynch's post on Leonard Starr's career. Click here