A Century of Shorts

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Disclaimer: This is a very sexist story that will probably offend you because the 1950s advertisements were hilariously terrible that way. The following are real advertisements that provided the inspiration for this story. Enjoy.

Warren puts on his pants one leg at a time. He buttons his crisp white shirt from the bottom to the top. He ties his tie in a perfect knot. Shoes on. Hair greased. Ready to face the world.

Warren walks down the stairs and into his immaculate kitchen where his wife is already awake, and perfectly put together, setting a steaming plate of eggs, bacon, and toast on the table.

“Your newspaper, dear,” she says, kissing him on his perfectly shaved cheek.

“Thank you, honey,” he replies, sipping the perfectly percolated cup of coffee.

Warren unfolds the newspaper, and there on the front page is the headline: KOREA AT WAR! He turns the page, searching for a better headline. There, on the second page, is an advertisement for Vitamins.

“Oh, I just love my new Pep Vitamins from Kellogg’s!” his wife exclaims when she sees the headline.

“A healthy wife is a happy wife!” Warren announces. “With all that extra energy, dinner will never be late again!”

The screen fades to black. The logo for Kellogg’s Pep Vitamins appears on the screen.

“So, what do you think?” Ted asked the group of men gathered around the conference table. The haze from their cigarettes was thick in the air, but no one paid it any mind.

“It’s decent,” Walt said from his place at the head of the table. “But the wife is serving breakfast, so let’s change that. Have her serving dinner after he comes home from work. Take that god-awful newspaper out of the picture. That’s depressing as hell, Ted.”

“Yes, sir.”

“It can’t hurt to have that pretty little lady show a bit more leg. Men like that.” Walt laughed loudly and elbowed the man next to him, who laughed along with him.

“Yes, sir.” Ted forced a smile. He had already pushed the boundaries of propriety by having the wife in a lower cut dress, but maybe he could convince wardrobe to shorten the dress by a few inches.

“Good. Now, what else is on the table, gentlemen?” Walt took another puff of his cigarette, coughed, and put it out in the overflowing ashtray in the center of the table.

Ted cleared his throat and stuck his hand in the air tentatively. “Um, actually, sir, I have another pitch I’d like to give. I know it isn’t my account, but I had an idea for the new Van Heusen ties campaign.”

Walt narrowed his eyes at him, staring for a long moment before responding, “John, that’s your account. Let’s hear from you first. If you think your idea is better, Ted, then we’ll hear you out.”

“Thank you, sir.” Ted sat back down, realizing what he’d just done. John was no friend of his, but he didn’t particularly want to make him his enemy. Maybe he should have kept his mouth shut. He had just wanted to branch out from cereal and vitamins to reach a wider audience.

“John, the floor is yours,” Walt announced, lighting another cigarette.

Ted watched John set up his storyboard feeling very uneasy, but unable to back out now. He had already lit the fuse, so to speak.

“A man is at work. He has a big meeting with an important client. His beautiful secretary hands him a scotch and lights a cigarette for him. He straightens his brand new Van Heusen tie and walks proudly into his meeting.” John imitates straightening his own tie. “‘A man-talking power tie for a powerful man.’” John announced proudly and sat down.

The men around the table nodded their approval. “That’s good, John. A solid ad.”

“Thank you, sir,” John says confidently, staring Ted down, silently challenging him to do better.

“Think you can top that, Ted?” Walt asked with one eyebrow raised. He sat back and rested his hands on his ample belly.

“I’ll leave that up to you, gentlemen.” Ted figured that was a safe enough answer for now.

Ted rose from his seat once again and set up the storyboard that he had been working on for the past week. Ted had pitched his idea to John, hoping for a collaboration, but John had shut him down outright, so he continued working on it in secret, hoping for this opportunity.

He cleared his throat and took a sip of his water before beginning.

“We start with the man coming home from work. His wife takes his briefcase and jacket. Her smile is wide; she is so impressed by the perfection of his tie. We let the audience make the connection. We fade to the man sitting up in bed, his tie only slightly askew, and his wife bringing him a feast on a tray. She gets down on her knees to serve him.” Ted opened his hands wide, “‘Show her it’s a man’s world.’”

The men around the table looked impressed.

“That is a hell of an ad, Ted,” Walt said nodding. “I can see the heading now: ‘She’ll be happy you did!’” He guffawed, clearly pleased with himself.

Ted smiled uncomfortably, trying not to make eye contact with John, who was sitting in his chair seething. They both knew Ted had just won the account. Ted also knew that he stole it right out from under him, but in his own defense, he had tried to work together first, so really, John should have known this was coming.

“Let’s run with this, gentlemen,” Walt announced. “Better luck next time, Johnny-boy.” He slapped John on the back with a laugh. “And put the wife in a robe or something, further the innuendo that they just did the nasty because of his tie.”

Ted suppressed a groan. “Yes, sir.”

“Great! Who’s next? Henry, my boy? How’s that Volkswagen print ad coming along? Time Magazine needs it by the end of the week.”

“I’m just about ready, sir. I’ll have it to you by end of day.”

“Show us what you’ve got so far, man. It doesn’t need to be perfect.”

Henry fidgeted uneasily, but rose from his chair. He leafed through a portfolio in front of him until he found the one that he was looking for and pulled it out.

Ted nodded his head and smiled in encouragement to his desk mate. Ted and Henry had shared the same space for years and luckily, they still got along well. They had been able to bounce ideas off of each other frequently, and today was no different. Henry’s Volkswagen ad was ready, but he was too much of a perfectionist and kept making minuscule changes, something that Ted both appreciated and laughed at frequently.

Henry tacked the paper to the board and stepped back so that the rest of the room could see it. The Volkswagen had a dented front fender and a broken headlight, glass littered the ground around it.

“What’s the meaning of this, Henry?” Walt admonished angrily.

Henry cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Hear me out, sir,”

“You’ve got one minute, son. This better be good,” Walt grumbled.

“I think you’ll approve, sir,” Henry told him. “The caption will read, ‘Sooner or later, your wife will drive home one of the best reasons for owning a Volkswagen.’ Then under that, we will add: ‘Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things. If your wife hits something in a Volkswagen, it doesn’t hurt you very much. VW parts are easy to replace and cheap. So, when your wife goes window shopping in a Volkswagen, don’t worry. You can conveniently replace anything she uses to stop the car. Even the brakes.’”

The men howled with laughter, Walt more than the rest. “That is brilliant, Henry, my boy! Bloody brilliant!”

“Thank you, sir,” Henry said, letting out a big breath in relief. He quickly removed his drawing from the board and sat back down in his seat. Ted gave him a small round of applause and they clinked their water glasses together.

“If our wives ever find out that we’re responsible for these ads, they’ll divorce us all,” Henry said with a wink.

“Our mistresses, too!” Walt announced, laughing boisterously. “Back to work, gentlemen! America loves you!”

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