Sunday, August 16, 2009


When I was growing up, there was a series of advertisements I often saw in the magazines grown ups read. Each ad featured a man, very well dressed and wearing an eye patch. The eye patch always stood out in a way that made the ads difficult for me to understand. Were they promoting this particular one-eyed guy? If so, who was he? At eight I had better things to think about and didn't waste much time on these ads, but now I know that they were considered by many to be ground breaking. The man who conceived of them, David Ogilvy, has been hailed as the inventor of direct marketing (a dubious distinction) and a trend setting genius. I also know now that the images were shirt advertisements. The model for the series, which became the signature images for Hathaway Shirts, was Baron George Wrangell, emigre nephew of a White Russian general. There was nothing wrong with either of his eyes. The patch was intended to make the ads distinctive, and since I still remember them, I guess it worked.

I was thinking about those ads this morning after viewing the most recent film from Tom Cruise last night. The film, Operation Valkyrie, came out while I was in Germany and got a lot of attention there. There are at least two German films that deal with the same story and in addition to showing them, German television also ran interviews with the daughter of Colonel von Stauffenberg (the character portrayed by Cruise in the film) and some documentaries about the German internal war resistance. Anyhow, I saw the Tom Cruise film last night and it was a real yawn. I went to bed wondering why the film was even made, and woke up convinced that it was all an excuse to get Tom Cruise into an eye patch.

When I was a kid, and the Hathaway ads were running in magazines, any normal kid wanted to be a cowboy. I had cowboy boots, a couple of six guns, holsters, a lariat, and of course, a cowboy hat. Several, in fact. But today everything is pirates. At the store where I do most of my shopping, cutlasses are an impulse purchase. Infants fly the jolly rodger from the seat of their disposable diapers. I don't understand the romance of the pirate, but it's big. I think Mr. Cruise and his agent figured that with all the good pirate roles being grabbed up by Johnny Depp, they needed to look elsewhere for eye patch possibilities. Cruise did look good in the patch, but it wasn't really enough to sustain the film.

The von Stauffenberg plot to assassinate Hitler failed as we all know, and anyone who's read Tolstoy knows that virtually ALL military operations go to hell in a hand basket as soon as things get rolling. In that way, they're a little like sabbaticals, or like my sabbaticals anyhow, in which my best intentions and plans fall to pieces in the first weeks I'm gone. This time around I had problems with banking, credit cards, Internet access and a home phone, which I never managed to get installed. But on my return to Utah, I discovered that even our mail was completely fouled up. I, of course, filed a change of address card, and I had one person lined up to check any mail that got through that. A second person started forwarding my mail around December and ultimately the very helpful tenant who was renting my house began opening anything that looked like a bill in order to keep us out of debtor's prison.

Still, when we arrived home last week, one of the first things we did was open a stack of Christmas cards from 2008. Most of them were not the kind of commercial cards that feature a snow covered cottage or a smiling Santa, but rather personal photographs of the sender's family. In fact, most of them were photographs of only the children of the family, none of whom were wearing pirate regalia. Does this signify a return to the true meaning of the holiday? Who knows. I'll just say Frohe Weihnachten and try to get on top of my own holiday greetings in 2009.

1 comment:

Charlie H said...

Now you can't tell me that looking at those old Hathaway ads doesn't make you want to wear an eyepatch, at least a little bit! Good lord, the Baron looks like he's seen more action with one eye than any of us has seen with two!

We saw the Cruise film in the theater and found it pretty riveting. I even got nervous shudders once or twice. Maybe it's the drama of the theater, or probably it's my own shortcoming: I find documentaries about, say, the history of the hammer, utterly fascinating as well.